Saturday, 27 January 2018

Reigate and Colley Hills

Colley Hill
Our first outing of 2018 and a rare Sunday with good weather.  We had to choose carefully as the wet weather has made many local places either unwalkable or at least unenjoyable because of the mud.  It was a nice short one to cut our teeth on post Christmas and with a modest climb at the end to get our pulses racing a little.  It is walk 2 in volume 65 of the Pathfinder Guide Surrey Walks (also appears as walk 4 in volume 24 Surrey and Sussex Walks).

Reigate Hill
We just about managed to park in the car park at the top of Reigate Hill - it seems as if a big chunk of Surrey had similar ideas to us.  A little patience was required and we got lucky when someone pulled out just as we were about to give up.  One of the big attractions of this car park is that the National Trust have set up a refreshment booth here - a most welcome facility at the beginning or end of any walk.

Reasonably Clean
The first part of this walk is along the North Downs Way although in an unfamiliar direction to me as we headed west (for some reason I always think that downland walks should be W-E).  It promised to be reasonably dry walking and largely delivered apart from a couple of mucky gateways.  The start didn't bode well as the bridge over the A217 was probably the muddiest part of all!  Luckily once we had negotiated that we had no further problems.

Reigate Fort
Not far past the road bridge we passed by Reigate Fort.  This is a surprisingly new installation, not being built for Napoleonic times as I first thought but in the last decade of the 1800s, during a lesser known period of mistrust between Britain and France.  It was one of a dozen similar forts built along the North Downs to act as a strategic defence of London.  This one has been restored in recent years and interpretive boards installed to tell the story of the place.  The girls were anxious to move on so we didn't look around on this occasion - maybe next time.

Crash Memorial
Our onward route took us through tracts of woodland with only occasional views south.  One of the clearings had quite a poignant reason as it was created by an aeroplane crash during World War 2.  All 9 crew on the Flying Fortress were killed on their return towards Northamptonshire from their mission in Germany.  The crash is now commemorated by two replica wingtips placed at the exact distance apart that the real aircraft would have had.

Further on through the woods and a further reminder of the war came into a view - a pretty substantial pillbox.  I remember from walking this stretch of the North Downs Way a few years ago that pillboxes are quite thick on the ground in this part of Surrey.  Not much further and we came to the most recognisable landmark on the route - the pavilion erected at the top of Colley Hill.  This was originally built asa drinking fountain and bears the inscription "Presented to the Corporation of the Borough of Reigate for the benefit of the Public by Lieutenant-Colonel Robert William Inglis in 1909". It certainly makes for a wonderful viewpoint both along the crest of the North Downs towards Boxhill and beyond but also across the Weald to Leith Hill and the Greensand ridge to the south.  We could also see the planes taking off and landing at Gatwick beyond Reigate.

Colley Hill Pavilion
At the end of this nice open stretch of the Downs we passed by a huge water tower.  I'm guessing by the design that it was built in the 1930s - sure nothing would be built that ornate any longer.  We also passed by an old coal tax marker - I remember this being wonky when I passed by about 12 years ago.  Nothing has changed on that front!  We then had to negotiate our way around the back of some houses before our stint on the top of the Downs came to an end for this walk.

Tree Skeleton
One of the things I have always found surprising about the North Downs versus its southern equivalent is the number of houses that are built on the crest of the hill.  There are a number along this stretch of the North Downs. I guess they take advantage of the sunny aspect and the fact that they are never likely to have anything else built in the way.  For a walker though it is a little dispiriting as for quite long stretches all you get to see is back fences and parts of buildings (most of them are quite protective of their privacy as well).  

Water Tower
Having negotiated this last house we took the path down the steep slope almost to the very bottom.  We had to watch our step as it was pretty slick.  At the bottom we took a sharp left an took the parallel path along the foot of the scarp slope.  For the most part this was through woods as well and views outwards were at a premium even with all the leaves gone from the trees.  We did get the odd view up the slope and this demonstrated what a steep climb it was likely to be at the other end of the walk.

Wonky Post
At the bottom of Colley Hill we passed by the remains of Hearthstone Mine.  Hearthstone was a form of greensand that was very popular as a cleaning product back in Victorian times.  The mine was unusual in that it also had a processing works on site as well although you would be very hard pressed to find much evidence of it now other than a few earthworks.  Some of the buildings were destroyed by a V1 Doodlebug bomb in World War II.  The mine limped on after the war for a time but succumbed to the inevitable closure in 1961.  The mine entrance was then filled in by explosion.

Hearthstone Mine
Our onward route was pretty mucky in places and a couple of times we had to take avoiding action to miss the worst of the mud.  Eventually we  reached the bottom of Reigate Hill on the A217.  Just as we thought we might have to walk alongside the road an almost hidden path on the left took us up the hill away from the road.  This was definitely a sting in the tail but all the way up I think the thought of the hot drink and bacon roll from the refreshment kiosk kept us going. 

Reigate Hill
At the very top of the hill we were reunited with the North Downs Way and retraced our steps the short distance past the old fort once again to cross the main road and find the car park.  We had an enjoyable snack and drink and savoured the view across Reigate and beyond satisfied with our first outing of the year.  This isn't a difficult walk but a perfect winter outing when energy levels are generally low.

Colley Hill

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Nyman's Woodland Walk

Nymans View
After our tour around Petworth Park using one of the National Trust walks we thought we would have a go at another since time was short.  This time we headed up to Nymans, a garden at the north end of our county.  It is one that we visit regularly but what we don't do very often is venture into the extensive woods beyond.  In fact the last time we did was many years ago when my children were small and it proved to be a real struggle for them to get around the relatively modest distance (2.5 miles).

Setting Off Into The Woods
I am a little behind with writing this up - the walk was actually completed at the height of autumn when the trees were at the zenith of their colours and this is the main reason why we thought we would give the walk a go.  The start of the walk is actually at the back of the car park and not close to the main entrance.  It disappears down a tree hollow on a slope that is deceptively steep.  We had to watch our step for the muddy season was already underway and we were concerned that we might end up sliding down on our backsides if we weren't careful.

At the bottom of the slope and still on our feet we were relieved to be able to turn left on to a more solid path with a much gentler slope.  Out of the tunnel of trees we had descended by we were also now able to enjoy the full majesty of the woodland.  Most of the trees were either beech or oak and in among them were some sculptures along the way.  Sadly we didn't manage to see them all but the first caught my daughter's eye as they were a couple of owls.  She is a massive owl fan and really enjoyed seeing them so early on in the walk.

Glimpse From The Wood
I particularly enjoyed the walk through Cow Wood.  The majesty of the trees was something else although it was fairly obvious that seasons were about to change with the arrival of the holly berries providing some different colour along the way.  At the eastern end of the wood views opened up out into surrounding Wealden countryside - I imagine that the tract of woodland that once covered this area must have been cleared at some point and not allowed to grow back.  Soils around here are pretty poor so I doubt it was for growing crops - more likely for keeping livestock.

Cow Wood
A little further on and we passed by the rather fairytale like Woodlands Cottage.  This is now a National Trust holiday home and looks like a mighty fine place to stay.  It was occupied as we went past - someone had picked their week well.  It's heritage as a woodman's cottage was plain to see as we went past for the outhouses complete with woodcutter's tools were also still present.

Woodland Cottage
Just past the cottage and our route descended still further, this time to the end of a lake that we were to get a better view of later.  We turned left again and walked up though coppice woodlands to the top of a slope.  This proved to be the most popular part of the route and we were glad of the breaks on the hill that we needed to let people past.  It was a short but testing hill and enough to get us breathing but when we got to the top we were faced with some of the worst mud we had encountered yet.  Luckily previous walkers had shown us the way by doing some work arounds from the main path and heading past some of the trees on the other side from the main path.

Crossing The Field
The onward path descended slowly and through big piles of leaves that just begged to be kicked over as we walked through.  This is surely one of the joys of an autumn walk?  Soon we were to come to a fence blocking our way ahead and we had to take a sharp right hand turn and descend to a field.  After all the woodland walking thus far it seemed strange to head out across an open field like this.  The light and airy field didn't last too long though - over the next stile and we were back in the woodland, this time at the other end of the lake we had passed earlier.

The Lake
It was worth pausing at the lake for its serenity was beautiful and for me the highlight of the whole walk.  Somehow its mood seemed to calm down passing children too - they lost their boisterousness and admired the reflections instead.  We walked along a little of its shore before turning left to head up the last stretch of the woodland back to the main house of Nymans.  The mood of this woodland was quite different from the earlier one though, principally because there are conifers on this stretch and the left hand side is overlooked by some sandstone crags.

Which Way?
We climbed up the valley side and soon came to the edge of the wood.  Our route up to the main house skirted the wood for a bit and this proved to be a much wetter route than we expected.  It looked as if there are some springs along this section of path so be warned if you attempt it during the winter months.

Finding The Edge of the Woods
The path rose slowly at first and then up a final steeper section until we were at the entrance to the house. Nymans isn't all it appears.  For one thing it isn't nearly as old as you might think.  It was built in the early 20th Century to replace an older Regency house.  It is ruined now following a disastrous fire in 1947 which gutted the main building.  Although a portion was rebuilt and was lived in for a time most of the house remains a ghostly shell.  In 1987 the garden was ravaged by the Great Storm, which felled a huge number of trees.  Yet despite these two calamities the house and garden are fascinating to visit at any time of year and we lingered in the garden for quite a time, enjoying the lingering dahlias and roses that were still trying to cling on to the long gone summer.

Remembering The Great Storm
This walk is more of a stroll than a serious expedition but it does add extra enjoyment to a visit to Nymans and is worth a look if you have plenty of time for your visit.  The whole distance is 2.5 miles and should take no more than 90 minutes to complete.

Nymans House