THE NORTH DOWNS WAY
Stage 3: Dorking to Merstham
Wednesday, July 28th 2010
This was another fine, mostly sunny day, with a pleasant breeze blowing for most of the day. Surprisingly for such a nice summer's day, there were very few other people on the trail.
I took the train from London Victoria to Dorking Station (picture 1), which took about 75 minutes as the train seemed to stop everywhere. Leaving the station and heading back onto the main road, I passed the Lincoln Arms pub (picture 2), which serves breakfast. From here, I headed back north along the main road to the Stepping Stones car park (picture 3), where I had left the North Downs Way at the end of the previous stage.
Following the path alongside a fence, I soon reached a line of stepping stones across the River Mole (picture 4). This is quite a picturesque spot, with the sun filtering through the canopy of leaves and the gently flowing river.
If the water level is too high to use the stepping stones, there is also a footbridge across the river a little further to the north (picture 5), though on this occasion crossing by the stepping stones was easy.
Shortly after crossing the stepping stones, my nostrils were assailed by the odour of cat urine. No, there isn't a pack of feral felines in the area -- the smell is characteristic of the Box trees that grow on Box Hill.
The trail climbs steeply up Box Hill, with several sets of steps built into the hillside along the way (picture 6). When it finally reaches the top, the trail passes a trig point (picture 7) with magnificent views south over Dorking and the Surrey Hills (picture 8).
Leaving the trail briefly, I turned left at the trig point, walked up to a road and followed it to the left for a few hundred metres to the National Trust's Box Hill Visitor Centre. Here one can buy drinks and snacks or just sit in the shade and recover from the strenuous climb up all those steps.
The North Downs Way continues across Box Hill, winding its way through more box woods (picture 9), emerging every now and then to give a view to the south (picture 10). A few minutes walk beyond the first of two information signs for the old Brockham Lime Works, the route descends some steep steps to a T-junction in the track (picture 11) -- turning right continues along the North Downs Way, while turning left follows a footpath to Box Hill Village.
Continuiong on the official path, the trail starts to descend and becomes chalky and very uneven as it emerges onto a stretch of open downland (picture 12).
As the track descended there were some strange plants at the edge of the trail (picture 13) before it re-enters the woods. Through one of the gaps in the trees beside the path, I could see a tall kiln chimney (picture 14), presumably part of the old limeworks.
At the bottom of the descent, the path passes through a metal kissing gate and into the village of Betchworth, which has several pretty brick and half-timbered houses (picture 15). The path continues through the village and turns left onto the main road. It follows the main road for about 500 metres, going off parallel to the road about half way along, before crossing the road and heading off at right angles.
The path now follows an avenue of trees between two fields, reaching a stile (picture 16) where the North Downs Way turns left and climbs up Lady Hill, around the edge of a field where hay was being harvested.
As the path crosses Lady Hill and then Buckland Hill above several more fields, there is a good view back to Box Hill (picture 17). The path then follows a roughly semi-circular line around Juniper Hill, which has some very gnarled trees (picture 18), with a couple of very steep uphill sections of path. At the top of the climb, the trail passes a couple of cottages and then follows a straighter, flatter section to Colley Hill (picture 19), where cows were grazing near a monument to a Colonel Inglis, who donated this land to the National Trust (picture 20).
At the top of Juniper Hill, I could start to hear the noise of the M25 motorway, which is not far off to the left. Although I couldn't actually see the motorway until close to the end of the walk, the motorway noise was with me for most of the rest of the day.
Another 500 metres along the trail, I came to the gates of Reigate Fort (picture 21). An 1890's forerunner of the WWII pillboxes seen on the previous stage of the trail, this is one of 13 forts built to protect London from a potential French invasion, which never eventuated. You can go inside and walk around the buildings and fortifications inside (pictures 22 and 23), most of which are built into the large mound inside the fort.
Continuing across Reigate Hill, the trail crosses a bridge over the busy A217 to reach a lookout with views over Reigate (picture 24). There was a handy snack bar here.
After crossing through the lookout's car park, the trail enters the woods of Gatton Park, where there were several kinds of brightly coloured flowers beside the path (picture 25). Here the trail starts to descend from the hills, passing a pretty stone cottage (picture 26) before joining a sealed road through the grounds of a rather posh looking school.
Beyond the school, the trail descends across the Reigate Hill golf course, accompanied by the roar of the M25 motorway, which is occasionally visible in the distance (picture 27). Passing by the pitches of the Merstham Cricket Club (picture 28), the trail emerges onto the curiously-named Quality Street in the town of Merstham, where I left the trail for the day and headed for the local railway station, having covered another 16km on this stage of the North Downs Way.