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Jay Walking

North Downs Way: Gomshall to Merstham

I arrived back at Dorking, nice and early and took a cab from outside the station. The cab driver was a real chatterbox and gave me a potted history of Dorking and his own personal history before dropping at the start of Beggars Lane near Gomshall. It had been raining the day before so I expected a lot of mud and the weather forecast had indicated a high chance of rain so I had put my waterproofs on but so far there was no sign of the rain, in fact it looked quite bright. Starting from where I finished last week the route mainly went through woodlands occasionally emerging on to some grass downs. One of these, Blatchford Downs had a number of world war 2 pillboxes of varying size along the path, on top of one double storied one, someone had been wild camping and was drying out their equipment in the sun, which was by now quite bright.

A World War 2 pillbox Blatchford Downs
A World War 2 pillbox Blatchford Downs
View from Blatchford Downs looking South East
View from Blatchford Downs
Fallen leaves on the path in woodlands near Steers field
The route passing though woodlands near Steers field

I continued along paths full of fallen leaves with wonderful autumnal colours, eventually emerging on to Steers Fields which had great views over the downs to the south over Dorking and the surrounding landscape. I sat on a bench for 10 minutes having a coffee and eating a sandwich, before heading off in the wrong direction, though quickly realising my mistake and heading off to Ranmore Common, past its church. A few hundred metres head of me was a couple walking the North Downs Way, they had passed by me while I was sitting down, and the path soon entered Denbies Wine Estate, along a metalled track. It was suddenly very busy with lots of people coming up the hill walking their dogs, there were great views of Boxhill and over the vines.

Looking west to Dorking and beyond from Steersfield near Ranmore Common
View from Steersfield towards Dorking
The church on Ranmore Common
The church on Ranmore Common

Denbies is Britian’s largest winery, though I’d never tried any of their wine, looking at their vines brought back memories of picking grapes in Australia many year ago. We were paid about 20p a bucket, I aimed for around 350 buckets a day, so about £70, most of co-workers aimed for slightly less, just enough for a slab of beer and something to eat, a lot of them got pretty drunk every night. It was hard work in the Australian sun, some days it was up to 43 degrees celsius but under the vines you were largely out of the sun. Denbies grapes had been set up to be picked by machine so no one had to slog it out on hot days.

Grape vines and sunshine at Denbies Wine Estate, with Boxhill in the distance
Looking towards Box Hill from Denbies Wine Estate
Close up of steep slopes on Boxhill from the Denbies Wine Estate
Boxhill from the Denbies Wine Estate

A little while after enter a wood, a footpath emerged from the wine estate and once past this the amount of people decreased, just the walkers ahead of me and a couple of dog walkers coming towards me. After a kilometre or so the way reaches the fast A24, the guidebook is pretty clear that crossing the road is a bad idea. The route heads along the road up to a roundabout where you can cross, I could not see the couple who had been ahead of me, so assumed they’d crossed the road, and as it was clear in both directions and crossed it myself, saving a 10 minutes of road walking.

Stepping stones across Mole River
Stepping stones across Mole River
View from Boxhill looking South Easterley
View from Boxhill looking South Easterley

The route now heads up to Box Hill and it’s view point, after crossing the River Mole by a series of stepping stones there is a steep ascent via a series of steps. Not many people seemed to be heading up, though a lot were coming down, I was quite warm by the time I reached the top and sat down on a stone bench to enjoy the sun eat something. It was pretty warm by now, a great autumn day, clear skies and great views and no sign of any clouds, so I took the chance to take off my waterproofs. Continuing on along through woods near the top of the chalk, it was easy to find your way, and I was soon at Brockham Hills where the path emerged onto grass downs.

An old lime kilns chimney
Old lime kilns chimeny
Autumnal leaves on the path though woodlands just after Betchwood
Autumnal leaves just after Betchwood

It was nice to be in the sun and the route gradually headed downhill, passing an old Kiln Chimney, which I remembered from a previous walk. My friend and I had sat down to eat, there were a group of people with some type of self built car that they were driving on the paths around the kiln, it was good to watch. Now it looked like they would be unable to do it, as the paths were all over grown and hadn’t been used in a long while. After passing through the village the Betchworth there was a little road walking before heading off through another leaf lined path and then a small uphill part. The path here had become a bit of quagmire due to the recent rain, this had been an occasional feature of the day but here and become a problem. It was hard to walk on as it was really slippery going uphill and impossible to avoid walking through mud at some parts. A group of young men passed me as they were coming down, one said “I think I’ve chosen the wrong footwear!”, he was wearing some expensive trainers, though a runner coming through seem to have kept her shoes remarkably clean.

View from Mount Hill looking back along the route
View from Mount Hill

Heading on along the grass downloads on very muddy paths, having another rest at Mount Hill and then through some woods. There was a confluence of paths some of which were not on the map and the route took a steep sharp climb to Colley Hill which at 225 metres might be the highest point on the North Downs Way. It was a little way on to the view point at Colley Hill, where there were great views, the great weather had continued but it was starting to get a little colder. Heading on past Reigate Hill with another set of great views, passing the Inglis Folly and Reigate Fort, an 18th century construction built to protect London against a Napoleonic invasion. Heading down hill towards a car park and a cafe.

View of the downs and the chalk escarpment to the East from Reigate Hill
View of the downs from Reigate Hill
The Inglis Folly at Reigate Hill easily mistaken for a band stand
The Inglis Folly at Reigate Hill easily mistaken for a band stand

I didn’t stop at the cafe but headed on to Gatton School, at the entrance to which there was a wonderful tree which I remembered from before. It looked smaller than I thought it was, maybe because it didn’t have any foliage at this time of year. Walking through the school I passing a hockey match, some of the players were only wearing T-shirts and skirts, it looked cold and brought back bad memories of my school days.

After crossing a road and going through another golf course, it was only a short distance to the village of Merstham where I caught the train home. It was still reasonably early only about 3:30 PM and I had covered around 32 kilometres during the day. I had been worried about my bad knee but it had seemed to be able to managed the distance

Impressive tree outside Gatton School
Tree outside Gatton School

Additional info

Date walked
4 December 2021
Distance walked
32 km or 19.88 miles
Weather
Clear skies and sunny