North Downs Way: Merstham to Otford
Arriving back at Merstham early one Saturday morning, I stopped to use the facilities at the station, which turned out to be one of the best waiting rooms I’ve ever seen on a train station. It had a nice paint job, a 3 piece suite and the toilets themselves were modern and clean, quite unlike most train stations. Merstham itself is an old village and the route out of town goes past some lovely old houses, however the ambience of these old buildings is quickly spoiled as the route crosses the M25, the village being near the junction of that motorway and the M23.
After passing through the village church and crossing another road, there is around 1km of walking along Rookshaw Road before heading Northwards for a short while, then crossing the M23 before steeply heading uphill to reach a wide bridleway. It was cloudy overhead but quite a nice day, though it had been raining for a few days before so I was expecting quite muddy trails and found quite a quarmires on the bridleway, some of them quite difficult to avoid.
A little way south of the village of Chaldon, the route passes a farm maybe Willey Park Farm. Lots of farms seem to have various rubbish such as old cars and tractors, but this farm was unique in having at least 5 small planes and a helicopter in various states. I found myself wondering what you do with this amount of planes, I know some people have cars that they try and get working again, maybe richer people do the same with planes.
A little further on the way crosses a road, heading past Tower Farm with it’s folly, known as Whitehill Tower Folly, and continues along a trackway pass a number of houses. After leaving the road, it’s a short work to Caterham View point, where I stopped for a short break, before heading along through some more woodland eventually crossing the A22 and heading along a trackway. I kept on going for a while for a through various woodlands, occasionally along trackways for a couple of kilometres, mainly along good but muddy tracks, there were a few runners and dog walkers out but not many other people.
After a steep descent on some steps, and some time spent walking through fields I was on Oxted Downs, after crossing them I reached a bench and had a sit down. A man was walking his dog and stopped to have a chat, he was part of the volunteer group that maintained the paths around here and he told me that he’d erected the bench I was sitting on. I thanked him and we chatted some more, though he had to keep running off to get his young Patterdale Terrier who was a ball of energy not too keen on taking orders.
A little after this crossing a large field, there was a plaque marking the spot where the North Downs Way and the Vanguard Way both cross the Greenwich Meridan, both routes following the same route for the distance of the large field. At the end of the field there was a steep ascent to Botley Hill, the highest point on the North Downs Way at 260 metres. This was followed by a walking though some woods along side a fairly busy B road, then crossing a wood and another field, where there was another Surrey Hill logo sculpture, last seen at Waylands Corner, it is mean’t to represent a seed case or something.
I got barked at by a small aggressive Pomeranian and after this telling off, I decided to keep walking. The North Downs Way continued just below an embankment below a road, it was saddening to see the route ruin by the extensive rubbish that had been dumped down this embankment. I really don’t understand people who do this, there was a mass of this rubbish.
Heading up to the aforementioned road and crossing it, before heading along a small road which eventually turned into a trackway. I had clear memories of this part of the route from my previous trips, there were some large expensive looking houses along this track. Somewhere along this track I passed from Surrey to Kent, with the route eventually crossing the road at Westerham Hill, a place I’d been to many times when I was younger. The rest of the route would be in Kent, which suited me fine as I’d been born in this county many years before. In fact it was where the route crosses Westerham Hill that I’d first become aware of the route, as my family were driving by and some hikers were crossing the road and I saw the Pilgrims Way clearly marked somewhere.
After heading uphill through a couple of fields and some woodland, I sat on an empty water trough to take a break and have something to eat, heading onwards after about 5 minutes. The next kilometre or so were a nightmare, the path became more of a quagmire, passing through fields that had been rained on and probably had cattle in them. The entrances and exits to the fields were the worst, with the soil being completely churned up, process was only made by hopping and hoping between bits of semi solid ground. After going through a gate, worse was to come, just getting past the gate was mission but after crossing the field, the path or what was left of it was a mass of churned mud, it looked like a million cows had been milling out and then a few farm vehicles had come down to give it a real hit. There were a few 100 metres of this, there was a road to the side but I didn’t trust myself to climb the barb wire fence, a slip in the mud whilst climbing would have horrible consequences, getting covered in mud being the least of them. After much jumping and squelching I managed to get through the morose but my boots and trousers were pretty much covered in mud, I was thankful not to have fallen.
The next few kilometres were a bit of blur, the route taking frequent changes of direction as it passed along field edges, though woods or along some occasion tracks. I lost my place on the map, but the signage was really good and it was clear which way I had to go on. In one place there was an odd view point which consisted of a long break in some trees, which afforded a view of Chevening, the official country residence of the British Foreign Secretary. There were few people about and it had started to drizzle, so I stopped to pull on my waterproof jacket, in the distance I could hear the drone of traffic, which told me I was approaching Dunton Green and once a road came into view I was able to place myself on the map, I was on Star Hill. A long descent with a crossing of the Pilgrims Way, eventually brought me to the B2211 which runs parallel to the M25 and heralds the start of a noisy section of road walking which took me to the edge of Dutton Green.
The last few kilometres seemed to take for ever, it was about a kilometre to the outskirts of Otford, but another couple to the train station. I passed by a childhood friends house, where I’d been to a wedding many years ago, before heading into the village. Otford is a nice commuter town with some nice shops, I thought about visiting a pub but when I got to it, it had become a restaurant so I just continued on to the station. I was glad to have made it, it was a long day with some very muddy sections but I’d managed it.