Running for 246km from Farnham to Dover, the North Downs Way is one of 16 long distance National Trails in Britain. On a sunny summer day I walked sections 3 and 4 from Dorking to Oxted, 28km that mostly ran along hills and ridges overlooking the High Weald.
I caught the train to Dorking Deepdene to start, walking north to Box Hill, carefully crossing the Stepping Stones before climbing the relatively new set of steps to the lookout.
Box Hill was Britain’s first country park, getting it’s name from being home to 40% of the native species of box tree. There are good views of Dorking and the local area from the 172m high lookout point.
Here I picked up the signage for the North Downs Way, mostly named but also marked with an acorn. It was a lot better than I was expected, being very clear almost the whole day, though having a guidebook was helpful for the occasional less clear junctions, and for information on the route.
There was an unusual gravestone by the track for someone’s dog.
The Brockham Lime Works were closed in 1936 and have been reclaimed by nature, with the tower the only obvious reminder of it’s former life.
The track was pretty easy walking all day, with no trip hazards or serious mud to contend with. Most of the day was spent in the woods, with the occasional lookout, though there were sections of road walking and a few fields to cross.
The main issue was trying to avoid stinging nettles, and the overgrown nature of sections of the track. On several occasions I nearly lost my hat!
Colley Hill was one of the highlights of the day, with clear views from the 225m ridge line. It made a good spot for lunch, watching people fly remote control gliders, and the planes taking off from nearby Gatwick Airport.
There was an Edwardian period water tower and a folly with a colourful ceiling.
I was a little bemused by the wooden sculptures in a nearby clearing until I read the sad information panel. In 1945 an American B-17 bomber crashed into the hillside here with the loss of everyone onboard. The wooden sculptures represent the wingtips of the downed plane.
Amazingly as a late as 1898 the British feared a French invasion. Reigate Fort was one of 13 military depots constructed along the North Downs Way as a precaution. The need for the depots was removed only a few years after they were built with the launch of the game changing HMS Dreadnought, ensuring that Britain could repeal any invaders at sea rather than requiring extensive land defenses.
Colley Hill was one of the few vaguely busy parts of the track, even during the school holidays. For most of the day I had the track to myself, seeing only a few potential longer distance walkers like myself.
The Millennium Standing Stones were sculptured by Richard Kindersley for the millennium, travelling around the country before they settled on the edge of Gatton Park. Each of the ten stones represents two hundred years of history, with quotes from the periods.
Passing through Gatton Park I walked by the attractive North Lodge before heading over the M25 motorway, which though out of sight for most of the walk was certainly audible the whole way from here, even wearing headphones.
Unexpectedly given the number around Merstham Church was the only church the track passed by. It’s a rather nice flint building with parts dating back to the 13th century.
I walked through a few fields of corn but this was the most scenic.
Further on the views opened up to the north for the only time on the walk, with the London skyline clearly visible.
Caterham Lookout had the more common view south, with plenty of wild flowers around, as there were for much of the day.
The Victorian era Whitehill Tower was built by a local farmer as a memorial to his son who was lost at sea.
The ridge above Oxted Downs offered good views of the town of Oxted, nestled in plenty of trees, with the prominent St. Michaels on the hill. A Church Missionary Society School and later a girls’ school which dating from 1886, it has now been converted into apartments.
Oxted Quarry on the left has been in operation since mid-1800s, the M25 at the bottom of the hillside is over a hundred years newer, built in 1975.
The North Downs Way continues along the hillside through the Titsey estate but I left the track here to head home, passing by the attractive Saint Mary’s Church Oxted on my way.