Tag Archives: north downs

Wandering: Box Hill, Surrey

14 Jun

The recent extended Diamond Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend gave my friend Chris and I chance to get out for a walk, unfortunately the less than ideal weather conditions meant that it was only going to be a brief walk.

Short of time we decided to head to Box Hill near the town of Dorking, Surrey. Box Hill is just a short train ride from Horsham and situated on the North Downs. If we didn’t have time to get out onto the South Downs then the North Downs would have to do.

Box Hill is also going to be playing its part in the London Olympics. It is hosting part of the cycling road race (both the womens and mens races) and we were interested to see how preparations were going. The cyclists will be racing up and down Box Hill as part of the road race before heading back into London from whence they came.

They will no doubt appreciate the newly re-surfaced road, but the freshly erected signs will probably be no more than a blur as they whizz past, on the way from Dorking to the top of the hill.

Apart from the new road surface and signs there didn’t seem to be a great deal to indicate that the Olympics were coming. There has been a bit of clearance along the roadside, where spectators will be crowded, but apart from that you could be forgiven for not noticing the approaching furore.

Of course the cyclists will not have time to enjoy the view from the top of Box Hill over the town of Dorking, Surrey. A view made all the better for the presence of a trig point. Nor will they have to experience the steep and slightly treacherous descent down the side of the hill, which was nice and slippery after the recent rainfall. Unfortunately that all means they will miss the joy of having to pick their way across the River Mole on the concrete stepping-stones.

The closest railway station is Box Hill and Westhumble, Westhumble is the village to west of the railway line and Box Hill is east of the station. It is a delightful little station which although short on facilities has quite a reasonable service. It’s survival is probably down to its role as a gateway to the North Downs.

When we visited it was receiving the attention of railworkers, who were busy excavating the southern end of the station, presumably to enable extension of the platforms in anticipation of the increase in traffic that the Olympics will bring.

In a fitting tribute to forthcoming Olympic games the workers were taking part in a their own relay. Taking it in turns to push wheelbarrows full of stones and soil along the length of the platform the skip waiting outside the station.

Copyright © 2012 John Gasson.
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2010 Autumn South of England Postcard Fair

25 Sep

Today I made my way to Woking, Surrey to The 2010 Autumn South of England Postcard Fair held at the Woking Leisure Centre. You may remember that I wrote about the postcard fair held at Woking earlier in the year.

Autumn 2010 South of England Postcard Fair

To be honest there are only a few reasons why I go to Woking: for a postcard fair, family history fair or to visit the Surrey History Centre. It is not that Woking is a bad place (or so it seems to me), just that there is not much else to entice me into the town, although Brookwood Cemetery is nearby.

An added bonus is that I got to travel along one of my favourite stretches of railway line, the North Downs Line, which travels along the foot of the North Downs for part of it length. In the bright sunshine the southern slopes of North Downs looked so wonderful, with their trees starting to show the first signs of their Autumn colours.

The fair itself seemed a little quiet, there were lots of stalls with postcards, cigarette cards, ephemera and various other paper collectables, but it didn’t appear to be that busy. Personally I got off to a slow start, and despite my best efforts I struggled to find anything to spend my money on.

Eventually I got lucky and in the end I came away with six postcards and one photo. Not really what I would call a successful day, but it was quite enjoyable nevertheless. I am sure you will be seeing some of these cards in the future, I know I always say that, but I really must get around to writing about some of them, after all that is the reason I am buying many of my postcards these days.

Capital Ring: Grove Park to Streatham Common

10 Jul

Today my friend Chris and I completed the next two sections of the Capital Ring walk around London. Despite the temperatures pushing 30°c (which is pretty hot for England) we completed about 13 miles, mostly on the pavements of south-east London.

3.  Grove Park to Crystal Palace (8.5 miles)

4.  Crystal Palace to Streatham Common (4.0 miles)

I wasn’t that impressed with the first part of the walk, not much to see, no real views to speak of and much of the route along concrete and tarmac. There were a few parks and a couple of strips of woodland, but on the whole this were quite unremarkable.

The only really remarkable thing was the state of the grass, it has been several weeks since we had any decent rain and everywhere is starting to look so dry and brown, it is really sad to see. I know it will start growing again when we get some rain, but it doesn’t really make for an enjoyable walk.

The highlight of the first section was reaching the end at Crystal Palace Park, not least because there was at last something interesting to see. There is quite a large park there with many facilities including a very welcome cafe. There are some wonderful historical features here that really warrant further investigation one day.

Sphinx at Crystal Palace Park

The most prominent feature is the massive mast of the radio and television transmitting station, there is even a little cable car, presumably for maintenance purposes, that we saw rising slowly almost to the top of the mast.

Transmitter mast and stone terrace

After spending a bit longer than we had planned at Crystal Palace we continued onto the next section. Fortunately is was a shorter section because not only were thing starting to get very warm, but it seemed almost as uninteresting to me as the first section, with only a few redeeming features.

Loads of lavender

The photo above is of the lavender at Norwood Grove, which had quite a nice little garden perched on top of a hill. The views from here were pretty good, looking south to the North Downs. I wonder if we will ever finish walking along the North Downs Way this year?

The final part of the walk was from Streatham Common itself down to the railway station that bears it’s name. Every time I head to London I pass through Streatham Common station on the train, one of the many places for which I know the name, but have no idea what is there. Now I know, quite a nice piece of rough grassland at the top, leading down to more traditional park and playing fields.

At least this walk is putting pictures to what were previously just names on a map. It is a shame more of them aren’t more interesting, but I suppose you have to take the rough with the smooth.

North Downs Way: Seale to Farnham (and a bus to Alton)

12 Jun

Today we finished off last week’s walk, and it was equally disappointing, but the day wasn’t a complete waste because as it was only a short walk it gave us time to visit the nearby town of Alton, Hampshire.

This section was short, only four miles (hardly worth the effort) and pretty flat, very short on points of interest and largely devoid of any interesting views.

River outside Farnham

We did pass through some quite nice woodland (Runfold Wood), and some of the path was alongside the River Wey, which was quite nice, but after two weeks largely devoid of hills it is high time we got back to Kent and some proper hills.

Farnham is quite a nice town, or at least what I have seen of it, and it marks the start or end of the North Downs Way. The actual start/end is marked by a fingerpost at the side of a rather busy road junction bristling with traffic lights, hardly a fitting point to start or end the North Downs Way.

Start or End of North Downs Way

The only saving grace for today was the chance to catch the bus from Farnham, Surrey to Alton, Hampshire. Alton was the home of my 3x great-grandparents Henry and Sarah WRIGHT. Although time was limited, we found time to visit St Lawrence Church (below) and Market Square where the WRIGHT family lived.

St Lawrence's Church, Alton, Hampshire

The visit was really just a scouting trip, getting my bearings, having a quick poke around and buying a decent map of the town. Alton has some lovely buildings, some interesting history, a small local history museum, a steam railway and an unusual war memorial (below). I am clearly going to have to go back to Alton and explore further.

War Memorial - Alton, Hampshire

North Downs Way: Guildford to Seale

5 Jun

We should have been in Kent today walking the next section of the North Downs Way, but given that it was also likely to be the hottest day of the year so far we thought it would be wise to find a route where we could finish early if things got too hot.

The section from Guildford to Farnham is either the start or end of the North Downs Way, and it is part of the route that we had so far not done, having started somewhere near the middle and heading east. So we decided we should walk part of this section, with the understanding that we probably wouldn’t complete the full 11 miles today. In the end we made as far as Seale, Surrey, which was about 7 miles.

To be honest this was a rather disappointing part of the North Downs Way, it didn’t feel like we were actually on the North Downs, there were no real hills to speak of, so there were virtually no interesting views to speak of, the best I could find was the one below, which shows how flat the landscape was.

Not much of a view

There were a few interesting sights along the way, one of the most bizarre was the huge wooden cross on a bridge near the village of Compton, Surrey. The bridge with the cross (actually crosses because there is one on the other side as well) carries the B3000 road. Apparently the crosses indicate that road passing beneath is part of the Pilgrim’s Way.

Cross on bridge

Another interesting thing about this walk is that for a large part of it the path was very sandy, in fact it was almost like walking on a beach (shame I didn’t pack a bucket and spade). I am not a geologist, but it appears to be natural, and we saw at least one sand pit nearby. It is not the only part of the route to have sandy paths, the paths leading up St Martha’s Hill to the east of Guildford were also thick with sand.

Sandy path

The village of Seale was quite pretty, but for us it marked the end of our walk, because there is a bus stop nearby on the A31 which would take us to Guildford (by way of Farnham, so we did get there in the end). The war memorial at Seale has one of the finest backdrops I have seen.

Seale war memorial

Finding my way into Kent

18 May

I am currently in the process of walking two long distance paths, the South Downs Way and the North Downs Way. The South Downs Way is pretty nearby (I can see the South Downs from the edge of the village where I live) but the North Downs Way is not so close.

Last Saturday it took me three hours to get to the start of the next section of the North Downs Way, and I had to question whether it was worth the time and money getting there.

Of course it is always going to be good to get out into the countryside and challenge myself with a climb on the hills, plus there is the challenge of exploring somewhere different and the joy of new discoveries made (like hill figures) and sights seen. Also there is going to be a sense of achievement from completing a long distance path, even if it is in short sections.

However most of this I could get much closer to home, there are lots of places much closer than Kent that I haven’t really explored fully. But is it worth me going walking in Kent?

When I ask “is it worth it?”, what I have at the back of my mind whether it is benefiting my family history in any way, which I can use to justify my walk. I would have to answer with a definite “yes”.

I have quite a bit of research to do in Kent, several branches of my family tree are stretching into Kent, and it is a county of which I have virtually no experience and if anything an aversion to researching in.

What I am finding with these walks is that I am getting a good feel for the county. Although I am only seeing a small part of the county, I am starting to build up a picture of the landscape, the locations of the larger towns, the transport links between them and the natural features (rivers and hills) that have shaped the county and the people who have called it home.

This walk is helping me get my bearings, from what I have seen so far the Kent landscape is very similar to that of Sussex. I expect I will find that Kent has more of a nautical history than Sussex, but really they are not that different.

So I think this walk is proving quite useful, although there is very little direct connection with my family history, it is helping me find my own way into Kent, convincing me that it is not something that I need to be afraid of. I just need to go armed with good map to guide me.

North Downs Way: Wrotham to Halling

15 May

Today my friend Chris and I completed another section of the North Downs Way. Today’s route took us from Wrotham along to Halling, both in the county of Kent.

View from the North Downs near Wrotham Water, Kent

The actual distance along the North Downs Way was about seven miles, but on top of that there was about a mile and a half at each end, to and from the railway station to reach the North Downs.

This is one of the furthest sections of the route from my home, so it took me almost three hours to the starting point (Borough Green & Wrotham station). Things should start improving next time when we turn the corner and start heading south again.

The weather was pretty good today. At the start there was a clear sky and bright sunshine, but it didn’t last and the sky clouded over in the the afternoon, looking like it could rain any minute, but it was still warm enough for walking in a short-sleeve shirt and shorts.

Overall the walk was not particularly outstanding. There were some quite impressive views to the south and east, but again it was hazy in the distance. There were a couple of quite challenging climbs, but on the whole the route was pretty flat.

Sheep at the foot of the Downs

Apart from a few sheep grazing at the foot of the Downs east of Wrotham (see above) there was not a lot of interest along the route, either that or we missed it all. One thing we wouldn’t have missed were the flies that seemed to be lining the route. It might be that they had just hatched, but they really were a real pain at times and many of my photos are ruined by black dots scattered across them.

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