My first day on the North Downs Way
So a friend asked me if I wanted to make the Pilgrimage with her to Canterbury. Uh… yeah I do. What’s involved with that exactly? Oh…you know… walking for 4 days straight. Oh yeah… I could totally do that.
Oh really? This is a question I should have asked myself …
Have you ever walked for 4 days in a row for 8 hours a day? Have you?
No. No, I haven’t. I don’t even exercise regularly. So when we were talking about our route and how we would leave Tuesday morning and our fellas were gonna join us in Canterbury, we decided to skip a part of the trail, call it cheating if you like, in order to make it there by Friday. 18 miles a day to make that happen? No problem.
I still am proud of what I did. I laugh now, looking back on how silly I was thinking that I could actually walk 18-21 miles a day. And maybe I could, if the terrain was flat and my feet weren’t sinking into mud every step I took. Ok, it wasn’t that bad… everyday…
Tuesday we woke up and met at the bus station because it was a scheduled tube strike day and it took us about 45 minutes to get to Waterloo station to catch the train to Dorking. This wasn’t the beginning of the trail, it was about 1/5 of the way in, the beginning is at Farnham. We had a guidebook, National Trail Guides: North Downs Way, to help us on our way. I had a pair of black flats, walking shoes, a pair of jeans, extra pair of leggings, enough undergarments and socks for 3 days and 2 extra shirts, a cagoule, a pancho, backpack, bottle of water and some snack bars.
So we got into Dorking and walked up to Westhumble where we would join the trail… The North Downs Way.
The first thing we came to was the stepping stones that go over the River Mole.
The water was high and I wasn’t brave enough to cross all of the stones as I tried about 4 and I almost slipped in and I just didn’t feel like falling in the water yet. Chicken you call me? Um… no, I just know myself. And I proved it to my friend too throughout the walk… I’m not lucky with physical activities… you really don’t want to see me on a bike… I will fall. I don’t know why I have so much trouble with coordination.
So we walked around and over to the footbridge. The view was lovely and already it was just so beautiful and inspiring… I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. If I had actually borrowed the guidebook and read about what to expect that first day, I would have known that I was about to embark on the steepest ascents on the entire trail.
273 steps up to Box Hill. That’s a lot of steps. These are the first ones we came to and I was already a little winded but I thought Ok that wasn’t so bad…
No, it wasn’t because the hell that the next series of steps proved to be was, well… hell. And a much, much steeper incline. Which is why there aren’t any pictures of them because I was too busy trying to breath. They weren’t just regular ole steps; they were muddy, uneven steps whose heights varied form step to step. I was so very grateful that my walking partner was so supportive and encouraging. So we made it to the top of Box Hill, which is named so because it houses 40% of the box trees that make their home in Britain.
After that we rested a bit and enjoyed the view and then we got on with it. The next part was a descent… that’s right we were going down. Then we went back up again… and the steps were harder this time because I was exhausted. There was a steep drop off to the right. At one point I had picked up a walking stick and I genuinely thought I would bring it with me along the way. And you know… I was working my way up those steep steps and leaning heavily on that walking stick when I realized how steep the drop off was on the side… and I readjusted the amount of weight I was putting on it immediately. I gave that stick back to nature before we made it to Colley Hill.
Our first day we walked up steep hillsides, hundreds of steps, in fields with and without cows, along busy roads, through parks with established walking lanes, alongside golf courses, down residential sidewalks.
“Bear in mind” he would warn, “ this area does not have any pavement”
… it took us 2 days to realize he meant there weren’t any sidewalks, so you’re basically walking in the street.
We learned terms like gullies, chalky footpaths, ancient sunken path…
and bridleway meant and what it was like to walk through and in them. It was all beautiful and peaceful.
This is how they mark the trail along the way… ya know to make sure you’re on the right path and have not gone off on one of the other footpaths that cross The North Downs Way.
We weren’t the only ones making a pilgrimage… and suddenly after seeing this little guy and how slow he was going I felt pretty good about myself.
Yeah we walked through that… because there was no way around it. Luckily it only sprinkled on us a little bit but didn’t rain hard and the majority of the walk was dry, cool and only partially cloudy. When I say dry… obviously I don’t mean the ground. It won’t be until day 3 that I will come to welcome, love and appreciate muddy paths over hard dry ones.
More than half way through the day we entered a field full of those cute cows that look like they’re black with white blankets around their middles. Climbing to the top of the hill, we rested and snacked on our lunch, which was a couple of sandwiches and grapes.
Isn’t that just a beautiful sight?
There were locals hanging out here and their puppies were frolicking in the fields. We got back on the path and walked up to the Inglis Folly, which was originally a drinking fountain but now houses a topograph.
The ceiling is a mosaic of the night’s sky.
And this is a topograph defined as:
a graphic representation of the surface features of a place or region on a map, indicating their relative positions and elevations.
At this point I was near my ending point for the day, but as I explained we were just a little over half way through our day.
Since this was the first day and we had made a reservation at a B&B in Oxted because we really did believe that I would be able to walk 18 miles in one day… Buuuttttt since I totally overestimated that… we headed to the train station in Merstham. We got there and found out it would take around 40 minutes on the train with a change and would be £12 for each of us… or we could call a cab for £15 and be at the B&B in 15 minutes.
Just so you can get an idea of how far we traveled. The red is us walking and the blue is the cab ride. Amazing isn’t it? 4 1/2 hours of walking = 15 minutes in the car.
I used the Mapmywalk app along the way but will be honest and say that every single day I forgot to start it until about a mile or so in… oops. It gave us an idea though. So for the first day we walked a little over 11 miles.
We arrived at the Awana B&B and were amused to find that the retired couple were just renting out their second floor. The towels were hard as sandpaper, the room decor was dated and the shampoo and condition on offer were the Dollar Store brand. No, not tiny bottles for each guest… a big family size bottle… to share. We asked the man of the house if we could have breakfast at 7 so we could head out early and he said, “No… no, that’s too early. I don’t get up until 8.” Oh… I’m sorry… I thought this was a business and we were your PAYING customers. I guess I expect more for £35 per person. That’s £70 for a room man! Buy some fabric softener and a top sheet!
He did recommend a fantastic restaurant to us and after bathing and resting for a bit we walked into town and ate at Cucina in Oxted. I HIGHLY recommend this place if you ever find yourself in this lovely town. We ate some delicious food and were hosted by generous, attentive staff.
Bruschetta Melanzane E Scamorza – roasted aubergines, sunblushed tomatoes and melted scamorza cheese. I’m telling you it was delicious. I still think about it often.
The Elemento pizza had pesto, mascarpone cheese, parmesan shavings, spinach, pine nuts and olives. So good.
Insalata Mista was yummy
And the Rucola E Parmigiano was even better.
And then we walked back to the room and fell asleep immediately.
Stay tuned for Day 02…