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As hinted at in my previous past, on Sunday I embarked on an attempt to knock off a further section of the North Downs Way (NDW). Regular readers will know I have been walking this long-distance footpath, piecemeal, since the summer of 2017, when I joined with a group who were walking alongside a mutual friend, who was in the closing stages of completing the trail. Well life sort of got in the way, as it has a habit of doing, with Mrs PBT’s hospitalized at the start of 2018, and then the pandemic in 2020. Both these major, adverse events scuppered plans laid down for completing the NDW, but having walked two or three sections with friends, I decided the best way of finishing the trail would be to fill in the gaps, and then start heading westward.
In May, and as a test for the new pair of boots I'd treated myself to at the phased end of the last lock-down, I completed the final gap, which was the section between Wye and Charing. This left me free to concentrate all my efforts into reaching Farnham, the town on the Surrey-Hampshire border which is the official start of the NDW.
Things still didn’t run smoothly though, as in July a knee injury forced me to abort my walk from Oxted to Dunton Green, at the eight-mile stage. I finished the final two miles of that leg, last month, walking with the aid of a knee brace, so feeling emboldened, I decided that a longer walk was in order. I chose the eight mile stretch of the trail, running eastward from Merstham station to the large chalkpit to the north of Oxted. This was my starting point, for July’s partially completed walk, and whilst the distance wasn’t huge, I was still a little apprehensive, when I set off yesterday morning.
The village of Merstham is easily accessible, being just one stop north of Redhill, by train, and following an early start, I arrived there shortly before 9am. Exiting the station and following the guidebook towards the start of the trail in Quality Street. Unfortunately, there were no tins of mixed chocolates and toffees to be found, but a street of attractive and mixed-style houses, greeted me instead. There is a connection to the confectionery, which the following linkwill explain, although you will need to read right to the end.
Of rather more interest were the vintage cars I observed, passing through Merstham, as part of the annual London-Brighton run. There were quite a few people lining the streets, watching these carefully restored old vehicles chug by. I paused briefly to take a few photos, before making my way through the churchyard of St Katherine of Alexandria, and back across the A23.
A long and gentle climb then
followed, out of the village and past some very desirable looking properties, followed by a sharp turn to the right and a tunnel under the M23 motorway. A much stiffer ascent, through arable pasture then ensued, but once at the top, the view back towards Redhill was worth every step of the climb. From there on, the route clung to the top of the escarpment, through some very attractive countryside, the only downside was reaching the Harrow at Chaldon, an hour and a quarter before opening time. This was doubly disappointing as not only is it the only pub on this stretch of the NDW, it also receives a good review and write-up on What Pub.
I continued on my way, as the open countryside slowly gave way to woodland, interspersed with the odd secluded property. This really was one of the most pleasant stretches of trail that I have walked so far, a feeling that was enhanced, in sheltered spots, by the surprisingly warm early November sunshine. It was still quite chilly in areas exposed to the stiff south-easterly breeze, so I was glad of quilted, winter coat worn on top of my fleece.
There are a couple of viewing points along the way, at breaks in the trees, giving vistas south towards Greensand Ridge and the High Weald of Ashdown Forest in the distance. I stopped at one of these, at Caterham Country Park, sitting on a bench to enjoy my sandwiches and take on some much-needed water. The views certainly were stunning, but all along this entire stretch of the NDW, one is never far away from the M25. The motorway follows the line of the hills, approaching quite close at times, and whilst this doesn’t spoil view, there is no escaping the incessant traffic noise. The Caterham viewing point seemed very popular with dog walkers, cyclists, and families with their children, all enjoying the unexpected warm sunshine, but after departing, I passed through more areas of beech wood, as the route slowly descended towards the equally noisy A22 trunk road.
Crossing this busy thoroughfare by means of a footbridge, there was an equally long ascent back onto the ridge, at the top of the escarpment leading towards Oxted. Again, this was mainly through semi-open woodland, culminating at the summit of Gangers Hill which, at 780 ft, is the highest point along this section of the NDW. Having gained all that height, it was rather galling to have to lose it a short distance further on. Here the trail descends towards the bottom of the escarpment by means of a long and steep flight of 111 steps. Fortunately, there was a handrail, which I made full use of, along with the extra support afforded by my walking stick. It was still hard on the knees, but once at the bottom it was just over a mile to Chalkpit Lane, and the end of this section of the trail.
I still had more walking to do as it is a mile and a quarter from NDW, down into Oxted and the station. Although there was time to spare before my train southwards, to Edenbridge Town, there wasn’t really time to look for a pub and sink a pint. A coffee though was in order, and following the ticket collector’s suggestion, I called in at the adjacent Spoons - Old Oxted Inn and grabbed a takeaway flat white.
Arriving at Edenbridge there was yet more walking. There are two stations in this small Wealden town, constructed by separate rail companies and following different routes. The one I’d arrived at is on the line that runs south from London to East Grinsted and Uckfield, whilst the other station is at top of town, on cross county line between Tonbridge and Redhill. With no buses running on a Sunday, the last thing I felt like was 20-minute hike up to top station. It wasn’t as if there was time for a pint.
On the plus side my knee held up, so the investment I made for elasticated knee support was worth every penny. I’d also knocked off another eight-mile section of the NDW. I have now followed the trail westwards from Dover and Canterbury, as far as A23-M23 corridor. According to my guidebook there are just three more sections, and 34 miles remaining until I reach Farnham. Depending on public transport connections I might stretch that out to four, but whatever happens, after four quite turbulent and “interesting”years, the end is now almost in sight.

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