We’d been meaning to go to Box Hill for a long time, in search of somewhere that Hayley used to go with her dad. It turns out, after some thought, that wasn’t Box Hill, but it was nice to wander around there anyway! We were shocked at the amount of people also out walking, although in hindsight being a National Trust spot, we should have expected it. I had ideas of taking beautiful photographs from the viewing platform, but none of the 5o people surrounding the thing qualified. We left the hill top and took to the, very steep and slippery, stepping stones trail.
Looking at these pictures, it might seem like we had the place to ourselves, but we were actually surrounded. Families with screaming children skidded about in the mud in front of us, beside us and behind us. There was much talk of the stepping stones as we headed along the trail. The thing about rain is that it tends to fill up the rivers, and the stepping stones were on the receiving end of this. We reached the spot where they professed to be, only to find a miniature version of the Mississippi.
A little further along the Mississippi, we noticed a rope swing dangling in the muddy water. This just showed how much the water had risen. Trees were jutting out of the muddy torrents. The rope swing looked fun, but possibly not with the water so high. We walked through a swampy field, looking up at the towering hills above us. Then, unexpectedly we were on a main road, dodging cars and throngs of people. Strangely, this muddy, disappointing walk drew the biggest crowds by far. I suppose everyone was like us and wanted to see the stepping stones that looked so picturesque on the National Trust website.
The climb back up the hill was fairly hard going. Some parts were mud, others were rock. The whole thing was steep. An old plane flew overhead. We paused briefly near the top to take in the view and catch our breath.
Having completed the slightly grim stepping stone trail, we felt almost short changed. We looked at possible other routes and what else there was to see that might not have been washed away or buried by the rain. We saw a tower on the map and decided to hit the Happy Valley Trail for another three miles, fairly certain that the at least the very top of the tower might be above the flood.
The Happy Valley Trail is aptly named. Along the way there are endless obstacles that blend into the woodland. We had a few games of slippery log challenge, Hayley of course winning every time.
After half an hour or so we reached the tower. It was indeed still standing despite the rain and waterlogged ground. There is a tree growing inside the tower that pops right out of the top like a smoking chimney. I had a look inside the tower, to find nothing but a discarded coffee cup and the tree. Everywhere we walked in fact, we saw discarded coffee cups. Some of the cups were even spiked onto trees like medieval severed heads. It seemed strange that others embarking on hikes, presumably to appreciate the natural beauty of Box Hill, would feel the need to add their own decorations to the scenery. As well as takeaway coffee cups, we noted several gleaming white bags of dog shit hanging from trees. I have never understood the idea behind bagging and therefore preserving something that will overtime disappear, only to leave it behind like some grotesque marker.
The tower marks the point that you descend to the bottom of the hill. Having come all the way up the other side, and knowing how steep it is, going down somehow feels harder. We were starting to feel the miles in our bellies too and were pretty keen to get ourselves to a pub.
Just as we reached this pop up lake, a ridiculous amount of rain started adding to the excitement. Having with me nothing but a woolen jumper, we jumped back in time and headed to the Wild West for shelter.
We tried our hardest to ignore the screaming children and brave the place, but it was just too awful, so we decided to risk drowning and possible death as it seemed the lesser of two evils. By now the rain was really hammering down, so we took a very dark woodland path instead of the road, hoping to get some shelter from the trees. This path was an error. Not only was it as wet as the main path, it was going in the wrong direction. We scrambled up a muddy bank, trying to get back to the road. My jumper, turning me into a human sponge, had absorbed a litre or two of water at this point and things were looking pretty bad for us. Perhaps the Smith & Western would have been the better choice after all. No, never. We did eventually get back to the car, soaked but very relieved.
We drove to Walton on Hill and had lunch with Phil Tufnell. That is, we had lunch at a pub that Phil Tufnell was in. It was nice. It was not full of cowboys, banditos and brats. Soon we were full of beer and a sense of achievement.