The Long Hike Home

I’ve been reading a book since Christmas about making adventures out of the less obvious things around us. The message of the book really struck a chord with me, as I have always loved the idea of taking something simple like a walk in the woods and turning it into something more. I decided to stop waiting for the right weather or the right weekend, and hop on a train to Caterham (as far South as I can go from my nearest station). From there I would walk to the M25, turn around and find my way home. On the map, the quickest route said 18 miles, but that was walking on main roads which didn’t seem like much fun. I thought instead, I’d just get to my start point and see where the greenest path would take me.

I left my flat just before 9am. The sky was clear and bright blue, a good sign. I walked to the station, through a flock of pigeons. I stopped to buy some apples en route and managed to get a good deed in while I was there by buying some chavvy kids a bottle of milk. They were short on change and I thought I could use some karma for my journey. Feeling pretty positive I hopped on the 9:20 to Caterham.

IMG_6888

IMG_6889

IMG_6897

IMG_6905

Arriving in Caterham I realised I hadn’t really thought about how I’d get to the viewpoint. I thought maybe a bus, but it became apparent that the road I needed to go up was not on any bus route. I decided to walk, feeling slightly stupid at moving in the opposite direction from home, therefore adding another two miles onto my walk. I also noticed that there was a thick blanket of fog hanging over Caterham, which would undoubtedly render the viewpoint a point.

IMG_6912

IMG_6913

IMG_6916

IMG_6918

IMG_6919

IMG_6920

On my steep uphill walk into the mist, I found the longest spiders web I had ever seen. It was stretched between a post box and a hedge about 15 feet away. Impressive. Moving on from the web, the pavement vanished and I felt somewhat vulnerable as I headed down a wet, windy country road. I certainly was not in London anymore.

IMG_6923

IMG_6925

IMG_6929

IMG_6930

I got to the viewpoint, at least I assume I did. I got to some benches facing what I guess was normally a view. There was a man washing his hair under a tap while his large alsatian sat in the boot barking away. For a moment I thought he might kill me. He got in his car and drove very slowly, like you’d imagine a serial killer might. Then, he drove off into the fog. It was strange. I decided the fog wasn’t going anywhere so I hopped on the North Downs Way and walked into the woods. I didn’t see another person for at least an hour. The path is really well signposted. Looking back at my pictures I clearly liked the signs a lot. I suppose woods all look the same after a while.

IMG_6938

IMG_6935

IMG_6944

IMG_6946

IMG_6951

IMG_6952

IMG_6954

IMG_6955

I descended a few sets of stairs. As I got lower I began to hear the road. I thought it was the M25, but that turned out to be my awful sense of direction leading my mind astray. I was infact about to cross the A22 on a snazzy footbridge. I watched the traffic for a while, appreciating more and more that I had nowhere to be and could take as long as I liked to not get there. I lost interest in the cars and grew peckish, so found a spot for a snack and a quick coffee.

IMG_6959

IMG_6962

IMG_6968

IMG_6971

IMG_6974

IMG_6979

IMG_6981

I grabbed my backpack and carried on down the well signposted path. I saw another human. He was a young Asian chap, power hiking with a huge map unfolded in front of him. I thought it was funny to be looking at a map when on a footpath that only goes forwards or backwards. Just after my encounter with the map chap, I found a car cemetery. A once glorious VW Bus was growing its own ecosystem inside and out. Such a shame, but it made for a nice photograph.

IMG_6983

IMG_6984-001

IMG_6986

After the cars I was back in the woods. I wouldn’t be out of the woods for another 4 miles or so. I found a really red tree. If anyone can identify it then please do. I met a few other hikers on my way to Woldingham, all of which had jumped on the train out of the sunny city and shared my frustration with the fog. I told one chap that I was walking back to Crystal Palace. He laughed and wished me good luck.

IMG_6991

IMG_6992

IMG_6993

IMG_6994

IMG_7002

IMG_7003

IMG_7004

IMG_7008

I had seen enough mud and enough misty trees after an hour or so, so found a road to walk on for a bit. My boots had gained about a kilogram of mud, so were glad of the tarmac. I ended up parallel with the North Downs Golf Club where one golfer was kind enough to narrowly miss me with his wayward shot. I thought I’d do him a favour, so I pocketed the ball to stop it narrowly missing anyone else.

IMG_7012-001

IMG_7011

After a break from the mud, my feet felt better and I’d covered more ground. I had reached the Great Church Wood, and had no choice but to venture in again. This time the scenery was more interesting. The path took me alongside the biggest house I have ever seen. There was a fire going in one of its many gardens but no-one to be seen. I stood and stared at it for a while, as one does. This was also the first time I had heard parakeets since leaving Crystal Palace. I wonder if Woldingham is as far south as they have decided to venture?

IMG_7019

IMG_7022

IMG_7032

IMG_7042

IMG_7045

I liked those woods. I left them, crossing a railway line. As I got to the other side I was greeted by an enormous steaming pile of horse shit. I didn’t realise how much it steams when the air is cold. I half expected it to burst into flames. Moving away from the steam, I found the horses. They came over to the fence for a few selfies, strictly for hip ironic Twitter posts of course. In the middle of a photoshoot with one horse, a friend came to join it. I managed to capture a real moment of tenderness between them that made me feel all fuzzy, or something like that.

IMG_7049

IMG_7055

IMG_7057

Leaving the horses, I found a map, showing me the walk I had just completed. I then decided to walk to Warlingham in search of some lunch. En route I found a garden centre with a very posh cafe. I got as far as the entrance before checking myself, realising I was covered in mud, bearded, and that the combined age of the people on the other side of the glass must have been close to 10,000. It appeared to be a rather smart establishment, so I kept walking.

IMG_7092

IMG_7093

IMG_7100

IMG_7094

I didn’t like the sound of ‘Long Hill’ so I opted for ‘Bug Hill’ instead. It was long all the same, and ridiculously steep. I began level with some golfers and finished towering above them in the clouds.

IMG_7103

IMG_7106

IMG_7107

At the top of Bug Hill I saw million pound house after million pound house. You’d think that would mean the nearest town, Warlingham, would be full of great pubs and cafes. I ate a horrible tuna baguette for an over the odds price. Warlingham may have more to it than what met my eye, but I won’t be hurrying back.

IMG_7109

IMG_7112

Leaving Warlingham, I began my most boring stretch of the walk. I found myself on a busy main road covered in luminous plastic, pedestrian obstacles. I tried to find a way out on my phone, but Riddlesdown common, my nearest green space, would take me in the wrong direction. I made do with a small pond full of gulls and geese.

IMG_7116

IMG_7117

IMG_7118

IMG_7120

IMG_7124

IMG_7126

IMG_7128

IMG_7130

IMG_7133

IMG_7134

IMG_7137

The beer was absolutely crucial at this point. I was about to walk my usual commute to work. Strangely, this was the first time I managed to get lost all day, walking the route I drive everyday. I suppose that’s what you get when you try to take a short cut and forget that you have no sense of direction. By this point my phone had run out of juice, and with it my map. I had brought a charger pack thing, but failed to bring the right cable to plug it in. Must invest in an actual map next time. I headed into Littleheath Woods with a boost of enthusiasm, or alcohol possibly. I stuck on my trapper hat as I was beginning to feel a chill. I thought I’d take a selfie to document the occasion. At this time a family of 4 foxes scuttled out from their dens and began to play. Of course I missed the whole thing with my camera as I was too busy taking stupid pictures of myself.

IMG_7146

IMG_7149

IMG_7154

IMG_7155

IMG_7156

I popped out of the woods and grabbed a boost for some energy. That rubbish tuna sandwich was beginning to wear off. Then, I crossed the tram tracks and headed into Shirley Hills. This is where I got lost… in the dark. I must have added half an hour and probably a mile or so onto my walk by trying to travel as the crow flies. This is only doable when you are a bird as houses tend to get in the way.

IMG_7158

IMG_7163

IMG_7165

IMG_7166

IMG_7179

IMG_7184

I’d been walking for many, many hours by the time it got dark. I’d spent most of the day in the woods. I’d seen enough trees and enough mud to last a lifetime. I was, infact, quite glad when I reached the main road again and saw the dazzling lights of the cars. I always imagine roads at night to look like fireworks, knowing full well they don’t. I thought I’d make the most of being a night walker and try to create the pictures I have in my head, with my camera.

IMG_7198

IMG_7207

IMG_7221

In the darkness, everything lit jumps out. A church with amazing stained glass windows was brightly lit inside, causing the glass to glow like a beacon. I assume that’s the point. I am not a religious man, but those windows were pretty.

IMG_7215

From here it was a painful trudge along the main road, through South Norwood and finally home. South Norwood doesn’t have much going for it. The surrounding parts are lovely: the lake, the country park. However, the town itself is horrible. Shops are mostly boarded up. The ones that aren’t, serve as doorway hangouts for drunks and those with little prospects. I noticed a sign that I thought must be a joke. A passerby assured me it wasn’t.

IMG_7225

IMG_7228

My legs had stopped working properly about a mile from my flat, which made the last stretch take a lot longer than it should have. I’m glad I pushed myself. I’m glad I didn’t just jump on a train in Woldingham. Adventures can be whatever and whenever you want them to be. Go and have one.

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “The Long Hike Home

    1. Around 23 in the end. Glad you liked the photos. Now to find my next adventure, and someone to join me on it! It’s hard to convince people to walk all day for no particular reason!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s