North Downs Way Stage 1 - Saturday 21 January 2006
Farnham to Guildford
After parking in Woking we caught a local train to Farnham, the idea being that we could then complete the first part of the
trail to Guildford and catch a train back at the end of the day to Woking, already things looked good the train was so clean and comfortable compared to the cattle wagons we use to commute into work.
What a wonderful day, the weather
forecast warned of cold weather so we wrapped up with all of our winter gear and arrived at Farnham in glorious sunshine!
Not even cold enough for gloves and a hat. Lizzie’s premonition of having shorts on in January almost came true.
Our North Downs Way started without a fanfare or opening signpost, probably due to the fact that we had walked down the wrong street! However on reflection our chosen route through a small back street parallel to the official route
was much nicer. The official route goes along the busy main road. Somebody even took time to say hello and tell us that we could access the North Downs Way path further down the street, there is even a signpost half way down the street pointing the way so I don’t think that we were the first people to use this alternative.
We did not want to feel as though our journey had started in the wrong place so we back tracked along the 'correct' path for about as far as we could cope and within sight
of, if not touching distance of, the official start/finish point.
According to the guide book ( read after we had got back home ) there is a carved post signifying the official start at this road junction but hardly in an appropriate place given the amount of road traffic around. It is somewhat surprising to think that when there is a very quiet attractive street running parallel to the main road with access to the river path the authorities chose to make the start at a busy road junction!
The early signs for the walk were not too good, the noise of the road and litter spoilt what probably was once a nice walk at the side of a river, sadly now full of plastic bags and debris blown from the passing traffic, although there appeared to be a nice picnic spot for motorists behind the BP garage and Wild Bean Café. Then, just as I was preparing myself for a walk in the urban landscape
around the commuter belt there was a bright flash of blue and green along the river as a Kingfisher flew past, I can only recall ever seeing one once before, so this sight given the surroundings was quite spectacular and uplifting.
As the path moves away from Farnham the sense and feeling of countryside begins to take over, although road noise was still audible throughout most of the day, an indication really of how close to the M25 commuter belt is to the walk,
and as countryside takes over the authorities have set up a carved seat
with mileages, first picture opportunity and very nice it is too. For
pretty much of the day I had a feeling that we were walking in peoples
back gardens - albeit extremely rich peoples back gardens. This, after
all, is probably the last green belt to survive the expansion of London
and an ideal location for bankers and pop stars. The land that wasn’t a garden was a golf course, 3 alone on this day!
The way is extremely well signposted and terrain gentle with easy gradients although some of it is on roads, one comparison with the South Downs Way is that no attempt appears to have been made on the North Downs to provide a permissive footpath at the side of roads unlike the SDW where a lot of the road walking has been avoided where possible by creating a little path at the side.
The other noticeable difference is that rather than walking on chalk we were on sand, now I know where all of the sand from Brighton beach went to! Thankfully this makes cleaning the boots at the end easier although Liz still managed to get mud all the way up her trouser legs!
Another noticeable thing which I hope continues throughout the remaining stages was the friendliness of people who actually go out of their way to say hello and have a chat - a culture shock given what we normally expect in London. The locals appeared to have more of an affinity with the surroundings and appreciation of those wanting to go out and explore.
A guy slowly riding his horse around the edge of his field at the side of the path suddenly
turned towards us and started talking about what a nice day it was and were we going far? Adding that 'there had been quite a few 'serious' walkers through today' not certain how serious he thought we were kitted out
and sweating in our winter gear, trekking poles, hydration sacks and maps, perhaps the route ahead was being reccied by a group of crampon wearing trekkers, at least
I didn't have the GPS bleeping away on my shoulder. A lady we passed earlier walking her dog in some woods and now having driven home chirped up with ‘oh hello again, are you ok?’ as we passed for a second time. It was all a bit like the image you get from the quaint countryside portrayed in Miss Marple – without the murder! There was even a touch of humour as some children had decorated a tree behind their house making it look like the home of a character from an Enid Blyton novel, they do things differently here, in South London it would have had graffiti carved into its bark!
Just over 11 miles later we were dropping down walking along the River Wey into Guildford and the end of our day's walk, even here being so unaccustomed to strangers talking I didn’t realise that the guy in a canoe was directing his friendly advice about the tow path not going further than the next junction to ourselves.
So, the end of the first stage and on reflection it would have been nice to have stopped at the pub in Puttenham, from the outside it looked nice and welcoming or even at the Watts Art Gallery for a cup of tea but habit and a fear of seizing up if we sat down pushed us on to the end.
No big hills or outstanding views, look out for the comedy signpost as you approach Watts Gallery ‘ Guildford – steep hill’,
we never did find that hill, sadly there wasn't anywhere that called out to you to pause for a while or maybe sit and have a bit of a break but overall a very pleasant day out on the 'outskirts' of London