Caterham Circular, 21 January 2023.
This walk, advertised several times previously, had never actually been completed. True to form, although completed on January 21st it was still not as intended. Previous attempts to complete the circle have resulted in the Caterham to Woldingham, Caterham to Oxted and Caterham to Hurst Green variations – mainly due to lack of sense of direction on the leader’s part. And thus it was on 21st, because, despite a first and triumphant successful recce of the clockwise version the leader decided – despite well justified forebodings – to do it IN REVERSE!
There appeared to be good reasons for this rash decision – the three steep climbs which would have been after lunch would be in the longer morning and would now become descents and the initial long climb would – in theory – become a gentle descent to the station ending on a quiet residential road.
The weather was glorious and surprisingly the morning was accomplished satisfactorily with few incidents. We managed to cross the A22 without any casualties despite the very fast and unremitting traffic; the signed footpaths are directly opposite each other but there is no allowance made for pedestrians.
At the top of the first climb the leader eschewed the signed footpath as it makes a steep, slippery and indistinct descent through woodland – we had to grasp trees on the recce. She opted for a pleasant tree-arched track to the valley bottom where it joins the footpath. However the group had been spotted from afar by the farmer. He drove down in order to point out that we had strayed from the boggy path and were proceeding along a track where his groom exercises polo ponies. Fortunately we were only a few yards from the next footpath ascent and the exchange passed off amicably.
Two more North Downs ascents were achieved in glorious, crisp sunshine. We passed by a riding school, followed the valley road through Woldingham School and climbed through frosty woodland to reach a rewarding, misty view from the top of Gangers Hill whence we began the long descent to the Barley Mow pub at Tandridge where Janet and Peter were already warmly installed.
After lunch the way continued along the Greensand Way, after which the trouble began.
Following this anticlockwise route gives a much better view of the chain of ponds to the South of Godstone. These ponds, which are sites of special scientific interest, have been created by damming and the oldest, Leigh Pond, dates back as far as 1,500 years. The clearly signed public footpath runs across one of the dams but has been roped off by the owner of a house built, curiously, just below the dam. Our leader was convinced this was the way to go and we ducked the ropes to be confronted on the other side by the distressed homeowner. She claimed to have Environment Agency permission to bar the footpath as increased footfall since Covid had caused leaks and flooding to her kitchen causing her huge expense. The exchange passed off without incident – we forbore to mention it is the local authority’s responsibility to maintain footpaths and a criminal offense to block one.
After an unintended detour round the pond we entered Godstone churchyard where the first snowdrops were in bloom. After pausing to inspect the charming Victorian Tudor almshouses and chapel the group wound its way past the remaining pond, where water fowl skidded disconsolately on the frozen ice. We passed through the village of Godstone, which would be attractive were it not for the busy traffic routed through the centre.
The way passed by a tumulus, a reservoir and through a farm to cross the M25 and begin the climb to the viewpoint. All seemed to be going well – until the leader mistook a turn off the obvious and clear track and led the group along a squelchy, muddy and claggy path with no end in sight. By this time dusk had started to fall and it seemed prudent to retrace our steps. We managed to reach the viewpoint at Gravelly Hill just in time to see the red sun set – and realise that this was the spot where, the previous week, a woman had been sadly killed by dogs.
Hastening on, we found the correct path to begin the straightforward descent to Caterham station. Surely nothing could go wrong now? However in the gloaming the leader missed a turn so the magnificent seven trudged doggedly on, passing private schools (“Surely”, said the leader, “surely I would have remembered these?”)and following an unreasonably long and busy road to arrive, tired and chilly at Caterham station in the dark.
It may be symptomatic of that settlement that all those who confirmed we were indeed on the right road to deliverance did not neglect to mention Waitrose as the significant landmark (it is beside the station). The station master was equally emphatic that we should not enter this public space without cleaning our boots as they had to sweep up after us!
“Well, “said the leader, “We won’t have to go to Caterham again for another couple of years”.