My decision to stay at a hostel, 4km off the path of the North Downs Way, meant that I spent today hacking my way back onto that route.
From Holmbury Saint Mary, I walked mostly on footpaths and bridleways through Abinger, North Holmwood, and Trumpets Hill, with a short, steep climb up Colley Hill at the end to get me to a tired, old, corporate events type of hotel on Reigate Hill. The last kilometre or so of this route was on the North Downs Way. I shall try not to get so far off it in future.
The walking was very pleasant and the weather dry, if a little muggy in the morning. I stopped on tree trunks and benches along the way to rest my legs and enjoy the scenery, which was mostly woodland. In a path through some trees in suburban North Holmwood, I saw a large bird of prey with a fan-shaped tail. When I was out of the trees, I could see the inland white cliffs of Brockham Limeworks, a disused quarry.
Later, I crossed the peaceful River Mole, and was surprised to come across a defensive pill box, like the ones along the Kennet and Avon canal. Military planners have long felt that this is where an invading army would pass to reach London. Here in Reigate, a short walk from my hotel is Reigate Fort, built in the 19th Century to protect london from a potential invasion by the French.
At the very end of my walk, I faced a set of steps (first wooden, then cut into the chalk hill) to take me up to the North Downs Way, 200m above me. My rucksack, which had felt so light when I left Holmbury, felt like it might pull me back down the hill. At the top, I was treated to a beautiful view over the countryside that I had been walking through all day.
My accommodation in Reigate is the run down Bridge House Hotel. When it was first built (in the 30s?), it might have been a place for the smart set with motor cars. There’s a photo from that era in the lobby. Since then, it has served as a venue for corporate events and weddings and illicit trysts. The route to my room takes twists and turns through various corridors and stairs. There are strange smells. The carpets have worn. Looking at my room, I imagine the armies of David Brents and Alan Partridges, who occupied it over the years. It’s “in need of refurbishment,” today.
After dinner I had a chat at the bar with two electricians from Gloucestershire, who are spending a couple of weeks at the hotel while they do a job at an industrial site. They miss their families and their villages, but they’re doing well. After I spoke to them, I thought about the Argentinian hair dresser that I met in Puttenham. He sleeps in the camping barn and cycles 15 miles a day to cut hair in Guildford so that he can send money to his wife and daughter in Argentina.