Pilgrims’ Way, Merstham to Oxted

Section 7: 8 miles (12.8 kilometres). Trig bagged. September, sunny with an autumny coolness. With lovely son and dog

You would imagine the closer we get to London, the easier the push to the start. You would, but you wouldn’t be taking into account the whimsical fecklessness of Southern Rail. Hear me sighing, and moving on to a new section.

The old forge

Our walk starts on Quality Street. Why aren’t the houses made from toffee fingers? Disappoingly both this and the chocolates are named after the JM Barrie play, in this case because the two lead actors, Seymour Hicks and Ellaline Terriss moved into The Old Forge. Imagine trick or treating here, you know what I’m thinking. Hazelnut triangles. In the distance you can see the fingerpost that turns us onto the snickleway through the trees and on to the PW.

At this point you notice the sound of traffic, becoming a roar as we pass over the M25.

That sound barely left us, although it fades into a distant rumble, and the bridges over the motorways are exciting and vibrate alarmingly.

Soon we’re at Merstham church, which I’m pleased to say, was open, friendly and with a pilgrim stamp. Like greedy kids on a school trip, we eat our picnic pretty much as soon as we set off, on a bench in the churchyard. My sandwich is squashed.

Inside there’s a terrifying mutliated effigy of one of the mayors of London. I can’t tell you what he did to deserve it, if anything, but I can tell you he spent a few centuries face down being used as pavement. I can think of an old London mayor I’d be happy to walk on.

In quick succession we cross two railway lines and the M23. It’s an odd mix of rural flesh and main arteries. We’re following the North Downs Way again and soon we’re climbing a hill up to excellent views south with white fluffy clouds, and hidden in the corner of a field a trig point. Bagged. Not far along we get views north and I’m very surprised to see how near London looks. It looks a couple of hours away, but I check a map and it tells me more like six. If I had a telescope I could see my house.

We spend much of this walk along the ridge of the downs under a deep blue sky. I’ve almost forgotten about the bloody trains. The ground is flinty and chalky and I spend a lot of the time looking for hag stones, little round flint nodules with holes through which are sometimes called adder stones. This feels like a real pilgrims path, not least because of the topography and the geographical references, at the start of Pilgrims Lane we even get a fingerpost.

As we come out at a road we spy a pub, The Harrow is centuries old and was used as a Home Guard headquarters during WW2 so we go have a look. The Harrow has the nicest bar staff I’ve ever been served by and they sell scampi fries.

We pass the folly and as we walk down War Coppice Road I am absolutely delighted to find a stinkpipe. Finding stinkpipes is one of my life’s side quests and I’m surprised to see one out here. Stinkpipes are Victorian street furniture which are used to release noxious gases and stinks into the atmosphere from the sewers. It is always a pleasure although what it is doing on someone’s drive is a mystery. Perhaps they bought one as a garden ornament.

The next section is a nice bit through woods, punctuated by another celebrated view at Caterham viewpoint, excellent place for a picnic. Fortunately we saved some Hula Hoops to enjoy here.

Just before another cool bridge over the noisy aggressive road we get distracted by conkers again. These ones are still in their spiky shells so we spend a few minutes jumping on them and trying to stop the dog eating them. Such a silly dog.

More mushroomy woods on this next part of the ridge, Hanging Wood (definitely hanging over the edge), a wood with flights of stairs, although the PW leaves the North Downs Way briefly, and soon we’re on the home stretch. Lovely son spots pheasants (peasants) and several types of mushrooms, I’m still looking at the ground for hag stones, unsuccessfully as it happens.

We decide to take an ancient trackway (and use the excellent pedestrian roundabout) to Oxted instead of the main road which is slow but a much more incognito way to make our final assault on the corner shop and commandeer two Calippos for the war effort. Victory.

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More walks on the Pilgrims’ Way

Walk Info

I use The Pilgrims Way by Leigh Hatts as a guidebook, it’s pretty much essential for this walk. You can buy it here or from good independent bookshops.

I also use a GPX file imported from British Pilgrimage Trust into the Ordnance Survey app. It is available from their website and occasionally differs from the book.

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