Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Rambling Weekend Away

As KT noted a bit ago, we're about done with sitting at home doing nothing, as much as we enjoy that. And since the UK Border Agency is still playing with our passports, we're stuck on this island--not that there's anything wrong with that. Indeed, two weekends ago we had a lovely time going on our first walking weekend with the Ramblers. We've gone on day walks with these folks before but we were a little nervous about a whole weekend devoted to hiking, as we still consider ourselves casual ramblers. Yet this trip was to the North Downs area of Surrey, just two hours away, and the two walks sounded manageable, even though one involved "three peaks"--gulp.

The 8 of us in 3 cars headed out after work on Friday and met up in the North Downs at a pub. From there we went a short way and pulled off into a small road that took us to a hostel deep in the woods in an area known as the Devil's Punchbowl. We had the whole place rented for our group and KT and I even had a private room, although it did have bunk bed! It also must have been built for hobbits as there were few places I could actually stand up without hitting my head.

The next morning the 6 experienced Ramblers made a proper English fry-up--eggs, sausage, bacon, mushrooms, toast and beans, and we packed a lunch for the day ahead. We also met the hostel's local robin, a bird who fearlessly hopped around and in the hostel, grabbing offered food. Several ponies also make their home right outside the hostel.
RT, the group leader for the weekend, used to live in the area so he had planned a challenging first day of some 12-plus miles that included 3 local peaks. We drove to the trail head but things got off to a slow start, as one of group had an injured knee and after less than a mile, decided he couldn't go on. We arranged to meet him later and pressed on as the grey of the morning gave way to sunlight. The walk had nice variety of scenery and the occasional oddity--some houses out in the woods had two U.S. Office boxes? A bit after noon we made our first peak and enjoyed our pack lunches before heading down the slope. At some point after that, however, we made a wrong turn. Although we realized the error within 20-30 minutes--my GPS-enabled phone helped spot where we were on Google Maps--the group gathered to decide if we could realistically make all 3 peaks in the remaining daylight. No, was the consensus (We don't think that's just because the two of us were slow!). So, we plotted a new route to a different village where, after tea or beer in front of a roaring fire, we caught a bus back to our starting point. We had still covered 12.5 miles (here's the Saturday route on Google Maps) and my and KT's feet at least were aching, so we were somewhat relieved we hadn't tried for all 3 peaks. Our injured rambler joined us at the starting point where we had an excellent pub dinner--again near a warm fire.

The next day started grey again but after another fry-up, we were ready for a stroll right from the hostel. After another debate about route--organizing these trips must be a challenge as everyone has their own walking speeds and desires--we went for a circular walk following the ridge and paths around the depression that makes up Devil's Punchbowl. Around lunchtime we ended up at a fancy pub--the area is where rich Londoners go to ride horses--that somewhat reluctantly let us eat on the outside picnic tables 50 yards from the pub itself. The sun had started to shine again, pointing out how lucky we got for the weekend. We've had a lot of rain and snow and much colder weather over the previous month. By the time we circled back to the car park we had covered more than 8, sometimes muddy, miles (Here's the Sunday route.) The walks perhaps didn't have the majesty of the Cornwall coast but strolling with new people in a new, albeit nearby, part of the country made for a satisfying weekend out of the house. Where to next?--JT.