Out on @NorthDownsWay Pt 1 – a long stroll to the pub from #Merstham inc @the_pilgrimsway

One of the goals for our joint time off was for both Mummy and me to be able to do some more exercise and get back into some semblance of fitness following the intense first 9 months. I think its fair to say that this didn’t go quite as well as hoped, and although some good things happened (my swimming improved, a running club was joined) in the main we are well on the road to hell.

And when doing solo childcare, opportunities are even more limited. In fact as a Dad they are effectively non-existent, as there are no “buggy fit” classes for Dads, and I’m not in a hurry to repeat my yoga experience of last time. So I’m trying to get exercise in other ways – as in my previous post, walking and cycling appear to be the best options. As No.2 has taken to being carried in the pack-pack, I did make good on my intention to set out onto the North Downs Way a few weeks ago for the first time, and again today, taking advantage of the unseasonably fine weather.

The first trip was a linear, there and back from home out of Merstham to a delightful pub higher up the Downs on the way to Caterham, the Harrow on the Hill. The weather was fine and warm, sufficiently warm that the hoodie I wore was too much, with no wind. As No.2 won’t wear a hat, this meant that I had to put the weather hood on the pack-pack to keep the sun off. It worked well, but was a bit of a hazard in among trees as it would catch on any low-hanging branches.

The path from the station heads up over the Merstham Bund that shelters houses (a bit) from the M25 noise and then go straight over the bridge and into trees. Initially uninspiring the path runs along a road for a short way before starting to head into the countryside proper, briefly engaging with civilisation as you go under the M23 (Merstham is nestled between the two, but except for the edges of the town/village it doesn’t have much impact).

Then came my favourite, if hardest, bit of the walk – uphill through a long field to the top ridge, where the North Downs Way meets the Pilgrims Way. This was good enough for a panoramic photo:

Unfortunately my current phone isn’t exactly up to date, so it’s a bit hard to make much out, but this shows the sweep of Merstham, with Redhill, Reigate and Gatwick in the distance. It really was quite stunning, and made me wish for my proper camera.

The NDW now joined the Pilgrims Way (from Winchester to Canterbury, yikes), and we followed the edge of this escarpment all the way into the next set of hills – highlights along the route included a sign from the ages and a garden from Mad Max:

After the significant trog up the hill with the extra weight on my back, I was glad that it was mostly flat and well-laid paths and roads. My favourite momentary rest on the walk was at the edge of Park Ham, part of the Quarry Hangers Site of Special Scientific Interest, where there was a warning about the presence of sheep (because they’re pretty scary, right?) and asking for volunteers to be “Urban Shepherds”, something I’ve never heard of before, but which is a real thing – check out the Urban Shepherds NGO! With farming blood in my veins, in the event I ever have spare time again I might revisit this idea, as it appeals. Would also be a conversation starter on a CV!

Something that did surprise me was the lack of other walkers – I guess a weekday and an early and surprising first really warm day presumably left many unable to come out. Pilgrims may be a bit more fair-weather these days I guess?

This track eventually brought us to the Harrow pub – which is a proper country pub, despite the customary gastro pretensions (the food is good having been separately). Good beer selection (I had St Austell Tribute, excellent beer, well kept). However my error was again to get a pint – she’d been quiet and contended in the back-pack, having had a nap up the hill and along the ridge, so I foolishly thought stopping for a drink and snack would be what she wanted. Oh no, not at all. I couldn’t take the wriggling and the whinging so left 1/3 of a pint and set off back the way I’d come. The only real difference on the way back was that the view the other direction into London was more emphatic, and so the below poor effort shows what you could see looking into the gleaming spires of London (and the Manhattan of South London, Croydon slightly nearer).

I mistakenly thought this was another gradual extension of No.2’s time in the pack-pack. However it turned out I’d massively underestimated both the distance and the time. In the end it was some 13km taking (not including all of the seemed like 30 second break in the middle!) a smidgen over 2 1/4 hours. Coming back down the hill was a lot quicker and more pleasant, as you saw the view the whole time, not just when I needed a rest!

No.2 did really well, having had a usual 30 minute nap as well as some quiet spells – however the low-hanging branches made an appearance right at the end, and a hawthorn branch kissed her cheek, giving her a shock which meant the final 10 minutes were a bit fraught and noisy. Right as rain when we got home. Having enjoyed it, and been impressed I kept going so long, I was determined to do more NDW, so started plotting my next route – going the other way from Merstham. Which I completed yesterday – an account of that to follow!