The third section of the North Downs way is my favourite walk so far! It Begins in Dorking with a steep climb up to Box Hill, before following the ridge all the way to Merstham. The best parts of the walk are at the top of the ridge. You do get to climb down and then up again, quite a few times. Anyway, all the climbing is worth it for the beautiful views.
We began at Dorking station, so had to start with the less-than lovely walk along the A24, until we reached the turning into the woods with the box hill stepping stones.
The first climb up Box Hill from Dorking is quite steep, but it doesn’t take too long. While we were climbing there were quite a few runners zooming up the hill. So I felt a bit lazy in comparison. The trees by the path on Box Hill are amazing! You can see sections of the roots clutching the edge of the path. Lots of them even have new branches that grow vertically out of the lower branches.
Once we made it to the top of the hill, the view is pretty, even on a cloudy day:
Next you walk along the ridge in the trees for a while before you descend through Oak wood. Although you soon climb back up again. Before you turn off towards the quarry, there is a gravestone for a puppy up behind the path. We found this path incredibly muddy! Marc slipped up spectacularly a few times. Even though the soil is chalky, there is also enough clay to really clog walking boots and add extra weight to your legs.
We thought the trees seem like they should be from a disney version of an ancient forest. There are just so many gnarled and interesting shapes of branches and roots.
The next part involves a long walk through Dawcombe nature reserve, at the bottom of the ridge, along the pilgrims trail. There is an interesting mix of trees on one side and farmland on the other side. Part way through the woods we found a car that seemed to have crashed into the gully. It might have knocked over a tree on the way down, this tree had in turn knocked over a section of the fence. We also found a perfect place to stop for lunch! At the end of Juniper Hill there is a grassy section with a bench which we climbed up to, to sit and eat lunch.
After another steep climb, we turned right and found coal tax posts as the path starts to go gently downhill.
Then, for the first time in a while, we emerged from the trees and were able to walk along the gorgeous Colley Hill. We were really lucky with the weather and the sun came out in time for us to walk in the sun. The edge of the slope is very steep, and as it was saturated with water, this hill was very slippy. There was a bench here too if you can hold on this long before eating your lunch!
On the far side of Colley Hill is the Ingis Folly, which looks like a stone gazebo. The roof is covered with a mosaic showing the night sky.
After spending lots of time taking photos we continued on through the gate onto Reigate Hill. We saw a couple of look out posts (possibly part of Reigate fort??) There is also a clearing that was made by a plane crash from some American soldiers during WWII. The clearing has not grown over, and now there is a monument made of two wooded wing tips, showing the size of the plane that crashed here.
We loved exploring Reigate Fort! It was built in the 1890s as part of several military fortified positions to protect London (and the British Empire) from the French. There are extensive earthworks and lots of concrete buildings still standing so you have have a good look around if you are interested.
Keep walking along the bridleway after Reigate fort. The bridleway crosses a bridge (over a main road) to reach a car park with a cafe and toilet stop. The loos are clean, but you need to bring your own toilet tissue. Then the walk is through Gatton Park. While we walked through this area there seemed to be some sort of long distance run happening as we were passed by hundreds of runners with teeny backpacks!
You come out of Gatton Park along a road that has a view of the Millennium standing stones which have come to rest here after they spent several years as a travelling exhibition.
The stones were created by Richard Kindersley to mark the double millennium from AD1 to AD2000. Each stone represents 200 years and is inscribed with a quote. The words quote a whole range of men from Saint John’s Gospel to Shakespeare and T.S. Eliot. You can read about the stones, including each of the inscriptions here.
The final stretch of the walk goes past the Royal Alexandra and Albert School. Then it goes a little way along a busy road and past some sports fields. The M25 is pretty loud along here, but there is only one view (through the golf course) when you can see the cars zooming past. It just provides a steady growl to punctuate the journey. The very last few hundred metres crosses some fields while looking down onto a huge golf course.
As you can probably tell from my hundreds of photos, I loved walking from Dorking to Merstham. It was stunning, even in February so it must be even nicer in the spring or summer.