THE NORTH DOWNS WAY
Stage 4: Merstham to Oxted
Thursday, July 29th 2010
I walked this section of the North Downs Way on Thursday, July 29th 2010. Being a relatively short stage (around 13km), I started later than normal, arriving at Merstham Station just before noon. I walked the short distance over to the Railway Arms pub (picture 1) for a nice lunch and a pint of Greene King Abbot Ale. The Railway Arms is not the only pub in town -- there is also The Feathers (picture 2), which is less than a minute's walk down the main street.
Just around the corner from both pubs, I rejoined the North Downs Way where it emerges from the Merstham Cricket Club onto Quality Street (picture 3). The trail follows Quality Street for a short distance past some interesting old houses (picture 4).
At a signpost the route forks off to the right and crosses a footbridge over the thunderous M25 motorway (picture 5), continuing straight ahead through some trees and into the grounds of St Katherine's Church (picture 6), parts of which date back to 1220.
Leaving the churchyard, the trail goes across the A23 and into Rookshaw Road, where it quickly crosses two railway bridges. The trail follows the paved road past some grand looking houses (picture 7) for almost a kilometre before a fingerpost directs the walker off along a rough path (picture 8) that leads to a tunnel under the M23 motorway.
Beyond the motorway, the North Downs Way climbs across a large field and back up towards the chalk downland. At the top of the field, the path turns right at another fingerpost, following an avenue of trees and bushes between two large fields until it crosses a road. Here the trail continues almost straight ahead, just to the right of Hilltop Farm (picture 10). The Way continues along this track, with some good views off to the south every now and then through gaps in the hedges (picture 11).
After about a kilometre, the path curves to the right around Valley Farm, and after another 500 metres it arrives at the intersection of Stansted Road and War Coppice Road. The trail continues ahead on War Coppice Road, but I first made a brief detour to the left along Stansted Road to visit the Harrow Inn (picture 12).
Rejoining War Coppice Road, I almost immediately saw the Whitehill Folly Tower to my left (picture 13). The path follows War Coppice Road into shady woods, with several blind corners where you need to be wary of traffic (picture 14), and past some cottages before leaving the road to the right and passing through the darker woods of Gravelly Hill.
Quite suddenly, after about ten minutes in the woods, the trail emerges at Caterham Viewpoint, with some magnificent views of the Surrey countryside (picture 15).
Going back into the woods at the opposite side of the viewpoint, the trail winds its way through the trees before descending towards the A22 road. Here, one of the waymarkers is stuck to a tree and was hidden by leaves until I got quite close (picture 16) -- it would be quite easy to miss this turn and continue straight ahead along the wrong footpath.
Having taken the correct turn, the path descends to a footbridge over the A22 (picture 17). Beyond the footbridge, the path turns right onto a track then soon turns left to pass a large warehouse partly hidden in the woods and then climbs up Winders Hill, eventually arriving at an intersection next to the stone South Lodge (picture 18).
At the intersection there is a sign for Woldingham School. A little to the right of that, the North Downs Way leaves the road and climbs a path into the woods of Marden Park (picture 19).
The path emerges from the woods to cross a road, descends steeply down another path, then climbs once again alongside another road. At the top of the climb the path crosses the road and begins to descend, following just inside the tree line. Along this path there are several benches strategically positioned to take advantage of the views to the M25 motorway and beyond (picture 20).
The trail continues down a long flight of steep wooden steps, before following a chalky path along the top of Oxted Downs. Here the path is quite overgrown and doesn't seem like a National Trail, but the view over the Oxted chalk pit and the surrounding countryside is quite spectacular (picture 21).
When the path reaches the chalk pit it turns right, heading downhill and skirting around two sides of the chalk pit along the edge of a field where cows were grazing (picture 22). At the end of the field, the trail crosses Chalkpit Lane and climbs up some steps next to a partially hidden marker post (picture 23).
At the crossing, I left the trail for the day, instead heading down Chalkpit Lane towards the town of Oxted. The first part of the lane is narrow and has no verge, so one must be wary of the cars that seem to scream down the road at regular intervals. Fortunately after a few hundred metres the road reaches some houses and from here there is a footpath beside the road for the remainder of the 20 minute walk down to the railway station.
Having found the railway station, I continued walking down Station Road West and Church Lane to Old Oxted, where the four local pubs are to be found on the High Street. After surveying all four, I chose the Crown Inn, where the sole drinker at the bar saw me inspecting the labels on the real ale pumps and offered some advice on the available ales. These included Skinner's Betty Stogs from Cornwall and the SIBA award winning Summer Perle from the local Westerham Brewery.
The gentleman, a local IT expert known to all as "JB", seemed quite impressed by my quest to use the North Downs Way as an excuse for a month-long pub crawl across Surrey and Kent. We were soon joined by a local farmer by the name of Patrick as the pub began to fill with local drinkers and about seven or eight pints later I stumbled out of the Crown Inn and made my way back to the railway station in time to catch the last train back to London.
JB left me with a riddle to solve before the end of my walk: what is the difference between Men of Kent and Kentish Men?
I found the answer a couple of days later, but I'll leave this one as an exercise for the reader.