diamond geezer

 Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wasn't the weather nice on Sunday [in a crisp autumnal way]? So I thought I'd go somewhere outside London for a nice long walk [because I had nothing else to do]. My chosen destination was the Surrey Hills, because I've not been there for a while [and because it's dead easy to get there on a train]. A delightful six mile stroll awaited [because I did my usual weekend thing of deciding to visit somewhere remote in the middle of the countryside, then attempting to walk there]. Let me tell you all about it [not that you care, you'll never do this walk, it's in Surrey for heaven's sake].

I started off at Box Hill And Westhumble station [a pastoral retreat that somehow gets two trains an hour]. And then, unlike most people, I crossed the bridge into Westhumble village [whereas you, if you ever came, would head east towards Box Hill, no question]. A quiet country lane rose gently up the hillside, along which I met absolutely nobody [except two evil joggers, who stood panting in precisely the spot from which I could have taken an excellent photo]. Then a stretch of solitary woodland [really, nobody's interested], then a swooping back lane down which weekend cyclists love to speed [the whole area was swarming with two-wheeled lycra]. By mid-morning I was standing in a field with 500 sheep [jealous? thought not], searching for a rear entrance to the local stately estate.

Polesden Lacey

Polesden Lacey is one of the National Trust's most popular properties [probably because it's in Surrey]. Almost everybody enters via the car park [obviously], but I wandered into the grounds up a rocky back lane from the middle of nowhere. The path led to a long elevated promenade hugging the side of the valley, with excellent views [damn, into the sun] towards fiery autumnal forest. I could almost see why the Queen Mum and dearest Bertie had come here for their honeymoon [life wasn't exactly wild in 1923]. I had plenty of time to explore the grounds further [because I was stupid enough to arrive before the house opened], even if the Rose Garden was past its best [well past, to be honest].

I noticed [with a mounting sense of dread] that all the other visitors were wearing green 'Polesden Lacey' stickers on their outerwear. I assumed they'd been given these when they paid at the site entrance [but I never found the car park, so I never got a sticker]. Would the nice NT volunteer inside the front door of the house confront my stickerlessness [how middle-classly embarrassing would that have been]? No, she merely asked if I'd been before and sent me into the hall with a smile [I bet she thought the sticker was under my jacket, but was too polite to ask]. So I wandered around the entire house being stared at by all the guidespeople [and there were scores of them] but never once had my credibility questioned. Don't get me wrong, I had my Trust membership card poised ready in my pocket [but I guess what I'm saying here is that if you fancy a free trip round a posh house, then hike in from three miles away and wear a coat].

The volunteers were excellent, and proceeded to tell me the house's story [several times] as I wandered between rooms. How American Margaret Greville used money from the McEwan brewing industry to buy her way into British high society [and succeeded beyond her wildest dreams]. In particular Mrs Greville made friends with royalty from home and abroad [flattery will get you everywhere] and for three decades her house parties were the talk of the town. The estate passed to the National Trust after her death in 1942 [kids do so get in the way of a good knees-up] and today far less famous souls fill her rooms. [I would go on, but if you're interested a few photos will no doubt shut you up]

Back to the walk [which I found on the North Downs website - an excellent resource]. Up and over Ranmore Common [essentially a lot of trees] where I managed a full forested mile without seeing another soul. To the viewpoint at Steers Field with the highest point in southeast England visible in the distance [that'll be Leith Hill, I'll get there one day]. An ice cream in the car park [seriously, do you think your readers care]. And then a bit of treat - a mile through Britain's largest vineyard [pretentiously known as the Denbies Wine Estate]. The path hugged the top of the chalk escarpment, with regimented rows of vines cascading down into the valley [I bet it looked better pre-harvest, but here's a photo anyway]. There is of course a visitor centre offering guided tours [plus a packed-solid restaurant and a twee shop]. I watched, bemused, as a shivering bride arrived for her wedding [applauded by a gaggle of purple-clothed maidens] [I bet they were all pissed by nightfall].

Denbies Wine Estate

And back to Westhumble again for the train home [yeah, nice walk thanks]. I had so long to wait that, yes, I did go for a quick climb halfway up nearby Box Hill [because you can't not] And, er, that was my Sunday [like I said, you probably didn't need to know any of that].

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