North Downs Way to Merstham (10.5 miles)
From: A linear walk from Dorking Deepdene Station to Merstham Station.
Length: 10.5 miles.
Average Walk Time: Around 5-6 hours.
Terrain: Jolly hilly (he said in an understated, British way) – the OS app says there is a climb of almost 600 metres along the route. Box Hill and Colley Hill (the approach to Reigate Hill) are the steepest!
Suitable for dogs: Yes.
Look out for: Some fantastic views over the Surrey countryside. Much of the route is in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The view from Box Hill and some of the landmarks on Reigate Hill are notable points.
Leave Dorking Deepdene and head North. If you've come from the Guildford direction, it's down the steps and turn right. Stay on the right side of the road and head towards London. After 600m, you come to a roundabout with a sculpture of cyclists in the middle, where you keep going straight. After another 400m, you come to a small car park, and the North Downs Way is signed. It is also signed to Box Hill and "The Stepping Stones". I have to say, the NDW is perfectly signed on this walk. At no point did I see a junction without a sign. So, if my directions miss a turn, then rely on the signposts.
Turn right at this small car park into the woodland and stick to the right-hand side. You might as well go over the stepping stones, they are not too difficult to negotiate. After the stones, take a huge deep breath, tuck in your belt and get ready for the climb. On the map elevation it's straight up. On the ground, it's not much better. There are steps almost all the way, but I'm not sure whether that makes it worse! I walked to the side of the steps and stopped for the occasional puff. After a small eternity, the path reaches a T-junction. Turn right here and trek out along slightly more open ground. At once, the views are amazing, and the whole point of the slog up the hill becomes evident. Eventually, you reach the top. I was told there was a café a little along the road away from the direction I wanted to go, but as I didn't need a break (longer than a good water stop and a chance to get my breath back), I didn't visit it.
Pass the lookout point and head on towards the road. You don't reach the road, instead the path continues just before it (roughly heading the same way as before). It is a well-trodden path, and for the first section parallels the road. However, after 300m or so, it pulls away and you're off into the countryside. At Oak Wood, you pass quite close to some houses, but continue on. Another 300m and the path takes a left, goes up some steps (not too many) and turns right again. 300m more and the route heads to the right, down some steep steps. This is a bad sign, as after the steep steps DOWN, take a sharp left and head UPHILL. Although it feels like this slope will be a problem, it's really quite short (in comparison). There's a half turn right in 200m, and another full right in another 200m. Now you're set to follow a good path downhill for a long way – maybe about 600m. Don't worry about this loss of height, it won't be regained for a while!
Eventually, you come to a very pretty road, and you enter into the village of Bletchworth. There is a train station here (if you feel so inclined), but very little else that I saw. When you reach the main road, turn left and follow the pavement. As the pavement runs out, don't panic, as a good footpath strikes a tiny way up the hill and parallels the road towards the North. Follow this path as far as it goes, and when it comes back down to roadside pavement again, look to cross over. The road has fast traffic, and one should take care here with the crossing. Now you're on the right side of the road, look out for the NDW sign off to the right. The total distance along this main road, including the wooded footpath is around 800m.
Now follow a small path with hedges on both sides until it turns left and then curves around right. At a T-junction with a minor paved road turn right (signed) and walk around a quarry that you can't see – apart from a chalk scar on the cliff above. Now you have around 2km of good track, contouring around the edge of the hills. Don't get lulled into a sense of false security. As the path meets another road, it turns a fairly sharp left and starts up Colley Hill. Although not quite as bad as Box Hill (there are no steps), it is relentless. This climb of maybe 500 feet tests the hardiest folks, coming as it does at this stage in the walk. To the person who ran past me, uphill, I hope you don't have a heart attack!
At the top of the hill, there isn't immediately a great view to cheer you up, but instead keep trogging on for a little. Bear slightly right through the houses on the tarmacked path, and almost immediately look for a right-hand turn. It is signed, but the sign has been absorbed by the adjacent tree. You can see the NDW sign pointing back the way you came, a Public Bridleway sign pointing on, then if you look you will see the NDW sign pointing right.
Initially the path is tarmacked, but it soon breaks out onto open countryside. Yes, that is the sound of the M25 you hear now to your left, but the trees fall away and glorious views open out to your right. Tempting as it may be to stop here and lick wounds after the climb, push on a little bit. The view stays great and the water (and lunch?) will taste all the sweeter when the motorway racket has receded into the distance.
Enjoy these views from Colley Hill. Buried in the trees on your left is the most curious water tower. Wander over there and have a look. Then continue along the ridge until you come to the Inglis Monument. The dome-shaped structure on a dozen columns was donated to the Borough of Reigate in 1909 by Colonel Sir Robert William Inglis (according to the inscription around the outside and the internet). It used to be a horse-drinking fountain, but now it's a shelter for walkers to munch sandwiches. Take a look at the most-amazing tiled ceiling and reflect on the glory of nature as you enjoy the well-deserved rest.
Having filled your soul with the sights at the memorial, continue along the path to a more-sobering memorial to a B17 that crashed into Reigate Hill in March 1945. The entire crew of nine perished, and the odd oak 'shapes' represent the wingtips of the plane at real scale. Apparently buried deep inside the sculpture is molten metal from the crashed plane itself.
Continue along the ridge, which has now become Reigate Hill. There are some secret communications bunkers from WW2, and then you come to Reigate Fort. This is worth popping in to and looking over for a few minutes. It has a long history, dating back to Napoleonic times, with a resurgence of use in WW2.
After a fill of history, it's time to head downhill. This time, it's towards the end, and with a huge sigh of relief, you can take comfort in the fact there are no more major uphills. You're not there yet, though, and there is a way still to walk. 500m after Reigate Fort, you come to the Motorway turn-off car park at Gatton Park. A small café here will offer tea should you want it, but if you don't, cross the car park and continue on down the hill. Although the style of signs has now changed (to cast metal posts) the route is still well-marked. Around 800m from the car park, you reach a minor road, where you turn right.
Shortly, the route turns into the Royal Alexandra and Albert Boarding school. It all looks very nice, but keep going. At the chapel (on the left) the path takes a left turn, but the school has kindly marked it for you. You come to a minor road outside the school, and look for the second path on the left. This goes up a tiny hill, and then strikes in a straight line down towards a golf course, across some fields. When I made the walk, they were cutting the crop, so I can't comment on paths, but I am sure they are excellent. Home Farm brings you at last to Merstham, and a right, a left (across the main road) and another right bring you to the station. Trains to Redhill depart from the platform across the footbridge.
And that's it! Merstham is as far as I care to go on the North Downs Way. The next section parallels motorways for a lot of its length and is quite difficult to get public transport back from. I hope you've enjoyed your sojourn along one of the area's nicest long-distance footpaths.