Friday, August 22

North Downs Way and Greensand Way; Dorking to Oxted and back again

Another two-day walking trip saw us setting out from Dorking on a beautiful morning to tackle some more sections of the North Downs Way.

First up was a steep ascent of Box Hill; being earlyish on a weekday morning we met plenty of dog walkers on the way down, but once we were a mile or so from the town, things quietened down considerably.

The views were glorious and expansive and very green considering we were viewing London's southern urban sprawl. We started to feast on the luscious, juicy blackberries, which turned out to be an enduring feature of the walk. The hedgerows were laden with them, begging to be eaten, and we grazed on them for the next two days, occasionally stopping for a full-blown gorging.

Reigate Hill was busy with kite flyers and dog walkers, being only a short step from the National Trust car park and cafe at Wray Lane, where we stopped off for a cup of tea. We admired the beautiful mosaics inside the roof of the Inglis Memorial, which apparently used to be a drinking fountain for horses. 

At Wray Lane the cafe owner has provided deck chairs as well as the traditional picnic tables, making a rather nice place for visitors to sit and admire the view.

We saw plenty of sculpture the first day - including natural beauties such as this upended tree whose roots had worn to make a wonderful knotted screen on the edge of the woodland.

A little further on, in the grounds of the private Royal Alexandra and Albert School we came across this dramatic sculpture by Peter Dawson, who sadly lived a very short life according to the plaque next to it.

I love the weathered copper finish and the abstract shapes. I don't think there was a date given for the sculpture, but it wouldn't be too difficult to guess given its style.

On the outskirts of Merstham we diverted from the North Downs Way to head for our night's accommodation in the little village of Bletchingly, a couple of miles away. We came across a tree absolutely groaning under the weight of wild plums - not the first we had seen that day, but certainly the most productive. We stopped to gorge again, and to fill up a box with some snacks for tomorrow.

The path shown on the map looked like it might be a bit tedious, as it skirted the edge of the huge M25/M23 interchange then followed the M23 until it dipped beneath it. I had been expecting a bit of a trudge, but in fact it turned out to be the most surprising and interesting, not to mention unexpected, parts of the day.

It seemed like when the motorway junction was built it must have been policy to plant fruit trees along the verges; we passed tree after tree covered with plums or apples, and then plunged into thick bramble ground cover where the path had been recently cleared to create a canyon effect. As we twisted and turned through the undergrowth we came across a deer on the path, just a few yards ahead; it skittered off pretty quickly when it saw us, but it was a magical moment.

Half a mile further a buzzard lifted from the fence on the side of the field as we approached, making the motorway verges the most productive for wildlife spotting that we'd had all day!

The next morning we diverted from our planned route - rather than heading back up to the North Downs Way and following it to Oxted, which would have been a rather short day, we decided to follow the Greensand Way direct from Bletchingly to Oxted, then loop back up to the North Downs Way and return to Merstham to get the train home.

The Greensand route to Oxted was almost deserted, through quiet countryside and lovely woods. We stopped for a well-deserved pint of Harveys in the first pub we came across on the outskirts of Oxted, then got takeaway cheese and onion sandwiches from a local bakers to eat a bit further round the route.

What I hadn't fully anticipated was that the second part of the day, going back on the North Downs Way to Merstham, would be so wholly dominated by the presence of the M25. The roar of the traffic was all we could hear for most of the afternoon's walk.

Yesterday we'd been just as close, but on the other side of the ridge, and had hardly noticed it. Today it was just below us in the valley, and the traffic noise was unrelenting.

The scenery was beautiful and we came across lots of interesting things to look at, but if I was recommending the North Downs Way to someone I would definitely suggest that they miss out this bit, and divert via the Greensand Way instead. What a contrast!

The last section of the walk took us back over the M25 so we could get a closer look, adding up to one crossing of the M23 and two of the M25 in the same day!

Sunday, August 10


This came about through a combination of factors. My friend Rowan, who lives in the Kent countryside and has a very productive allotment, sent me home from a visit with tons of green beans and runner beans (not to mention a whole load of other stuff!). A few days earlier I'd been very disappointed with the bar snacks in the local pub, not just the flabby pork pies but also the gloopy piccalilli that was dolloped on a plate to accompany it.

I was reminded that I'd been meaning to try my hand at piccalilli for ages, especially since another allotment-owning friend had given me a jar of fabulous runner bean piccalilli a few years back. So I assembled a heap of beans, a carrot, half a red pepper and a patty pan courgette, which were washed and chopped up before being salted and left to brine overnight in the fridge.

I had two recipes - one suggested cooking the veg but I stuck to the dry brining process, which is recommended in the Pat Corbin 'Preserves' book from River Cottage, which is generally my preserving handbook.

Put the chopped veg into a large bowl, add the salt and mix well, then leave in a cool place for 24 hours (ish).

The next day you rinse the veg in ice cold water to remove the salt, then leave them to drain.

Put most of the cider vinegar in a pan with the honey and sugar, bring to the boil stirring till the sugar dissolves.

Use a bit of the cold vinegar to mix a paste with the spices, mustard and cornflour, then add a little bit of the hot vinegar into the paste and stir well before tipping it all into the pan and bringing to the boil. Don't forget to stir constantly to prevent it going lumpy or burning.

Cook for a few minutes then stir the veg in, decant into sterilised jars and put the lid on. Leave for at least two weeks, six if possible, before you eat it.

1kg veg (beans, carrots, cauliflower, peppers, courgettes, etc) chopped into small bitesize pieces.
50g salt for brining
600ml cider vinegar
150g sugar
50g honey
30g cornflour
1tsp turmeric
15g mustard powder
1.5tsp coriander seeds
1.5tsp mustard seeds
1tsp cumin seeds