Day 8 began at Gomshall in the lovely Tillingbourne Valley. However the weather wasn’t quite so lovely with wet snow, or sleety rain to send us on our way. Interestingly there is a Coptic Orthodox church in Gomshall near the station, which is dedicated to St Augustine of Hippo (not the same St Augustine who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury, who lived around a century later). Although the church building wasn’t open for us to visit, it reminded us of the cultural breadth and diversity of the Christian Church, and we thought about the persecution the Copts endure in Egypt and the Middle East. May they be welcome here.
From Gomshall our route took us along the busy A25 to Abinger Hammer, before cutting northwards up onto the chalk ridge. Great care was needed to avoid being soaked by passing cars and lorries driving through roadside puddles. It’s remarkable how some drivers are very aware of this, slow down and leave a wide berth, while others just plough on at speed as if you weren’t there! A special thanks to the driver of the Land and Water van who actually stopped his vehicle to avoid splashing us.
Julie was intrigued by the Hammer so we had to have a picture of her standing under it in the rain.
As we made our way up onto the North Downs Way, the weather began to improve. At a Blatchford Down, we were blessed with panoramic views across to Leith Hill, as the the cloud lifted and the sun began to shine through.
At Ranmore Common we came upon the Church of St Barnabas: a substantial flint building constructed in 1859. How disappointed we were to find the door firmly locked. Their website says that for many years it has been known as “the Church on the North Downs Way”, but seemingly access to it is denied to users of the same. What is the problem with these Churches? Why do they shut their doors to pilgrims and other passers by?
Is this a Surrey thing? Most of the churches we have passed in Wiltshire and Hampshire have been open for at least part of the day and welcoming to pilgrims and other visitors. What is the problem in Surrey? Where do Surrey people who are in need of peace and solace go to find it? Are these churches solely there for middle class people on Sundays? It gives such a poor impression of the Anglican Church.
From Ranmore Common our route took us into the Denbies Estate, famous for its vineyards, and into Ascombe Wood where we found a suitable log to sit on and enjoy some hot soup from our flask.
From Ashcombe we dropped down into the valley of the River Mole, passing some of the Denbies vineyards. We stopped to talk to couple of women out for an afternoon stroll. They seemed intrigued by our pilgrimage venture. One of them said she is involved with the Guildford Travel Club, and asked if we would be prepared to give a talk to them about it on our return. Well there’s an idea!
Crossing the busy A24 dual carriageway turned out to be rather easier than we’d anticipated. However when we reached the River Mole the famous Stepping Stones were well and truly covered, such was the water level after the recent rain. Fortunately there is a footbridge a short distance downstream so we were able to cross without a problem. Interestingly the original bridge was a gift made by the Ramblers Association in memory of their members who lost their lives in the Second World War.
From the footbridge we climbed part way up Box Hill, then skirted around it before picking up the Pilgrims’ Way again. After a while we arrived at the disused Brockham Lime Kilns and quarry which are now managed as a nature reserve by the Surrey Wildlife Trust. They provide an interesting insight into this post industrial landscape, which is designated both SSSI and SAC.
From the Lime Kilns a short walk to us to Betchworth, our destination for the day. What a day of variety: snow to sunshine; and under foot lovely firm greensand to slippery chalk!