Our ninth day was probably best summed up in two three-letter words – MUD and M25!
With Storm Jorge bringing high winds and rain pretty well all night, conditions were not the most pleasant as we set of from Betchworth. As we made our way across the Gault Clay, with mud and standing water everywhere, we thought of the Battle of the Somme, and then conceded that it really wasn’t that bad! Then, just as we climbed up onto the chalk we were hit by a fearsome hailstorm, which was so intense that the woods around us became white, as if it had just snowed!
We skirted around the base of the Buckland Hills before making a steep ascent straight up to the top of Juniper Hill. Thank goodness for walking poles. The going was so wet and muddy underfoot, that it was pretty much two steps upward for one back down again.
At the top more paranoid property owners with their get-off-my-land notices, seemingly determined to prevent anyone else getting a glimpse of THEIR view.
In this particular case we thought that they’d have been better off spending their money on maintaining dilapidated fences than on reels of barbed wire and stupid notices.
Despite the wind coming from the opposite direction we became aware of the incessant traffic noise from the M25, which was to stay with us for the rest of the day and much of the next.
Soon we emerged from behind our friends’ high fences onto Colley Hill; and so did the sunshine. Thankfully this part of the ridge has been preserved for public enjoyment by the National Trust, and the views are just stunning: east and west along the chalk ridge and south, right across the Weald to the South Downs. We could just make out Chanctonbury Ring, above Steyning, where Tom’s parents had their last home.
We paid our respects to Tom’s father whose ashes were scattered here. He loved to walk out here from his family home on Reigate Hill. It was here, on these hills, while on brief home leave from Malaya after the Japanese capitulation, that he proposed to Tom’s mother.
We lunched on a seat at the crash site of an American Superfortress bomber, returning from a cross-channel raid in March 1945. All nine crew were killed. The oldest was just 24 years old.
From Reigate Hill we descended into Gatton Park Estate, passing the Royal Alexandra & Albert School, a rare state-run boarding school. In Gatton village we met a man who asked about our pilgrimage, and was particularly interested in the charities we are supporting. It transpired that he’d been born at the Salisbury District Hospital, where his mother had also been an A&E consultant. His brother had attended the Cathedral School, and he is a keen fisherman and has fishing at Teffont on the River Nadder. What a perfect match! Needless to say, he was given a leaflet and encouraged to make a donation.
From Gatton we made our first crossing of the M25 to Merstham and St Katherine’s church which, to our delight, we found open and welcoming of pilgrims.
We enjoyed a good look around the church and stamped our Pilgrim Passports. We were amused by a notice in the Belfry dating from 1882, entitled Belfry Rules. It reads:
- No smoking or swearing allowed. Any member ignoring this rule will be fined one penny.
- Any member not present at practice or stated nights will be fined tuppence.
- The above fine not to be enforced when the attendance of members has been prevented by illness or business engagement.
- Any member overthrowing a bell or breaking a slay will be fined eight pence.
From Merstham we crossed the M23 and headed up the escarpment towards Chaldon, and onto the original Pilgrims’ Way track again. After a short distance we passed The Beacon, where Tom’s uncle and aunt lived for some 50 years. Tom well remembers visits here and the fabulous views out across the Weald To the south, but goodness it felt exposed on a windy day. A new gate and new garage, but otherwise not much seemed to have changed.
From the Beacon we continued on along the old Pilgrims’ Way track: muddy as ever, and flooded in places; before descending to our day’s destination at Tyler’s Green.