It was not a prepossessing start. Rain sprinkles and clouds all over the forecast as we set off. As we waited under the canopy at London Bridge station, we wondered if it might not be better to go home at 10am and write a pretext report of the walk and pretend that the pictures did not come out. But in the end it was a glorious outing. By departure time there was a good turnout of old faithfuls, prodigal returnees, new faces and the dog: 14 in all. One or two normally old faithfuls much missed, as well.

It turned out to be a spiffing walk, half an hour’s train ride from London Bridge and still within the TfL travel zones in undiscovered country a bit south of Croydon.

sosnails

First oddness was the sign on entering Banstead Wood. “Save Our Snails,” it said. Roman snails, the largest species of land snail in Britain, were in danger from collectors gathering them for sale to restaurants. We saw no snails or collectors.

We were soon overwhelmed by the wood,brilliantly arrayed in the freshest display of greenness in what the painter David Hockney terms “Action Week” when the countryside bursts into leaf. Magnificent. And the wood was so crisscrossed by footpaths and bridle paths that we may or may not have gone round in circles (as tradition requires of ORRA rambles) before finding the way out.

Mark marched us on.

There were gorgeous spreads of bluebells under the trees. And a lovely seat in memory of Geoffrey Shale, described on the inscription as “A Gradely Man” (meaning fine, decent or respectable in Northern English). It continued: “A bit rough round the edges. Here, his soul plays.” Not many people are remembered so poetically in such poetic surroundings.

We passed a tree that too had played, a big chestnut with wonderful plashed lines on the bark. Emerging from the wood, we carefully crossed the other side of the railway tracks and marched on as the weather got ever better and farm animals paused to greet us.

The pub was reached just when we were peckish, and very hospitable it proved to be. The Well House Inn in Mugswell still preserves what is said to be the original St Margaret’s Well: Mag’s Well, hence the name of the Doomsday Book village. Good food, good beer and very obliging service in the sun warmed garden of a curiously unbusy Saturday lunchtime pub. Highly recommended for sheer niceness.

Puddings were taken, and inside the pub was a picture of an earlier pudding eater, possibly Tony who was (alas!) unable to be with us. Another drinker kindly took the group picture in Annie’s absence: no Photoshopping required.

After lunch we toiled up a long hill to cross the beautiful Kingswood Golf Course and then Surrey Downs Gold Course. Both were (again) curiously unbusy; no shouts of “Fore” that might have made this a hazardous part of the Ramble.

Roiling countryside and new-born lambs completed this lovely spring trip, and (blessed by the god of ramblers) we reached Chipstead station at the very moment the London train pulled in.

A terrific walk, not very far from home.

Words and pictures by Peter

Want to relive past walks? Find them in the Archive

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