I fell in love with the beautiful highway

\”The journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step\”

I spend so much time travelling between London and Brighton, that I thought it would be worth walking the route, if only to understand better the familiar but always half-glimpsed landscape as it flashes past the window.

Coulsdon South was the starting point. I wanted the trip to be more honest than scenic, but trudging through Streatham, Norbury, Purley and all points in between seemed to be an exercise in unnecessary masochism. A few yards from the station, the path across Farthing Downs takes you to the top of the North Downs, the hillsides dotted with forests in one direction and suburban villas in another. The road narrows and continues down towards Chaldon, with huge SUVs squeezing past each other, rushing to conclude the slightly furtive business that seems to dominate London\’s fringes.

I wandered off the road to try to follow a path through Devilsden Wood, but quickly got confused by too many paths rather than two few, almost all of them marked \’Happy Valley Nature Trail\’. That wasn\’t what I wanted – it sounded far too urban and didactic for my mood – but it seemed to have taken over all signage, like Japanese Knotweed smothering native species.

I returned to Ditches Road pretty near where I had left it, dodged some more SUVs and the occasional tractor, then walked past Chaldon\’s 11th Century Church (no camera this time, but I hope to remedy that in future stages). Past a couple of farms and then the most fantastic vista over the great closerleaf of the M23-M25 junction, with the M23 snaking through misty skies to the South.

Motorways may be bad in all sorts of ways (planet, health etc), but watching them twining together through wooded valleys, you are reminded what beauties of engineering they are too. Walking through cornfields down to the road, the roar of the traffic growing steadily more insistent, you feel like an archaeologist or an alien, unearthing something at once thrilling and abstruse.

A path passed under the M23, through Merstham, cut off like a sandbank between two rivers, then over the M25. Following the bank round above the junction, I passed more intriguing edge of city developments (razorwire and daubed signs – \’GUARD DOGS LOSE AT ALL TIME! KEEP OUT!!!\’).

Nature reserves indicated the sites of past gravel pits, and the path eventually emerged at Nutfield Marsh. The Inn on the Pond was exactly the pub I didn\’t want to find for lunch: restaurant-focused, with precious little bar service, and an interior that looked like it had been selected by an auto-gastropub programme. Very sorry, very Surrey.

The chef cites \”Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver and Thomas Keller of Napa Valley’s ‘French Landry’ [sic] restaurant fame as his food influences\”. I had a ham baguette, in which few of these influences were discernible. It\’s a bit like me saying that this account is inspired by Patrick Leigh Fermor. It may be true, but it has no bearing on the quality of my prose.

From there, the idea of walking into Redhill, past the huge new housing estates being built in gravel pits that I had seen from the train, seemed too depressing a prospect, so I took a slightly woozy route across fields to Nutfield itself, then a further stroll (downhill again) onto South Nutfield, where a train arrived, miraculously, as I did.

Stats: 3.5 hours, 13.25km, 8.25 miles

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