Monday, 17 March 2014

On Box Hill...challenge #6

Challenge of the week, it being #6? Box Hill. A series of chalk slopes, some quite steep, in the North Downs in Surrey, near the River Mole. A favourite challenge for hikers and cyclists alike, and part of the Olympic Cycling Road Race route.  Happily I am not alone this time, but with fellow Kili Girl, Philippa Boulton. Bright sunshiny morning, warm breeze, blue skies...perfect. What could go wrong??

I open the storage box of Kili things and pull on my hiking trousers. Arrgggg they are even MORE HIDEOUS now (as in really, really don’t fit) than they were in Africa. Craig doesn’t manage to hide the grimace in time and mumbles something about the colour being wrong....yeah, whatever, nice try. 

Discard. Take out proper SUMMERTIME shorts and a t-shirt. On March 16! Oh this crazy British weather. Add Kili hiking socks and my beloved hiking boots and then the accessories I have hidden from the children so, as if by magic, I find them and they are in proper working order. Kili backpack. Check. Kili waterbottle. Check. Camera. check. Map. Oh don’t be silly.

We brave the peloton on the Zig Zag Road and squeeze Philippa’s fiat into a questionable “space” in the aptly named Zig Zag car park. That fact that an ambulance is in service there doesn’t worry us in the least. Off we set, straight up and over a field of cows grazing in a near perpendicular fashion due to the incline of the hill, hoping to find some signs to tell us where to go.

We do find signs, sort of, from time to time. It isn’t so much that we keep getting lost, rather that we never really know where we are going. Ever. The red arrows we follow frequently disappear and suddenly we arrive somewhere quite surprising, like Dorking train station. In best Blanche DuBois fashion, we depend heavily on the kindness of strangers. Some are bemused, “Hmmm, so you were on the Box Hill Hike but now you are here...” and some are clueless “Box Hill Hike????.”   We stop to ask a woman with a backpack sitting outside a pub for directions to the next part of the path, but she is chugging a beer (at 11:45 am) and wants nothing to do with us. “I have people waiting,” she says between gulps. The employee at this same pub is none the wiser, “Box Hill, yes I’ve heard its around here, but don’t know where the path is.” (It was across the street.)  But Philippa has the catch phrase of the day: “it is all part of the adventure.” She also says “we should have brought the map.” Often. But hey, that really is all part of the adventure.

We walk hills and down, in forests, across fields, even a longish stretch along the A24. Ok, CLEARLY not part of the
official Box Hill Hike, but we see lots of vintage cars for some reason. Some of the topography reminds us of Kili, especially the scrabbly inclines. And the so so beautiful. It is one of those days when you think, even after the endless rain we have had, “why doesn’t everyone want to live in England?” 

We pass exhausted looking teens with enormous packs doing Duke of Edinburgh. We see butterflies and ponies and the river and even old “fridges”, brick tunnels used to keep food cold before refrigeration.

We leap across the Stepping Stones and, having had long stretches of nature to ourselves, we are suddenly in the heavily populated area, the area you can get to by car! As we make our way up the steep, steep, route to the top (which can also be driven), we realize we must look ridiculous in our hiking gear. The de rigeur outfit for that part of the Box Hill is gold sandals, flimsy dress or vv short shorts, full clubbing make up and lots and lots of bling. Ok, we are clambering up and they are walking down, but still.  And if they drove up, how do they get back to their cars without doing this hard part? What becomes of all that foundation and mascara in the heat? And their feet?  Of course, they gaze at us with pity in return for our gawking.

We walk for almost 4 hours, GPS watch claims close to 12 miles. Chatting the whole time (but you already knew that). Again, very much like Kili. Philippa even has the same sweets. But no tents for us tonight. Home again, home again, jiggety jog. Another fantastic day!

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