The London Countryway – Day 3

November 10, 1984: West Byfleet to Sunningdale

Horsell Common

Horsell Common

A busy fall schedule kept us from returning to the London Countryway for several months. When we began again we were rewarded with a beautiful, clear, golden November Saturday – with temperatures in the 60′s. My alarm clock failed me on this morning – but I realized this in time to get us up at 7:05. We had not packed, nor had Dorothy made our lunches yet, but with a little hustle we were ready to hit the park by 7:50.

Bertie, who had been left behind during the Alternatives walk in the Lake District, was tremendously excited to be included today. Two lads, who got on the tube at Baker Street, were much interested in him. The younger pony-tailed one was stoned. He took an instant liking to the dog and fed him bits of breakfast roll while asking me for information about his name, age, and breed. Unfortunately he couldn’t keep any of this information in his sieve brain. “Now what is it, a miniature Chihuahua?” he asked at Piccadilly. His leather-bound friend, a Scot drinking a bottle of pink milk, rolled his eyes at they left our train, “Does that looook lahk a Chihuahua?”

We arrived at Waterloo at 8:27 and bought our tickets. The Lees had already done this; they were waiting with Judith Bailey, a.k.a the American School’s Conan the Librarian, who had to return to the ticket office to exchange her puny Byfleet ticket for a more robust West Byfleet one. Dorothy bought some warm fruit-filled croissants. Neither this stand nor the doughnut shop sold coffee – which she found elsewhere in the cavernous station. We took the 8:50 and arrived in West Byfleet forty minutes later.

Harold had Bertie duties today so that I could concentrate on route finding. The eager little fellow had to remain on lead as we headed north from the station and through a parking lot to some woods. Here a few false starts put us on the towpath of the Basingstoke Canal, a dry bed of nettles, reeds, and grasses that we followed for two miles. During this time I brought Harold up to date with our recent Cumbrian venture and the girls progressed with non-stop school chatter. The route was unedifying but the day was glorious and the dog, freed from all constraints, was racing up and down the towpath in delight. We finally reached the Woking road and turned north to cross the canal and take a half left into Horsell Common.

In a dry pine forest we stopped for a snack. Bertie used a paw to behead a mushroom that the girls were admiring. Judith, the last smoker in the group, apologized for lighting up. My next to last left toe was stirring again (it had done this in the Lakes, also) and I took off my sock to have a look and cut off as much toenail as I dared – also some of the boot’s foam insole. We had been treading mud all this while but the sole of the offending boot was larded with somebody else’s dog shit.

Route finding was again complicated. I tried to follow both Chesterton’s guide and the OS map but it was not always easy to tell where we were on either. We found our way forward on Carlton Road but it was guesswork that brought us out successfully at the entrance to Young Street Farm. Here the directions were not at all clear. Does by mean past or via?  We wandered up a paved lane some distance before I determined we were heading too far to the west. I had yet to encounter a day that required so many compass bearings – just to get across suburban Surrey. We retraced our steps to the farm’s entrance, Bertie going into hysterics at the sight of a Shetland pony, who snorted at him. Harold had the dog on lead here anyway, as there were goats tethered in someone’s front yard.

I tried a bridleway north and this proved to be correct. Soon we were approaching Fairoaks aerodrome and another busy highway. We followed a lane to Stanyards and took a left fork up a hill. I suggested we begin to look for a good lunch spot but we had reached Stanner’s Hill before Harold found a fairly dry spot in a junction of tracks on the open common. This was riding country and every five minutes another horse arrived to excite the dog. One rider chose to dismount in order to lead a skittish filly past the howling Cerberus.

We had an enjoyable lunch. I opened a can of beer. Dorothy had just unwrapped her first sandwich when Bertie snatched a bite before she could stop him. Thereafter he disdained his own dog meal until we had mixed some cheese in it. After lunch we followed the Stanner’s Hill Road west for 400 meters, then turned off to search out a complicated passage across open fields in the direction of the Burrowhill Road. We came out at the right spot but soon thereafter I began to worry about the many rival tracks that invited us to progress over Chobham Common. The instructions that we go under the pylons were not helpful since many paths were leading in a northerly direction under the wires.

In the event we strayed too far to the west and, after a coffee break next to a mudhole, we plunged into our last woodland for the day, emerging on the Staples Hill Road – but I knew not where. We even headed to the left for a bit but the road seemed to be heading south rather than north so we turned back in the opposite direction. The objective was a tunnel under the M3 but the motorway was nowhere to be seen. From the direction of our tarmac road I concluded that we needed to continue on it in a northeasterly direction. This we did for about a third of a mile. We reached the top of a hill and I decided to explore the views from a picnic area.

Leaving the others behind I plunged down the north side of the hill and found the motorway. I continued to the bottom and found the tunnel as well. Then I used my whistle to summon the others. We continued in a northerly direction over open, rolling country in its autumn browns – the heather and the rosebay willow herb having gone to seed. We climbed a tiny ridge that was being buzzed by a lovely model airplane. It was being manipulated by a chap standing near the Victoria monument on the top. We kept going on a wide track that is mentioned in the guidebook, but not shown on the OS map.

At the rail line I declared a last rest on the grass as the sun began its final descent. Bertie, caked in mud, had enough energy to play with a stick. By the time we were ready to follow our track out to the road we could hear the 3:28 chugging by. I had planned to take the 3:58. We strolled though Sunningdale: someone had put out apples for passersby and Judith ate one as we reached downtown Sunningdale. Past the Water Margin Chinese restaurant and the Choo Choo takeaway we went, nearing the station at 3:43. Dorothy used a towel to dry off the dog. When our train arrived he insisted on his own seat while the rest of us snoozed on the short trip to Waterloo. We arrived at 4:44 at the end of a most successful and enjoyable day.

To continue with the next stage of our walk you need:

Day 4: Sunningdale to Windsor