The section from Reigate to Guildford contains some of the finest scenery on the North Downs Way. Box Hill to Ranmore Common is probably my favourite; a wonderful area of downland cut by the river Mole. But there are other superb stretches such as Reigate Hill. If you can only spend one day on the North Downs it should be here.
I left my little bivouac at sunrise, brushing through bluebells back to the trail. At that hour I had the world to myself. From Nut Wood I walked for several miles on tranquil paths, passing the old fort, until I reached the odd little pavillion above Reigate.
The air was fresh with the promise of fine weather to come. Far overhead the arc of the sky was improbably blue. Shafts of sunlight spilled from the heights, warming the town below. In the distance the North Downs floated, insubstantial as clouds. It was a morning made for walking.
So I was disappointed, therefore, when after a mile the Way abandoned the heights. It was sad that a walk which had begun so well could not have continued so. Having said that the path along the base of the hill was quite pleasant, winding round butresses of chalk thrust out into the lowlands, working steadily westwards until it reached the B2032.
Beyond the road the Way climbs past disused quarries onto the shoulder of Box Hill. There it performs its usual trick, diving down several hundred feet for no good reason. Purists will no doubt want to pursue it, but if you have walked ten miles without breakfast just carry on up the slope to Boxhill Road. In half a mile the road and trail meet up outside the Smith and Western pub. (Yes really! It's a chain with an American theme.)
It was too early for the pub, but the café at the visitor centre was just opening. And was I hungry! Three ham and cheese toasties, a cornish pasty and a pint of strong coffee later I was ready to move. Breathing deeply I tackled the near-vertical slope to the river. Since I was descending the hyperventilation couldn't have been caused by exertion. It was probably too much caffeine.
The views from the path are superb. Across the valley broad slopes rise to meet the sky. These are the vineyards of Bradley Farm, field after field facing south, harvesting the summer sun. Far below the river Mole, tree-shadowed, winds round the foot of the hill.
On the way down I met an elderly gentleman training for a walk in the Alps. His idea of training being to carry fifty pounds of weights up Box Hill - and if you've ever climbed it you will know what that means! Filled with admiration for his fortitude, and gratified to find that there was someone whose sanity was even more questionable than my own, I carried on to the river.
Below the stepping stones I found a secluded spot where I could take a much-needed bath. After dozing for a while in the sunshine I crossed the stream and followed the track up through the vineyard to Ranmore Common.
The seven miles from the Common to Newlands Corner are mostly through woods, welcome shade as it was a blazing afternoon. It was hot under the trees, but not nearly as bad as it would have been out on the chalk.
In December 1926 Newlands Corner was front-page news. The writer Agatha Christie disappeared and her car was found abandoned near Newlands Corner, sparking a nationwide search. She was discovered ten days later in a hotel in Harrogate. Various theories have been suggested to account for the incident - that she wanted to embarrass her philandering husband into a divorce (during the investigation he was followed by the police), that she suffered a breakdown - but she never confirmed any of them. In the best traditions of British fiction it remains a mystery.
At the visitor centre I had one of the best bacon rolls I've tasted anywhere. Meat lightly grilled, plenty of butter, and the roll toasted; a nice touch that makes all the difference! I hadn't eaten properly during the first part of the walk and the lack of food was now starting to show in a constant hunger.
After Newlands Corner the North Downs Way leaves the downs. The rest of the walk is on sandy deposits south of the ridge. The first outcrop is St. Martha's Hill, with the church of St. Martha perched on its summit. Then down through pine woods to the river Wey near Guildford.
If you're hungry or in need of somewhere to stay there's a lovely walk along the river into the town. I ate at the Three Pigeons in the High Street (more food!), a pub I liked very much, then followed the river back to the Way. I was making for a tree somewhere in West Warren where I knew I could pass a peaceful night.
And so it proved. I hung my walking clothes on the branches, hoping that some of the smell might evaporate (not that it did), and snuggled down into my sleeping bag. Outside, beyond the dark woods, the fields were white in the light of the moon rising above the Hog's Back.