Hiking through the Hurtwood Roaming through the Rhodies
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The rhododendrons planted by Charles Darwin's sister on the side of Leith Hill will form an incidental pleasure to a strenuous but steady hike through the Hurtwood and along the greensand ridge. This stretch will run from coffee time at much-loved Leith Hill to lunchtime at mostly-unknown Holmbury Hill. After a lunch break spent looking over the landscape we'll descend to wolds and woods, one of which is Rhododendron Wood, where the blowsy blooms should make a dazzling display. Home counties day walks don't get much more demanding than this, so we'll take it steadily, we'll have a tea break, and we won't be ascending the infamous Leith Hill steps, but we will the famous tower.
Coldharbour: 'A hamlet 700 ft up on the Surrey Hills...unlike anywhere else in the county. Stone-built, scattered along the hill top above rough grassland with a broad view south over the Weald. As remote as south-west Shropshire, and quite unaffected by mild the suburbanization...' (Ian Nairn, The Buildings of England: Surrey). Anstiebury Camp is a triple-banked Iron Age hill fort from C2 to C1 BCE).
Leith Hill: At 294m, the highest hill in Surrey and the second highest in the southeast. The National Trust reports: '...from the tower...you can see sweeping views towards London in the North and the English Channel in the South. The top of the tower is the highest point in South-East England...Leith Hill is within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and is home to abundant wildlife.' The public can access the gothick-style tower which was built in 1765-6 and added to in 1788 to raise the height of the hill above 1000 feet. The corner tower was added in 1864 to access the top when the tower was filled in with rubble. Thirteen counties may be seen from the top on a clear day, it is claimed. There is a café in the base.
Holmbury Hill: 261 metres above sea level and the site of an Iron Age hillfort. It sits along the undulating Greensand Ridge. The hillfort is early 1st century BC, possibly built by the Belgic tribes of Celts to defend trade routes across the Weald. The ramparts make good use of the natural slope of the site.
Rhododendron Wood, Leith Hill: The National Trust reports: 'Created in the late 1800s by Caroline Wedgwood of the illustrious pottery family...A keen plantswoman and botanist, Caroline was the eldest sister of Charles Darwin who would visit Leith Hill and walk in the woods. By planting up two fields with rhododendrons and azaleas, many of which were specimens brought back from Asia, Caroline created a beautiful entrance driveway to her home at Leith Hill Place. In 1944 the Rhododendron Wood was bequeathed to the National Trust by Caroline's grandson, the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams [who lived at Leith Hill Place].' Trees and shrubs to be seen on the tiny trail suggested by the National Trust that we'll follow include: giant redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum); coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens); the UK's oldest tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera); Rhododendron 'Winsome'; Rhododendron macabeanum; and the tree-like Rhododendron arboreum. The garden is free to enter.
I love having dogs on my walks and this walk may be suitable for them in that there will be almost no farm livestock on the route, much if it is under trees in shade and it is not too long. However, it may be less suitable because there's quite a bit of climbing and country lanes to walk along. The weather might also be very warm. Any dog off its lead must be obedient.
The route (please click on the link in red):
Heading northwest from the station, we'll pick up Moorhouse Lane and ascend Anstie Lane to Coldharbour. Here, a byway will take us up Leith Hill for coffee and the Greensand Way (GSW) will take us west to Holmbury Hill for lunch. Descending the hill, we'll head east and take bridleways to HIghfield Copse, then Upfolds Farm and Tanhurst, where we'll see the rhododendrons. We'll follow Abinger Road, then, at Cockshot Farm, follow a footpath through Mosses Wood to Broomehall Road heading northwest. At Gill Wood, we'll follow footpaths to Minnickfold and finally, Moorhurst Lane, which will get us back to the station.
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(Photo credits: Looking west along the hills, at Tanhurst: Photo © Christopher Hilton (cc-by-sa/2.0); View south from Leith Hill: Photo © Christopher Hilton (cc-by-sa/2.0); Leith Hill: Photo © Rude Health (cc-by-sa/2.0); Footpath through the woods: Photo © N Chadwick (cc-by-sa/2.0); Path in Pasture Wood: Photo © michael (cc-by-sa/2.0); Holmbury Hill: Photo © Ian Capper (cc-by-sa/2.0); Warning sign, Holmbury Hill: Photo © N Chadwick (cc-by-sa/2.0); Rhododendron Wood, Leith Hill Wood: Photo © Colin Smith (cc-by-sa/2.0); Rhododendron Wood: Photo © Colin Smith (cc-by-sa/2.0); Azaleas in Rhododendron Wood: Photo © Colin Smith (cc-by-sa/2.0); Sheep Green from Leith Hill: Photo © Colin Smith (cc-by-sa/2.0). All images are copyrighted but are designated 'Free to share and use' under Creative Commons CC BY-SA/2.0 and are here attributed to their copyright holders.)
What to bring
Sturdy walking boots are essential as the walk will involve rough terrain and steep ascents and descents. Wear thick socks to prevent blisters. Otherwise, just bring and wear clothing appropriate to the weather. Jeans should be avoided, though, because they become heavy, cold and chafing if wet.
Food & drink
Please bring a packed lunch and lots to drink. Time permitting, we will have a late morning break at Leith Hill Tower and its café at about 12.00 and a lunch break at Holmbury Hill at 13.30.