One of my preferred places to walk is down by our local river – the Wey. The section nearest to us is navigable and provides a scenic route along its tow path. Access is easy, as there are plenty of places to leave a car – the only downside to this is you have to retrace your steps. (Much better, if possible, to be dropped off, hike along for a couple of miles and then meet up at a pub nearby).
However, with my new brisk walking regime in place, and mindful of the rainfall and potential flooding in our area, I set off during one of the intermittent bright days we are experiencing at present to check out one of our regular stretches, around three miles from home.
The river had disappeared and in its place, a lake. The road to the bridges was closed and diversions in place. I abandoned my car in a high spot down one of the adjacent lanes and walked waded as far as I could before the water became too high for my wellies.
Nothing for it but to turn back and be thankful that our house is situated far enough away from the river for it not to be a problem. Over two thousand homes in Britain are flooded at the moment and that figure is set to rise over the next few days as the Thames reaches dangerous levels through Berkshire and Surrey.
To illustrate why the Wey is one of my favourite rambles, here are some snaps of past river walks, taken at various times during spring and summer – and you’ll see why this stretch is reckoned to be one of the most picturesque navigable rivers in England.
So, having picked the worst possible time to start my brisk walking regime given that we’ve just had the wettest January since records began, I must be content with the heath land that is just five minutes’ walk from my front door. I’ve been out almost every afternoon after work, only missing once or twice due to severe down pours and gales of up to seventy mph.
The nearest part of the heath is on top of a hill and consists mainly of sand, so once through the woodland where the water run-off is accumulating, it’s fairly dry.
Brisk walking in wellies is not easy or comfortable but I reckon they are causing me to have twice the exercise as I huff and puff up the hill in them. I’m looking forward to doing the same walk in a pair of comfortable shoes.
It’s peaceful up here in the afternoon after a day of noisy classrooms. The only folk I see are those carrying an empty lead and a few plastic bags; occasionally their dogs bound up to say hello. Once at the top, there is a view point of sorts, where on a clear day you can see the Surrey Hills and Hog’s Back in the distance.
The heathland is a bit sparse of vegetation at this time of the year, amplified by the National Trust’s on going woodland management programme which involves huge swathes of our common land having old trees chopped down to make way for new shoots.
Prickly gorse seems to survive untouched – I’d never bothered to consider it closely before, but its little yellow blooms are actually quite intricate and cheerfully punctuate my daily circuit.
So that’s a glimpse of my immediate countryside. You can read more about the Wey Valley and its history here.
Next time I’ll take you on a tour of the local town …