Oh Spring, how you tease us! March arrived with little fanfare, save for the bugle-like daffodils that I prematurely bought and put in a jar next to my bed. I willed you along, I really did! Well, it looks like you saved all your sunshine up for one beautiful day last weekend - it was fate, I swear it!
When my chappie asked what I wanted to do for my birthday I replied 'explore somewhere new and spend all our time outside.' An ambitious proposal it really was, as it is nigh on impossible to predict the weather in England. I once had a birthday with snow still on the ground. March is a fickle one! However, on Saturday morning I was awoken by happy birds chirping away. Lovely, you may say, but it was an ungodly hour and I'd been marching around Paris for work the day before, which meant my full appreciation was somewhat reserved... Regardless, today was exploration day, so I popped some hot cross buns in the toaster and packed up my camera for a day in the Surrey Hills.
Hills aren't that exciting, you may be thinking. Well, hold your thoughts good lady because this girl's from Norfolk and I consider a small incline to be worth a postcard home, so these hills were positively mountainous to me!
Being car-less means that the railway does very well off me and this excursion was no different! Yes, it did mean tripling our journey time but if you've got a flat white and a table strewn with weekend papers I find very little to complain about. Return tickets purchased and two changes later, we arrived in Shalford after chugging (do trains chug anymore?!) around the foot of numerous hills.
I'm not renowned for being a master navigator, so Joe did all the orienteering. We looked like a pair of keen Duke of Edinburgh teenagers, Mum's borrowed walking boots included. He did try and explain the route to me. I nodded and smiled, then promptly forgot. Starting off from Shalford Mill and tiptoeing across a beautifully picturesque stream, we were on our way up (literally, the hill had already kicked in).
I adore the woods. I find them comforting, safe, familiar and filled with happy memories. They were a playground then and I don't feel much different now. Jumping over fallen trunks, spotting the good 'climbing trees', kicking pinecones around. The warm, musty smell that rises up through pine needles and dried out mud makes the air thick and sweet. I cast off my cardigan and buckled my jacket to the rucksack - the sun felt so warm on my back.
The colour palette of my wardrobe is largely forest-based colours and I can't bring myself to move away from it. Woodland textures are just perfect. The spongy wood of pine cones, the waxy pine branches and fuzzy moss growing over trunks sinking back into the earth is a plethora of life and decay in equal measure.
The church at St. Martha-on-the-Hill is a typical English village church, but has the added bonus of views like this. We weren't alone, as old friends, small families and dog walkers took a moment to pause and sit with their backs against the warm, grey stone of the church wall. Eyes closed, smiling contently, we popped back minstrels and gulped down water, looking at bulbs pushing their way through sandy ground and tiny toy-like cars winding their way down roads in the village below.
After a blissful three hours through woods, up lanes, across rivers and around fields, we arrived in Shere, a beautiful little village that could well appear as a poster for provincial village life. My heart ached when I saw the neat allotments that ran down to the slowly trickling stream below. Little old ladies gossiped on benches next to stone bridges, children let ice creams melt down their chins, Barbour-clad mothers marched their boys out of land rovers, muddy from Saturday rugby fixtures. It's a sweet village, but like anywhere in commuting distance of London, it isn't so much pure-pastoral as privelaged-pastoral. Quinoa porridge hasn't hit the cafes just yet though...
Of course, after a trek across the hills we were in desperate need for refuelling, so stepped into The White Horse (the sign looks mighty like the 'Prancing Pony' in Buckleberry, right?!) for a late lunch. There were sweet potato fries, so I needn't explain my food choices much more. The burger was described as 'game', so I can't tell you exactly what animal it came from, only that it was delicious and came with blueberry relish, which I thought was both inventive and scrummy. No complaints from me!
After wolfing this lot down we headed across some more fields in order to catch the train back from Gomshall. Our train left once every two hours, so it unfortunately caused us to power walk the route back (me with a food baby - not fun). I did manage to snap these fluffy sheep happily grazing whilst mid-stride - a hard feat! Fun fact: the cottage from Kate Winslet's film 'The Holiday' is on this route, humbly acknowledged my a little laminated sign near the below-featured sheep. The things you come across!
I love exploring new areas and couldn't think of a better way to spend a birthday weekend. Have you visited anywhere lovely just beyond London that you think I need to know about? Do tell me!