A chilly, wintry walk with my friend Emma, encircling Junction 7 of the M25 near Merstham in Surrey. We started with gorgeous chalk grassland, grazed by pygmy goats, Jacob sheep & Herdwicks, before exploring marshes, churchyards, woodlands & finally the M25 embankment at rush-hour dusk.
We met at East Croydon and took the train down to Merstham. A footpath heads over and under the parallel railway lines here, before heading up the grassy slope of the M25 embankment. A footbridge leads over the motorway and then heads NE to join Rockshaw Road. We turned right, passing large houses, one with a moss-bound, armoured car in an overgrown driveway.
Picking up the footpath, we crossed the M23 and headed uphill through cabbage fields and mud before picking up the Pilgrims Lane trackway, part of the North Downs Way.
Once over Hilltop Lane and past a few large houses, a five-bar gate leads to a permissible way, overlooking a large, natural bowl in the hillside. This is part of Quarry Hangers, an area of rare chalk downland, now protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
Quarry Hangers is grazed by a team of Herdwicks and Jacobs and pygmy goats. Carefully managed conservation grazing ensures that some spring, this hillside will be awash with rare wildflowers and colourful butterflies.
At the foot of Quarry Hangers, Spring Bottom Lane leads to another footpath which took us through wet fields, past ponds and young woodland to the M25. Passing under the motorway, we came to a landscape of newly planted trees and an aggregates quarry. Heading south, several footpaths seem to have disappeared under the works and an opposing field.
Crossing Water Lane Track, we passed Pendell School, admiring some puffed-out puffballs growing from old, mossy lots. From Pendell Road we headed west and took the footpath under the M23. We tracked south, past Glebe House before sheltering at Nutfield Parish Church as a blast of wet weather came in.
We followed the road towards Nutfield Marsh, passing gorgeous cottages. This area would be lovely to visit in spring or summer. The Inn on the Pond looked very tempting, but with the light fading, we saved it for another day.
The Tandridge Border Path passes Mercers Farm and the lake at Spynes Mere Nature Reserve, before heading up onto the motorway embankment and following the M25 westwards. This path felt nicely weird at dusk; with flashing views of the rush-hour traffic breaking through the silhouetted tree trunks.
As we passed Furzefield Wood the path got very muddy and wet. A sure sign we were closing on Merstham and hitting a more popular path, worn down by boots, paws and bicycle tyres. We picked up the path we started from, descending the embankment to Merstham Railway Station, and a return to London.