…in which a lot of things happen in what I thought would be quite an uneventful walk.
Some time in September I asked the lads whether anyone fancied a hike. Crowthorne to Windsor, I suggested, which was a firm favourite and starts where most of us have access to. I even chose a date that fortunately everyone could make. Everyone said yes and we all looked forward to the day.
All that was that, right?
Course not. If you’ve read at least one of these things you’ll know it was never going to be that easy.
I’ll keep this brief because it’ll sound like bitching, no one really comes out of it that well, and most importantly the hike that came of it is far more entertaining than this nonsense.
- Concerns were raised about getting back from Windsor in a Covid world where people have vulnerable families, etc.
- Crowthorne to Windsor and back was floated, much to mine and Rob’s dismay.
- Arguing followed about where the hell to walk.
- I proposed a circular route
- The route was rejected but the circular idea embraced
- Mat created a circular route round Bagshot, Lightwater, Frimley and Sandhurst. Everyone approves.
- In the week before the hike, John flags that his foot and leg hurts and that he’s worried he won’t be well enough to do it in time and asks if we push back a week.
- Other members of the crew can’t do that date and John, for the first time ever, is out.
The day itself:
I rock up opposite the Prince in Crowthorne (to be seen later, don’t hold your breath, it’s not that exciting) and soon enough we get confirmation that this is going to be an odd hike when a clean shaven Alan appears, with Mat and Rob soon behind, having made an earlier pit stop at Rackstraws.
Yes, that Rackstraws, the bastion of disappointment from Hike 8.
Anyway, it turns out Alan tried shaving using his webcam rather than a mirror, hadn’t taken into account the lag, or something like that, had an incident and the whole thing had to go. It’s an unsettling moment because our whole crew has been with beard to some extent for years now, but it seems to have paid off because it gave him a vague Daniel Day-Lewis in Last of the Mohecans vibe and more importantly seemed to have given him a newfound sense of wisdom, we learned later. Off we go.
Hike 10, 10th October 2020
Your select committee for the day (rule of six rather knackering the sprawling mob we try to invite) comprised of me, Rob Golding, Mat Gunyon and Alan O’Connell.
Almost immediately we arrive in Swinley Forest. This has been a feature in most of our hikes in the last year, and if I’m being honest I’m a little tired of it but Mat’s route plotted a pretty good way around it, including walking the entire edge of Caesar’s Camp which was really good, following lots of high, thin trails.
We also saw this pretty mysterious tree, climbed numerous steep hills, saw a significant amount of cyclists in Lycra and plenty of joggers. We also briefly helped a group of walkers find their missing dog who we’d seen earlier. By helped, I mean we stood around and looked uncertain until we heard someone yell that it had turned up.
However my favourite bit of the forest is the fact that Mat kindly included a detour for my benefit down a stretch of path dubbed Diagon Alley, named after some film series that had some scenes filmed there.
Not sure what the films were. Not Lord of the Rings, for once.
We also found some cool logs, which prompted some physical displays:
Oh yeah, and this pipe, which is some sort of metaphor for either this year or the logic behind our government’s advice:
It’s not too long after this that we emerge from the woods into the outskirts of Bagshot, and we find ourselves at St Anne’s church. This is a good thing because churches are a massive staple on hikes alongside graveyards, random cows and blisters.
Sadly there’s no graveyard but at least the church is impressive (circa 1900) and even vaguely educational. Alan notices significant lightning protection running down from the tower (even had little lightning bolt symbols on the wiring) and we finally confirmed why you get Yew Trees in churches (it’s because Yew trees are poisonous and this put farmers off allowing their animals to graze on church lands. Boom. Now you know.)
A few minutes later we find the local parish hall, which sounds pretty boring but actually looks pretty great:
Even with two Idiots next to it and a host of cleaning supplies in the window it’s very visually satisfying. Alan gives us an account of brickwork and Fleming bonding (I think this is what this is, I stole this from Rob’s caption on his Facebook picture) and properly educated, we proceed to look down our noses at any new builds we see for the rest of the day. Kids today know nothing about bricks, I tell you.
Not long after that we see our first snatches of autumnal colour, which I’m a total sucker for:
And just when you think things can’t get any more exciting, we reach the M3.
I mean, look how much fun we’re having here.
The footbridge leads us to Lightwater Country Park and onwards, up Curley Hill, which is even steeper than Swinley Forest and is completely worth it because of the viewpoint at the top.
There’s another photo of this with us in but I think Rob’s picture here is really nice so you’re getting this instead. The cool thing about the view point was you could sort of see a summary of everything we’d done so far behind us – the M3, St Anne’s church, Swinley Forest – and if you turned ninety degrees you could just about make out the buildings of London on the horizon.
All this was explained to us by a nice gentleman in a shirt, purple jumper and jeans. He had no bag and no dog, appeared as if from nowhere to point out all the sights to us, and the vanished as soon as he’d done so.
Alan puts it better:
Smartly groomed and dressed as if for work, completely out of place deep in the forest. No bag, no dog, no trace. I was looking out across the landscape. Curly Hill is great. It was about half way in and we could see all the landmarks we had past, like St. Anne’s Church. I was looking at this city in the distance, a question in my mind, ‘is that London?’
I turned around, and there he was. As if from nowhere. He knew everything. Every landmark across the land, everything about us, where we’d come from, where we were going. He knew all of history and all of time itself. I turned back to the view and wondered quietly to myself… should I ask him? I bet he knows. Should I ask him the meaning of life? Should I? Do I even want to know?
I turned back and he was gone. I looked down hill, checking every path, every route up to this point. Surely he would be easy to spot, dressed in that bright purple jumper. He was gone. Just disappeared, as quickly as he had appeared. No sound, nor trace, even the memory feels fragmented, broken. A residue from an immaterial realm, accidently breached.
As Rob succinctly put it, “If he’s not in the photo I took of him, I’m out.”
Anyway, he’s there on the left, so he’s at least a hard light hologram.
Viewpoint completed we descend back into the woods where we found a cool trench with, um, decorative nails.
Sadly all this woodland can’t last forever and we shortly reach Heatherside, which is pleasant enough as a suburb but hardly worthy of many precious lines in my blog.
Or so we thought until we turned a corner and came upon this little avenue, beautifully positioned between the houses:
The sight was incredibly calming, kind of inspiring and made us all smile like idiots for no particular reason.
If you were to look this up online I’m sure you’d find plenty of interesting history about it, but fortunately we didn’t need to check, because Alan knew already! He reliably informed us that this Avenue was planted by King Beef Wellington III in the 1800’s for his daughter, Wellingtonia. Done.
It’s not long after this that we arrive at our first pub stop of the day, The Whearsheaf in Heatherside.
Sadly Covid restrictions meant we were not easily able to linger inside the pub and get the photos this place deserves, so you might want to give it a google. It’s brilliant: designed by two interior designers in the 1970’s, the pub’s interior is basically Mad Men meets Clockwork Orange (minus the sex crime) or a mini Barbican Centre. The bar staff were lovely too and knew more than we thought they would about its history. While we drank our beer and charged our phones, Alan quizzed us on why one particular tile on the roof was out of place which is more entertaining than it sounds, honest.
As accomplished at drinking as we are, we’re also disciplined hikers, and we depart, entering more woodland, this time the woods next to Pine Ridge golf club, where Rob got married.
Unfortunately our progress grinds almost a complete halt as soon as we enter the woods when we notice a very nervous dog by himself. He runs back and forth for a while before vanishing out of the woods, towards the (quite busy) road we had just crossed. His owners soon follow with their other dog, looking a bit distraught. The dog (Beau) is nowhere to be seen.
Being decent, conscientious sorts, we decide to help find him. Before I run off, stalking the mean streets of Frimley, I hear Alan, strangely sage-like, ask Beau’s owner if the dog had just gone home. His suggestion is dismissed.
Roughly ten minutes later (probably less) I get a call from Rob to say that they’d learnt that Alan was indeed right: Beau had gone home. I return to the others, the dog and owners long gone, with nothing to show for my experience other than some crazy strawberry bootlace-style patterns on my walking app.
Not long after that, some very small child yells something that sounded racist at Alan (probably wasn’t) and we see a bizarre natural phenomenon:
I should really ask my brother about this, he knows about plants.
From there we proceed to Frith Hill, and things start getting curious.
Like, ‘don’t touch suspicious objects’ curious.
The first signs something interesting is afoot are huge palettes of fake snow, followed shortly by what look like filming trucks (Rob’s guess.) We keep walking, and through the trees we can just make out a patch of white.
This, followed by huge filming cranes and security barriers pretty much confirm we’re near a film set. Amazing!
Amber zone/danger zone. Close enough.
Oh yeah. Definitely nothing to see here.
We happen upon a security guard who’s having a thrilling day sat in his car, but seems to perk up a bit when we get talking to him. He won’t tell us what they’re filming, mentions that entering the set would be trespassing on MOD land and would incur a £1,000 fine (“Is it worth a grand?” Alan asks, and is crushed when it doesn’t illicit a response) but if we keep going and head right up the track we might be able to have a look around.
The track is the wrong way, but there’s no way we’re not going to do that!
We head up, the white through the trees growing…
We sneak in, oddly wary, afraid security will bust us or some army soldier will shoot at us. We’re in full ninja mode as we reach the edge of the set, the feeling a bit like approaching a very modest Narnia.
Our curiosity sated, we return to the path and walk a little further up to find that lo and behold, there’s a whole other snow covered section right next to the track, no sneaking required.
Immediately, our inner Instagram models take over:
As we leave, we see a family having a lovely time on the set before they’re promptly told off by security. We head back, our pace having taken a well-earned kicking. As we return to our path, Rob does some crafty research and learns we’ve just discovered a filming location for the second series of The Witcher, which is soon confirmed by a random family we meet. Rob messages his wife, Holly, who has quite a strong fondness of its star, Henry Cavill. Her response is… enthusiastic.
The final site we encounter in Frith Hill is some seemingly random stepping stones, which we suspect have links to the army barracks that stood here and their parade grounds.
Naturally we had to do something like this with them.
Between the (attempted) dog rescue, the film set not-really-break-in and the stone posing we’re well behind time so we crack on, finally leaving the woods, wandering down a few streets and dropping down onto the canal path, where there’s some cool graffiti.
Nothing to see here, move along.
The canal path is rather nice but not as nice as the houses that are next to it, complete with gorgeous, multi level landscapes gardens, tube slides and kayaks. When these blogs start earning me sick money I might get one of them.
Not too long after that we reach our next pub stop. We could stop at the Kings Arms but decide that since we’ve been there twice and both times it’s been thoroughly good-not-great, we risk going to the Rose and Thistle, which has been closed every time we’ve attempted to drink there in the past.
We enjoy pint no. 2, while Rob hastily re-tapes his feet. They’ve been giving him grief for a while, and he’s not finding it funny anymore.
The Rose and Thistle is nice enough, and the staff are very clear about what you can do in terms of distancing and whatnot, but we basically chill for a bit, drink, and leave.
We resume, crossing the railway line and following the canal path through Frimley and Blackwater. Rob experiences his own Dark Night of the Soul when he realises a) he’s in a lot of pain and b) he’s within walking distance of home, but he bears down and sticks with us as we enter a series of fields near Sandhurst.
Then it starts to rain. Hard.
We cower under trees for cover with some new friends:
Mat and Rob have already got their waterproofs on and Alan didn’t bring any. I whip mine out, feeling sympathy for Alan, only to realise in my haste I packed my 6 year old nephew’s waterproof and not my own.
What. A. Tit.
I fashion it into a makeshift cape, which I genuinely believe helped keep me dry, although the others just think I’m a moron. The rain continues to wax and wane in its intensity, and the only respite from it we find is in a 5 month old puppy who’s on a walk with his owners and delights in running at us at every chance he gets. He especially liked trying to bite Mat’s bum, which is obviously very entertaining.
This was the only picture I could get of her where she’s not a blur.
The rain lets up as we reach Sandhurst and given the state of Rob’s feet (Alan also has discomfort in an intimate spot) we decide the best option is to find the most direct route possible. This takes us through some very smart estates, and as we lose the light, we blast out the 1980’s Transformers’ soundtrack in an attempt to keep spirits high.
We succeed, and not long after, Crowthorne high street comes into view. We make a beeline for the Prince, bidding farewell to Mat halfway up, as he’s parked his car nearby. Our remaining number arrive in the Prince and once I finally figure out their confusing and contradictory instructions for ordering drinks (really not impressed guys) we settle into a well earned victory pint. It’s not long after that that Jen arrives to join us. Holly collects Rob not long after that and he staggers off like John Wayne with ten ingrowing toenails, and Alan and I knock back a couple more beers. Phew.
Out of sheer coincidence, Facebook told me I posted this two years ago to the day. In the absence of a final victory pint picture, I thought this was rather fitting: