Eight?! How the hell have we managed eight of these things? It’s clearly one of the great mysteries, akin to dark matter; how those little silica pouches keep new things fresh; and why they keep rebooting Robin Hood.
In our case it’s just this for 8-10 hours, for God’s sake.
So Crowthorne to Farnham was, as regular readers may remember, the original plan for Hike VI. It didn’t happen due to various factors but after Kent for VII we felt Farnham was a good next target. Coming in at 20 miles it’s one of the shortest hikes we’ve had, and given some of the longer ones, there was an appetite from some of the crew to make the next one a little more manageable. (Not Alan. If Alan has his way they’d all be 40 miles long with 2 pints at each pub.)
The Farnham route was a nice little tribute to hike regular Mat, who is both from Crowthorne (like the rest of the core crew, although the term ‘core’ is debatable and now expanding) and got married at Farnham castle, so it seemed like a fun thing to do.
The planning for this one was (fortunately for readers and myself, who has to turn the planning of a long walk into something stimulating) incredibly easy. Mat found this thing called PlotARoute which, um, plots a route, and basically took all the nightmarish stress of planning (which John totally loves emailing about) away from us. No idea if subsequent ambles will be so easy, but this was a doddle. The biggest challenge seemed to be where to have (first) breakfast, as nowhere seemed to be able to fit us all, or was open at 8 in the morning.
As ever, we cast the net of invitees wide and despite some heavy faffing from people who were definitely-gonna-come-but-not-on-this-one-but-definitely-the-next, managed to snag all the regulars, a few returning faces, and some new additions in the form of three of Alan’s friends, Tristram, Jack and Julius.
Mat hits on the idea of emailing a cafe in Crowthorne that has fed us on some of the early hikes (even signed it courtesy of the Walking Idiots, which I loved) and they were up for making us baguettes, but in the end it was agreed that we’d meet in Crowthorne, walk a mile or two to Sandhurst, and eat at Rackstraws, a Beefeater.
There’s a bit of a running joke with Rackstraws, in as much as Mat has suggested it as a breakfast location on numerous instances (not the Kent hike, as far as I remember) yet somehow we’ve never eaten there. No one knows quite why he loves it so.
I even made a meme about it.
Anyway, Rackstraws it is, and then only 18 miles to Farnham.
Plans progress as per usual (mostly John messaging some of us and nagging us to create chatter on the WhatsApp group) and the hike sneaks closer and without incident. Yours truly is briefly concerned when I’m ill for the first time in a long time (both ends) and takes a couple of days off work, feeling pretty pathetic and worried I’ll not be able to make it. I eat masses of spinach and oranges in an ill-conceived attempt to bounce back, but mostly the rest fixes me. It was nice to get vaguely threatening messages from Rob and John, both saying “you cannot be ill.”
Still, we wouldn’t have got this pic if I had bitched out. It’s nice to be wanted.
On the eve of the hike the various parties make their way closer to Crowthorne. Alan’s friends get an Airbnb, Clyde crashes at mine, and John has a hideously depressing train journey apparently caused by some genius with a flag. John’s reaction is suitably appropriate and not at all over dramatic:
How can there not be a f**king buffet car on this train? What is this, the GuLAG?
The morning of the hike, we all rock up for 8ish, Jen dropping Clyde and I off, stopping long enough to get a wave from Mat and Alan, and some friendly abuse from John (“I thought that looked like Ridley parking!”) Enough man hugs are given to make the beach scene in Top Gun seem whatever the opposite of homoerotic is, and we’re off!
Hike 8: 30th March 2019
Crap, sorry, I got confused, here we are:
Attendees: from l-r: Dave Moverley, Tristram Pettit, Chris Swatridge, Julius de Seporhino (I’ve got surname envy now), John Duckitt, Pete Lewis, Alan O’Connell, Jack Adams, me, Clyde Baehr, Clyde’s Tesco bag full of alcohol which he managed to carry for the full day, although it did get progressively lighter, Mat Gunyon, Tom White, Big Al Feltz. Rob, as ever, was on camera duty.
Not only was Rob doing his photography bit, but he was very excited that the point where we took the photo, in the Morgan Rec (walking past a tree that Swatty was responsible for planting – he was getting his nature lessons in early) was also where most of the Crowthorne alumni played street hockey as youths. Rob and Mat went on to be in a team for a good long while since (Rob still plays.)
It makes for a nice flashback but we’re quickly made aware that we’re getting a little emotional over what is essentially a large square of concrete, no matter how much we try and make it seem like something from Fresh Prince meets One Tree Hill, and this means nothing to at least nine of our number.
Unfortunately for them, the nostalgia trip/self indulgence only deepens as within five minutes our route leads us to Edgbarrow school, which the same five of us attended.
Hogwarts it ain’t.
Note Alan’s short-shorts, quickly becoming a hike staple, the tease.
The five of us posing here at the school entrance is a bit of a vanity exercise but who cares. There’s plans for a twenty year reunion this year, which should be… interesting.
John mentioned later how when we were taking photos at Edgbarrow, he was expecting there to be most of the group there, but instead we were stood looking at a crowd of bemused faces. There were scarcely a third of us had any connection to Crowthorne at all, and that’s great, because it’s changed into something else entirely now. Anyway.
We walk through the school grounds, eerily silent on a Saturday morning, five of us breathing in the heady nostalgia, the other nine hoping they won’t land on the sex offenders register, until we reach our first obstacle, a locked gate, that prevents us entering Wildmoor Heath, our intended route. (Rob later referred to this incident as gate-gate.)
Much bickering ensues (John assures me he told Mat about this in advance but his concerns were not acknowledged) until we hear a clang, and look up to see Big Al climbing over the gate, like Spider Man, if Spider Man was a grandfather.
The team follows him gracefully –
– and to celebrate this hurdle, Pete cracks open his first beer of the day. At this point it’s 8:24am. The day shows promise.
From here we proceed to Wildmoor Heath, which is a rather nice set of woods out the back of Edgbarrow that I somehow don’t remember despite having gone to the school for seven years.
(Insert Dead marshes gag here. I didn’t have the nerve to go full Frodo and fall in face first. John probably would’ve made it happen if I’d started to make the joke.)
Our route takes us through the Heath and woods towards Rackstraws, where everyone’s starting to get pretty hungry. Mat informs me that when some of the lads met for a drink the night before, Tristram asked him whether Alan had always been so… Alan, seeing as Mat had known him from school days, which tickled me.
I mean, yeah, pretty much.
We arrived at Rackstraws ready to ruin fourteen enormous breakfasts and are promptly turned away. We hadn’t booked (didn’t think we’d need to) and they’re apparently expecting a wedding party for breakfast. We remark that we’d be done quickly but it’s still a no-go. Several of our number pick up on the fact that the place is pretty much empty, and how many people are they expecting for this wedding group, but whatever. Plan B.
Plan B involves some more wandering (getting hangry by this point) through some woods and meadows until we reach the colossal Tesco that dominates the outskirts of Camberley. We proceed to their canteen area and for half an hour lose all sense of hike wilderness romanticism as we sit and eat fried breakfasts on plastic trays while wearing hike boots like utter bellends.
You can practically taste the enthusiasm.
(To be fair, it was a pretty good breakfast, all told.)
(Think Mat liked it. Or is that Daniel Craig?)
Speaking of Mat, with the day warming up he decides to follow in Alan’s example and switches to shorts, too. Cleverly, he’s got some of those trousers with detachable lower legs so with a few zips pulled his gams are out.
I forgot Mat has a dodgy knee, and with the trouser leg gone I can see his knee brace, which is some heavy tech, full of metal.
I can only assume he can do this like Christian Bale in The Dark Knight Rises:
It’s somewhere around this point Tom starts making calls trying to secure a booking for tomorrow (Mother’s Day), either for his mum or wife, I’m pretty sure they’re separate people.
I reached out to Tom for an official line on when/how/where this booking might have happened, but he was unavailable for comment. I can’t only conclude a) he doesn’t check Facebook often, b) he doesn’t want Mrs White to see how lax his booking skills were or c) he was busy directing trains or whatever it is he does.
The breakfast setting may be pretty awful but it does the business and we’re done in minutes. Seems to take longer to get served than to eat.
From here we resume our meanderings, following a route that’s not massively dissimilar to Rob’s birthday hike along the Blackwater.
Fuelled by carbohydrates and dead meat, Pete and John take off at a thunderous pace, managing to get so far ahead that they climb the stairs away from the main road and cross the bridge before the rest of us have even reached the stairs.
(At least they’re happy.)
To be fair, Dave and Swatty look happy enough, too. Must be Dave’s fancy new stick.
Eventually leaving the road, Swatty and Alan bond over different types of grass (more interesting than it sounds) and various nature lectures ensue.
They look content, don’t they?
There’s an interesting few sights like bridges with cool light patterns reflected on the ceiling and things like that which pop up but nothing else too noteworthy
Oh, and Dave’s Stevie Wonder impression.
Our first choice for a pub, The Rose and Thistle is shut, and deciding to take it on the chin rather than build up a complex about places rejecting us as if we were that sadistic biker gang from Mad Max (dibs on being the Toecutter) we opt for our second choice, which is the The Kings Head, just down the road.
The Kings Head is fine, it’s that Harvester I covered on Hike 7.5. I can’t really be bothered to say much about it so I’ll just leave Rob’s pic here and we’ll move on:
Oh, also proof it’s at least nice outside:
Everyone seems significantly cheerier for a pint, so with our morale boosted we head off, (Rob’s in shorts now, too, Alan’s set the trend) once again following Rob’s birthday hike route, which is a cracking route and looks different as we’re doing it in reverse.
It’s not too long after that when we reach our second pub, The Swan.
While the others are giggling about goodness knows what and making me experience whole new levels of FOMO, Dave and I chat with Alan’s mates, our new additions.
I found out later it was one of Clyde’s horror stories from his misspent youth. Their faces say it all:
We take the opportunity to scoff down lunch with pint 2 (official, it’s several more for a few of our number) and then head off. Clyde and I nip to the loo before joining the others and on the way back I clock this ridiculously cute puppy I’d seen earlier but not had the chance to introduce myself to. It’s one of those tiny ones who’s scared of everyone until it sniffs them and then it’s immediately your best friend.
This is great until we realise that everyone’s left without us, and I wonder how far ahead they’ve got until we look up and over the river next to the pub.
There they are. Despairing at us. Joke’s on them though, they don’t have puppy bite marks puncturing their hands and arms like Clyde and I did.
Anyway, we catch up and manage to pose like idiots on the bridge in the process.
It’s not long after this Rob decides we need a morale boost and sticks his immaculately curated Hike playlist on and I catch Big Al whistling along to Sound & Vision from Bowie’s seminal album Low, which brings me no end of happiness.
Then we pass this piece of Instagram bait, which me, Clyde and Rob all photograph:
From here things get a little more interesting as we leave both the river and road and head into logging woodland which isn’t as steep as it looks
Okay, maybe it was a bit
And from here we join a former, now disused railway line. Guess who liked that?
To be fair, the whole thing was pretty good, the arrow straight route giving me Dark Tower vibes (path of the beam) which I can’t share with anyone cos none of the crew have read it and I refuse to bring up the abomination of a movie.
Leaving the railway line it’s not long until we get to our penultimate pub, The White Hart in Tongham.
The White Hart is a perfectly fine pub, not the best of the day, beer range about acceptable. Points to note:
- Rob throwing some serious shade in this photo, although it’s mostly because his hay fever kicked in with a vengeance. I doubt he can even see in this pic.
- Sickeningly cute dog scrounging for food.
- (Off camera) Like an escapee from the gulag, Clyde drinks cold lentil soup from a can because he needs to balance his diet out somehow and it’s hard for him otherwise. Not even the dog wanted to touch that.
Cute, but not BoyBoy from Hike 7.
Something like urgency strikes us and John’s inner fuhrer wakes up for the first time in this hike. We set off, noticing for the first time people struggling. It seems to be Alan’s new recruits, although as we learn later Jack seems to be the primary casualty. This leads to plenty of reminiscing of our gross feet from past hikes. Clyde’s were especially pus-filled in walks of yore, almost like a spirit level.
Still, from here the hike picks up as we head further into more rural areas.
Rob gets this gem, as what I’m starting to refer to a certain time of day as the Instagram Hour nears.
Also this horse had great hair.
Not long after this we briefly rejoin civilisation to cross the sliproad onto the Hogs Back, which is both treacherous and daft, and I gather from the lads that Big Al had his own Gandalf/you shall not pass moment where he basically commanded traffic to stop. Wish I’d seen that.
Back in the wild, interesting things (and some less interesting) happen.
(That’s probably less, but still funny.)
We find this creepy little bunker (Alan wanted to move in)
Weird tree stuff
Some abandoned dwelling
… and this sexy sunset.
This whole stretch was brilliant. The area is called Moor Park House. Rob ended up doing some pretty good research, post hike:
That area is Moor Park House (which we didn’t see). It was a bit of a health retreat and Darwin spent some time there.
In the area is a cave, with a natural spring inside. It used to be occupied by a white witch called The Mother Ludlum. She would lend out cooking utensils to people, coz no Tupperware back then.
It gets better:
There are a few legends, and you can find them online if you search.
She once lent an iron cauldron to the devil who ran off with it. He jumped 3 times, and where he landed he made 3 hills around surrey. She got the cauldron back and hid it in a local church so the devil could not get it again. It’s still there.
Note to self: research weird historical quirks before a hike where possible.
Turns out there were various pillboxes and anti tank pyramids (dubbed ‘dragons teeth’) along the river (the River Wey, in case you were wondering) which were installed in case the nazis snuck in and wanted to make their way to London. Credit again to Rob.
Our brief excursion into witches, beautiful skies and anti-nazi preparations winds down as we reach a tunnel that smells oddly of baby powder.
Apparently the house next to it blocked the tunnel once and it led to riots. I can only assume the baby powder aroma is a weird manifestation of a curse from the locals.
Slowly our team assembles our the far side, ready for our final push:
(Rob captioned this pic “Big Al 4eva” which I think is legit. You can also see Jack heroically soldiering on. Also Clyde looking like a rockstar.)
We convene next to a pub we don’t have time to stop in next to a roundabout. On the far side we glimpse a rather strange sight:
It’s like if the Weeping Angels were exhibitionists. Who actually buys this stuff?
Our final push takes us up the hill to Farnham Castle. Dave kindly donates his apparently technically advanced walking stick to Jack to see him through, and we climb a deceptively steep avenue of trees to the castle.
Probably the most masculine photo you’ll see today. Especially of Swatty.
The castle proved… elusive to capture…
… but whatever. It’s there somewhere and none of us are too fussed because once everyone’s caught up (and Alan’s made a further dent in his bottle of whisky) we make our way down the road to our final stop, The Nelson’s Arms in Farnham.
The Nelson’s Arms was an absolute highpoint, and not just because we had finished this absurd walk. It’s got low ceilings, beams, leaded lights, all that great rustic stuff, plus lots of interesting beers.
I mean, it’s all about the beer really, isn’t it?
And pointless model boats too, naturally.
Conversation takes on all sorts of twists and turns. The high point for anyone who’s followed these posts before was stated by Clyde who in the wake of Rob’s perpetual sneezing, weighed up what wins in the hay fever versus asthma debate. It probably didn’t help that Rob spilled Clyde’s drink as he managed to sneeze while setting it down, but to be fair to Rob that wasn’t the worst sneezing related incident he’d had that week, as his bathroom would apparently attest, but I can’t go into detail on the blog owing to matters of good taste.
As ever, members of our party slowly leave, with the remaining crew of eight determined to go off and find food which we bloody well deserved. The hike turned out to be a great success, but my god is Farnham an utter bitch to get back from if you live in Berkshire, London or Kent. Ah well.
Bring on Hike 9.