If you know anything at all about the hills of south-east England, you know about the South Downs. Magnificent, strong scarp slope, striding path along the hundred miles, a worthy national trail. You probably know about the North Downs too, with its Chaucerian associations. And you might well know about the Weald, cradle of the English Iron Age, home to Christopher Robin.
But do you know about the Greensand Ridge? Probably not. Yet like the others it runs west-east, has a clear scarp slope, at least at the western end, and indeed contains the highest hill of all the south-east, a few feet short of the magical 1000 feet. The Greensand Way discovers this all-but unknown chain, and very fine it is too – a favourite of well-known guide writer Kev Reynolds. I discovered it bit by bit over a couple of years, finishing in summer 2008.
It’s worth noting that the Way has a northern counterpoint, the 40-mile Greensand Ridge Walk, running from Leighton Buzzard to Gamlingay in Bedfordshire. It’s on my to-do list, for it would be interesting to compare the countryside.
Defining the ridge
At least for the purposes of the Greensand Way – a geologist might differ – the Greensand ridge of Surrey and Kent comprises five blocks, three higher, two lower, in sequence high-highest-low-highish-lowest. The first reaches well over 250m at Hindhead, near the start at Haslemere, before declining to cross the River Wey, a major tributary of the Thames. There follows the largest single block of high ground, culminating in the 294m of Leith Hill, with descent then to the Mole valley, another Thames tributary, at Dorking.
From here, through the twin towns of Redhill and Reigate to Oxted, the ridge is a scraggly little thing managing barely 130m west of the A23 and 175m east of it. There is much more consistent high ground around the Surrey/Kent border, with various summits over the 200m mark, although the local high point of 235m is just to the north of the Way. But after crossing the Medway, the great river of Kent, the ridge struggles to reach 150m once more, and beyond Ashford the notion of ‘high ground’ is purely relative.
I used public transport to reach the Way from my home in east London. Many rail routes from London cross the Way in the Surrey stretch: Haslemere, Witley, Dorking, Earlswood and Oxted stations are all either on or very close to the Way, and the Guildford – Redhill – Tonbridge line is often very close too. Things are less good in Kent. There is a fine link path through Knole Park to Sevenoaks station, which I used, and the Medway valley line is crossed at Yalding station, but that’s it until the major junction of Ashford apart from a link path from Pluckley village (again, which I used) to its small station. The walk ends on platform 2 of the village station at Ham Street. Not near, or beside, or the other side of the barrier to, but on platform 2. Frequencies at even the smaller stations are never less than hourly in the week but always check before going anywhere by train on a Sunday.
I discovered local bus services as I went along. Guildford is the hub in the western area, with villages like Hascombe having remarkably good links, and Maidstone in the east.
The National Rail site is the obvious first stop for planning rail journeys. Traveline has these and bus journeys too, but the national service is overly dumbed down. I prefer to use Traveline South-East, which has much more detail, and in particular has maps for each bus route showing the precise location of each stop – invaluable to make sure you’re in the right part of the village.
I also have detailed distances and times for the walk, in three sections (pdf viewer required).
The full route is clearly marked on both OS Landranger and Explorer maps