Do not go by the ever-pessimistic BBC weather forecast and cancel your walk. Ours was planned for a Sunday. On Thursday, the forecast for Sunday said Cloudy Skies with Sunny Spells. On Friday, they changed it to Heavy Rain. On Saturday, they upgraded it further to Heavy Rain with Hail. On Sunday morning, we popped our heads out of the window and saw the sun beaming down from a cloudless blue sky. We didn’t check, but the BBC was probably predicting Apocalypse.
If you are in a hurry to get to the starting point of your hike, do not trust the printed travel itinerary given to you by the friendly lady at London Victoria Station enquiries. The route is as follows: train from Victoria to Leatherhead, connecting train from Leatherhead to Boxhill & Westhumble. Rather simple, you would think. But the computer that generates these itineraries has strange views about human nature. It thinks that passengers prefer not to reach their destination by the quickest routes and the fastest trains possible. The itinerary, therefore, involves deliberately missing the first three available trains that would take you to Leatherhead, and catching the fourth. Consequently, when you arrive at Leatherhead, you will find you’ve missed the earliest connecting train you could have taken and have to wait another 20 minutes for the next one. Of course, the itinerary will blithely advise to miss this one too and catch the one after, but by this time you will have learnt not to trust it.
Wear walking shoes if possible. My Adidas trainers are eminently suited to running on asphalt, but are not at their best when tackling steep slopes mushy from last night’s shower. They tend to slip.
If, like us, you are using the Time Out Book of Country Walks as your guidebook, be prepared for the occasional indecipherable instruction. “Fifty metres onwards from the multi-branched oak, bear right from the kissing gate towards Ashurst Rough (so marked on the OS Map), your direction 239 degrees.” As botany-illiterate men of the tropics, we couldn’t identify an oak tree if our lives depended on it. We had never seen a kissing gate. And we carried neither an Ordinance Survey Map nor a compass. We got lost a couple of times and took long detours.
Be prepared also for instructions that you cannot possibly follow. The suggested route required us at one point to take a path that was submerged under the River Mole, swollen by the recent rains. We needed a dangerous and borderline illegal detour to cross the river and get back on track.
Learn to tell the subtle differences between a bridleway, a footpath and a dirt track. If you can distinguish one from the other, you won’t get lost in the woods and meet a middle-aged commercial illustrator with a wonderful sense of humour who is out walking his dog.
In case you do meet said commercial illustrator, accept that he is a hardcore hiker and can stride up steep-ass White Hill without breaking sweat. Refrain from trying to do the same. Swallow your pride and fake an injury or something. We tried to match him step for step, we eventually did make it to the top at the same time as he did, but not before the strain had taken us to the verge of collapse.
Finally, pack more than two ham-and-lettuce sandwiches per person. Walking makes you hungry. You will pass a few pubs on your walk, but they are fiendishly expensive. The fact that they have log fires and the smell of grilled steak wafting out of their windows does not help either.
That is all the advice I can think of for now. Follow these, and your hike will go off more smoothly (if somewhat less eventfully) than ours.
Of course, it is probably better to not catch the hiking bug in the first place and take up some nice, non-taxing hobby like watching TV. Better still, you can nip the problem in the bud and never make friends with Rahul Saha. But no one warned me five years back.