Wednesday, 28 January 2009

A Cautionary Tale

About a week back, Saha and I went for a 12 km country walk from Box Hill (setting for the picnic scene in Emma) to Leatherhead, in the fair county of Surrey. Should you decide to follow in our exalted footsteps, this post is to tell you what you should not do.

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.


spriblah said...

Your advice would be very usable but only if someone was actually crazy enough to waste a perfectly good laze-about day such as a Sunday for a 12 km!! walk.
But nice post.
What is a kissing gate,is it closely related to the kissing frog by any chance?

Rahul Saha said...

All this will be pretty useless on our next trip to Surrey. I'm going to get myself a canoe and then we can go up the river Mole rather than along it. A fishing rod and a small stove will solve the food problem as well. Of course, this will take both the sunday and the saturday (and possibly a tent) but such are the benefits of being my friend.

Karthy said...

As botany-illiterate men of the tropics, we couldn’t identify an oak tree if our lives depended on it.

Hah! good post, and the pics look brilliant arranged one against the other. it's the photoshop software you used for the nujs blogs, isn't it?

Also, Rahul's idea of a boat/canoe trip reminds me terribly of three men in a boat :D

finally, I have an almost word for word verification: 'unsen'

Tommy said...

Nice pics...!

Gotta love names like Leatherhead, Boxhill, and Westhumble.

new age scheherazade said...

"A more fanciful idea has to do with a game associated with using the gate. The mechanism is composed of elements that help create an intermediate space between the interior and exterior of the fenced space. Since only one person at a time can go through the mechanism, the first person emerging from the gate can effectively block the second person from proceeding. Usually, passage is granted upon the reception of a kiss. It is generally understood that this game only takes place between persons who are on friendly terms."

Doubletake, Doublethink. said...

oh. i was wondering about that term.

since i inevitably walk around like crazy on holidays, i shall keep these in mind for whenever i land in the UK. especially the part about the sandwiches.

Ravis said...

Um, you live in the UK? Or did you go on a hike to UK? Hey, I really relly envy you, darn!! And I wish I had a friend like this Saha guy!

Shrabasti Banerjee said...

Great pics, great post. Sniff, to think the most exciting thing I did on my 1-day London trip was an on-bus city tour :-(. I wanna hike!! And go on a country walk!

Sroyon said...

@spriblah: Oh, there are plenty of like-minded people around. And as for your question, see New Age Scheherazade's comment.

@Saha: Game on.

@Karthy: You've just picked up a line from my post and put it in italics. What am I supposed to understand from that? About the pictures, I just used Paint. My computer in hostel, being a relic of the past, doesn't have enough RAM to run Photoshop. And why are you getting excited about 'unsen'? Didn't you once get a proper word for WV?

@Tommy: When it comes to naming places, the Brits have their ideas in the right place. Look at a Tube map.

@scheherazade: I hereby appoint you The Official Annotator of My Blog.

@Doubletake: I figured. Your post on the Maithon trip springs to mind. Nothing beats walking.

@Ravis: Nope. Went there on some work. The hike was incidental.

@Shrabasti: But you saw other places too, on the same trip. And on-bus city tour is probably the best option if you're in London only for a day.