Hills: Leith Hill
Designation: Marilyn, County Top (Surrey)
Who: Just me
When: Sunday 27th August
Time in car to time on hill ratio: about 2:1
Time walking vs faffing ratio: about 1:1
Post walk drink: A rather nice shiraz
Post walk watering hole: My living room (does that count?!)
Why: see below…
They have hills in the South of England too. Well allegedly. My first attempt to see if this was actually true involved the undistinguished Botley Hill (highest point within the M25) on the way home from a trip to one of our offices near Gatwick. That was also a Marilyn and demonstrated pretty well what Marilyn baggers have to put up with and the lows of that pursuit compared with the highs (say Ben Nevis or Scafell Pike) or the OMG (the St Kilda sea stacks). I can’t help wondering if as many potential Marilyn baggers have been deterred by the boredom factor of climbing stuff such as that as much as the technicalities of the stuff at the other end of the British Isles.
So what was I doing on Leith Hill, a Marilyn and the highest point of Surrey (and therefore a county top tick and a BOGOF)? Well, for the first time ever I had actually climbed a classified hill of some sort in every month of this year so far, starting with 3 new Wainwrights in glorious winter conditions in the first week of January. I had then somehow managed to get a hill of some sort in every subsequent month with my best being 6 Wainwrights in June. This had involved a number of mad dashes of various sorts and unfeasible amounts of time on either public transport or in the car/ stuck on the M25, M6, etc as well as having to be slightly creative in July when an Outlying Wainwright, Orrest Head, was squashed in on the day of a beer festival in a fairly ropey weather weekend.
August was also going to require a certain amount of creativity to keep this going not least as we were spending 2 weeks of it snorkelling in a Red Sea resort in Egypt. I had half thought about another mad dash somewhere at the beginning of August but work and other commitments did not permit. Having scoured the Southeastern Marilyn list Leith Hill looked about the best bet being about an hour’s drive from my house and from photos on the net actually looked like a proper hill albeit of slightly less than 300m elevation.
Having landed back in the UK in the small hours of the 26th, Saturday consisted mainly of drinking Pinot Grigio (too warm for Malbec), vegging on the sofa, catching up on back episodes of Game of Thrones and not a lot else. However we did venture out to one of our local pubs at one point whereupon, as I was standing outside, a small child (8 or so) rode past me on a bicycle and spat in my face. With that delightful return to London I was even more determined to get out into the country!
I left the house at about 10am on the Sunday on a boiling hot day. Once I got off the M25 (I hate that road) the drive was okay although the network of small lanes around the hill itself was quite convoluted and I got stuck behind a lot of cyclists inching slowly up a narrow road with no opportunity for overtaking. Not that I would have wanted to try and cycle up that incline anyway. (Not that I can cycle anyway but I wouldn’t have wanted to if I could!)
The hill itself is maintained by the National Trust who have a couple of conveniently sited car parks about 100m / less than a mile from the summit. I parked at the slightly lower and further away one largely because it was the first one I found. From here, a gently inclined path wends its way gradually uphill through some rather nice woodland, with occasional breaks through the trees. I was still knackered from the journey home so it was a hands in pockets job through the trees stopping to look at views or anything else of interest before popping out on the top about 20 minutes after leaving the car.
The summit of Leith Hill was a busy place – in contrast to the woods which had been quieter than I had expected. Lots of families and several Duke of Edinburgh groups with enormous rucksacks passing through (the hill sits on a long distance path). The actual summit, according to the Hill Bagging website, is a grassy knoll with a bench though inevitably I wandered over to any possible high point including a heathery knoll a bit further away. The views were surprisingly good for a hill down here, I was in no rush and was happy to wander about for a bit then sit down and chill out with a cold drink. Much nicer than Botley Hill – ok not difficult but even so!
The summit also boasts a rather nice little tower which has spiral steps to a viewpoint at the top. Being man made the top of the tower is not the summit but it was worth climbing anyway for the views. All in all including the tower I spent the best part of about 45 minutes mooching around the summit area before retracing my steps back to the car park. There are longer walks that can be done from here but I had a jungle (i.e. my back garden) to deal with back at the house before I could contemplate a post walk drink! 3 big bags of weeds later the Shiraz was poured…
All in all a rather nice little walk although I was in the car for a lot longer than I was on the hill which seems to be becoming a bit of a theme this year! And no, I am not bagging Marilyns or County Tops… and I don’t know if I will manage to do a hill every month this year or not but we will see how we go. December in particular looks like being awkward!