I’d say so, in winter anyway.

Having already completed the London LOOP between Kingston and Tolworth Court Farm I opted to start the Thames Down Link from Tolworth instead. Even with these five miles cut off the route total it turned out to be the hardest walk I’ve completed around London so far.

Starting Point: Tolworth rail station, reachable from Waterloo or Clapham Junction.

Finishing Point: The Stepping Stones pub, a couple of hundred metres to the east of Box Hill & Westhumble rail station, trains to London Victoria, Sutton, and Clapham Junction.

Distance: Around 11 miles (17.8km)

Ordnance Survey Maps app route link here

Download the GPX file for this route here Tolworth to Dorking & Westhumble station

I’m writing this the day after I completed the Thames Down Link. I had a very bad cold before I walked it and I have a pretty bad cold today. In the past week we’ve had heavy snow followed by a day or two of thaw. The day of the walk was the first of wall-to-wall sunshine for weeks so I took the opportunity to try and blast the cobwebs and gunge out of my body with a vigorous walk.

I arrived at Tolworth station just after ten in the morning, expecting to complete the route in about three hours, it took me over four.

It’s about half a mile from the train station to the gate on the south side of Kingston Road. You follow the Hogsmill River for only a few metres. Today it was a swollen and opaque torrent compared to the serene and transparent flow of yester-month. A footbridge to the right soon beckons you over the Hogsmill and then another carries you over the Bonesgate stream. This was my first hair-raising experience of the day with about ten metres of thick ice all the way across. Once on the other side, and only after I’d determined that I was on the right path, I headed south. The sizzling noise of the pylons was my only accompaniment as I trudged through the mud and I wondered why I wasn’t on the other side of the river, which appeared to be both paved and ice-free.

Only a few moments later the other side turned into an ice rink and I was pleased to be enjoying ‘only’ deep mud on my side.

Eventually you do cross back over and have to dodge dog turd after dog turd, even around the small playground area. Deshiteful! The ice was relentless between here and Chessington Road, at which point it just disappeared in favour of mud again.

Castle Hill Local Nature Reserve is a bit forlorn with quite a few patches of litter to admire. But the birds were chirpy and the sun was flooding my vision. I had forgotten my Raybans and was rewarded with frequent hallucinations. The green, blue, and yellow blobs imprinted on my retina by the low winter sun made me spot imaginary Thames Down Link blazes where there were none. The ice returned to the floor and reflected the sunlight up at me. It was warm but absolutely impossible to see most of the time.

The path veered along a piece of forestry land edged by notices about felling operations (Horton Country Park). Just as the path became flanked by two large piles of logs I turned left and enjoyed a long tree-lined tunnel of ice and water. Stepping carefully along here I could look down and fancy myself as a helicopter whizzing over fractured arctic sea ice, Sir Davey A’s iconic voice and a sweeping string arrangement narrating my progress. The footing was insecure and there were several sneakily deep puddles to avoid.

Treacherous icy path, part of the Thames Down Link

The end of this path abruptly turns into almost solid dirt for a while. It’s a very welcome relief and I was already promising myself a sit-down at the next bench for a large gulp of water. The dirt path skirts around an equestrian centre but to the right you can see a tall brick tower presumably in the grounds of the local hospital.

Delicious horses near Horton Country Park, Thames Down Link

Just after I passed some tasty looking horses I heard a blood-curdling scream from around the next bend “DADDY!”

With quite a large amount of worry that something horrible was occurring around the next corner, or that I was going to find an abandoned child, I stepped on slowly. Then two teenage girls came running around the bend completely out of breath. “DANNY!” they yelled down the track behind me, at a speck that passed me several minutes beforehand.

Just past here there’s a totem pole that I didn’t even notice as I walked past. Only much further down the track did I spot it, and I couldn’t be arsed to go back up and admire it up close.

Lots of joggers and cyclists pound this section and all flashed a smile or a hello. But two extremely ugly and snooty middle-aged arseholes in expensively posy outdoors clothing basically forced me off the track by walking hand in hand across the whole thing. Didn’t even make eye contact with me or bother to acknowledge I’d had to go off-road. I should have just cut them apart with my body, maybe stamping the mud whilst doing it…

*deep breath*

Blink and you’ll miss the turn off from this path, through a small gap on the left. The next stretch is abysmal with mud. There was a bench, but it was an island in the slurry so I passed up on this wondrous opportunity.

The sudden left turn off of the Thames Down Link, after the snooty arsehats

On your left is what appears to be an elevated gas pipeline, but it’s suddenly cut short and slightly charred. Probably the ongoing work of the prog-rock terrorists Procol Harum, fresh from their training camps in the Niger Delta. (sorry, an extremely bad joke)

A short dirt track later takes you past some more horses and across into Epsom Common. This was the start of a very difficult struggle. Mud, water, slurry, ice, snow, one after the other in quick succession. Relentless and impossible to avoid. In fact the best footing for several hundred metres was the ice, which was no fun. I did get that long-awaited bench in the middle of the Common but only rested for a few seconds. I wanted to clear the area ASAP in hope of better ground. My cold was starting to get on top of me and I was breaking out in feverish sweats from time to time. Questions began to appear in my mind as to whether this was a good idea…

The sun and the naked trees in Epsom Common, Thames Down Link

Ashtead Park came and went without much of an impression, but you’re not there for long. There’s a bit of road walking, and a level crossing, but nothing too terrible.

A pond beside an icy path in Ashtead Common, Thames Down Link

You enter some pretty pricey housing with the usual accoutrements of freshly washed cars and well trimmed lawns. Suburbia at its finest. A bridleway carries you across the back of a row of period cottages with hefty pricetags (£360,000 if you’re interested) and then you enter Crampshaw Lane. I emptied a pile of stones from my boots whilst perched on a bench, and took in the smell of local household chimneys that seemed a lot like mulled wine.

The path beside the lane heads uphill and varies between mud and slush. A jogger nodded cheerfully as he sped past, and I took the moment to admire the drooping sun over the snow covered fields to the west. I became aware of the distant roar of the M25, like a massive river grinding rocks against each other.

Stane Street, Thames Down Link, just over the M25

I soon arrived on Stane Street, an ancient Roman Road that connected London to Chichester. Not much is left of the road now except the straight line. It’s an awful walk in this kind of weather. Crossing the motorway only took a moment but I was glad to see the back of it. Stane Street undulated over Mickleham Downs for a couple of miles and the path became more and more icy.

Frozen Stane Street over Mickleham Downs, Thames Down Link

The view from of Mickleham from the Thames Down Link

I began to yearn for the end of the route, with the warm pub being my destination. I was feeling pretty terrible now and my legs were tiring quickly. As the path began to drop towards Mickleham my evil knee began to twinge a little but I enjoyed seeing the immensity of Box Hill to my left. Tiny little people struggled towards the summit.

Tiny people walking up Box Hill, Surrey

As I crossed the River Mole I congratulated myself on connecting the North Downs Way to my London walks at long last, and as I settled into The Stepping Stones pub I battled my fevered mind to enjoy a well-earned pint of Hog’s Back T.E.A.

This was one hell of a hard walk but I think under the circumstances I would have found it tough even without the virus climbing all over me. I feel a bit sad that I spent so much of the distance looking at the ground but with these conditions I didn’t have a hell of a lot of choice on that front. I can well imagine that this is a stunning stroll in early summer but I wouldn’t recommend it in winter as I’ve found nowhere harder than this!