Mud, ‘glorious’, mud was the order of our 19 mile second day on the VGW.

We didn’t set off as early as we might have liked. My shoulder muscles in particular had made sleeping quite painful at times so waking was a bit of a struggle. Also, I probably shouldn’t have had 4 pints to end the first day’s walk. Still, once I’d put a hat on, zipped up my jacket, and eaten breakfast, I was raring to go.

We had a long day ahead of us but I never expected it to be as hard as it turned out to be.

Starting Point: Limpsfield Chart, reachable by 594 bus from Westerham.

Finishing Point: Ashdown Forest. Specifically the Hatch Inn near Newbridge which is reachable by 291 bus from Crawley, East Grinstead or Tunbridge Wells. Monday to Saturday services only.

Length: 19 miles (30.6km).

Ordnance Survey Maps route link here

Download the GPX for this route here Vanguard Way Day 2, Limpsfield Chart to Ashdown Forest

Martyn coming over a stile over Kent Brook, day two of the Vanguard WayIt had been drizzling in the night and a slight mist hung over everything when we started our walk. The downward road from Limpsfield Chart took us past some pretty manors, across Kent Brook which marked our crossing over from Surrey to Kent, and beyond oast houses which leave nobody in any doubt as to which county you are treading through.

Now that I had Ordnance Survey maps to refer to I was taking more care to plot out where turnings should occur. That said I continued to make several navigational errors due to being slightly over-ambitious in my plotting. Still, I was learning fast and I’m not certain our first error was really my fault. A ‘VGW’ blaze took us slightly west and then I didn’t see another blaze for about 10 minutes. By that point we had been following a footpath sign to the wrong side of strip of woodland. Once I realised my error it wasn’t hard to fix but it was a bit annoying having to cross what looked a lot like private land…

Even the slight drizzle overnight had turned the previous day’s hardening mud into swathes of almost unpassable slurry. This is why there are few photos on this post. Martyn’s trainers held up reasonably well and I made sure my gaiters were fixed in place for the day. The constant sucking mud took a toll on my legs and slowed us dramatically.

We should have paused on the edge of Troy Town, after a particularly bad stretch of goo. Instead we just chatted and continued. Again I only noticed after about a kilometre that we were going the wrong way towards Edenbridge. A stupid lapse.

Internally I was very hard on myself for this wrong turn and from then on tried much harder to keep us on track. A bench break at Marlpit Hill rail bridge helped me perk up even though a typical white van dick yelled something rude at us as he sped past. Hey, I’m ginger, I’m used to people shouting crap at me from the safety of their vehicles.

Luckily for us the next few miles mainly consisted of quiet road walking so we could reclaim some of the lost pace from the day so far. With the drizzle long gone and the mist risen everything was looking a bit better.

Starborough Castle is just to the east of the Vanguard Way but pretty much entirely concealed behind fences and hedges so I’m not too sure why it bothers to detour around it at all.

Bridge and pretty river on the Vanguard Way south of Haxted Mill

Just as we began to consider stopping for lunch the path turned more evil than anywhere so far. As rabbits and idiotic partridges fled from our progress we found the mud (‘fun’) getting deeper all the time. By the time we reached Vicar’s Kink we were battling hard against drowning. Martyn went off-piste to save his socks and I skirted the verges with my walking poles bracing me against inevitable slips.

After conquering Vicar’s Kink I started up a slope only to suddenly feel like I was wrong. I turned around and proceeded in the wrong direction for a few hundred metres before we realised and turned back. More obviously than anywhere so far it was fatigue causing navigation issues.

A steep zig-zag path took us to the crest of a hill where a reservoir/fort was marked on the map. Sadly the fort is long gone and fenced off so we collapsed into a patch of leaves to eat our lunch. Chorizo, Pepperami, pita bread, chocolate, Babybels, Fruit Gums, a delicious mish-mash of things to gobble down voraciously.

The wind was whipping across the hill and chilling us at a furious pace so we both had to wrap up for the descent.

As we approached Hammerwood I missed a sudden left turn whilst admiring the tiniest glimpse of the sun in days so we had to backtrack again. But this was the last time on the whole trip. I’d learnt my lesson now.

Wet Wood was not as bad as its name suggested but I doffed an extremely reverent imaginary cap to a walker I’d referred to when planning this trip. His FIRST DAY took him all the way from Croydon to Hammerwood campsite just east of here. A feat I imagine can only have been accomplished in summer with more daylight hours and firmer ground than we got. Well done that man!

Here to Ashwood passed in a blur as we got a few kilometres of road walking under our belts. The biggest challenge of the day was still to come though as we began the descent into Forest Row.

Oh my word that was hard work. The ‘path’ turns from thick sticky mud into a scale model of the Grand Canyon where a stream has washed most of it away and left slurry everywhere else. My ankles and knees took a bit of a beating with strange brace positions and unexpected slips for a mile or two. By the time we reached the tarmac beside the water treatment plant at Forest Row I was pretty much done in.

For one terrifying second I thought I’d blown my knee again when I felt two harsh twinges in quick succession.

That would have ended my trip right there. I know what would happen when it starts to shoot pain quickly – within two miles I’m on the verge of tears.

This time I got away with it. I sat on the bench outside Forest Row Co-op and downed a whole bottle of water. Then we began a very, very, very slow walk up to Ashdown Forest. As we moved along Hartfield Road a really weird woman and her bug-eyed dog acted suspiciously when they saw Martyn. She looked just like her dog and seemed to believe she could make herself invisible if she stood really close to a hedge and gazed into it. Oddball.

Vanguard Way sign in Ashdown ForestBlazes were non-existent but we knew we just had to climb the hill to find the Forest. A nicely carved sign welcomed us back onto the Vanguard Way and indicated an overgrown path to our left. It follows the outside edge of the Royal Ashdown golf course for a few kilometres before gliding back into the patchy undergrowth of one of the only real areas of forest we saw in Ashdown Forest. One final massive slope was all we needed to conquer to end our day but at the top I was exhausted.

The Hatch Inn near Ashdown Forest

By the time we walked into the Hatch Inn pub we were both red-eyed and walking a bit like the Tin Man. We sat in silence, staring blankly around us for a good half an hour as our oil, sorry I mean pints of Harvey’s ale and Talisker whiskeys, slowly reinvigorated us. This is a superb pub, one of the best I’ve found. Established in the the 1430s it is rammed full of character and also serves wonderful food. Me, absolutely dead, at the Hatch Inn along the Vanguard Way near Ashdown ForestMy enormous stuffed and wrapped chicken breast followed a delicious platter of ‘artisan’ bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, while Martyn picked a mound of mussels and chips back to nothingness.¬†Middle class food for some grubby muddy walkers.

This stretch was really hard work. I’ve definitely never felt so tired after any walk before. Still, we were not too far from the halfway point and we were very pleased with ourselves. That said I did end the day with the serious concern that the twinges might go full-blown in the night. It has happened before and as I settled down I put the odds at maybe 30/70 that I would suffer a knee explosion that would end the trip.

I needn’t have worried about that, but the next day had other challenges to overcome.