Nearly ten years ago now the Hindhead Tunnel was opened. Following many years of controversy and construction, the tunnel was built to help improve road safety, reduce congestion and improve air quality. I remember driving down to the coast on the A3 passing by the Devil’s Punchbowl; last week we stood on a grassy track in what was the middle of the old A3. Standing in the summer sun, with blue skies stretching as far as the eye could see and listening to a multitude of different bird’s song I had trouble recalling the endless queues of traffic that used to snake their way through this very beautiful part of England. It is said that once the trees and grass have been replaced by concrete they will never return, but at the Devil’s Punchbowl it has been proved that not only is this not always the case, but that nature, given half a chance and a little help, will come back stronger than ever.
The Punchbowl and Hindhead Commons belongs to the National Trust and forms part of the Surrey Hills. It is designated not only as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty but also as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Perhaps based on folklore rather than science, legend says that the Devil would torment Thor, God of Thunder, by jumping from hill to hill. Thor would try to strike the Devil with thunder and lightning, and once, the Devil retaliated by scooping up a handful of earth and hurling it at Thor. The depression that remains is the Devil's Punch Bowl.
There are various marked routes around the Bowl and Commons designed to suit differing walking abilities. Some are designed to take you to the best viewpoints where the history of the area is shown on information boards, with others taking you out across the heathland, down step gradients and through coppiced chestnut woodland. We followed the pink markers that took us around the Hidden Hindhead Trail.
Setting off from the main car park we made our way northwards along the top path; stopping by the ‘Sailor’s Stone’ we could see out across the Punchbowl to the hills beyond. Continuing along the path we had the most beautiful views across the Weald and out to Gibbet Hill. The day we were there was one of the hottest of the summer and as the path dropped down into the woodland the mature trees offered the perfect amount of shade. Walking under the trees we turned right off of the main path and sat on upturned logs by the small wood working barn to have our lunch.
Whilst sitting there we watched various types of butterfly dance in the sunshine and small black beetles scuttle amongst the cut wood. A couple of mountain bikers went past us on the main path, but other than that, it felt as though we were the only people there that day.
Continuing through the woods we passed a large pond where the low water level showed how little rain we have had so far this year. As we began our ascent out of the woods we passed a few secluded houses before turning right across the heathland. As we walked across the Commons we realised that amongst the heathers and grasses were numerous butterflies and grasshoppers making the most of the summer sun. Small birds flitted between the clumps of trees that offered them shelter from the heat and from the birds of prey that glided on the thermals high up in the sky above.
Once across the heathland we passed through a gate and re-joined the pathway we had begun our walk on earlier. We could see from the car park, and the queue that had formed at the ice cream kiosk, that there were quite a number of other people making the most of the sunshine, but the Punchbowl is one of those places that seems to swallow up them up and makes you feel that you are the only one there making the most of the nature that has reclaimed the area for its own once again.
We'll see you down the trail