Grey-haired hikers rule the Surrey countryside. Their stuffed backpacks and ski-pole walking sticks bulk them up like wealthy Ghostbusters. Where are they going? What do they know that we don’t know? Why do they need all that stuff? And while they sit on portable stools and pour themselves cups of tea from their shiny Thermos flasks, children run circles around them in floral summer dresses and ice-cream-covered t-shirts.
Shere, Surrey, England
Shere village raised its little head and welcomed us gently into her arms, bunting and all. A row of old red-brick cottages took me back in time, their timber skeletons frail and riddled with wood worm. Old picnic benches dotted with crisp-packet-filled pint glasses were pushed out of the shade and into the tiny triangles of sunlight, occupied by people in matching lycra outfits and beer bellies – just one more pint, then we’ll ride back to the Range Rover and go home.
I considered life in Shere for a moment, in the countryside, baking bread to sell to the tourists. But it seemed like such a waste, having to work. Shere just isn’t that sort of place. It’s too idyllic for something as stressful as work to get in the way of. Yes there are people trying it, but their hearts aren’t really in it.
A hand-written sign pinned to the village pin-board offered a local vacancy: “Person required to help with small business in Shere – Would suit semi-retired. 1 or 2 hours per week.”
That’s the kind of place Shere is. There might be people working, but only for something to do. I like it.
Leith Hill – The Highest Point in the Surrey Hills
Driving anywhere around the Surrey Hills is a pleasure, but the canopy-covered roads that lead up to Leith Hill are like something out of The Lord of the Rings. Fallen trees and thunder-struck oaks filter the sunlight and guide you towards earthy carparks, filled with more fancy cars and trophy bike-racks. There were even a couple of picnic benches for the old Ghostbusters/hikers. We strolled up through the pine-trees, enjoying the soothing sounds of screaming kids and tiny dogs on bejazzled leashes.
An old watchtower at the top has been converted into a kind of cafe where they sell bacon rolls and cups of tea, and the views are equally as tasty. Golden green fields stretch for further than you might imagine possible in Surrey and it’s actually quite difficult to comprehend how high up you are. It’s not like being up a skyscraper, there are no landmarks to provide a sense of perspective. But it is here at the top of Leith Hill, at Surrey’s highest point, that you can go slowest, and I like going slow.