Sunday 18 August 2019

8. My Kilimanjaro Training - 5 Months In... - Steppin' it up, Chilworth Gunpowder and The Silence of The Pools..

Howdy folks!

Grrrr!!! My best Hannibal Lecter impression. With now just 8 weeks to go until I'll be in Tanzania at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro over the last couple of weeks, I've stepped up a bit of resistance in the sports mask - now sweatin' away with intake of half the amount of air. I now believe training with the mask maybe more beneficial for more my cardio fitness than preparing me for actual altitude but I find it better to train with the mask than without - psychologically anyway!

At this point, with 2 months to go I have done 54 gym sessions (which I'm really pleased I've strictly stuck to), 12 training walks and a 2.5 days steep mountain walking in the Lake District over summer (it rained the rest of the time!).

If this isn't a reasonable amount of training for Kili, I'm not sure what is!   

Hopefully its going to pay off!

Working those legs - its a long road ahead....and strengthening my wobbly knees  

Being back in the gym and heading out again into the Surrey Hills is of course a step down from the steep fells of the Lake District but its still consistent training and I headed back outside on a sticky summers day into home turf for an adventurous new 10 mile hike across the North Downs from Chilworth, checking out Purple fields, Shere Village, Silent Pools and Gunpowder Mills hidden away in the beautiful Surrey countryside.....

As I've said in my past posts, the opportunity that this Kilimanjaro training has gifted me is motivation and purpose to get out into the English countryside exploring new places and unusual paths to get me alot of boot time before the big 'K'.

So my 10 miler begins just away from the village of Chilworth, it wasn't such a chilled time at the beginning as I had to fight my way quite painfully through overgrown stinging and prodding shrubbery (an Amazon machete would have been useful) which eventually released me onto the sandy tracks and open purple heath land heading towards Blackheath village.    

War Memorial among the purple heather

On my travels, you occasional come across a friendly face who you might strike up a small conversation with who has also chosen to hike along the same routes as you. I came across a lady with her friend walking from Guildford and volunteered to show me her very organised highlighted map and asked me the question...

'Are you doing your D of E?' (Meaning Duke of Edinburgh Youth Award  for 14-24 year olds in the UK)
'No, I'm training for Kilimanjaro, I did my D of E when I was at school....'

Don't know whether that's a compliment or not when you're nearly 37! Ha!  

Into the fields of purple, don't think I'd ever seen so much purple in one place - like the heath had been sprinkled by purple snow all around me.

But which way to go? 


Straight on and into the woods of Blackheath Common hugged by the purple shrubbery - looks like something out of Red Riding Hood right? but the sand path would take me a couple of miles to the Surrey village of Blackheath.

Fine few of the North Downs and the hamlet of Brook up ahead 

Always nice to run into friendly horses on your country travels...heading to the charming village of Shere - known as the 'prettiest village in Surrey' which would be 7km under my boots.

Heading over Albury Heath and through sporadic forks and steep sunken pathways to.....

The beautiful village of Shere for lunch stop - its like entering a quaint different world of chocolate-box tranquility, small clean streets, a cute ice cream shop up the little high street and ducks and swans gliding along the Tillingbourne River. Shere was actually an industrial village of weaving, tanning and iron working mills hence why its so pretty from the money it brought it! What a gem to stumble upon. There's no train here so you have to drive here or like me walk.......

But I needed to tear myself away from the comfort of the village and the white ducks, passing flower pot men and charming make shift scarecrows over stone garden walls to seek out the mysterious Silent Pool, the next stage of the hike over 5km through the Albury Estate and the Silver Wood to Newlands Corner with all its fascinating features on route.

It was ironic I was going to see the Silent Pool as the busy A25 Shere Road had been closed due to the Ride London cycling event that weekend so when I finally arrived at the famous pool it was a real eerie silence - except I'm not too sure what noise pools need to make to not make them silence.

Shhhhh......The Silent Pool

But this pool was a real eerie silence and if you looked closer in to the clear green waters, you could see the colourful bands of rainbow trouts happily wiggling around. The Silent Pool is a spring fed lake at the foot of the North Downs and the greeny-blueish tint to the water comes from minerals being added as its filtered through layers of chalk.

Like a good ghost story?? It is said to be the site of where a woodcutters daughter was disturbed as she bathed in the pool by a strange horseman, said to be Prince John who later became King John of England stealing the taxes from the poor (like in Robin Hood). The story goes she was lost in the depths and if you stare into the water at midnight you can apparently see her beneath..... chilling....

But enough of ghoulish tales, I left the serenity of the deep silence and happy rainbow trout behind as I climbed the steep gradient with the Albury Organic Vineyard to the top of the North Downs - the steepness I'd been craving to join the North Downs Way and onto Newlands Corner.

From here it was the last leg of the hike, just another 4 1/2 km and was familiar territory to me. I'd done a previous training walk from Guildford into this area up to St Martha's Church on the Hill  so nothing new to discover as I ambled my way digging those walking sticks in (I'd already lost the stopper that goes on the end of one of them up somewhere in the Lake District) back across the valley of the Greensand Hills, down into the sheltered woods to hawk curiously at noisy squirrels and tiger eye butterflies if you pay attention to these beautiful things going on around you. I later joined the North Downs Way again and took on the steep climb up to St Martha's church on the hill and then the really steep descent down from it back towards the direction of Chilworth - I gotta practice going down too! and lets just say thank god I had my walking poles with me as that would have been a little bit tricky.... 

I eventually make it down to the bottom of St Martha's Hill without rolling down into a heap and had the pleasure of befriending a herd of more friendly horses who were obviously very well looked after with their neatly braided manicured hair. I shared my apple with them, or rather I gave them my apple - they overpowered me somehow....

But there was one last stop on the way back to the village of Chilworth to cross the 10 mile finish line, crossing over the Tillingbourne stream to the Archeological site of the Old Chilworth Gunpowder Works to be explored.

Remember, Remember the fifth of November, Gunpowder, Treason and Plot?

Exploding into life! (forgive the pun!) not quite anymore....and fortunately in the line of history Guy Fawkes never got to see it either.

The works had been manufacturing gunpowder for almost 300 years and was brought to life in 1626 by the East India Company and employed over 600 people. With its ideal isolated location close to fast running water to power the mills, the works made cordite with is pretty much close to dynamite.

Saltpetre + Charcoal + Sulphur = Gunpowder just if you wanted to know.

They actually boiled down guano and urine (yew!) for the saltpetre, took charcoal from nearby alder trees and shipped in the sulphur

Pretty dangerous working in a Gunpowder mill right?

The explosives were actually stored in nearby millhouses and the workers would be checked for items that would cause a spark and hang their smoking pipes up in a nearby tree. They also had to wear these brimless hats to keep the gunpowder out of their hair in case they caused an accident at home sitting by the fire - imagine that happening to you at the end of your working day, being set on fire.

But of course at some point there was very likely going to be an explosion which devastated one of the millhouses so badly that St Martha's Church (the one I had just come down from half a mile away) collapsed - yow.

The works was then taken over by a German company and both it and the church were defended and camouflaged during World War I because it was been hawked for by a German Zeppelin dropping bombs near Guildford.

When you read this stuff, you just can't imagine how terrifying it would have been having no control over airships dropping bombs blindly above you or your home. We Generation X have no idea....

You can pick up an information map with a 2km walk all around the remains of the mills but this part were the remains of a boiler house which provided the steam that ran the mills, with lots of snails in the cool mossy ground! The metal pulleys just below the roof lines were a drenching mechanism would have doused the bays in an explosion - which did unsurprisingly happen...

Its pretty interesting stuff, the way they made Gunpowder was by mixing the three ingredients, removing all the moisture in a press house, granulating it into powder in a corning house, drying it in a stove and packed it into barrels before sending them off down the Thames.

More like Cambodian temple remains....but its cool you can go down beneath and rummage through it.

Well, enough about history - its worth a little wander around anyway and I could have kept on exploring all around the mills except that there were only one train every two hours out of there so had to catch it. Go visit it sometime if you're near Chilworth.

You can do the hike yourself if you're up for it to see the Silent Pool, Shere Village, view from St Martha's Hill and the Gunpowder Works at Fancy Free Walks its a tip top walk of discoveries. 

So made the train before I was stranded in Chilworth for another two hours (which might not have been so bad after all) and if you liked this post and like to support my climb up Kilimanjaro in 8 weeks time, I'd super appreciate it if you wouldn't mind please considering a donation of any kind to my Just Giving page to help sufferers of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome like my sister who can't get out and have these grand adventures, even close to home!

Thanks for tuning in and next time I'll be sending a post of a training walk a little further south from home, really south, right to the coast in fact where I'm going to hike the Seven Sisters from Seaford to Eastbourne - really stepping it up again now.

Peace and thank you to all your generosity and belief so far - 8 weeks to go! 

Training Walk Distance: 17km (10 miles)

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