Monday, January 04, 2016

the surrey hills

"The air is very good. It blows over the Surrey Hills," says William Dorrit (I'm quoting from memory) - as he sits in the Marshalsea debtors prison, which was in Southwark. He was right to a certain extent. The air of central London mostly does arrive via the Surrey Hills. These are the same hills that Leonard Bast once walked towards in Howard's End. To him they seemed almost unattainable.

On Saturday I was coming home from Hastings and the A21 was closed, apparently indefinitely, so I eventually and irritably tracked into Tunbridge Wells, made a mistake and got stuck in the sales traffic, eventually trickled out past the High Rocks and made my way in deepening gloom on the winding road to East Grinstead, where I eventually joined the unattractively slow A22 and - here was the sign - just as I approached the M25 I read "Welcome to the Surrey Hills Area of Natural Beauty" .

It was more a sign than a reality, as darkness fell. I joined the stream of twinkling lights up Reigate Hill, where I once slithered across lanes in snow. Reigate is where my well-to-do great aunt and uncle used to live with their miniature dachsunds, up by the golf-course in a Howard's End-era house (in fact, his name was Howard). Back of here, somewhere, must be Dorking and Box Hill and those fairy-lit places of the North Downs that I've so often read about in Louseley's classic Flowers of Chalk and Limestone , lost in dreams of summer and tufted chalk ledges precious with rare and wonderful plants. I've now visited Australia and Dubai, but Dorking remains to do.

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