Wednesday, 22 January 2014

The Devil in the Detail

The Curiously Named, Cheesefoot Head
Not much happens, in the foraging vein, during the Winter months, but we still love to get outdoors when we can.  The children and I went for a walk around Cheesefoot Head in December and had a lovely time scrambling up and down the banks and exploring the woodland.
The Devil, Recently
One place that I have always wanted to visit is the Devil’s Punchbowl. I had seen it it many times, normally when stuck in the traffic bottleneck of Hindhead on the  A3. Now though, the busy London to Portsmouth road has been diverted through a tunnel, which means that the scenic area can be returned to something like its original beauty. The landscape here is actually a valley and not a “bowl” but this fact does nothing to diminish the staggering nature of this place.
When I suggested the Devil’s Punchbowl, my daughter asked why I always took them to places with evil names - we walked to the Hell Stone in Dorset last Summer and the year before we found the Deadman's Plack. I explained that remarkable places often have curious names. To be honest, I simply love maps and enjoy walking; so I frequently gaze at Ordinance Survey maps, hunting for wicked names or stunning ancient contours, where we can have a little adventure.
There are various legends attached to the Punchbowl, including an argument between Thor and Satan; the village of Thursley (named after the Thunder God), lies nearby. It’s always good to have an ancient story to engage the nippers with on the journey and there is a conveniently grisly tale attached to the A3 at this point. This involved the murder of an unknown sailor in the 1700’s and the subsequent punishment of three perpetrators. They ended up hanging from a gibbet atop the appropriately named Hurt Hill. 
Fortunately, the grim remains have now been replaced with a granite monument and some nice laminated signs. The original engraved marker-stone still stands though, detailing where and when the crime occurred. The unfortunate sailor’s gravestone can be seen in the Thursley churchyard, if you are curious enough.
Muddy Hell!
Some friends came with us, bringing Mungo, their lovely dog. Mungo kept my son constantly entertained by enthusiastically fetching every stick he threw, and the two of them were scampering back and forth throughout. We walked a fair way around the busy edge of the “bowl”, before stopping for a picnic and finally cutting back down through the valley along a lovely quiet sandy path. The thin, Winter sun was shining on us for so much of the walk that we ended up carrying the kids coats - you would not have guessed that it was mid-January.
The final part of our journey was more challenging and involved negotiating a very steep and slippery hill, which was covered in storm smashed trees and damaged fences. There were no casualties but the dog, and everybody else, did require hot baths that night.

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