Date: January 9 2022
Location: Devils Punchbowl, Hindhead, Surrey
Thankfully after a few days of bleak, rainy weather there was a sunny day to continue with my 100 Walks in 2022. We drove to nearby Hindhead to begin our walk around The Devil’s Punchbowl, a creatively named natural amphitheater in the Surrey Hills of Southern England.
We’ve walked through the area before but figured it would be nice to visit again and make a point to see all the points of interest on the map. The name Devil’s Punchbowl has a few different legends behind it, one says that devil was furious at churches being built in the nearby villages so he was digging a trench to use to flood the nearby areas. The more widely known legend is that the devil was annoying the Norse God Thor, jumping from hill to hill as Thor threw lightening at him, Thor became so irritated that he started throwing lumps of earth at the devil, causing the huge hollow in the dirt.
The area itself is steeped in many different stories we discovered quite a few while on our walk. Famous names like Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used the are in their own stories, with the Sherlock Holmes author living the village adjacent to the natural area, it’s said that he used the woodlands as inspiration for The Hounds of Baskervilles.
Along with literary connections there are some other, more sinister ones too. Along one of the main walking trails, the site of the former carriage road, a large stone gravestone marks the location where, in 1786, a young sailor was murdered while walking on the old coach road from London to Portsmouth. The sailor had just returned from sea and was celebrating his paycheck by buying drinks for those in the pub. He met some men in the pub and together the headed out on to the road, where they decided to rob and kill him. His body was tossed down the hill into the woods but the killers were found and later tried for murder.
The three men were hung on a hilltop nearby, and their bodies left in chains to hang and warn others about what would happen to anyone found repeating their crime. There is now a large Celtic cross, erected in the mid 1800’s to mark this spot.
The sailor’s murder was written about in Charles Dicken’s Nicolas Nickleby and the painter J.M.W. Turner painted a scene including the gallows on the hillside.
The area isn’t all dark and dangerous though, we also found a very hidden point of interest tucked on the hillside. A rather crude carving of a naked woman in pin-up style that is thought to have been carved into the tree by a soldier during training for WWII. The nearby Hindhead Tunnel had to be diverted slightly to avoid having the tree chopped down!
We continued on our walk from this tree, along the edge of the punchbowl, on what used to be a major roadway linking Portsmouth and London. The roadway was changed a decade ago in favour of a tunnel, leaving the former motorway to be turned back into a natural setting. There are still some signs of the old road, including this original line marker, stating Hyde Park in London is 39 miles away.
We descended to the bottom of the circular walk, finding the rather quaint Gnome’s Cottage tucked in the bare trees. We rounded back up toward our starting point, the mud squishing as we pushed upward toward the top of the trail.
Before we made our way back to the car, we continued our walk slightly by heading toward the now demolished Temple of the Four Winds, a hunting lodge built by Viscount Pirrie who was the chairman of the company the built the Titanic. Unfortunately all that is left of the lodge is the foundation but the view was nice to look out on.
We continued back to the main trails and wandered back to the car, finishing up our second walk of the year. Who would have though such a beautiful walking area would have Thor, Charles Dickens, Sherlock Holmes, Gnomes, a murdered sailor, the Titanic, and a naked lady all in common!?