- Start Point: National Trust Car Park at the Devil’s Punch Bowl (GU26 6AB)
- Type of Walk: Circular
- Distance: 3 miles (4.8 km)
- Time: 2 hours
- Refreshments: National Trust Café
I’d often driven past the signpost to the Devil’s Punch Bowl in Hindhead, Surrey and wondered at its curious name, but never had the chance to visit. However, looking for a day out with the kids at the weekend, we decided a walk at the Devil’s Punch Bowl was an ideal location to get some fresh air and explore somewhere new outdoors.
The Devil’s Punch Bowl is a protected beauty spot and site of scientific interest to the west of Hindhead in southern England. It is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the Surrey Hills and the perfect spot for a walk.
Start of the walk
There are 5 walking trails at the Devil’s Punch Bowl. We chose the Hidden Hindhead Trail, as we thought it looked most varied. According to our map, there would be several interesting features to look out for on the way.
At the start of the walk, there’s a viewpoint with views stretching out over the whole of the Devil’s Punch Bowl. As its name suggests, it is a large bowl-like hollow in the ground. Over the years, water erosion on the clay has created this gigantic natural ampitheatre.
However, folklore has it that the bowl was made by the Devil. Apparently, he was pelting the pagan god Thor with enormous boulders, which made the hole in the ground.
Now, just 4 miles up the road in Churt, you can also see three hills called the Devil’s Jumps. Legend states that the Devil used to jump across these to annoy Thor. I get the feeling there was a lot of tomfoolery going on between these two!
The Sailor’s Stone
The walk at the Devil’s Punch Bowl starts on a flat surfaced road. This was formerly the old A3 (Portsmouth Road), which connects London with Portsmouth, though it’s hard to see any resemblance now.
We hadn’t walked far until we came to the first point of interest, the Sailor’s Stone. This stone commemorates the events of 1786 when a seaman was murdered on the Old Portsmouth Road by three sailors, who had followed him from the pub.
We continued on this road, until taking a sharp right up to Gibbet Hill. At 272 metres, this hill is the second highest point in Surrey and, as you’d imagine, has panoramic views stretching as far as London.
Gibbet Hill was once a place for hanging criminals. Historically, a gibbet (cage for hanging) served as a deterrent to highway men using the Portsmouth Road. The three men who murdered the unknown sailor were all hung here.
The Celtic Cross
Today, a Celtic Cross stands at the top of Gibbet Hill, close to the spot where the gibbet once hung. Sir William Erle erected the cross to dispel fears amongst the locals that the place was haunted.
After they had read all the information boards, the boys announced they wanted lunch. Seriously?! Granted, the views from Gibbet Hill are amazing, but we had only walked about a mile.
Anyway, anything for a happy life, we found a spare bench and ate our picnic.
Inspiring sculpture - Xylem
Following our pit stop, we crossed over the hill and down a steep path through the trees. We stopped for a look at “Xylem”, one of the art pieces on the Inspiring Views Sculpture walk.
Xylem is a carved oak bench, apparently inspired by charcoal.
Getting lost at the Devil’s Punch Bowl
Unfortunately, on the descent down the other side of Gibbet Hill we lost our way. A gully leading down the side of the hill lured us from our trail. Seriously, it looked exciting, in an Indiana Jones adventure sort of way!
In fact, it was a lot of fun. The kids just loved it as it was so off the beaten track and rather unearthly. However, clambering down a ditch is quite challenging and we did twist our ankles several times.
At the back of my mind I was wondering why the National Trust would offer such a dangerous route? And, even more curious, why was no one else was on the trail?
Unfortunately, it became very clear we had taken the wrong path. However, we were having fun, so continued anyway!
Eventually, we reached the bottom and came to a main road, but couldn’t find any paths that would lead us back to our trail. There was only one thing for it. Yes, we had to walk all the way back up the gully! This was hard work and not nearly as much fun.
Temple of the Four Winds
Feeling rather dispirited (and wishing we hadn’t eaten all the lunch so early), we wandered aimlessly until we met a man who set us back on the right route. We were now back on the Hidden Hindhead trail, heading for the Temple of the Four Winds.
Quite honestly, the temple was a bit of a disappointment. We had high expectations of golden Buddhas and burning incense. What we found was an empty stone base, the former home of the temple.
The noticeboard kindly informed us that they built the Temple of the Four Winds in 1910 as a hunting lodge. It fell into disrepair when the lead roof was stolen and was demolished in 1966.
Return across Hindhead Common
The last stretch of our walk at the Devil’s Punch Bowl was luckily uneventful, mostly because we actually obeyed the signs. We followed over heathland and past some a rather lovely wild ponies until we reached Hindhead Common.
Finally, we retraced our steps to the visitors’ centre at Devil’s Punch Bowl. We were all very happy to stop outside the National Trust café for an ice cream and drink.
The Hidden Hindhead trail at Devil’s Punch Bowl really is an interesting, scenic walk and signposted all the way. Don’t let our detour put you off trying it!
Getting to the Devil’s Punch Bowl
- Postcode: GU26 6AB
- Grid reference: SU890357
- By car: You can easily get there on the A3
- Parking: There is a National Trust Car Park (free to members)
- By train: The nearest station is Haslemere, which is 3 miles away.
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