I have driven up and down the A3 more times than I care to remember but had never found the time for a dog walk around The Devil’s Punchbowl in Hindhead. Since the opening in 2011 of the new stretch of bypass, including the Hindhead tunnel, I have enjoyed bypassing the bottle neck that was the traffic lights at Hindhead village crossroads. The old A3 used to hug the edge of The Devil’s Punchbowl and you’d get a fleeting glimpse of it as you whizzed passed, but now the tunnel runs beneath so you miss it completely. A tunnel was built rather than a cutting being dug to avoid spoiling an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a Site of Specific Scientific Interest. After the tunnel was completed, 200,000 trees were planted along the route of the old A3, which has been returned to nature, and when walking along this route now it is hard to imagine three lanes of traffic roaring along it. This return of the old road to nature removed a barrier that had prevented the migration of ground-nesting birds from one part of the nature reserve to the other. These include Woodlarks and Nightjars among others.
The site is owned by the National Trust and so it has the usual facilities one would expect: tearooms (no dogs permitted inside), loos, poo bins, outdoor seating/picnic area and a good car park. It costs £4.00 to park whether you stay for five minutes or all day, and there is no charge for NT members. The picnic area is reasonably flat, and is close to the car park. Just beyond this (a matter of a few metres) is a viewing point, which shows off The Punchbowl well, so if some of your party prefer not to go walking they can sit and enjoy the view while you try to wear your dog out.
The Devil’s Punchbowl is a huge natural amphitheatre of dry, sandy heath that is overlooked by Gibbet Hill, which at 894 feet is the second highest hill in Surrey…Leith Hill, near Dorking, being the highest. Legend has it that the devil passed time tormenting the god Thor by pelting him with enormous handfuls of earth, leaving the great bowl that we see today. However in reality the large depression was created by erosion as water percolated down and hit an impervious layer of clay. Not quite so exciting…
The Punchbowl offers plenty in the way of walks. There is a notice board by the car park that is well stocked with National trust leaflets showing a handful of routes of varying lengths and ‘steepness’, but of course you are free to roam at will. We took the upper route, heading right away from the view point, which took us along the old A3. After a mile or so we took a path down to the left, dropping right down into heart of The Punchbowl, where we roamed among the trees and bracken. Once we’d had our fill of off piste walking we picked up a footpath and began the climb up the other side, and back towards the car park. We visited just yesterday and the trees were just beginning to show their autumn colour. I can only imagine how beautiful it will be in a few weeks time when the season really takes hold.