Tuesday, 3 May 2016

12 June 1880 - 'A Girls' Walking Tour' by Dora Hope - Part One of Two

In which six young ladies take themselves on a walk through the countryside, sans chaperone or male protectors, in defiance of the patriarchy. 

I think the idea of our rather novel walking tour, first originated in the long winter of '78-'79, when a large party of our country relatives and friends had, as usual, met to spend Christmas and the New Year together. One evening, before the gas was lighted, we girls had congregated round the fire, as we always were very fond of doing, to have a cosy chat, between the lights, before dressing for dinner. WE were, on this particular evening, mourning over the various pleasures that girls are debarred from, just because they are girls, and not men, who can do anything they choose without anybody being shocked or scandalised. We spoke of the delights of cricket, some sighed for football or paper-chasing, others acknowledged a hankering after rowing or canoeing, which latter girls certainly cannot indulge in without being considered "fast," unless it be in private waters. We all united in denouncing the arbitrary laws of Society, which forbid us these and other delights including walking-tours, unless accompanied by gentlemen, or, at any rate, a chaperone; when one of our party, who had been silent for some moments, electrified us by saying; 'Well, for my part, I do not see why we should not go for a walking tour. I have just been considering the matter and, as we six are all good walkers and delight in the country, I believe we could make a glorious tour together, without a single gentleman or chaperones to interfere with us."

This startling speech was received with rapture by us all, and we instantly set about making plans; and that we would have such a tour when the summer came was decided without loss of time.

But the first thing to be done was to obtain our respective parents' consent. Some of them certainly demurred slightly at first; it was such an heard-of thing, they said, for six girls, the eldest of us only twenty-four, to go "skylarking" about the country and getting into all sorts of mischief and difficulties, with no one to look after us. We assured them we had not the slightest intentions of getting into any difficulties, and if we did, as it unfortunately is quite impossible to get out of the reach of railways in England, we should simply come straight home by train. Besides this, one of the party said she had, from her earliest youth, been taught to regard the skylark as a model of early rising and general good behaviour, and it was very hard to be stopped directly we tried to imitate that most exemplary bird.

At last a consent was wrung from these obstructionists, and we felt that the only obstacle to our holiday was removed.

I need not trouble my readers with all the ideas that suggested themselves and were talked over with the greatest zest before the time, place and duration of our walk were finally decided upon. It will be easily imagined that our brothers and male cousins at first begged to accompany us, but, finding that all entreaties met with a stern refusal they took quite a different tone, and jeered and ridiculed us unmercifully; some of them threatened to join us on our way, but this design was frustrated by our agreeing to keep our route a profound secret from all save a few trusty friends, from whom we were obliged to ask advice as to suitable hotels and distances. It was at last decided that, weather permitting, we would start on a certain Monday, early in June, from the house of a friend near Relgate, returning to the same place the following Saturday.

As we found our equipments all that could be desired, it may be interesting to mention what we took with us, and what we wore. We all had dresses of thin olive green serge, made quite short, and waterproofed to save carrying cloaks, quiet-looking hats of the same, and gloves to match, which, however, were generally discarded, except on occasions of ceremony; light, but strong, boots, and of course, woollen stockings. One of the party, who, fortunately  for the rest of us, looked much older than her years, was set up with a cap and spectacles, and would have looked quite an imposing chaperone had one been needed; but, as it happened, in every hotel we had the coffee-room to ourselves. As to luggage, we each took what we wanted in a knapsack, which we carried orthodoxly on our backs; but, on this subject, let me breathe a word of caution to any inexperienced walking-touristess. Do not take anything more than is absolutely necessary in a knapsack, its weight seems to increase amazingly as the day wears on; though, if not too heavy, one soon gets accustomed to carrying it; in fact, some of our party went so far as to say that they preferred carrying one to walking without. Also take care that your shoulder straps are broad enough. Mine happened to be rather thin and narrow, and my poor shoulders suffered much in consequence, so much so, that I was obliged to get some new straps put on at the first village boasting a saddler's shop. One of our friends had presented us with a charming little portable cooking stove, the weight of which was said to be so extremely small, that the one to whose lot it fell would hardly know she was carrying it, but alas! I chanced to be that one, and never for a moment forgot the fact that I had to carry; and last, but not least, we had a small pocket filter, which we found most useful.

The long-talked of Monday came, and I rose with the lark, so as to be at our appointed meeting-place in good time to start at nine o'clock. As I said before, we were to start "weather permitting"; but,  for the first half of the day, so far from permitting, the skies were decidedly forbidding, and we were obliged to wait a few hours in hopes of a change in the weather, so that when we did start, at half-past-one, the rain having ceased and the sun shining, we were constrained to take train as far as Dorking, to make up for lost time. Arrived there, and fairly outside the town, we shouldered knapsacks and set off, in light marching order, the vanguard consisting of the President and Pathfinder, the main body represented by the Poet and Artist, whilst the Treasurer and Secretary brought up the rear.

These titles, perhaps need a little explanation. I ought to have mentioned before that in making our plans we had deputed the eldest of our party to be Treasurer during the tour. She was to pay all the bills, and to keep a strict account of every penny spent. Very severe she was, never allowing any reckless expenditure on luxuries or souvenirs, and woe betide the rash individual who should even propose such a thing. Another of our number, officially known as pathfinder, acted as guide, carried the ordnance maps of the country, and informed us every evening how far we had walked during the day. Her tender feelings were sometimes lacerated when, at any perplexing juncture, some of the company insisted on taking the advice of local rustics in preference to trusting her and her maps I held the honourable post of Secretary. My duties were to despatch daily post cards to our friends reporting progress, to see that everyone duly wrote their diaries, and to keep a specially detailed one myself. So my work was really arduous; and why the secretary should have to carry the cooking stove I never could discover. Lest the others should feel injured at not holding any official position, we dubbed one Special Artist, and another Special Poet, apparently because this member never wrote a lien of anything but prose in her life. The remaining one installed herself as President, whose duties were of a vague and uncertain nature. After devoting our best consideration to the question, the rest of us concluded that the presidential avocations consisted solely in suggesting a rest every few miles.

Our first night was to be spent at Gomshall; the road thence from Dorking, though interesting in association and certainly pretty, does not call for special remark. One pleasing incident of the afternoon was our invaluable President's opportune discovery of a mill-pond, whereon lay a boat sheltered from the morning's rain by an overhanging tree, just at the time when we were all fain to confess that a few moment's rest would not be disagreeable. We were just comfortably settled in the boat, however, when a man, whom we took to be the owner thereof, was espied striding towards us, so, by way of having "first fire," two of our number started to meet him, and politely requested him to permit our resting in his boat He graciously assented, and we finished our siesta in peace.

We had agreed that on entering ay town or large village we would divide into two or three parties, and go in separately at intervals of a minute or two, so as not to attract the attention that all of us together might do, and also that two should always go forward and secure rooms at the hotels  for the night. But we need not have troubled ourselves about being conspicuous in Gomshall; for, although it being a tolerably large place, there was not a soul to be seen save one stolid villagers, who vouchsafed us not even a glance. After securing rooms, ordering tea, and depositing knapsacks, our irrepressible pathfinder insisted that we must go for a stroll, "to make up the mileage," whatever that may mean; so, with a few gentle remonstrances we started again. Picking our way up a remarkably muddy lane for some distance, we climbed a high mound on gaining the summit of which the president, who affects archaeological tastes, gaspingly requested a halt, ostensibly because the mound was artificial, in her opinion a Roman remain. We were nothing loth, and enjoyed the lovely view of fertile valley dotted with farm-houses and pretty cottages, which was spread out before us, whilst our chief diligently poked about amongst the gorse bushes, seeking, I suppose, for further proof of the Roman origin of the mound. After our tea came the writing of diaries, which process was so frequently disturbed by the portentous yawns of certain of the party, that it was thought well to bring our literary pursuits to an abrupt conclusion and to retire at an early hour.

Early next morning, just as the sun was rising, my companion and I were aroused from our downy slumbers by a vigorous hammering at our door, for we had given stringent orders to be called betimes, and the deaf chambermaid was determined to do her duty. When she was at last convinced that we were really awake, she repeated her laudable battery at all the other doors with so much success that in a short time we were ready to start.

"Really a very moderate bill," said our treasurer, complacently, as we set out; "and, if not luxurious, everything was, at any rate, clean and comfortable."

"Quite true as it happens," said the artist; "but I believe our respected treasurer would think the accommodation in a workhouse princely, provided the bill were small."

"I was under the impression," remarked our poet, with a fine air of innocence, "that board and lodging were provided gratuitously at those establishments."

"So I believe; and it's a splendid idea," cried the treasurer; "and, since you have suggested it, we will by all means go to the casual ward to-night at Farnham; it will be a great saving of money, and quite a new experience too." On the whole, however, as we disliked gruel, and did not know how to pick oakum, we decided not to act on our treasurer's suggestion.

This conversation brought us to the village of Shere, where there is an interesting old church, kept locked up, however, according to the foolish custom in England. The stairs to the gallery are outside the church, and there is a curious Norman doorway. Obtaining the key, which is itself a curiosity, being nearly as long as my arm, we entered and admired the fine modern window, old brasses, and other interesting objects.

We were all familiar with the Silent Pool, which lay about a mile away, and had often looked in wonder at its limpid depths of moonlight clearness, and had gathered the wild sweetbriar and forget-me-nots from its banks, so on this occasion we did not diverge from our path to visit the favourite spot, but proceeded at once by a field-path into a park, called, according to the map, "Albury," where our artist was in constant raptures at the lovely effects of sunlight on the trees, and the picturesque glimpses of hills beyond. She was also anxious for us to stop to admire some Channel Island cattle, but I was of opinion that in this case discretion was the better part of valour, and so did not pause until I was safe on the further side of the fence.

Shortly afterwards we were directed by our pathfinder to leave the high road and clamber up a steep grassy hill, as the top of which we should find "St Martyr's," or, as it is now called, "Martha's," Chapel. "Here," she said, when she had recovered her breath after the climb, "here the Canterbury Pilgrims, in whose steps we have been treading all day, used to stay for rest and prayer." "Oh, pathfinder," cried the president reproachfully, "you surely do not expect us to believe that they would come so far out of their way, and up this dreadful hill, to say their prayers and to rest, forsooth, when they could have done it just as well by the roadside." The pathfinder immediately prepared to prove by an overwhelming mass of authorities that the pilgrims much preferred hilltops for their resting-places; but her attention was diverted by the poet to the lovely view of verdant, smiling country, while the president proceeded to examine the chapel, and pronounced it "quite modern, and not very interesting." Notwithstanding this adverse verdict, the artist and I attempted to sketch the building and its few simple grave-mounds, but before we had succeeded to our satisfaction we were obliged to move on towards Guildford.

When we reached the outskirts of this "fine, neat, old town" (vide guidebook), we separated for a time, the president and treasurer going to buy the materials  for the out-of-door lunch, which was part of our scheme, the pathfinder and poet vanishing without any explanation, and the artist and I endeavouring to visit the Castle, which we had been told we ought to see. We found, however, that the keep was the only part remaining, and that was occupied by a party of school-boys, who informed us that visitors are no longer allowed to go over the place. We therefore rejoined the rest of our party in the lower part of the town, where we were just in time to witness the wrath of the treasurer, who had taken that spendthrift couple, the post and the pathfinder, in the very act of buying unnecessary oranges.

The president now appeared, laden with the various constituent parts of our lunch, and, after distributing the parcels as fairly as possible, we began to ascend the steep road which leads up to the Hog's Back.

A carter who was going the same way kindly offered to add our knapsacks to his load; but, as we did not fancy the look of it, we politely declined, and pretended that we quite enjoyed carrying our burdens.

The view from the Hog's Back is very beautiful and varied, with hills and dales, heathy ground, broad sheets of water and corn-field, mingled with park and pasture, but, unfortunately for pedestrians, the hedges on each side of the road are very high, so that it is only through a gap or a gateway that it can be seen. This made the walk rather monotonous, so, as we were all accustomed to singing in parts, and there was no one to be scandalised at such conduct, we cheered it with song" for a considerable distance. Then, and always, we found it a wonderful help when we were tired or the road was dull to unite our voices in any well-known ditty, the more spirited the better.

Before very long, however, we came to a most inviting bank, and all agreed that it would be foolish to pass by so good a chance of lunching in comfort.

We, of course, took off our knapsacks, and then set up the cooking stove, while one of us begged some water from a cottage near, the mistress of which, scorning our diminutive teapot, insisted on lending us a large pitcherful.

The poet, who certainly ought to have been writing an ode on the occasion, displayed a previously unsuspected genius for poaching eggs, and turning them daintily on to the slices of bread held to receive them. They were a great success, and though the tea had prismatic colours on its surface, from some peculiarity in the pot, which made most of the party decline to drink it, on the ground that it was poisonous, preferring to quench their thirst from the pitcher instead, on the whole we felt the first course of our first al fresco meal to be quite satisfactory. Bread and marmalade made a sumptuous second course, and we should also have had a slice of cake each, but  for the reprehensible conduct of the president.

We were sitting by the road-side, and we were intent on our cooking, so that none of us noticed, til they were quite close, that several cattle were being driven past. Suddenly the president screamed, and, leaping up, seized an umbrella with which to protect herself from her pet aversions, which she had just perceived. Her quick movement caused one of the cows to stop and look at her with mild and gentle wonder, which so added to her terror that when the drover made the animal proceed she thanked him effusively, and actually presented him with the remains of our cake, "as a reward," she said, "for saving all our lives." Our feelings were too deep for words, so she escaped the reproof she so richly deserved.

With little delay we returned the pitcher to its owner, and continued our march along the Hog's Back, pausing at every gap to gaze at the lovely view, and after several miles taking a short rest on a road-side hillock. We were soon astonished by an exclamation from the treasurer. "Poet," she cried, and that ingenuous damsel started as though accused of some fresh crime. "I beg your pardon. I retract all my protests against your purchase of the oranges. The dust of this abominably long road has nearly choked me, and the juice of your generous present will save me from suffocation."

"It is the distinguishable mark of a great mind to confess when it has been in error," said the poet gravely, "so, treasurer, I forgive you."

In her turn she produced an orange from her knapsack, and we were all following her example, in an attitude, I fear, rather of comfort than of elegance, when three young ladies most fashionably arrayed in lawn-tennis costume passed by, and, as we fancied, eyed us with lofty scorn. I hope they enjoyed their tennis as much as we did our oranges, but I hardly think it possible. The rest of the way to Farnham we walked without a halt, and at the ancient hostelry there we had time for a pleasant stroll in its pretty garden before retiring to our rooms, where we were speedily lapped in balmy slumbers, living over again in our dreams the lovely views and delightful events of the day.

(To be concluded.)

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