Circular Walk at the Devil’s Punch Bowl
The Devil’s Punch Bowl is a well-known beauty spot in the town of Hindhead in the Surrey Hills. It is a National Trust site offering visitors the chance to enjoy spectacular views across the Surrey Weald and explore the area on woodland walks.
There are five signposted walks to choose from, varying in length from a one-mile to three-mile trail across open heathland and through shady woodland. The walks cater for all abilities, and you are sure to find one suitable for you.
Sailors Stroll is the shortest walk. It is an easy one-mile return trail leading from the car park to the Celtic Cross viewpoint and is waymarked with blue directional circles.
Hidden Hindhead is a more challenging three-mile walk, with a mixture of slight inclines and flat woodland paths. It starts from the car park and is waymarked with pink directional circles. It follows the same route as the Sailors Stroll and continues along part of the Devil’s Punch Bowl ridge and through Hindhead Common.
The old A3 motorway used to run through the middle of the Devil’s Punch Bowl and Hindhead Commons. In 2011, the Hindhead Tunnel was opened taking the A3 traffic under the common and skirting the edge of the punch bowl, therefore returning the areas of the previous motorway to their natural beauty. The Hindhead Tunnel is the longest under-road tunnel in England.
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Discover the Hidden Hindhead Trail
On my visit to the Devil’s Punch Bowl, I chose to walk the three-mile (5k) Hidden Hindhead Trail. The loop trail passes by the Sailors Stone (more about this spot in the post), Gibbet Hill, Celtic Cross, Temple of the Four Winds (don’t get too excited, there is only a base marker left) and through woodlands to Hindhead Common.
The walk took me two and a half hours to complete with stops along the way to enjoy the views. There are plenty of directional markers throughout these walks to keep you on the correct trail so no fear of getting lost.
Why is this area called the Devil’s Punch Bowl?
One mythical explanation for naming this part of the Surrey Hills countryside is that the Devil scooped up a handful of earth and hurled it in anger at Thor, God of Thunder. The depression the earth made as it dropped onto the land shaped the Devil’s Punch Bowl. Interestingly, the local village of Thursley means Thor’s Place!
Another legend tells that the Devil became annoyed by the number of Christian churches in Sussex during the Middle Ages. In his anger, he dug a channel from the English Channel through the South Downs to flood the area and to stop more churches from being built. The flooding resulted in the crater shape of the Devil’s Punch Bowl.
A more realistic and scientific explanation is that the deep impression is a result of erosion caused by springs beneath the earth. Over millennia the shape has formed into how we see the Devil’s Punch Bowl today.
Helpful Information about the Devil’s Punch Bowl
Address: London Road, Hindhead, Surrey GU26 6AB
- The National Trust car park is open dawn to dusk, £4 or free to National Trust members. I always pay for parking via the National Trust App; this means if you take longer on your walk, you can top up your car parking fee as you go.
- The Devil’s Punch Bowl National Trust cafe is open daily from 9 am – 5 pm
- The toilets are available when the cafe is open.
- There is a large picnic area behind the cafe.
- Dogs are welcome, and there are bridleways for horse riders throughout Hindhead Common.
By the picnic area and the Devil’s Punch Bowl information board you will notice this wooden sculpture. It is one of the sculptures that make up the Surrey Hills Sculpture Trail and you can find another ten of similar designs dotted around Surrey. They are by the sculptor, Walter Bailey and are themed on plant seedpods.
Places to stay in Hindhead
Want to spend a few days in Hindhead and the Surrey Hills? The Devil’s Punch Bowl Hotel is across from the NT car park and offers comfortable accommodation in a historic building dating back to the 1800s.
For groups of ten, this stunning luxury Surrey Hills Getaway is a great place for friends or family to stay with views overlooking the woodland valley. Or how about The Old Cooks House a lovely 2-bedroom holiday property with its own tennis court!
Hidden Hindhead Walk
Leaving the car park, we headed along the pathway that was once the Old Portsmouth Road until we reached Sailors Stone.
One thing I didn’t expect to see on my Hidden Hindhead walk was a headstone, and yet here it was! The stone headstone commemorates the murder of an unknown sailor in the 1700s. The poor sailor had bought his assailants a beer with his earnings; they then followed and murdered him for his clothes and money.
They were subsequently caught, tried and hanged on nearby Gibbet Hill. Their bodies were left there for three years as a deterrent to other would-be murderers of their fate!
The Sailors Stone is in a beautiful spot overlooking the Devil’s Punch Bowl, and a nearby bench is a peaceful place to take in the views. The sailor’s final resting place is in the church of St. Michael and All Angels in the village of Thursley.
Continuing from Sailors Stone, the pathway takes you to Gibbet Hill, the site of the gallows where the sailor’s murderers were hung. The gallows were 9 metres high, and criminals would be left to rot on them to deter highwaymen and other criminals of what fate would befall them.
The Celtic Cross
Follow the pathway to the left-hand of this sign, and you will reach the Celtic Cross, erected in 1851, to dispel the fears of residents of evil spirits being present around this site. The granite cross also marks the end of the one-mile Sailors Stone Trail.
If you get a chance, look at the base of the cross. There is a Latin inscription on each side meaning the following:
POST TENEBRUS LUX – Light after darkness
IN OBITU PAX – Peace in passing away
IN LUCE SPES – Hope in light
POST OBITUM SALUS – Salvation after death
Gibbet Hill Viewpoint
Gibbet Hill Viewpoint is the second highest hill in Surrey and a part of the Greensand Way; a 108-mile route running from Haslemere in Surrey to Hamstreet in Kent. This point has some incredible far-reaching views across the Surrey Hills landscape.
You will find a Hindhead Commons marker in the centre of Gibbet Hill and several benches to take a break. To the right of the white marker is a steep downhill pathway that continues on the Hidden Hindhead Trail.
One look at the pathway, and you might be put off in continuing the Hidden Hindhead walk, but it is not too bad and evens out quite quickly. Just bear in mind what goes down must come up, and there are a couple of steep ascents at the end of the trail.
At the bottom of the hill, you will come to a fork in the woods. Follow the pink marker, which will take you through the centre of a clearing of huge trees.
Once you have made your way through the trees, you will come to the Temple of Four Winds.
Temple of the Four Winds
Sadly, only the base is left of this once grand hunting lodge, owned by Viscount Pirrie, chairman of the shipbuilding company that built the Titanic. His elaborate lodge was a place for entertaining wealthy hunting parties and located primarily for its outstanding views across his estate and deer park.
Nowadays, the lodge has long gone, but the views remain the same, and a bench by the site allows you to sit and enjoy them for yourself.
With your back to the Temple of the Four Winds, follow the pink Hidden Hindhead marker down a long pathway passing a coppiced wood on your right-hand side. At the bottom, you will need to turn right, past a hidden lake.
Take a moment to look at the tree reflections in the lake, they are quite lovely.
After the lake the route got a little muddy, a good reminder to make sure you are wearing the correct footwear. Following on, we headed through a gate into a small green open space and proceeded up a slight hill. At the top of the hill, we found a wooden bench where we stopped for a while and enjoyed a flask of mulled wine; yes we still have leftovers from Xmas!
Back on the trail, we followed the pink marker to the right of the bench – do not take the steep pathway directly next to the bench.
After some more incline walking we passed a few houses to our left hand side and eventually came to open heathland with more fabulous views out across the Surrey Hills. Again, there are lots of places to stop and rest for a while.
The Carved Bench
We eventually came to a fork in the route with a wooden bench at its centre. Take a closer look at the carvings in the seat. Afterwards, take the left-hand pathway to continue along the Hidden Hindhead Trail.
Toward the end of the Hidden Hindhead walk you will come to a statue and beyond it the car park. Don’t cut short your walk by taking this pathway or you might miss the ponies on Hindhead Common.
Instead, walk straight across the pathway leaving the statue on your left-hand side. I’m not sure what this statue is all about other than the Celtic cross!
Exmoor Ponies on Hindhead Common
You may be lucky and see the Exmoor ponies grazing on the common. They are not owned by ‘commoners’ as is the case with the wild ponies in the New Forest, but have been brought here to help stop the spread of birch and bracken across the heathland.
These species of plant spread after commoner pony grazing stopped in the 1900s. By grazing the Exmoor ponies on Hindhead Common the area is being restored to its former glory.
Follow the pathway through the common and back to the start of the Hidden Hindhead Walk – you made it!
Before you leave, stand at the viewpoint and enjoy one last look at the beautiful Devil’s Punch Bowl.