Time for Tea: Mark Davison visits The Plough in Coldharbour
By Mark Davison
The Plough, Coldharbour, Leith Hill, Dorking
HAVING completed some mundane chores around town, it was time to get out into the Surrey countryside and enjoy the snow.
Last Wednesday afternoon, it was not meant to be snowing but by lunchtime the flakes were once again swirling down and smattering the coats of shoppers with an icy mess.
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It was time to leave the urban areas and head for the hills for a winter's walk.
I motored through Dorking and took the long country road to Coldharbour and Leith Hill.
The snow was not really settling in the town but as soon as I had climbed up the lane and passed Chadhurst Farm, I had arrived in an Alpine world. Every branch, hedge and barn was draped in a white mantle of snow. The distant pine forests stood silently in a freezing mist out of which the snowflakes descended.
Further up the hill, the scenery became even more spectacular and I was in awe of the splendid snow scenes all around. Tracks in the snow on the road gave me confidence that I would be able to reach my intended destination – The Plough, in Coldharbour – without the need to turn round and head home, unfed and unwatered.
I couldn't wait to park the motor, put on some boots, and take a wonderful walk in the winter wonderland.
But first, some warm sustenance was required.
I was delighted to find the old pub open for business despite the inclement weather.
Stepping in, I discovered the landlady – Anna Arbrehart – sitting on a barstool by a glowing log and coal fire. After she greeted me, we engaged in conversation for a while before I ordered some food.
It turned out she had been the landlady now for 25 years, having taken over with her husband, Rick, in 1988, a few months after the Great Storm of 1987 which devastated the woodlands on Leith Hill.
Mrs Arbrehart was disappointed at how quiet trade was during the week, after having enjoyed a "fantastic" Sunday when dozens of ramblers and snow-seekers had flocked to the hill and availed themselves of the hot food served in the pub.
"It was great," she told me. "There were also a good number of customers who had been coming here for years and we had such a laugh."
I was handed a menu by the landlady, who will be celebrating her 48th wedding anniversary quite soon. She said she is a mother of four lads and has three grandchildren.
She gazed out the window and wondered if there would be a delivery of provisions but was later informed that the rounds were restricted owing to the icy weather.
I perused the menu and was informed that there were some "specials" on the blackboard. These included cottage pie and veg – my favourite. The decision was made.
I sat near the window looking out at the snowy scene. A young couple were sitting in the other bar having refreshments – a cocker spaniel sitting obediently at their side. I think the man told the landlady that he worked at the airport. He had some free time so they had come up from Abinger for a walk in the snow.
The cottage pie was soon ready and I tucked in enthusiastically.
The young bar lady then persuaded me to look at the puddings menu. I wasn't intending to have a sweet but I noticed something delicious on the menu – plum and apple crumble with custard. Once again, an order was placed.
I purchased a mug of hot chocolate to ward off the cold on the stroll I was about to take.
The landlady began reminiscing about severe winters she remembered as a child in her native Ireland. She was raised in County Mayo, and I believe she mentioned she was one of either eight or nine children – I can't be certain.
Her father was a station master and the family were quite poor.
"I remember him coming home from the station lugging a sack of turnips. The snow was up to the top of my boots," she said.
One day, her father won a crossword competition in the Irish Times and received £100. It was a large amount those days.
"I imagined we were going to go abroad on holiday or something like that," said the landlady, "but we went to the same place by the sea as usual but we did have two lovely days out."
After the meal, I was truly ready for the walk and trudged through the snow along the rising track opposite the pub.
Soon I was at Coldharbour cricket field. Today's scene in the bleak mid-winter was a far cry from that in the summer months when the sound of leather on willow can be heard on warm weekend afternoons. Someone had created a large snow penguin on the pitch which made me smile.
I hiked up to the tower which stood in the muffling silent snow. It was heavenly.
All of a sudden there was a shrill cry and a group of young men and women appeared playing with an luminous green tennis ball.
They, too, were on top of the world on this memorable afternoon in the Surrey hills.
It was just a shame that the refreshments kiosk at the tower is now only open at weekends.