Monday, 26 November 2012


OK, so this is not strictly about bikes......but it does have a tenuous bike link because when we were in Turkey ( the chapter on which is currently being written up and should be published by the end of the week - probably) we bumped into the men who were freighting the bikes from the latest Bond film 'Skyfall'  from Istanbul back to London. And later we were taken to several locations around the Grand Bazaar and adjacent streets where the opening chase scene was filmed. So when we discovered that filming in and around the  Skyfall House was not done in Scotland but in Surrey, which is just down the road, we just had to see if we could find it........

The A3 is the main  ( non motorway) road from London to Portsmouth  and it is a pretty good route, apart from the bit just south of Guildford, where it enters a valley, known as The Devil's Punchbowl, just north of a small town called Hindehead. For years, this was a major bottleneck for traffic and there was no way round it. Then several years ago, a tunnel was built, by-passing the town and magically vapourising the traffic problem. It did backfire a bit though, in terms of local businesses, which have now lost out on passing trade, in a sort of very scaled down version of the Interstate effect on Route 66 in America.

But the area surrounding Hindehead is very rural, covered in heathland and pine woodland, with tiny hamlets dotted here and there, and its one of those places that you skirt en route to other places It is very nice, yet much of it is also used by the MOD, but the recent discovery of some rare lichen (yes really) there meant that instead of being sealed off and used by them and them only, the MOD was forced to share it with the rest of us, film makers included. But one good thing about the MOD being around is that the land has a history of being blown up and driven over, and practised upon by soldiers - and that means that there are various military artifacts hidden amongst the trees.

And one such artifact is a mock up of the Atlantic Wall from WW2.

The Atlantic Wall was what the Germans built as anti tank defences in order protect their newly acquired lands (France) from the Allies, when the war was still going well for them.  France, having a very long western coast, was clearly vulnerable to attack from the Royal Navy and friends. So when they came to plan D Day, the Allies rightly anticipated that landing along that coast would not be easy. Thus the mock up, built in 1943, was to train troops for the landing and give them a chance to practise overcoming the blockades. It also allowed them to develop specific and precise ordnance to breach the heavily fortified concrete wall.

Evidence of this activity is apparent along the length of it; there are many gaps and exposed metal rods.

There are also patches of dragons teeth, anti tank fortifications, which troops developed tactics to overcome.

This particular piece of wall was used by Canadian troops, and the area is very reminiscent of Canada, particularly some of the birch and pine woodland covering the Canadian Shield. And rather bizarrely, the long since abandoned concrete has now been colonised by various plants, the lime in the concrete offering optimum nutrients for flourishing plant life.

But just up and over the ridge to the left of all these pictures, is a huge sand and rock basin, devoid of trees but covered with heather. And this is where the Skyfall house mock up was. There is actually a small army camp in the basin, an area which  I think is called Hankley Common.

This camp was used by the film crews during the making of Skyfall, and although it is off the beaten track, there are pre-existing forest roads which enabled trucks, equipment and props to be taken in and out.

The house was built on a platform so when they set it off, it didn't damage the plant life. Pretty considerate really.

If you've seen the movie, cast you mind back to the bit in Scotland ( supposedly) when Bond and M arrive in the DB5 at the Skyfall gates, go up the drive, and then look down into the valley where towards the house. Well this is the location folks.........minus the house.

After that, we went and had a look at the old A3. Sounds very odd I know, but now that bit of road has become redundant thanks to the tunnel, it is in the process of being turned back to nature, with the tarmac being ripped up, and the track being allowed to grass over. It will be a cycle and walking route, with great views over the whole Punchbowl.

Overlooking the route is a monument to an unknown sailor who was murdered here back in 1787.

Apparently he was walking back to Portsmouth and his ship, when he stopped off at a pub in nearby Thursley. There he met three men who could not afford a meal, so he bought it for them, plus beer, and paid for it with a golden guinea which he had earned from his last sea voyage. After he left, they followed him and cut his throat. They were arrested the next day and hanged a few hundred metres away on Gibbet Hill, and their hanged bodies were coated in tar and suspended from the Gibbet in chains, where they were left to rot. Today, the spot is marked by a Celtic cross, erected in the 20th century because locals believed there was an evil air about the place. It is also the second highest point in Surrey, surpassed only by Leith Hill.