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Devil's Punch Bowl

This article is about a natural amphitheatre in Surrey, England. For other meanings, see Devil's Punch Bowl (disambiguation).

The Devil's Punch Bowl is a large natural amphitheatre and beauty spot near Hindhead, Surrey, in England, and is the source of many stories about the area. The London to Portsmouth road (the A3) climbs round its side. The land is now owned and maintained by the National Trust as part of the "Hindhead Commons & The Devil's Punch Bowl Café" property. Hindhead Youth Hostel is located inside the bowl. The bowl was once called Highcombe, after the Celtic term combe, meaning forested valley. Its lower part is still named Highcombe Bottom. Above the London to Portsmouth road lies Gibbet Hill, Hindhead.

The soil in this part of Surrey has two layers — an upper layer of sandstone, with clay beneath. This deep depression is believed to be the result of erosion caused by spring water beneath the sandstone, causing the upper level to collapse. With its steep sides, the Devil's Punchbowl has become a natural nature reserve, filled with heathland, streams and woodland.

However, local legend has a much more colourful theory as to its creation. According to one story, during the Middle Ages the Devil became so irritated by all the churches being built in Sussex that he decided to dig a channel from the English Channel, through the South Downs, and flood the area. As he began digging, he threw up huge lumps of earth, each of which became a local landmark — such as Chanctonbury Ring, Cissbury Ring, Mount Caburn and Rackham Hill. He got as far as the village of Poynings (an area known as the Devil's Dyke) when he was disturbed by a cock crowing (one version of the story claims that it was the prayers of St Dunstan that made all the local cocks crow earlier than usual). Assuming that dawn was about to break, he leapt into Surrey, creating the Devil's Punch Bowl where he landed.

Another story goes that, in his spare time, he hurled lumps of earth at the god Thor to annoy him. The hollow he scooped the earth out of became the Punchbowl. The local village of Thursley means Thor's place. Such stories are considered to be of Celtic, Norse, and Saxon origin.

It is these stories, the beauty of the area and the diversity of nature it attracts that has gained the Devil's Punch Bowl the title of a Site of Special Scientific Interest. This status has recently helped save the Devil's Punch Bowl from on-line redevelopment of the A3 which is needed to relieve traffic congestion in the area, this section of the A3 being only single-carriageway. The National Trust have co-operated with developers who have designed the twin-bore Hindhead Tunnel running underneath the surrounding area. The tunnel will not only preserve the area from the road widening originally proposed but, once complete, will remove the heavy traffic congestion which affects this section of the A3 in peak hours, in turn bringing considerable environmental benefits and tranquillity to this internationally valued area. The current A3 road, apart from a small stub to the National Trust cafe, will be removed and the land reinstated.

The Devil's Punch Bowl was featured on the 2005 TV programme Seven Natural Wonders as one of the wonders of the South.

Punch Bowl Farm was the home of children's novelist Monica Edwards from 1947 until the early 1970s. In her books she renamed the farm Punchbowl Farm.

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