London Green Belt Way  

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Stage 18  -  Merstham to Boxhill (10.05 miles)

 

The stage starts outside the Feathers Hotel and next to the A23 at Merstham. The route follows the North Downs Way past Merstham Cricket Club and across Reigate Hill Golf Club, then through the Royal Alexandra & Albert School at Gatton Park, and up on to Reigate Hill. At Buckland Heights we divert from the ND Way to stay on top of the Downs escarpment passing a few very impressive properties and some great views. At Pebble Coombe we join an ancient trackway along Tye Lane to Headley Village. Then divert south through Headley Heath to rejoin the NDW and finish at the Boxhill Information Centre.

 

Quality Street has many old and interesting buildings. It dates back to the 16th Century when it formed part of the then village High Street. The name was changed to Quality Street in the 19th Century when Ellaline Terris and Seymour Hicks, the two lead cast of a play of the same name by J M Barrie, lived at the Old Forge.

 

St Katherine’s Church is built on a small hill – Church Hill - just north of the village and can be reached by following the footpath (North Downs Way) north from Quality Street, to a footbridge over the M25 and continuing straight for another 100 yards. The church is mainly Norman, but has been altered through the centuries.

 

Start on the pavement next to the Feathers Hotel and the A23. Go south along the pavement for a few yards to the southern corner of the hotel. Turn right to crossover the A23 using the traffic bollards. Once across turn right into Quality Street staying on the LHS pavement. After just 20 yards turn left onto a lane towards Merstham Cricket Club and signed North Downs Way. Bear right at the club's car park and continue on a path between fences, with the cricket pitch on your left. Go through a kissing gate onto Reigate Hill Golf Course and continue west up a gentle slope, ignoring paths off to both sides.

 

After 650 yards, follow the path as it bears left and crosses a tarmac road. After another 60 yards and just after a golf tee to your RHS, go through a kissing gate on your left onto an enclosed path, and still heading west. In 350 yards, this path joins the driveway to a large house then after 60 yards veers left then right and comes out to a T-junction with Rocky Lane. Turn right turn right along the lane. After 100 yards, and where the lane turns sharp right, go straight on and enter Gatton Park at North Lodge. You have now entered the grounds of The Royal Alexandra and Albert School.

 

Continue along the road into Gatton Park and after 200 yards, at a junction, turn right. Follow the road as it veers left, with school buildings now to your LHS and playing fields to your right. After 400 yards and shortly after passing the last building you reach a Y-junction of tracks.

 

A manor at Gatton can be traced back to Saxon Times, when it was held by Alfred the Ealdorman and his son Ethelwald between 871 and 889AD. In later Saxon era, during the reign of Edward the Confessor, it was recorded as being owned by Earl Leofwine, brother of the later King Harold. After the Norman Invasion of 1066 and the defeat of King Harold by William the Conqueror, Gatton is listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Gatone and was held by Herfrid for the Bishop of Bayeux.

 

Roman coins and masonry have been found within the park, thus suggesting a much earlier occupation than during the Saxon era.

 

When the first large house (or even possibly castle) was built here seems to be uncertain. However, according to British History Online “A house of considerable importance was attached to Gatton Manor in 1220, and a deer-park existed in 1278”. From then the estate passed through many hands. According to www.gattonpark.com in the late 15th Century there was a fine Manor House, built of the site of a former castle – however, no proof of the castle exists.

 

Gatton became a borough in the middle 15th Century, returning two members to Parliament from 1450 to 1832. It was later to be known as a “Rotten or Pocket Borough”, a corrupt constituency with only a few voters, which could be bought by wealth to return members to Parliament.

 

Sir James Colebrooke, a wealthy banker, bought the estate in 1751 and on his death in 1761, his daughters sold Gatton to his brother Sir George Colebrooke He commissioned Lancelot “Capability” Brown to landscape the grounds. This was to be one of the famous garden designer’s major projects and took years to complete. He created three lakes and a serpentine, planted many trees and built a temple. In 1765, Sir George built the “Town Hall” where results of the token local elections were announced.

 

George Colebrooke sold Gatton in 1774 and shortly afterwards the estate was split into two parts, Upper Gatton and Gatton Park. Robert Ladbrooke bought Gatton Park, and in 1808 sold it to Sir Mark Wood. On Wood’s death in 1829, his son also Sir Mark Wood inherited the Gatton Park and soon afterwards sold to the trustees of the young Lord Monson for the huge sum of £100,000.

 

The Monson family can trace their roots back to 14th Century Lincolnshire. The early Monsons were merchants and minor royal officials until 1611 when Thomas Monson, Master Falconer to King James I, was made 1st Baronet Monson. Following this, several of the Monson family studied at Oxford and became MPs usually supporting the Whigs.

 

In 1728 John Monson, 5th Baronet joined the peerage, being created 1st Baron Monson of Burton in Lincolnshire where a large new country house was built. By the early 19th Century the Monsons of Burton owned an estate of 20,000 acres.

 

John George Monson, 4th Lord Monson died 14th November 1809 at the young age of 24, leaving a very young heir Frederick John Monson, born 3rd February 1809 and then only 9 months old. Frederick’s mother later remarried the Earl of Warwick and from the age of ten, Fredrick (now 5th Lord Monson) was brought up at Warwick Castle. He suffered throughout his life from poor health and it was felt he needed a more benign and healthy atmosphere. A suitable estate was found at Gatton in Surrey, a county that was held in high repute for its good climate and fresh air. In 1830 the estate was purchased for £100,000, including the control of two MPs. This privilege did not last however. In 1832 the Great Reform Act abolished the representation of Gatton which had been one of the worst of the 'rotten boroughs' where a handful of people had the vote and chose the MPs whilst large and wealthy towns like Birmingham and Manchester were unrepresented.

 

When the estate was bought, the buildings of Gatton Park were in a state of disrepair, so Lord Monson set about restoring the ancient Church of St Andrew and built a new house.

 

Once he had come of age, Lord Monson set off travelling around Europe and made repeated visits to the continent for the rest of his life, purchasing works of art and sculptures for his new home and for the church, which he had reconstructed in 1834. Whilst visiting Rome, he was inspired by the Corsini Chapel and decided to build an exact replica as a hall in his house at Gatton. The building of this new hall required importing rare marbles from Italy and Greece, and Italian mosaics from the Baths of Caracalla. The walls were decorated with frescoes by the artist Severn, depicting 'Prudence', 'Fortitude', 'Meekness', and 'Patience'. He also acquired many valuable paintings including works by Raphael and Constable.  

 

In St Andrews Church the interior was completely remodeled to include Medieval paneling from Burgundy, stained glass from Aerschot (near Brussels), a communion table from Nuremburg, stalls from Ghent and an alter from Rouen.

 

Lord Monson was a cultured and educated man who delivered lectures on Geology and Mineralogy. He was made an honorary Doctor of Civil Law at Oxford. He married in 1834 but the marriage was not a success and the couple later separated.

 

He continued to tour the continent in 1839, but the following year he fell seriously ill and died in 1841. The new house at Gatton was still incomplete at the time of his death although he had spent a large sum of money building it, selling off some 12,500 acres of his Lincolnshire estate, and leaving Burton Hall in a very poor state of repair.

 

Frederick John Monson had no offspring and his title and lands were inherited by his second cousin, William John Monson, the 6th Lord Monson. William Monson restored Burton Hall and after living for a while on the continent took up residence in 1847. Gatton was rented to Lady Warwick, Frederick mother, to whom he had been devoted. She attempted to complete Gatton House. Work continued until 1849 but the expense proved beyond her means. Lady Warwick died in 1859, after which Gatton was only used occasionally by William. Frederick and his mother were buried in a mausoleum in the grounds of Gatton Church. William John Monson (7th Lord Monson) had an important position at court and was created 1st Viscount Oxenbridge. However, in 1888, to meet his financial commitments, he was forced to sell Gatton Park. Jeremiah Colman bought the estate and became the new resident at Gatton.

 

The Colman Family

The Colman's were a family with East Anglian connections, who from relatively humble beginnings took full advantage of the opportunities emerging in the Industrial Revolution.

 

In the 19th Century, they rose to be successful food manufacturers and financiers. The family fortune was mainly founded on the production of the famous Colman's Mustard at Norwich.

 

The family's association with Gatton began with Jeremiah Colman (born in 1859). He was educated at Kings College (Wimbledon) and at Cambridge University where he studied mathematics. Having successfully established himself in the family firm, he began to look for a suitable countryseat close to London and with good communications. He found this at Gatton, which he purchased in 1888.

 

Gatton was indeed a prize to possess and Jeremiah went about completing Monson house. He also found many opportunities to indulge his passion for flowers, particularly orchids and carnations. He spent a fortune remodeling the gardens. They were divided into Japanese, Italian, Rose and Herbaceous sections with several water features.

 

Jeremiah took a keen and paternal interest in the local community leading the Parish Committee set up in 1894. He became a Justice of the Peace and later Deputy Lieutenant Sheriff of Surrey before finally becoming High Sheriff. He also contributed generously to local schools and hospitals. In 1904, he set up the Reigate Institute, an educational and literary society for working men. He also maintained his London connections becoming Master of the Skinners and one of the lieutenants of London. In 1907, Jeremiah was made a Baronet.

 

There were many parties and festive occasions held at Gatton, which were attended by the cream of local society. The local poor and needy were not forgotten and there were free banquets for the estate workers and their wives.

 

After the First World War Sir Jeremiah became a leading member of the London Surrey Society having already in 1914 devoted 18 acres of Reigate Hill to the Borough of Reigate as an area of outstanding beauty. He was also Chairman of Reigate Priory Cricket Club from 1916-1923 reflecting a long held interest in the game as both player and spectator.

 

In 1933 as part of local government reorganisation, the Parish Committee was abolished and the Parish absorbed into the responsibility of Reigate Borough. This was strongly contested by the Colmans and led to a reduction of landowner control and influence in favour of elected bodies. The Colmans feared a gradual urbanisation of the Parish and led Sir Jeremiah to seriously consider leaving the estate. In fact, his son Jeremiah Junior was so affected that he removed from Gatton and never subsequently lived there in spite of many fond hopes that he would succeed his father in residence and generosity to the local community.

 

In 1934 disaster struck. A fire, starting in the cellar completely gutted and destroyed the famous house and many of its irreplaceable treasures. This was a sore blow to Jeremiah, who was by then in his seventies.

 

A new house was built in replacement but sadly the previous glory could not be restored. Jeremiah Colman continued to live on the estate that he loved until his death in 1942. After this, his widow Lady Colman moved to the 'cottage' on the estate. During the Second World War the estate was taken over by the Armed Services and the gardens fell into neglect.

 

Jeremiah Junior never came back to the estate and eventually in 1948 Gatton Hall and most of the estate was sold to the present owners, the Royal Alexandra & Albert School. The parkland to the west of the school was acquired by the National Trust in 1952.

 

The Gatton Trust was founded in 1996 to manage the estate with the aim of restoring the park and gardens and developing the place as a community and education resource. There has been much work done in recent years and most of the gardens have been restored. Gatton Hall and gardens are also open to the public on certain days and events for children, schools and adults are held throughout the year. The route of the North Downs Way passes through the grounds and there is also a marked two-mile circular walk through the National Trust area of the park.

 

At the Y-junction take the right fork, staying on the NDW.

 

To the left there is an information panel giving details about the sculpture of the Millennium Stones. These are through the trees in an open area to the left and are worth the small diversion. This is a modern stone circle consisting of ten upright Caithness Flagstones quarried in Northern Scotland, each inscribed with a quote which span the last two millennia. They information board reads:

 

“These stones were created by Richard Kindersley during 1998 to 1999 to mark the double millennium from AD1 to AD2000. The first stone in the series is inscribed with the words from St John’s Gospel, “in the beginning the word was …”. The subsequent nine stones are carved with quotations contemporary with each 200 year segment, ending with the words of T S Eliot.


The generosity of The Jerusalem Trust enabled the stones to be purchased and installed here at Gatton Park during 2003.

Stone 1
Saint John’s Gospel
circa 100 AD
"In the beginning the word was.
And the Word was with God.

And the Word was God."

Stone 2
Saint Augustine
354-430 AD
"Too late have I loved you, O Beauty, ancient yet ever new.
Too late have I loved you! And behold, you were within

but I was outside, searching."

Stone 3

Anicius Manlius Boethius 480-524 AD
"A person is an individual substance of a rational nature."

Stone 4
John Scotius Erigena
810-877 AD
"Although I know that I am,

my knowledge of myself is not prior to myself."

Stone 5
Saint Anselm
1033-1109 AD
"For I do not seek to understand in order to believe,

but I believe in order to understand.
For I believe this; unless I believe, I will not understand."

Stone 6
Saint Thomas Aquinas
1225-1274 AD
"The soul is known by its acts."

Stone 7
William Shakespeare
1564-1616 AD
"There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat;
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or we lose our ventures."

Stone 8
Saint Francis of Sales
1567-1622 AD
"Do not wish to be anything but what you are,

and try and be that perfectly."

Stone 9
Johann von Goethe
1749-1832 AD
"The deed is all, the glory nothing."

Stone 10

T S Eliot 1888-1965 AD

"At the still point of the turning world.
Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point,

 there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement."

 

The Caithness flagstones are quarried in the far north of Scotland near Thurso. Geologically they are interesting because although the stone was laid down 240 million years ago, it is still flat and level on the quarry bed. This makes it possible to prise large slabs from the underlying strata. The stone, like slate, has a very high tensile strength and is therefore immensely strong.


The Millennium Stones have been placed here at Gatton Park, as this site lies directly on the Pilgrims Way. This ancient road from the south-west via Winchester to Canterbury has been the path of Christian pilgrims for many centuries. We hope that the Millennium Stones will provide a place for people to stop, rest and reflect.”

 

After passing a gate, a wood appears on your right and in a further 200 yards the lane bends right at Lodge House and heads towards a road. Just before the house, however, turn left up a wide track into a wood. After 400 yards, at a Y-junction of paths stay left following the North Downs Way. In another 350 yards a viewpoint over Gatton Park is passed to your left. Soon after this veer right and after a further 50 yards stay right and uphill, as another path joins from the left (now at 2 miles into the stage). Within 120 yards another path joins from the right at a small clearing next to Wray Lane. Stay straight on for just a few yards, then turn left to cross the lane (with care) and go straight on into the National Trust’s Reigate Hill car park. Stay on the grass to the left of the car park and continue uphill and past the snack bar / refreshments hut (DO NOT veer left onto a wide path going downhill). This leads to a footbridge over the A217. Cross the footbridge and continue straight on along the NDW – it’s wide and it’s well marked.

 

The Wray Lane car park on Reigate Hill is a popular spot and can get very busy. From here there is a great view south over the town of Reigate and beyond. There is a picnic area, public toilets and refreshments and light snacks are available from the little hut in the car park.

 

The footbridge takes the North Downs Way (NDW) and us over the A217. After a good climb the NDW soon crosses a lane (Fort Lane) and past a few cottages. Shortly after these to the right is a water tower and transmission mask; to the left is Reigate Fort. The fort was one of 13 Mobilisation Centres built between 1889 and 1903 as part of the London Defense Scheme. They stretched in a line from Epping to Guildford thus protecting London from the possibility of invasion from France on its eastern and southern sides. The main purpose of the forts was for the storage of ammunitions to be used by local service personnel in the event of an invasion. In 1907 they became obsolete and most (including Reigate) were sold. Since 1932 the National Trust (NT) has owned Reigate Fort and the surrounding area. During World War I it was used for ammunition storage and in World War II Canadian troops were stationed here. In 2000, with the help of a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the National Trust started to restore the fort and in 2007 it was opened to the public for free. To read more about Reigate Fort follow the link to www.subbrit.org.uk

 

To the left, 200 yards after the water tower, is a clearing called Memorial Glade. This is the site of a wartime air disaster. On 19th March 1945 a number of aircraft from the US 384th Bomber Group stationed at Grafton-Underwood in Northamptonshire were returning from a bombing raid on Plauen, near the Czech border. They usually flew in formation for protection against enemy fighters. However, due to dense cloud over the Weald the formation got split up. Flying Fortress 43-39035 SO-F became detached and descended to gain better visibility. At 5.40pm flying too low, it crashed into Reigate Hill, killing all nine crew. Most died on impact, and the rest shortly afterwards. A few years later there was a campaign to erect a memorial on the site. However, it was not until 19th March 2002, on the 57th anniversary of the crash, when a memorial was finally unveiled. This came about mainly thanks to the Reigate Society and is a bench in the middle of the clearing. The bench has two plaques listing the names of all who died. The wife and son of the plane’s pilot were both present at the unveiling ceremony.

 

0.75 miles after the footbridge the path emerges, through a gate, onto open ground next to what looks like a small circular temple. Continue straight on keeping the circular structure to your left and still following the NDW (now at 3 miles into the stage).

 

The circular structure is known as “The Inglis Folly”. It was originally a drinking fountain, but now houses a direction indicator. This Georgian Pavilion was commissioned by Lieutenant-Colonel Robert William Inglis and was presented to the Corporation of the Borough of Reigate in 1909. The ceiling of the pavilion is painted with a wonderful colour map of the Solar System. 

 

Continue to follow the NDW along the top of the ridge for a kilometer ignoring paths off to both sides.

 

Along this section of the route the North Downs falls steeply to the left. There are many paths where you can divert from the NDW along Colley Hill (NT) and there are great views to the south, across The Weald and to the South Downs in the distance. There is a large water tower off to the right about 600 yards after “The Inglis Folly” and 400 yards after this you pass a National Trust sign to leave Colley Hill through a wooden gate.

 

Go through a wooden gate and continue west along the bridleway, soon passing a wooden door with a footpath sign on your right. In 100 yards and just after passing a white-painted Coal Tax post stay left, avoiding a path forking to the right, and still following the NDW. In 100 yards the path meets a tarmac lane. Turn left along the lane signed North Downs Way for just a very short distance, then turn very sharp right onto a signed public footpath between trees and a fence (DON’T MISS IT). It is at this point we divert from the NDW as it continues straight on and downhill.

 

Follow the path through trees, soon turning left and going west then north-west. After 600 yards the path comes out onto a private residential road. Veer left along the road (Buckland Heights), and after 100 yards, on approaching the entrance to last house, stay right of it and go straight on along a footpath.

 

Buckland Heights, on top of the Downs, is isolated and very private. The houses here are very large. Some of which must have wonderful views over the countryside below. Just north, on the opposite side of the M25 motorway is Walton Heath Golf Club. The private club has hosted many major golfing events, including the 1981 Ryder Cup.

 

Continue straight on along this path for 800 yards (ignoring a path off to the right after 600 yards). The path then veers left and soon turns sharp left and downhill, fenced and with a field to the right. On reaching a T-junction of paths, at the bottom of the field, turn right.

 

The descent is quite steep and there is a great view over an old chalk quarry on the slopes of the Downs and beyond.

 

Follow the path along the bottom of the field and eventually into a wood. Follow this path as it turns right then left to weave its way through the woods. After 550 yards and on reaching a T-junction with a sunken track, turn right and uphill along this old wooded track. In a short distance the track soon levels out and after 500 yards opens out with a footpath going off to the left. Turn left onto this footpath. You are now heading west with a wood to your right and some buildings through a fence to your left. After 300 yards, and 100 yards before reaching a road, turn right onto a footpath through the woods and going north-west.

 

In 70 yards the path comes out onto the Dorking Road (B2032). Cross straight over (with care) and onto an enclosed bridleway through trees (Tye Lane – signed public bridleway).

 

Stay straight on along Tye Lane for 350 yards ignoring paths off to the right. Then follow Tye Lane as it turns left (west) and past public bridleway “Banstead 636” to your right, which leads past Frith Park to Sturts Lane and over the M25 motorway (now at 6 miles into the route).

 

Continue along Tye Lane for a further 1100 yards to its end where it emerges onto Headley Common Road at the junction with Leech Lane and Church Lane in Headley village.

 

Headley is a small, scattered village and a civil parish situated on top of the North Downs and covering an area of 675 hectares. Its name means a “clearing in the heather” and appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 as “Hellage”. The book also records that before the Norman Invasion the manor was granted to Countess Goda, mother of King Harold, by Edward the Confessor. Even before Saxon Times the Romans must have had an influence here, as the course of Stane Street, the Roman road which linked London to Chichester, is just west of the parish boundary. However, as to the exact era when the manor and village were first founded here, seems to be unknown.

 

The extract below from: 'Parishes: Headley', A History of the County of Surrey: Volume 3 (1911), http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42969. It suggests there may have been even earlier settlers in the area.

 

“On Headley Heath, and scattered at other points in the parish, are numerous neolithic implements and flakes, and fragments of a coarse earthenware vessel have been found near Toot Hill. Less than a mile south-west of the church, west or north-west of Headley Heath, on the slopes of the valley up which the road from Juniper Hall comes, excavations have revealed the inclosing trench of a large inclosure. In the loose soil overlying the undisturbed chalk Mr. Gordon Home, of Epsom, found in 1907 fragments of hand-made pottery, with bones of many different animals, and one worked flint. At a higher level he found the broken point of a bronze weapon. Near the trench, but not in it, was some good glazed pottery, and in another place several signs of fires, burnt stones, and charcoal. A young plantation unfortunately is on the spot. The names Toot Hill, and Elderbury, and Nore Wood (a name often found in close juxtaposition to old fortifications, for which we may compare Nore under the banked hill at Hascombe) suggest an ancient settlement or settlements.”

 

There are many small roads and lanes joining up different sections of the village, and the M25 motorway slices through its northern edge. A few hundred yards north along Church Lane is the village hall, shop, church, post office, and pub. In 1994 an excellent hand-drawn map of the area was produced to celebrate the parish council’s centenary. The map can be viewed on the village website.

 

St Mary’s Church, built in the 1850s, is close to the site of a much earlier Norman church. Stones from the old church were used in the construction and some were later used to build a grotto in the churchyard as a memorial to Ferdinand Faithfull, the local rector at the time. Theodore Evelyn Reece Phillips (aka. T.E.R. Phillips) was rector from 1916 to his death in 1942. Phillips was also an internationally acclaimed astronomer and in 1918 was awarded the Jackson-Gwilt Medal by the Royal Astronomical Society. He built two observatories in the grounds of the rectory and would often hold “Astronomical Garden Parties” here. From 1927–1929 T.E.R. Phillips was President of the Royal Astronomical Society.

 

The Cock Inn, just south of the church on Church Lane, dates from the first half of the 18th Century and is the only surviving pub in the village (pub website). There did used to be two pubs (the Clermont on Tot Hill closed in the 1960s), plus several beer houses here, serving what was once a thriving agricultural community.

 

Headley Court is in the northern edge of the village and just south of the M25. This was originally an Elizabethan farmhouse and was acquired by the Cunliffe family of Tyrrell’s  Wood in the 19th Century. Walther Cunliffe (1855 – 1920) later converted the house into an imposing mansion. He was Governor of the Bank of England from 1913 – 1918 and created Baron Cunliffe, of Headley in Surrey, in December 1914. He died here on 6th January 1920.

 

During World War II, Headley Court was used as Headquarters for the Canadian Forces in Europe. Soon after the war it became the rehabilitation centre for injured aircrew. Today it is DMRC Headley Court (Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre) and is used for the rehabilitation of the injured from all three services.

  

As Headley village lies within the Metropolitan Green Belt, restrictions on building have meant there has been very little development here in over 50 years. This means the village has retained a lot of its old character and is still a pleasant place to visit or pass through. You can see old photographs, maps and memories of Headley by visiting Francis Frith.

 

Turn left to cross over Headley Common Road, then turn south onto a footpath which goes through a gate and onto Headley Heath. Follow the path south, initially running almost parallel to the road and ignoring all paths going off to the RHS. Within 200 yards the path comes out onto open land with a car park to your left and just across Headley Common Road is the Headley Cricket Club.

 

According to a “Friends of Headley Heath” National Trust publication: “Until recent times Headley Heath was open heathland. Before 1880 it was used for grazing the sheep of the parishes of Betchworth, Brockham and Headley as a single flock. The Lords of the Manor of the three villages met periodically to agree the number of sheep to be grazed and their management. The open heath was also used by the villagers of Headley for gravel, animal fodder and fuel. Heather, gorse and turf were burnt on the cottage fires and bracken was used as bedding for animals. Flints were used for building and sheep hovels were made of heather”.

 

The Ordinance Survey map of 1860 shows Headley Heath as treeless in contrast to the surrounding woods. The only features shown were four ponds, many gravel pits, the cricket pitch and a number of tracks. The road now known as Headley Common Road was made about 1870 and was later continued to Leatherhead.

 

Sheep grazing ended in the 1880s, but even as late as 1939 photos showed most of Headley Heath as open heathland with only a few scattered trees. The ridge of Middle Hill was overgrown with bracken birch and bramble but the chalky slopes were still smooth turf.

 

During the World War II (1939-1945), the heath was used as an army training ground - tanks and bulldozers causing sufficient soil disturbance. In the subsequent heathland regeneration, lack of grazing and other traditional practices allowed birch to establish itself amongst the young heather, eventually shading it out as well as blocking many of the fine views.

 

In 1946, Headley Heath and the Lordship of Headley Manor was offered to the National Trust by the owners Mr and Mrs Crookenden. It was accepted in spite of the fact that no endowment fund was available for its upkeep. Sir Edward (later Lord) Bridges at Goodmans Fruze offered to form a local committee to manage the Heath for the National Trust by raising funds for its maintenance from local subscribers and users of the Heath. The area was in a run down condition when the War Office finally de-requisitioned the Heath in 1948”.

 

Headley Heath covers an area of 525 acres and is contains the largest remaining area of lowland heath on the North Downs. In recent years the National Trust and the Friends of Headley Heath have been working hard to restore the heathlands. As an experiment, the National Trust introduced a few Highland Cattle for grazing in selected fenced areas. The aim was to clear scrub and young trees, thus restoring the heathland, creating a beneficial habitat for wildlife and maintaining the open nature of the area. This proved successful and the cattle were popular with visitors. In July 2007, the National Trust applied to fence off 456 acres of the Heath and expand the experiment. This would mean constructing, 6,455 meters of fence to keep the cattle from straying, plus 14 pedestrian, 14 bridleway and 9 field gates to give access to the public. Although contested by some locals the proposal was finally accepted by the Government in May 2008. Since then the work has been carried out. The Highland Cattle have been replaced by easier to manage and smaller Belted Galloway Cattle. There are also some Hebridean sheep on the site.

 

The route continues south and west across Headley Heath for over a mile and then comes out onto a lane (Headley Heath Approach).

 

To the right Headley Heath Approach leads past the entrance to the Bellasis House, designed by Sir Edward Lutyens for Philip Tilden (architect & garden designer)  in 1922 and used by the Special Operations Executive during World War II to train ex-German PoWs. According to Dorking Museum:

 

“Codenamed STS2, Bellasis House on Box Hill housed a training centre for Czech agents of the Special Operations Executive.  There they were prepared for their return under cover to occupied Czechoslovakia. The team that assassinated the Nazi Reinhard Heydrich, (the acting Protector of Bohemia and Moravia who had chaired the Wannsee Conference that set in motion the Final Solution), set off from Bellasis for Prague in 1943.”

 

Further north along the lane is High Ashurst, once the site of a stately home and now a Surrey County Council Outdoor Learning Centre.

 

Turn left and head directly south along Headley Heath Approach. After 0.55 miles, cross straight over Box Hill Road and onto a tree-lined bridleway, with a caravan park to your left. Within 250 yards the bridleway merges with the North Downs Way. Continue straight on and downhill along the NDW for just over 175 yards, then turn sharp right and up some steps and still on the NDW.

 

For the next mile, follow the NDW to Boxhill and its famous viewpoint at the Leopold Salomons’ Memorial. From the viewpoint veer right on a path going gradually uphill in a northwesterly direction, soon parallel to the road and to the finish at the café kiosk next to the Boxhill Information Centre.  

 

Box Hill a noted beauty spot and viewpoint owned by the National Trust. It takes its name from the numerous box trees on its slopes. It is very popular with day-trippers but beware of the motorcycles. There is a Visitor’s Centre and shop where you can get refreshments and snacks.

 

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