Stage 19 - Box Hill to West Hanger (9.65 miles)
Box Hill is National Trust property and a beautiful place to start a walk from. There are so many options with footpaths going off in all directions. The North Downs Way chooses to take the steep decent down to the stepping stones over the River Mole. Cyclists and runners choose the road down the Zig-Zag. Our route will follow Fort Road which goes gently off the hill, past Burford Bridge and then climb through the village of West Humble and up onto the Downs behind Denbies Vinyard. Here we join the North Downs Way and follow it to the finish, above the lovely village of Shere, at the West Hanger picnic area. It’s a beautiful route, but be warned, it’s hilly.
The stage starts on the top of the hill at the café kiosk next to the Box Hill Information Centre. Go north, then left around the building and across the right hand side of the National Trust member’s car park, keeping the entrance of the car park and Zig Zag Road to your right. Just past the entrance to the car park turn left onto a footpath / track into the trees.
Box Hill is a noted beauty spot and view point, and gets its name from the numerous box trees on its slopes. It rises 634 feet above sea-level and 563 feet above the Mole Valley below. Due its sheer beauty and closeness to London, Box Hill has attracted visitors in their droves and inspired great writers, painters and others throughout the years. It has connections with Daniel Defoe, John Keats, George Lambert, Fanny Burney, Jane Austen, George Meredith, John Logie Baird and more.
With the coming of the railway through the valley and the opening of the nearby West Humble station in 1849 the area became more accessible to Londoners and the surrounding towns and hence the number of visitors increased. In 1912 just over 230 acres of Box Hill were offered for sale on the open market. The National Trust believed that the area should be protected for the nation. After some complicated negotiations the land was purchased by Leopold Salomons of nearby Norbury Park for £16,000 and in 1914 given to the National Trust. At the viewpoint just south west of the car park a memorial remembers Salomons’ gift to the nation.
Today the area owned by the National Trust has increased to 1,200 acres and is managed by a professional team employed by the Trust under the supervision of the Head Warden. It is estimated over a million people now visit each year, mainly day trippers out to picnic, walk, cycle, admire the views, study the wildlife and plants and get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday city life. The National Trust Team at Box Hill carry out lots of great work, helping to build a natural environment where trees, plants and wildlife can live in harmony. The different species which thrive here are numerous and some being unique within the UK. They have also improved access for people with pushchairs, in wheelchairs and limited mobility, so they too can enjoy the place. At certain times there are guided tours and talks by the staff showing the true immensity and wealth of nature and wildlife within the area.
Next to the start there is a Visitors Centre and shop where you can get refreshments and snacks, buy maps, books and souvenirs, and study the displays to gain more information about the area.
Like the rest of the North Downs, Box Hill is made of chalk. At this point in the escarpment, the River Mole has carved a great gorge through the chalk, giving Box Hill its characteristic shape with steep cliffs (or "whites") falling down to the Mole. The gap formed by the river has been used as natural communication corridor since Roman Times. Stane Street, the Roman road from Chichester to London passed through the gap. “Stane” meaning stone (just like Negen Stanes earlier on our route at Staines meaning the nine stones) and thus a road built on a stone base to strengthen it.
Just behind the National Trust Shop and Visitor's Centre is Swiss Cottage. It was from here that John Logie Baird (1888 – 1946) carried out some of his early experiments on television by sending signals to the valley below. A short stroll along the path from Swiss Cottage is the grave of Major Peter Labelliere (1726 – 1800), an eccentric author and Marines officer who rented rooms in South Street, Dorking after serving in the army. He enjoyed walking and resting on Boxhill, often giving away his coat or shoes to less fortunate people he met. His time in the army seemed to have made him a bit unbalanced. An early 19th Century book entitled "Promenade round Dorking" relates that:
"in early life he fell in love with a lady, who, although he was remarkably handsome in person, eventually rejected his addresses - a circumstance which could not fail to inflict a deep wound on his delicate mind".
Having accurately prophesied the date of his death in 1800, Major Peter Labelliere left two express wishes in his will: that the youngest son and daughter of his landlady should dance on his coffin, and he should be buried upside down on Box Hill. "As the world is turned topsy-turvy", he reasoned he would be the right way up in the end. However, even though his last wish was carried out, some people believe his ghost on horseback still roams the area around his grave.
Jane Austen (1775 – 1817) often visited Box Hill and used it as the setting for the ill-fated picnic in her novel Emma (1816). In the book Austen’s hero Emma just wanted to discover what “everyone found so much worth seeing”. John Keats (1795 – 1821) would climb Boxhill by moonlight when composing Endymoin whilst staying at the Burford Bridge Hotel. Celia Fiennes visited in 1694 on her epic journeys around England. Although only meant for family reading, her journals were published 150 years after her death in 1888, entitled “Through England on a Side Saddle”. Parts of her journey have recently been reproduced as TV programmes. Of Box Hill she wrote:
“ …its a Greate height and shows you a vast precipice down on the farther side, and such a vast vale full of woods Enclosures and Little towns. There is a very good river that runs by a Little town Called Darken just at the foote of this hill, very famous for good trouts and great store of fish. On this hill the top is Cover'd with box whence its name proceeds, and there is other wood but it’s all Cutt in Long private walks very shady and pleasant, and this is a great diversion to the Company and would be more frequented if nearer Epsom town.” (Note 1 – see bottom of page).
Box Hill was one of England’s earliest tourist attractions. Evelyn Waugh, who lived nearby for a time, was complementary with his diary writings. However, during the early 1720s, Daniel Defoe in his book “A Tour thro’ the whole island of Great Britain” found another slant on the visitors,
“Here every Sunday, during the summer season, there used to be a rendezvous of coaches and horsemen, with abundance of gentlemen and ladies from Epsome to take air, and walk in the box woods; and in a wood, divert, or debauch, or perhaps both, as they thought fit, and the game increased so much, that it became almost on a sudden, to make a great noise in the country”
You can read more history on Boxhill by visiting Wikipedia or The Friends of Box Hill website.
Follow the main path / track into the trees and then as it veers right to pass the remains of Box Hill Fort to your LHS. Continue downhill for 0.7 miles, avoiding any attempt to turn off the main path (aka Fort Road).
Box Hill 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 the Continent (especially 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. The fort is well summed up below in an excerpt from www.boxhillcommunity.com.
“The Fort Road or Military Road is the name now given to the broad grass-covered track leading up the long spur of Box Hill from the Mickleham road, though it was in existence as a track long before the erection of the fort - believed to be one of the earliest examples of reinforced concrete - in the last decade of the nineteenth century. General Sir Edward Hamley, a leading writer on military strategy who conducted a vigorous campaign for the adoption of measures to prevent invasion from the Continent. Unlike most of the other leading soldiers of the day, Hamley was an enthusiastic supporter of the volunteer forces, and he considered that they could play an important part in the defence of the capital in the event of an invasion. He outlined a scheme for the establishment of a line of lightly fortified assembly points around London. At Box Hill 2.4 hectares (6 acres) were bought in 1891 for £2,221 and the fort, which cost £4,714 to build, was completed by 1900. In accordance with the tactical thinking of the time, the Box Hill fort was not designed for artillery. Rather, it consisted of concrete ramparts which protected nearby trenches from which the infantry would fight.”
The fort is now a scheduled “Ancient Monument”, is owned by the National Trust and is home to three species of bats who have taken up residence in the old ammunition tunnels. As bats are a protected species the interior of the fort is not open to the public, but you can freely wander around the exterior which is accessible by public footpath. There is an information board on the site to tell you more about the fort.
Further along the footpath to the right through the trees, Zig Zag Road can be seen. This goes off the hill down a deep gorge and resembles an Alpine pass with its use of hair pin bends to changes of direction and decrease the gradient. It has many sleeping policemen to trip pedestrians up and to slow down vehicles. Our route is a more direct along a traffic free footpath, but it is steep and in places is uneven underfoot.
On 28 & 29 July 2012 Box Hill played an integral part in hosting the Men’s & Ladies’ Olympic Cycling Road Races. The 9.63 mile loop of Box Hill and Headley was the showpiece of the route, with the men having to complete 9 laps and the ladies 3 laps. It meant having to climb the steep Zig Zag Road on each loop. You can watch a video of an interview with Andrew Wright, Countryside Manager for Surrey Hills East, filmed shortly before the races on YouTube. There is also a video of the whole loop from a cyclist’s view.
Approaching the bottom the track opens out on both sides and eventually comes out onto the junction of Zig Zag Road and Old London Road. Do not descend to the road instead turn left onto a path along the grass, running parallel to and above Old London Road.
80 yards before reaching the bottom of the track and to the right, just across Zig Zag Road, is Flint Cottage. This was the home of the novelist and poet George Meredith (1828 – 1909) from 1867 until his death in 1909. Of all the people associated with Box Hill, none had a better feel for the place than him. He wrote:
"I am every morning at the top of Box Hill - as its flower, its bird, its prophet. I drop down the moon on one side, I draw up the sun on t'other. I breathe fine air. I shout ha ha to the gates of the world. Then I descend and know myself a donkey for doing it".
He built a small timber chalet up in the steep garden where he done much of his work. He was often visited by J.M.Barrie, who after Meredith's death wrote a fanciful essay in which he imagined the old man sitting on the crest of the hill which rises in front of Flint Cottage, chuckling at the sight of his own funeral cortege solemnly accompanying an empty coffin to the cemetery at Dorking. Barrie himself is commemorated by Barrie's Bank, just outside Flint Cottage, where the playwright is said to have sat before daring to approach the great writer.
The footpath soon goes through some trees and then turns right and descends to Old London Road. Turn left along the road and gently downhill.
Direct opposite, on reaching the road, is Rykers Café and its large car park. At weekends this is very popular meeting point for motor cyclists. For many years they have enjoyed pitting their skills against each other by racing north along the divided road through the Mole Gap. The local police are well aware of this and usually have a presence by the roadside to discourage the races. However, this place remains popular with the bikers and acts like a sort of a staging point where groups blast off in all directions around the Surrey Hills and down to the south coast.
At the bottom to the left and just before a roundabout is the Burford Bridge Hotel (at 1 mile into the route). After passing the hotel stay left along the pavement running parallel to the dual carriageway (A24).
The Burford Bridge Hotel has seen many famous people stay through the years. They include Queen Victoria, Jane Austen, Wordsworth and Sheridan. It is where Lord Nelson is reported to have spent his last night, in the company of his mistress Lady Emma Hamilton, before joining his ships for the Battle of Trafalgar (21 October 1805). The hotel is also said to be where John Keats stayed when he found the inspiration to finish his epic poem “Endymion”. It is near here where the fictional "Battle of Dorking", written by Sir George Tomkyns Chesney in 1871, took place. This short story contains only 48 pages but was very popular at the time and started a literary craze for other stories which aroused imagination and anxiety about fictional invasions of England from all over, including aliens. You can read the story by following the link to Project Gutenberg Australia. In 1878 and 1879, Robert Louis Stevenson stayed. On his second visit Meredith read him parts of his masterpiece "the Egoist", and, when Stevenson exclaimed that the character of Sir Willoughby Patterne must have been modeled on himself, Meredith made his famous reply: "I've taken them from all of us, but principally from myself".
Follow the pavement along the A24 soon to cross over the River Mole at Burford Bridge. After another 100 yards descend and go through the subway to cross under the dual carriageway. Exit the subway to the left and after just a few yards turn right into Westhumble Street and past the aptly named Stepping Stones Pub.
I say aptly named as the North Downs Way crosses the River Mole via stepping stones just 300 yards south of here and a short walk east of the A24. This long distance path however needs to walk north to the subway to cross the road and then as far south again to follow the path through the vineyard.
The historic market town of Dorking is just a mile south of West Humble along the A24. It dates back to at least Roman Times when it is almost certain there was a “Roman Station” or “mansio”, meaning stopping off point, along Stane Street. The town’s name comes from the Saxon “Dorchinges” meaning “the Settlement of the Deorc Family”. It is recorded as this in the Domesday Book of 1086, having one church and three mills. The town centre has retained its historic feel and has lots of royal, literary and artistic connections. Charles Dickens wrote most of his Pickwick Papers whilst staying at the White Horse Hotel and based many characters on people from the town. Composer and song-writer Ralph Vaughn Williams wrote many of his best known works here. A sculpture of the composer stands outside Dorking Halls facing the A25. The Knights Templar and later the Knights of St John had a foothold in the town. Actor Sir Laurence Olivier was born at 26 Wathen Road on 22nd May 1907. Dorking’s emblem is “The Dorking”, a breed of foul which takes its name from the town. It is a rare five toed cockerel which was introduced by the Romans. The roundabout of the A24 / A25 junction in the town is now adorned with an amazing 15 foot tall sculpture of “The Dorking”.
Stay on the lane straight through the Westhumble village for 0.7 miles to Chapel Farm. The lane is narrow so beware of traffic.
To the right after 300 yards is Cleveland Lodge former home of musician Lady Susie Jeans and her astronomer husband Sir James Jeans. On Lady Jeans’ death, in 1993, she bequeathed the house to the Royal School of Church Music, who subsequently used it as their Headquarters from 1996 until 2006, when the school then relocated to Salisbury. Both of its most famous residents are remembered by two blue plaques on the side of the building.
Just after Cleveland Lodge the road crosses over the railway and becomes Chapel Lane. To the left is Boxhill & Westhumble Station. On the right is the timber-framed Chapel of Ease which started life as a barn, but has been converted.
Shortly after the chapel an arch with a blue plaque which remembers this as the entrance to Camilla Cottage. The cottage was built for Fanny Burney (1752 – 1840) in 1797. She often visited William Locke at the nearby Norbury Park. The area had many French émigré at the time as it was just after the French Revolution. On one of these visits she met French General Alexandre D’Arblay, whom she later married on 28th July 1793 at Mickleham Church. Between them they did not have much money and the following year Fanny gave birth to their son. However, just over a year later Fanny’s novel Camilla was published and was popular. Their wealthy friend William Locke gave them a plot at Westhumble to build a home, and with the profits from Camilla they built the cottage. They lived here for four years, by which time England and France had settled a few of their differences and the General returned to France to serve under Napoleon. Fanny and their son followed the General to Paris in 1802, expecting only to stay for a short time. However, war broke out between France and England and she was unable to return until 1812. On her return she found out that her good friend William Locke had died and his son had inherited Norbury Park. The new owner was not as generous as his father and on discovering he still owned the land on which Camilla Cottage was built forced Fanny to sell the property to him at a fraction of its value. Future owners enlarged the cottage and one even had part of the building converted to a museum dedicated to Fanny. Unfortunately it burnt down in 1919 destroying most of the contents. Today a private estate is built on the land.
Chapel Lane climbs as it continues through the village. Within a few hundred yards of leaving the village Chapel Farm is to the right, known so because of the remains of the old chapel just opposite it. The National Trust sign next to chapel ruin states:
“West Humble Chapel …….. Founded at the end of the twelfth century for the use of the villagers of West Humble and desecrated some three centuries later, the remains of this ancient chapel were handed over to the care of the National Trust A.D. 1937.”
The chapel is now a scheduled “Ancient Monument”. Chapel Farm used to be open to the public offering an animal trail and tractor rides. The owners have retired and the farmland is now property of the National Trust with many accessible paths. The farm buildings are still privately owned. The old barn next to the road is Grade 2 listed and the pillar on the farm wall with its red post box seems to be a somewhat later addition.
Immediately after the chapel and opposite the old post box at Chapel Farm turn left to follow a tarmac drive (also a public bridleway) uphill (at 2 miles). After 450 yards follow the tarmac left, ignoring the path straight on. Soon, as the tarmac turns right, go straight on. 170 yards later turn right onto the North Downs Way. This is a stiff climb. However, the views along the top make it all worthwhile. From here the route follows the North Downs Way (NDW) for just over 7 miles to the finish of the stage at West Hanger.
These seven miles make up a really beautiful stretch of our route around London and have many relics of the past and present. There are reminders of the iron-age; of ancient drovers moving their livestock cross-country; of wealthy landowners, merchants and statesmen moving from the urban sprawl of London to the country; of success in business and how to look after your workforce and their families; of abandoned defenses left over from two wars; of quarries from the industrial past and of a local businessman who brought Champagne grapes to Surrey. Some of the scenery, the wildlife, the woodlands, the chalk grasslands and the views are unique. There are many reminders of the great storms which battered the countryside, especially of the Great Storm of 1987 – scars which will remain for years to come, but others are now a plus or have been turned to our advantage.
To the left for the next mile is Denbies’ Vineyard, although at intervals obscured where the path goes through woods. The vines cover an area of 260 acres, making it by far the largest in Britain. Nestled in the middle of the vineyard appears to be a large house, but is in fact the impressive Denbies’ Visitors Centre. In the background Box Hill towers over the valley below. This section of the Mole Valley is known as the Dorking Gap and provides a natural thoroughfare to connect Dorking, by rail and road (A24), to Leatherhead and beyond to the great sprawl of London.
Follow the North Downs Way for a mile to the western most point of the vineyard. Here the path goes through two sets of metal gates, after which turn right for a short distance to reach a road. At the road turn left to follow it past an entrance to the Denbies Estate and for an extra half mile to a T-junction.
The area around us is called Ranmore Common and the next section along the road the route is flat, even and usually very peaceful.
The Denbies’ Estate in total covers and area of 627 acres, 200 acres are woodland and there are 10 estate houses. The name derives from John Denby an early owner of the farm on Ranmore Hill. Denbies Farm is just to the right as we join the road on Ranmore Common.
The farmhouse was purchased by William Wakeford who sold the property in 1754 to Jonathan Tyers. Tyers had made his name by purchasing the lease on Vauxhall Gardens in 1728, which he held for 50 years. He reformed the gardens; added amusements and making them popular with London society. He transformed the farm building at Denbies into a modest Georgian House, which could be regarded as the first 'Denbies' House. After Tyers death in July 1767 the Estate was purchased by the Hon. Peter King. On his death in 1781 his son, Lord King, 6th Baron of Ockham, sold Denbies' to James White of Dorking who, in 1787, sold to Joseph Denison, a London merchant and banker. Denison died in 1806 leaving the property to his son, William Joseph Denison, who later became a Member of Parliament for West Surrey and Speaker to the House of Commons. He enlarged the estate by the purchase of land from the Earl of Verulam and the Duke of Norfolk and created extensive gardens. The estate then passed to Elizabeth, his daughter and heiress. Her son Lord Albert Conyngham (latter Lord Londesborough) inherited Denbies, but in autumn 1850 sold to Thomas Cubitt the great 19th Century building entrepreneur.
Thomas Cubitt was born in 1788 in Buxton, Norfolk into a poor family. His father was a farmer and carpenter. Thomas got a job as a ship’s carpenter. He worked hard for a few years and saved enough money to set up his own carpentry business in London. As the business grew he got into other aspects of building and hired his own men to do the work under his supervision. He respected his workers and during a time where many craftsmen were cheated out of wages, he always paid properly. He looked after their families, providing them with a library and built schools for their children. His employees did not work excessive hours and he provided breaks and refreshments through the day. The respect he gave to his employees was reciprocated and was to work in his favour. Eventually he became one of the great builders of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries - most of his work still stands today. He is responsible for developing many parts of London including major parts of Belgravia, Bloomsbury, Pimlico and properties around Clapham Common. With input from Prince Albert he designed Osborne House on the Isle of Wight for Queen Victoria and built the old east front of Buckingham Palace. His work was done on time and to budget. Queen Victoria was a big fan and after taking ownership of Osborne House, wrote:
“Mr Cubitt has done it admirably. He is such an honest, kind, good man. It seems to me to be like a dream to be here now in our house."
Cubitt’s first introduction to the Surrey Hills was in 1820 when he was commissioned to build the house at Polesden Lacey (now National Trust). He fell in love with the area and 25 years later came back to buy the neighbouring Denbies Estate. He demolished the house built by Tyers and on higher ground, to the south, built a grand Italianate mansion, partly in the design of Osborne and Belgravia. Unfortunately soon after the completion of his dream home he died here in 1855. Denbies was inherited by his oldest son George Cubitt (later 1st Baron Ashcombe). In 1985 the local council erected a statue of Thomas Cubitt on Reigate Road in Dorking.
George Cubitt had the same mentality as his father in looking after his employees. In 1858 he built a school and a school house on the top of Ranmore Common. The following year he commissioned Sir George Gilbert Scott to build a church. In 1874 an infant’s department was added. He even built a dispensary and once a week brought in doctors from the surrounding area to attend to the estate’s employees and their families. By this time the estate had expanded greatly and employed almost 400 workers. George Cubitt died in February 1917 and is buried in the graveyard at Ranmore Common.
His son, Henry Cubitt, 2nd Baron Ashcombe inherited the estate. He was unfortunate to loose his three eldest sons in World War I. There are remembered in a beautiful chapel within the church decorated with murals by Edward Reginald Frampton.
Denbies remained in the ownership of the Cubitt family until World Way II, when it was taken over by the military and used as the headquarters of the Home Guard. In 1953 the mansion was demolished by Roland, 3rd Baron Ashcombe as it had deteriorated and was proving too expensive restore and maintain. Roland’s granddaughter, Camilla, married Prince Charles at Windsor in 2005.
In 1984 the estate was bought by local businessman and engineer Adrian White. He set about restoring all the properties on the estate and looked for ways to put the land to good use. It was another Dorking resident, Richard Selley, Professor of Geology at Imperial College, who suggested planting vines as the geology and climate of the area is similar to that of the Champagne region of France. The vines were planted in 1986 and the first wine produced in 1989. Since then Denbies has won many prizes for its wines and has become one of the top attractions in the south east with almost a third of a million visitors yearly. As well as Denbies’ wines on sale, there is a gift shop, two restaurants, tours of the winery and vineyard, a 360° cinema, conference, party and wedding facilities, a guesthouse, a kitchen garden centre with a range of fresh local produce, and much more. The Denbies Wine Estate website is well laid out and contains a huge amount of information.
In 2004 Professor Richard Selley published a book entitled “The Winelands of Britain”, obviously using his knowledge of geology to write about one of his favourite pastimes.
Just past the entrance to Denbies, is the church built by George Cubitt. St. Barnabas’ is substantial; it is known as "The Church on the North Downs Way" and sits perched high up on the Downs, with its tall spire visible from many miles away, but with no congregation in sight. In the churchyard is the grave of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster (1905 – 1965). He was born in Surrey, educated at Eton and Oxford, and was MP for York and the Cities of London and Westminster. From 1959 until his death he was Speaker of the House of Commons. His wife Baroness Hylton-Foster is buried next to him. There is also a tastefully carved slate memorial to Brenda Olive Swaine (1933 – 1988) a previous bell-ringer.
At its peak, during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the Denbies Estate employed around 400 people. Many lived in the village of Ranmore Common which was scattered around the long green in front of St Barnabas’. There was a village shop, pub, post office and school, but all of these are now private houses. The house on the right near the T-junction was the post office and is aptly named The Old Post Office.
Many centuries before the Romans came to Britain an old track called the Harrow Way ran along the top of Ranmore Common. It formed part of an ancient trackway from Avebury (nr. Stonehenge) to Rochester on the Kent coast.
Today Ranmore Common is a pleasant and peaceful place. It no longer has the feeling of being a vibrant village inhabited by hundreds of residents. Yet perched high on the North Downs it remains popular with ramblers, cyclists, horse riders, scouts and day-trippers in their cars just wanting to get out and enjoy the countryside.
At the T-junction cross straight over road and follow NDW sign through kissing gates. Stay left of a house and after 80 yards turn right behind houses (now at 4 miles into the stage). Follow NDW across the field to go through a gate and into a wood.
The field, crossed by the North Downs Way, mentioned above is named Steers Field, after Chris Steer, one of the two founding members of the Long Distance Walkers Association (LDWA). Steer and Alan Blatchford formed the association in 1972 and since then it has grown dramatically with many local groups through the country.
Steers Field has a picnic area with great views over Dorking, and north of this and a short distance along the road to the right from the T-junction is a parking area which in spring and summer months also has an ice-cream van. The National Trust has created a Denbies Hillside Nature Trail which is two miles long and starts and finishes at the car park.
Just a half of a mile to the north of the car park, and reached by a footpath, is the Tanner’s Hatch Youth Hostel which I will refer back to later in the route.
After Steers Field the route continues along the top of the southern escarpment of the North Downs following the North Downs Way (NDW). Much of it is through woodland, at times with great views to the south where the route opens out. The NDW is marked with “acorn” signs, but to help you at a few points where you could go wrong I’ve added extra instructions below.
5.47 miles, at T-junction of tracks (next to “White Down” notice board) turn left and descend to a gate. Go through the gate and fork right to stay on the NDW. DO NOT CONTINUE DOWNHILL on the main track.
5.6 miles take right fork signed NDW. Do not go straight on along main path.
6.25 miles the NDW descends to a T-junction with a narrow road (White Down Road). Turn right and uphill along the road for about 10 yards then turn left up a track along a sunken valley – apparently the route of another ancient track. After about 90 yards the NDW turns left through more woods and then veers right (now going west) through White Down Lease (National Trust).
6.95 miles go through double kissing gates across Hackhurst Lane and onto Blatchford Down (named after Alan Blatchford the other founder of the Long Distance Walkers Association). After another 50 meters fork right.
Alan Blatchford and Chris Steer met by chance in the early 1970s. They both loved walking in the Surrey Hills. Alan was involved in the Tanners Marathon from its inception in 1960, a long walk from the Tanners Hatch Youth Hostel on Ranmore Common. The walk was popular and by 1972 they decided to form the Long Distance Walkers Association (LDWA). Their idea was to collate information on all long distance walks in the UK. Since the formation of LDWA membership has now grown to over 7,000, with 40 affiliated groups throughout the country. Alan was also formed a running club at the British Aircraft Corporation at Weybridge (later British Aerospace). He was the main force behind forming the MABAC Running League in 1977, and is recognized as one of the people who made running in the UK popular.
Unfortunately Alan Blatchford died suddenly in 1980 at his home in Guildford at the young age of 44. After his death some of his friends got together and collected donations for a suitable memorial. The money raised was given to the National Trust to clear and fence an area of downland, for sheep grazing, and to be called Blatchford Down.
7.08 miles NDW turns right.
7.15 miles NDW goes straight on across bridleway.
7.4 miles follow the NDW straight across Beggar Lane.
The A25 road runs almost parallel to our route at the bottom on the North Downs for most of the way from Otford to West Hanger. At this point it is less than a mile away and some of the picturesque villages along it can be reached by following tracks such as Hackhurst Lane, Beggars Lane and Colekitchen Lane to the left. Hackhurst Lane (crossed at 7 miles into the stage) leads to Abinger Hammer. This was once a centre of the Surrey iron industry, and deriving its name from the ancient hammer pots. The River Tillingbourne flows through the village and forms a number of “hammer ponds” which were once used to power the forges and are now watercress beds. A striking clock overlooking the A25, with a smith at his anvil striking a bell, remembers the iron industry and has the caption “By me you know how fast to go”. A mile south east of here at Abinger Common is where a “Mesolithic Pit Dwelling”, dating back about 7,000 years was discovered in the 1950s and is believed to be the oldest settlement in the England.
Colekitchen Lane leads downhill past Colekitchen Farm to Gomshall, a sleepy village stretched out along both sides of the A25 with its own railway station on the Dorking to Guildford stretch of the North Downs Line. The water mill on the River Tillingbourne dates back to at least the 17th Century and was originally used for making flour - the Domesday Book (1086AD) does mention a mill here. When the mill closed it still kept its water wheel and some of its other working machinery. In the 1990s it was converted to tea rooms and a gift shop. In 2001 it was taken over by Bluebeckers Restaurants and in 2010 became a Home Counties Pub. The original water wheel (there maybe two?) can still be seen turning from inside. Gomshall was also world famous for its tannery industry. This started here in either the 14th or 15th Century. It continued for hundreds of years before finally closing in June 1988. It is remembered by Tanyard Hall which is now the offices of Shere Parish Council. There are historical exhibitions about the Tanning Industry in the Local Museum at Shere and the Guildford Museum.
7.65 miles turn left at barrier (Hackhurst Down noticeboard). After 50 metres turn left to join wide track NDW.
The wide track just joined, as well as being the North Downs Way, is also a much older track named Drove Road an ancient track which was used by herders to move their sheep across country to new grazing and to market.
8.04 miles stay straight on, at Gravelhill Gate, staying on NDW.
9.2 miles and just after Hollister Farm turn right, staying on NDW.
9.3 miles at fork stay straight on past track to your LHS and staying on NDW.
9.45 miles turn right along road for just a few metres to cross over and turn left onto path through woods.
On the right next to the path at 9.5 miles is what looks like a huge concrete bowl in the ground. This of one of many relics in the area left over from the latter stages of World War II, when thousands of troops from the Canadian Army were camped along the Surrey section of the North Downs, in the run up to the Normandy landings of June 1944. The officers and their staff didn’t camp, the commandeered most of the largest house in the area.
9.63 miles cross straight over the road to finish at West Hanger car park.
Below West Hanger car park are the pretty villages of Shere and Albury on the River Tilling Bourne. One mile stroll from the car park to the south west, reached by following the North Downs Way for half a mile and then turning south at the crossroads of tracks, is the romantic and eerie "Silent Pool".
The village of Shere can be reached by following Coombe Lane south for a mile to the A25 and then crossing over and following Chantry Lane and Upper Street to the village centre. A much quicker route is at 10.5 miles (above) and just after Hollister Farm. Turn left onto a track and downhill. The track goes through a tunnel under the A25 and past the local cricket pitch to come out in the centre of the village in just over half a mile from the farm.
Shere is probably the most beautiful in Surrey and one of the best in the UK. It is a real gem, set in the Surrey hills which surround it. The River Tillingbourne is at its best as it flows through the centre of the village. There are two inviting pubs, old houses and a small museum which tell stories of the past. A “well” at the junction of Rectory Lane and Upper Street dates back to 1886 and is 286 feet deep. For many hundreds of years the village was a stopping off point on the Pilgrim’s Way. The Norman Church of St James dates from the 12th Century, but there are records of a Saxon church here from at least 750 AD. In 1329 on the north wall of the chancel an Anchoress’s Cell was built. On the permission of the Bishop of Winchester a local girl named Christine, the daughter of William the Carpenter, was incarcerated in the cell. Her only contact with the outside wall was through a small hole (or squint) through which she could see services and receive food and drink. She remained there for three years, before taking a break, but later returned to live the rest of her life in the cell. The outline of the Anchoress Cell is still visible and is remembered by a plaque. The church lychgate was designed in 1902 by the great British architect Edwin Lutyens (1869 – 1944). He is also responsible for other buildings in the village. In more recent times Shere and St James have been in the news for other reasons. The village is a popular location for film and TV. These include, “A Matter of Life and Death” (1965), “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” (2004) and “The Holiday” (2006). A British science-fiction film “The Earth Dies Screaming” (1965) has more than one connection with Shere. It was filmed at Shepperton Studios and on location at Shere. Mill House Lodge, one of the buildings in the village designed by Edwin Lutyens, appears many times in the film. The musical score for the film was written by his daughter Elizabeth Lutyens (1906 – 1983). In 2008 the village church was in the national news again when St James’ rector Father Charles Lawrence divided his flock, by only letting those who live in the parish marry in the church. You can read how the story was reported at the time in the Telegraph and the Mail Online.
On Time Travel Britain you can read more on the history of Shere and Gomshall as written by Jean E. Bellamy.
Immediately west of Shere is Albury Park which is mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086). There is a Tudor mansion, some houses which once made up an old village and the small Saxon Church of St Peter and Paul. The mansion dates from Tudor times and has a long line of notable owners. In 1784 Captain William Finch, then owner of the park, wanted to enclose it. He obtained court orders to close and re-route roads. He intimidated villagers by enclosing the village green and part of the churchyard. As a result many moved from their houses to a nearby hamlet Weston Street (now the village of Albury). The Duke of Northumberland obtained the park in 1890 and most of the grounds are still owned by this title today. By 1970 the mansion had fallen into a state of disrepair and together with some of the land, was sold to the Country House Association (CHA). They converted much of the mansion to flats, but retained and restored the main reception rooms. The CHA went into liquidation in 2003 and in May 2004 Albury Park Mansion was bought by Nigel & Jennifer Whalley. In buying the mansion they also inherited sitting tenants, many of them living in retirement apartments. With restoration and running costs, by 2008 the Whalley’s were in danger of having their home repossessed, until Channel 4’s “Country House Rescue” came to their aid. You can read the story of their fight to keep hold of the property by converting 33 small flats into 20 larger ones, and using the main rooms for weddings and corporate functions, by visiting the Channel 4 website, or for more history of the place visit the Albury Park Mansion website or Wikipedia..
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Note 1 – from www.visionofbritain.org.uk © University of Portsmouth & Others 2004-8