Winter Walking - Back in Blighty

Mike Patey

Well, we are back in the UK now for the "summer" though still dwelling on fond memories of the fabulous walks taken in our beautiful island of Tenerife.

I plan to keep these articles going but clearly these will be mostly "Summer Walks in Britain". The weather has not been of the best here since we arrived back in March but we have managed to take a few strolls in our area of Surrey, Hampshire and Berkshire. A couple of weeks ago the trails in most cases were extremely wet and muddy but things are now starting to dry out a little. On Tuesday Susan and I decided that, regardless of the cold, we would get ourselves out and keep the cold out by some robust hiking.

Our starting point was the historic Edwardian house and estate of Polesden Lacey, located on the North Downs at Great Bookham, Surrey, the starting point for quite a few useful walks. It is owned and run by the National Trust and is one of the Trust's most popular properties attracting many visitors each year. This Regency house was extensively re-modelled by Margaret Greville, a well-known Edwardian hostess in 1906. Her collection of fine paintings, furniture, porcelain and silver is displayed in the reception rooms and galleries, as it was at the time of her celebrated house parties. The future George VI and Queen Elizabeth spent part of their honeymoon here in 1923. The first house was built here by 1336. Anthony Rous bought the estate in 1630 and rebuilt the medieval house.Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the poet and playwright, bought the property in 1804 and a number of changes have been made between the 1300s and today. There are a couple of cafes available for refreshments either before or after your walk or visit to the house. There is a pay car park available.

The first part of our walk takes us through the edge of the formal gardens down into open fields and eventually a steep climb into woodland. This continues for a couple of miles before crossing a stile and descending through a couple of fields then over another stile on to a road leading to the village of Westhumble. Westhumble is well known as one of the "gateways" to Box Hill, a very popular area for hikers and dog walkers, not forgetting the family post lunch walkers on Sunday afternoons, walking off the Yorkshire Pudding. A few hundred yards down the road and you come to Chapel farm where on your right opposite you will see the ruined chapel, which gives the farm its name. This is the oldest building in the village, of which only the west gable and parts of the east end remain. The chapel was located in the manor of Polesden (centred on Chapel Farm, which is of medieval origin).Reference is made in the Surrey Feet of Fines during the reign of King John, 1199-1216, to "Adam the canon in Fecham and Polesdene". It is thought the chapel was built during the late twelfth or early thirteenth century, used by the villagers, when floods prevented them from reaching the Parish Church in Mickleham.

Six skeletons were found during an archaeological survey in 1937 but these were thought to be from normal burials. Clay cooking pots and jugs dating from around 1300 and a silver penny, from 1544–1547, during the reign of Henry VIII were also found on the site.

From here we turned right to embark on the first part of what is a fairly long but gradual climb to the highest point of the walk. About a quarter of mile further on we meet the North Downs Way, a national path, winding its way from Farnham in the West all the way down to Dover in the South. This path of 153 miles was opened in 1978 and follows the North Downs on a route favoured over the original Pilgrims Way due to better walking conditions.

Progressing onwards on the North Downs Way we find ourselves on the South-Western border of Denbie wine estate, the largest vineyard in England with 265 acres (1.07 km2) under vines. This represents more than 10 per cent of the plantings in the whole of the United Kingdom. It has a visitors' centre attracting 300,000 visitors a year.

Following the tarmac road we eventually came to the highest point of the walk at around 650 ft. in the village of Ranmore, a tiny, attractive hamlet boasting an old schoolhouse and Church, St Barnabas as well as the Old Post Office House now used as a residence. From this point the path was fairly even and meandered Westwards through the woods on Ranmore Common, high above the railway winding from Dorking to Gomshall. As on most of this trail the views between the trees are spectacular on a clear day and at this time of year bluebells and wood anemones are in abundance. A couple of miles into the woods we changed our tack to a Northerly direction, back towards Polesden Lacey. The last stretch is fairly flat with the only hill to climb at the end entering the Polesden Lacey estate. However, heavily used by four wheeled vehicles, the going is rough underfoot and you have to keep your eyes on the road at all times. After climbing the final hill we reached our destination and repaired to the café to reward ourselves with excellent coffee and expensive National Trust cakes.

The route for the trail can be downloaded from Wikiloc here
Difficulty: Moderate. Distance: 8 miles.