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Jay Walking

North Downs Way: Farnham to Gomshall

A week after finishing the St Swithins Way I was back at Farnham to start walking the North Downs Way, I’d taken the 7:24 am train from Waterloo arriving at Farnham around 8:30 am. The conductor on the train had noticed my map and had told to me about walks he’d done around the North Downs, letting me know what the best pubs where on each of those routes. He recommended a pub in Puttenham about 8 kilometres into along the North Downs Way, but I’d probably be there far too early to have a drink. The weather forecast was not good and before I’d left the train I’d put on my waterproof and put my maps in a waterproof case, this proved to be a good move as it was already raining as I left the station and headed to the start a few 100 metres from the station.

The start of the North Downs Way is just down the road from Farnham station on the A31 and is marked by a sculpture, added in 2015, replacing the previous notice board and signpost. It is a metal sculpture with cuts outs describing the shape of two walkers and a butterfly, inspiring or depressing walkers with some text showing the distance to Dover as 153 miles. Though this distance is in fact wrong it is 131 miles to Dover via the southern leg. It appears that a few new sculptures having been added along the route and more will be added next year (2022). Having the start next to a major road is somewhat appropriate as for many sections of this walk you can hear the sound of cars on the M25 or other roads, though I’ve never found this to be a major distraction or to lessen the enjoyment.

North Downs Way starting sculpture of two walkers and a butterfly
Tunnel under the train line

Setting off along the road the route quickly heads off along a tree lined track, passing a few houses, the weather is not too pleasant, it’s cold and raining slowly and I have to pause to put on my gloves. Fairly soon there is a small river (a branch of the River Wey) to the left of the track and after going through a tunnel under the railway line the route enters some woodland. At the start of this woodland there is a carved bench, one of two commissioned carved benches, the carving on this one representing a Bee orchid (a flower that mimics a female bee).

Bench with a carving of the Bee orchid on it
Autumn leaves covering a path though some woodland

A little distance further on I managed to take a wrong turn, guessing rather than using my compass and checking the map. Annoyed with myself I went along checking the map a little better or so I thought. Thinking to walk uphill on a small road, I spotted a way marker indicate the route went to the right. A kilometre later checking the map made me realise I was in the wrong spot, I’d managed to get on the Greensand Way. I backtracked to the way marker to discover I’d missed a hidden way marker that directed walkers uphill, the direction I’d been heading. Even more annoyed with myself I got on to the correct path, heading along the road and then following a field boundary before entering a small woodland full of autumnal colours.

After more woodland walking followed by some more road walking past a golf course, I met my first group of walkers, maybe around 6 of them coming my way. They went past me and I headed on to my first view of the Hogback, though previous to this I’d been pleasantly greeted by a young Labrador who seemed inordinately pleased to see me. I stopped here to have coffee (I’d brought a new Stanley flask for this purpose) and to have a sandwich, the day seemed to be improving, it had stopped raining though was still overcast. The hogback is a 7km long chalk ridge, mainly used by the A31, which continues all the way to Guildford, it also gives its name to the Hogback Brewery located nearby. It marks the first time that the chalk comes into view on the North Down Ways though the route does not meet the chalk till later in the day.

John the Baptist church in Puttenham
side view of John the Baptist church

After a couple of kilometres of walking through woods and across fields, the I passed through the small village of Puttenham. One nicely done up old cottage had the name The Old Forge, I think this must have been the 6th or 7th time that I’d seen a cottage with this name this summer, better than the odd names that some people choose such as Dunroamin. I didn’t go to the village pub, despite the recommendation from the train conductor, but after a short walk southwards along Hook Lane, headed off across Puttenham Heath past another golf course. To be honest, I’m a little fed up with golf courses, there seems to be hundreds of them on the various walks I’ve done, the London Loop is littered with them. They are often hard to find your way across either badly signposted or you have to cross the links occasionally pissing off some of the golfers, a couple I greeted on the London Loop were really surly towards me. Still no such problems at this course, the route passed to the south of it along a wide bridleway so it was easy to follow the route, which passed under the A3 before reaching a small road named Down Lane where the Watt Gallery is located.

Acorn sign painted on the road near the Watts gallery

The Watts Gallery is an artist village dedicated to the Victorian painter and sculptor George Frederic Watts, I was not heading for the gallery but it’s cafe, which I had pleasant memories from my first walk along here. The cafe was quite busy with some cyclists, a few walkers but mostly gallery visitors. I ordered a tea and a scone and looked at the map, glad to be out of the drizzle which had just started. The cafe had been upgraded since I was last here, before it had been a barn like structure with exposed beams and rickety tables and chairs, it now reminded me of some expensive yoga studios I’d visited, nicely done but lacking in character, looking like many other similar places.

Heading off again, along though fields and wood, I once again made a navigation error, heading off toward three radio masts on the chalk ridge. I think this was because I’d gone this way before as I had gone to visit a friend who had moved to Guildford (and because I didn’t keep an eye on the map). After realising my error I plotted a route that would get me back on course and soon found myself back on course and heading for the River Wey, meeting an energetic and friendly black Labrador who managed to put his muddy paws everywhere including my map case.

Bridge over the River Wey near Guildford

After the crossing the river the path continues through a park and then along a road before heading along a trackway through Chantries wood for a few kilometres. After crossing a small road there is a short and steep climb up St Martha’s Hill to St Martha’s Church which stands atop the Greensand Ridge. The church is only reachable on foot but is still popular as wedding venue and offers great views to the south, it was originally built in the 12th century but had been rebuilt in the 18th century. I stopped here for a while, to have a sandwich and a coffee but the cold wind soon forced me to move on.

Side view of St Marthas church
View south from St Marthas church
Faced carved in a swede left at St Marthas church
North Downs Way joining the chalk at Newlands Corner

From St Martha’s hill it’s a short descent down from the Greensand, then an ascent up to the chalk ridge and on to Newlands Corner. This is the first place where the route meets the chalk and the scenery is typical of the that found on the North Downs, with large areas of grasslands on the chalk escarpment. The views here were really great but I didn’t stopped except to pet 3 very happy labradors who insisted on saying hello, chatting to their owner for a bit. Near the visitor centre and it’s car park, the area became quite busy with people enjoying the views or walking their dogs. Near the visitor centre there is a large wooden sculpture, one of the surrey hills logo sculptures, which are found at various locations throughout Surrey

View south from Newlands Corner looking over Surrey
Surrey hills logo wooden sculptures

After crossing the busy road, the route heads along the ridge along the Drove Road for a few kilometres, mainly though woodlands. There was on one else along this part of the route apart from one or two walkers, the wood was quite dark and the path quite muddy, though there were occasional views to the south. The only signs of life were passing a farm with some stables and lots of wood logs stacked along the path, each with warnings not to climb on them. It was quite gloomy walking through these woodlands, the overcast weather and the closeness of the trees making it feel quite dark. I continued along until I reached the turn off to get to the village of Gomshall, heading down Beggars Lane, stepping aside to allow 5 motorbikes to pass me before heading to the railway station to find that there was no train for over an hour and a half. I headed into the village, found a pub and had beer, before deciding that I couldn’t be bothered to wait for the train and ordered up a cab to take me to the station in Dorking.

View from the downs near the village of Gomshall

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