Ash Circular via the MOD Ranges walk
Explore the remote Ash Ranges - what Surrey should really look like! (Usually open Bank Holidays only - Check!)
The walk is only available when the Ash/Pirbright firing ranges are open, usually on bank holiday weekends.
This walk goes through the Ash Ranges which are used for live firing exercises and training. They are open to the public for access on foot "when the red flags come down at 4.30pm or firing stops for maintenance". You can enquire about the opening times of the Ash Ranges by calling the Senior Ranges Officer in advance on 01252 325233. Do not enter the danger areas when the red flags are flying or red lamps are displayed.
OS Explorer 145.
Ash station, grid reference SU900508, is located in Surrey.
|Toughness||6 out of 10.|
This walk is largely within the restricted area of the Ash Ranges. It covers some of the same ground as Walks 96 (Ash Vale Circular), 107 (Ash to Brookwood) and 136 (Ash Vale to Worplesdon). Unlike the other walks, it delves more deeply in to this fascinating area, using paths which although generally clear on the ground are not marked (even as tracks) on the OS map - there in only one recognised right of way and that in the first 100 metres!
There are no sustained ascents and the altitude is never above 120 metres, but there are many short sharp climbs, particularly before and after lunch and some of the paths are stony so concentration is needed. The first section through the Ranges (heading North-East) is generally at a lower level (an alternative on easier paths over higher ground would be to follow the start of Walk 107).
You leave the restricted area by the Stoney Castle firing range and negotiate some muddy woodland by Hodge Brook. Your return route across the restricted area (generally South-West) is at a higher level with wider views, and a succession of climbs. The route leaves the restricted area a second time for a late lunch after 15.2 kms at The Swan on the Basingstoke Canal. The afternoon section is relatively short, but again includes some tough climbs – more direct alternatives are possible.
Access to the Ash Ranges is never guaranteed but they are generally open to the public over Bank Holiday weekends. One of the features is the colourful displays of bell heather, so this would be an ideal walk for any of the Bank Holidays in April, May or August.
Note that a fire in April 2015 devestated parts of the Ash Ranges and changed the character of this walk. In particular the references to 'encroaching heather' in Section D no longer apply and these hills now have a darkened appearance, though at least the path is clearer!
|Shortening the Walk||
Many variations are possible, drawing on the directions in the other walks listed above. These include:
|Travel||For the full walk, take the train no later than 09.00 from Waterloo to Guildford, changing for Ash. South West Trains from Waterloo to Guildford via Woking take a minimum of 34 minutes (trains via Effingham Junction take much longer). First Great Western run from Guildford to Reading via Ash every hour on Saturday and every two hours on Sunday (journey time 10 minutes). South West Trains run every half hour on Saturday and every hour on Sunday between Guildford and Ascot via Ash. Buy a return to Ash.|
|Points of interest||
The Ash Ranges site has been owned and managed by the Ministry of Defence since 1854. It covers 977 hectares of lowland heathland, conifer and broad-leaved woodland, mire, scrub and acid grassland supporting a wide range of fauna and flora. The area is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and as a habitat for rare species it forms part of the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area. Under a grazing agreement between the MOD and Surrey Wildlife Trust, 65 Belted Galloway cows have been introduced on to the ranges and 42 goats have been imported from North Wales and Devon. The cattle are able to roam freely across the heathland sites but the dangerous areas on the ranges are restricted and are strictly off limits. Some of them have been fitted with Global Positioning System (GPS) collars which send text messages direct to the Trust’s offices, to assist in tracking their movement across the site. The grazing is part of an overall strategy to preserve the habitat and it also helps to maintain a realistic training environment for the army. For more information see:
The danger areas are used for live firing exercises and training. Ash Ranges danger area is closed only when the red flags or red lamps are displayed. The ranges are open to the public ‘when red flags come down at 4.30pm or firing stops for maintenance’. At all other times Ash range danger area is open to the public for access on foot.
|Lunch||The Swan, 2 Hutton Road, Ash Vale. Tel: (01252) 325212. Canal side pub with large garden and excellent food.|
|Tea||The Lion Brewery, 104 Guildford Road, Ash. Tel: Tel: (01252) 650486. http://www.lionbrewery.co.uk/index.htm|
After the walk, we would love to get your feedback
Out (not a train station)
Back (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline (bus times): 0871 200 22 33 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
Sep-19 Mike Powell
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The directions for this walk are also in a PDF (link above) which you can download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
- A) Ash station to Admiral’s Road (5.7 kilometres)
- At Ash station leave the train from Guildford on platform 2 and cross the line by the level crossing, on to the A323 (Guildford Road). After 40 metres turn right on to a path marked by a green ‘public footpath’ sign on a lamp post, crossing a stone bridge with wooden railings in 20 metres. Initially you have a green wire fence on your left, later the path is enclosed by residential hedges on both sides. This comes out after 400 metres on Harper’s Road, which you cross.
- Take the path opposite in to a recreation ground (note the white building to your left here – this is The Lion Brewery pub, which you may return to for refreshments at the end of the walk) and continue ahead with a scout hut and wire fence on your right for 80 metres. Cross a small bridge with white railings on your left (leaving the public footpath which continues ahead between fields) and follow the right hand side of the recreation ground for 130 metres to a stile which takes you back on to the A323.
- Cross the main road and take Nightingale Road ahead (Indian restaurant on your right) in to a small car park on your left in 80 metres. (!) Take the faint (right hand) path which climbs steadily from the top of the car park, just to the right of the yellow danger signs, and continue parallel with the road, crossing another path in 250 metres. In 100 metres when the houses on your right end you enter a densely wooded area and climb very steeply at the right hand edge of the trees.
- In 100 metres the climb levels out; you cross a path and maintain a Northerly direction through the trees to emerge at an open area. In 150 metres follow a clearer partly paved path to the right. In 400 metres if the red flags are not flying go through the metal gate in to the restricted area of the Ash Ranges and continue ahead on a wide path. You have a wire fence on your left and extensive views to your right. In 140 metres ignore a wooden gate to your left. In 250 metres the fence turns sharply to your left (!) and in 10 metres (Point 1) you leave the main path (and Walk 107) and take a narrow grassy path to the right (120 degrees), descending steeply at first. Guildford is visible on the skyline slightly to the right, with its distinctive modern cathedral.
- In 200 metres the path levels out and starts to turn to the left (90 degrees). The stony path begins to climb. In 180 metres at the top of the climb you merge with a path to your right. In 200 metres you climb again on the heather path. In 120 metres the path levels out again (80 degrees).
- In 250 metres turn left on an obvious wide stony path going uphill (Point 2 – turning right here it is 4.2 kms to Wanborough station: follow the directions in sections 11-13 of Walk 96 in reverse from just after ‘junction E’ as far as Point 9, then the separate directions to the station). In 30 metres you fork to the right on a wide path which soon veers further to the right (40 degrees) and climbs slightly. The grassy undulating path turns to the right, then to the left (20 degrees). In 300 metres you turn further to the right (110 degrees) and go gently downhill. (!) In 250 metres turn sharply to the left (330 degrees) on a wide path, ignoring a path to the right, and continue uphill.
- In 100 metres turn to the right and go downhill again. The path then turns gradually to the left and continues to undulate gently through a succession of right and left turns. In 950 metres the path makes a sharp right turn (40 degrees) through a grassy boggy section.
- In 250 metres you cross an obvious wide path and take the undulating heather path opposite (10 degrees) (Point 3 - turning right here could take you to Worplesdon station in 10.2 kms: follow the ‘alternative ending’ in Walk 136 from below ‘junction B’). In 450 metres turn right on a wide path, then in 50 metres turn left (North) and uphill. In 200 metres turn left on another obvious wide path (Admiral’s Road) (Point 4 - turning right here could take you to Brookwood station in 8.4 kms if you follow the directions in Walk 108 from after ‘junction B’, or if you have followed Walk 107 thus far you can pick up the main walk here).
- B) Admiral’s Road to Stoney Castle firing ranges (2 kilometres)
- In 60 metres turn right on a narrow heather path which climbs very steeply. In 70 metres the path levels out and emerges in the open with excellent views behind. In 100 metres you pass a concrete post to the right of the path and descend steeply.
- In 150 metres turn right (340 degrees) on a wide path. In 100 metres you pass a brick ruin on your right, and a round concrete pillar marked ‘C’ on your left. Fork right at this path junction (North-East), on a clear wide path, at first with a short section of wire fence on your right, then through an open area and slightly uphill.
- In 400 metres you have short pines on your left and later a wood with taller pines. In 150 metres ignore a path leading uphill to your left (Point 5 – NB Following the main walk it is 8.5 kms from here to The Swan and if you intend to take the short cut, you should turn left here, and follow the directions at the end of this section). In 40 metres you pass a brick wall ruin on the right. In 80 metres the path turns to the right, but you go through a wooden gate sign in to woods (30 degrees). In 200 metres leave the woods and turn right on a wide path, downhill.
- In 40 metres turn left, back on your previous path, now with a wire fence to your right (there are frequent blue paint splashes on the wooden posts). Firing range buildings are visible to your left. In 300 metres turn left on tarmac opposite a cattle grid. In 40 metres turn right with the Stoney Castle firing ranges on your left. In 120 metres go to the left of a gate and continue through a grass area and parking place (well to the right of a brick building).
- In 100 metres leave the restricted area by a gate. In 20 metres cross Mytchett Place Road and turn left, facing any traffic.
- For the short cut, turn left at Point 5, uphill and with the fence on your right. In 100 metres fork left, away from the fence. In 45 metres the path turns to the left (240 degrees). In 80 metres take the right fork (West at first). In 220 metres turn left with a fence on your right and re-join the main route below at Point 6.
- C) Stoney Castle to Mytchett Place Road (1.6 kilometres)
- In 60 metres you pass a house entrance (Furzehill Place) and in 100 metres you pass yellow danger signs, both on the right of the road. In 40 metres you pass opposite the first of a line of telegraph poles on the other side of the road. In 150 metres you pass opposite the fourth telegraph pole (which has the number 16 at head height). (!) 5 metres after this, take a faint unmarked path to the right, which takes you in to the muddy woods and gradually away from the road. In 150 metres you enter denser woods (250 degrees).
- In 120 metres at the top of a rise you pass some fallen concrete pillars and go downhill. In 25 metres turn right (North) and downhill at a T-junction. In 20 metres you pass a tree which has an arrow and number 9 painted on it. In 80 metres you cross a basic wooden plank bridge over Hodge Brook (or make use of the ropes to the right). The path goes uphill and in 80 metres you emerge in the open and turn left to follow the edge of the cut grass round to the right.
- In 150 metres you go through a car park and in 25 metres turn left on the busy Gapemouth Road, with a railway line to your right. In 80 metres ignore a road to your right (which goes under the railway). In 120 metres by yellow danger signs on the left, take a path downhill through the woods. Ignore a path on your left in 80 metres and start to climb (200 degrees). In 120 metres go straight ahead (210 degrees) at a cross paths where there are several trees with painted arrows. In 70 metres, where the main path turns slightly to the left and starts to climb steeply, you take a narrow path to the right (if you miss this path, stay on the main path to the top of the climb then turn right, parallel with the road). Climb towards the back of a road sign, visible ahead (actually another danger sign).
- Near the top of the climb, fork to the right to come out in 120 metres to the right of the danger signs, at the right end of a small car park. Turn right in 20 metres, back on Mytchett Place Road.
- D) Mytchett Place Road to Furze Hill (4.3 kilometres)
- In 200 metres, at the next road junction, turn left by more danger signs (this point is identified as Fire Access Point 20). In 10 metres go round a barrier and in 20 metres go through a gate back in to the restricted area and take the heather path ahead, to the right of warning signs (200 degrees). The path soon turns to the left and descends steadily.
- In 400 metres you go through a boggy area then climb again. In 200 metres go through a wooden gate and turn right (240 degrees), with a wire fence featuring more blue splashes on your right. In 150 metres turn right (West) at the corner of the fence.
- In 60 metres you merge with a path on your left (Point 6 - the short cut rejoins you here) and continue uphill on a grassy path. In 250 metres the path turns to the left, away from the fence, and climbs more steeply. In 100 metres ignore a path to the left and climb even more steeply (named on the map as Emperor’s Hill)! In 150 metres the path finally levels out with fine views behind you.
- In 250 metres you reach the corner of a wire fence on your right, with warning signs about shotgun firing. In 300 metres turn right on an obvious wide path, still with the fence on your right and soon with a metal gate visible ahead. In 250 metres take the path to the left (240 degrees), opposite the corner of the fence and a wooden gate (set back). Continue on a generally level path through heather and gorse, with the perimeter fence and railway line visible below to your right. There is a look-out tower above you to the left and (in 2015) you pass a burnt-out vehicle. In 550 metres the path turns slightly to the left to avoid a hillock ahead.
- In 60 metres you pass to the left of a rusty sign warning about underground electrical cabling. The path descends and in 70 metres you pass a second rusty sign. In 10 metres you cross an obvious wide path and take the stony path opposite, passing a brick shelter on your right in 40 metres. The path climbs steadily through gorse and heather, sometimes encroaching on the path. In 260 metres at the top of the climb (named on the map as Spur Hill) there are excellent views in all directions, including the Keogh Barracks ahead to your right.
- Continue ahead (240 degrees) and descend very steeply. In 150 metres you cross a path (there are two more tough climbs ahead – if you wish to avoid these turn right here, then left on the main path which runs alongside the perimeter fence, go round the gate which is below the flagpole on the top of Furze Hill, to resume the directions at the start of the next section). You now start to climb up Play Hill (according to the map). Higher up you climb steeply through the encroaching heather. In 300 metres the path levels out and you cross an open area, with a concrete post on your left and the barracks now directly below on your right.
- In 100 metres the main heather path turns to the left but you continue steeply downhill on a stony path. In 160 metres you start the last climb before lunch, aiming just to the left of a flagpole visible above you. Again the path is covered with heather and gorse in places. In 200 metres fork right at the top of the climb (Furze Hill), directly towards the flagpole (or continue to the obvious path ahead and turn right to the flagpole, or if you do not intend to visit the Swan turn left, away from the flagpole and resume the walk at the point marked * in the next but one section). In 30 metres you reach an obvious path and pass the flagpole (note this point as you will be returning this way after lunch). Either go down the narrow gap to the right of the fence to go round the gate out of the restricted area in 20 metres, or follow the path round to the right then to the left.
- E) In search of lunch (2.7 kilometres)
- You are now following the last part of Walk 96. Continue on a tree lined path, with a hexagonal concrete bunker and electricity sub-station by the path in 150 metres and a private railway bridge to the barracks visible on your right, after which the path is tarmac. After 450 metres you reach a tarmac drive and turn right for 200 metres, taking the rail/footbridge over the Basingstoke Canal to the Ash Vale station car park (if you do not intend to complete the walk, you can get a train from here, before or after lunch).
- Descend left to the canal towpath and turn right, with the canal on your left. In 420 metres you pass opposite some army huts (you will be coming back that way after lunch) and in another 380 metres cross over the next bridge by the steps (Heathvale Bridge Road) to find The Swan on your right in 50 metres.
- If you do not wish to complete the full walk after lunch you have three options:
- Retrace your steps along the Basingstoke Canal and turn left to Ash Vale station for a train.
- Continue on the main walk to Point 7 below, then to Ash Vale station
- ('the short cut') Return to the canal towpath and continue with the canal on your left as far as the next bridge at Ash Wharf. You re-join the main route at Point 8 – follow the directions as set out immediately below. The distance from the Swan to Ash station is 2.7 kms.
- For the short cut, descend the steps to the canal again and turn right to follow the canal towpath South for 1.1 kms. Leave the canal at the next bridge and take Ash Hill Road (B3411) to your left for 180 metres, over the canal at Ash Wharf and across a roundabout (on your left are Wharf Road and Budgens supermarket). Immediately after the former Standard of England pub on the left, you enter a recreation ground. Cross the recreation ground half left to climb a grass bank diagonally opposite after 120 metres and go through a metal barrier on your left, then take the path to your right, through another metal barrier. Pass to the left of tennis courts, then a wire fenced enclosure. Keep left at the next path junction after 250 metres and stay on this ascending path for another 150 metres until you reach a path crossroads (there are three low level plastic signs on your right, marking underground cabling). (!) Turn right to follow the main route from Point 8.
- For the main route, turn right from The Swan and in 15 metres take the path on your left, to the left of a wooden paling fence and white buildings (you are now following the start of Walk 96 in reverse). In 20 metres fork left, away from the fence and in to woods. In 200 metres turn left at a yellow danger sign and follow the path alongside the perimeter fence, towards the canal with huts on your right. The path leads away from the canal to the right, then turns left. In 230 metres the path veers to the left, away from the perimeter fence. In 80 metres you go over a plank bridge. (!) In 70 metres step over the ditch to your right, towards a metal gate visible ahead, leaving Walk 96 (Point 7 - if you miss this path or in very wet conditions, fork right at the next opportunity and right again on tarmac to the metal gate, or for Ash Vale station stay on the main path, turn left on tarmac and continue over the canal bridge to the station car park).
- In 30 metres fork left, off the main path and cross a tarmac path in 20 metres, just to the left of the metal gate. There are many paths through the next section, but you cannot go seriously astray if you keep going uphill – if you veer to the left you will come out on the path you took earlier leading to the canal, if you veer to the right you can walk beside the perimeter fence. Take the narrow path immediately opposite, back in to the woods. It turns to the left then to the right, merging with a more obvious path on your right in 40 metres. Continue uphill and gradually heading away from the perimeter fence. In 50 metres you cross another narrow path. (!) in 15 metres take a narrow path which forks to the right (15 degrees) – if you miss this turning, turn right at the next cross paths (the bunker and private railway bridge are visible to the left here) then left and uphill again. In 70 metres you cross a path and start to climb very steeply (for an easier option, turn left here and shortly return to the concrete bunker, then turn right and re-trace your steps to the gate you went round before lunch). In 150 metres at the top of the climb you come out by the perimeter fence. Follow the fence round to the left, past the flagpole you saw earlier, and in 100 metres down to the metal gate in to the restricted area.
- F) Furze Hill to Rifle Range No. 4 (3.3 kilometres)
- Go through the gate again and retrace your steps to the flagpole. In 15 metres *turn left opposite a cattle grid and danger signs, with a wire fence to your right. In 420 metres the wire fence turns to the right (South) but you stay on the main path (for a slightly longer walk with better views, follow the fence through several turns to re-join the main path and the main route in 500 metres as indicated immediately below).
- In 400 metres the fence returns to the main path – you now follow the fence for 1.7 kilometres, through numerous turns and testing climbs and descents. In 120 metres turn right again (150 degrees), leaving the main path. In 60 metres ignore a gate to your right and continue following the fence (160 degrees), which now has both blue and yellow splashes. The heather path turns to the left (East) in 80 metres, right (190 degrees) in 40 metres and right again (West) in 50 metres. In 40 metres turn left (210 degrees) and downhill. In 200 metres, after the foot of the descent, ignore a wooden gate to the right, cross a path and start to climb again. There are now green splashes on the fence among the blue and yellow!
- In 25 metres turn right, then in 50 metres further to the right (250 degrees), still climbing. In 200 metres turn very sharply to the left, almost doubling back (South-East). In 100 metres turn right (South-West) and very steeply downhill. In 100 metres you begin climbing again. In 150 metres the path levels out. In 50 metres you turn right (North-West) and start another very steep downhill section – care is needed on this stony descent.
- In 60 metres at the foot of the descent turn left (South-West) and uphill opposite a wooden gate. In 100 metres the path levels out and you turn half-right, then in 35 metres to the left (South-East). In 100 metres ignore a wooden gate to your right and in 150 metres turn shaply to the left. In 100 metres you finally leave the fence, which turns to the right. In 60 metres your path turns to the left, then in 100 metres slightly to the right (South). In 35 metres turn to the left again. In 80 metres another path merges from the left and you turn to the right, then start a wide turn to the left.
- (!) In 50 metres you take a narrow path to the right (190 degrees), through the heather and towards a wood. If you miss this path, continue until a junction with an obvious wide path – the path you were on when you first entered the restricted area – turn right then right again alongside a fence until you reach the gate marked * below. In 100 metres the path turns to the left, following the edge of the woods. In 250 metres go through a wooden gate* notice and continue ahead (South).
- G) Rifle Range No. 4 to Ash station (2.4 kilometres)
- The line of the path is clear but it can become overgrown with gorse and bracken. Visible through the trees to your right are a line of black rectangular firing targets.
- In 250 metres you reach a cross paths (the wooden gate visible to your left is the gate you passed when you first entered the restricted area). Turn right (240 degrees) and in 70 metres you have a ditch on your right and there is a black hut beyond it. In 60 metres there is a brick building to your right and you can see the numbered targets behind on your right.
- Continue downhill through a narrow strip of woodland, keeping close to the ditch on your right with grass beyond and higher ground on your left. The path gradually levels out and becomes less densely wooded. Eventually you will see the perimeter fence to your left and in 700 metres you turn left, aiming for a gap just to the left of a flagpole.
- In 35 metres turn right on tarmac, passing the flagpole to leave the restricted area by a metal gate in 35 metres, then immediately turn left and in 20 metres you continue past the corner of the fence on a wide path, slightly uphill. In 140 metres ignore a wide path to your left. Your path levels out and in 200 metres you continue ahead at a cross paths (with markers for underground cabling to your right at this junction), again following Walk 96 (Point 8 – the direct route from the Swan rejoins you here). The path goes gently downhill, then levels out.
- In 150 metres the path turns slightly to the right, by an isolated tree on the right of the path and climbs slightly. (!) In 60 metres, at the top of the little rise, there is a path leading steeply uphill to the left, before the main path starts to turn to the left. Leave Walk 96 here, taking a faint path down through the trees on your right (just after this turning there is a distinctive waist high tree stump with three shoots,but if you miss the turning or if you wish to visit the Lion Brewery for refreshments, stay on the main path and follow the directions from * below).
- In 120 metres turn right on a level straight path. In 60 metres turn left at a T-junction, winding your way under overhanging holly buses and over tree roots. In 60 metres step carefully down to the road (Fox Hill Lane) by another warning sign. Cross the main road (B3411) and turn left on the pavement. In 200 metres continue ahead, now on the Guildford Road (A323). In 120 metres ignore Chester Road on the right to reach Ash station in 80 metres. Trains for Guildford depart from Platform One on the near side.
- [*] In 90 metres, at a complex path junction, either turn right to resume the main walk directions or continue ahead (ignoring two paths to your left) for the Lion Brewery. In 200 metres, just after a large house visible from the path, take a path to the right, with a residential fence to your right. The white pub building is already visible ahead. In 160 metres, cross the A323 to the Lion Brewery. From the pub, either turn left on the main road and left again to Ash station, or turn right on Harper’s Road and re-trace the start of the main walk by taking the path on your right after the first group of houses or follow the recreation ground parallel with Harper’s Road. It is approximately 600 metres from the Lion Brewery to Ash station.