Adventures on the Surrey Heathlands
Guildford to Farnham: 22.2km (13.8 miles)
Guildford Circular: 13.4km (8.3 miles)
Farnham Circular: 16.2km (10.1 miles
|Toughness||2 out of 10 (6 out of 10 for the Hog's Back start)|
|Maps||OS Landranger Map No 186. OS Explorer Map No 145|
Think Surrey, and you probably think of pretty villages, gentle green pastures, and the country houses of retired stockbrokers. The first part of this walk conforms to that image, but the second, after lunch, takes you into the suprisingly wild and uninhabited Surrey heathlands - a vast area of woods and heather-covered moors which is particularly colourful from late July to early September when the heather is in bloom.
The lack of habitation in this area means that it was either taken over by the army for exercises or bypassed by the railways, and so to visit it requires a long walk: the afternoon of this walk is 13.3 km (8.3 miles): this is thus a walk for a long spring or summer day. It is quite a good idea to bring some refreshments with you to break up the afternoon: otherwise, there are late tea options in Farnham.
a) Guildford Circular: This walk does not go near the heaths, but it makes a pleasant shorter outing from Guildford, with the interesting Watts Gallery and Chapel or Loseley Park as its focus. This route is 13.4km (8.3 miles).
It is also possible to use part of the Guildford Circular route to stay on the North Downs Way as far as Watts Gallery on the main walk. This is less scenic than the recommended route via Loseley Park but more straightforward, 500 metres shorter, and less muddy in winter.
b) Alternative start via the Hog's Back: This is an alternative start to either the main walk or the Guildford circular walk via the dramatic ridge of the Hog’s Back (the small part of it not occupied by the A31 dual carriageway), with magnificent views both to the north and south. It is 1km (0.6 miles) shorter than the main walk route, but more strenuous.
c) Farnham Circular: This option follows the morning of the Farnham to Godalming walk on this website as far as its lunch pub, the Donkey in Charleshill, and then uses the latter part of this walk to return to Farnham. This creates a nicely contrasted walk, following a pretty valley in the morning and across wooded heathland in the afternoon. In all this walk is 16.2km (10.1 miles).
Four trains an hour run between Waterloo and Guildford, taking 38 minutes. Be sure to get the fast trains via Woking not the slower stopping services via Effingham Junction or Clandon.
Take the train nearest to 9.40am from Waterloo to get to lunch at the right time. Buy a day return to Farnham, which is also valid for the outward journey via Guildford.
If doing the Guildford Circular walk take the train nearest to 10.40am.
From Farnham two trains an hour run back to Waterloo (one an hour on Sundays: journey time 51-59 minutes).
Still a family residence, Loseley Park (01483 304440) was built in 1562 by Sir William More and is considered a fine example of Elizabethan architecture. Its attractions include paintings, tapestries and panelling from Henry VIII's now lost Nonesuch Palace, and a beautifully restored walled garden. The famous Loseley Park ice cream brand also originated here, and is on sale in the house's shop, though the product is now manufactured elsewhere. The house is open (2019) Sunday to Thursday 11am to 5pm in May, June and July.
Watts Gallery (01483 810235) exhibits the paintings of 19th century painter and sculptor George Frederick Watts, who has - somewhat fancifully - been described as "England's Michelangelo". Contemporary with the pre-Raphaelites, the paintings have a similar character to them. It is open Tuesday to Sunday and bank holidays from 11am to 5pm March to October and 10am to 4pm November to February
Watts Chapel was the project of Watt's second wife, Mary, who designed this Celtic, Byzantine art nouveau masterpiece without architectural or building experience. Much of the work was done by local villagers. Every interior surface is covered with what Mrs Watts called "glorified wallpaper" - angels and seraphs made out of gesso, a material which her husband used when rheumatism meant he could no longer handle wet clay. The painter himself is buried in the cloister behind the chapel
The Surrey Heaths are not as natural as they look, nor as extensive as they used to be. Based on the sandy Greensand soils, they are in fact an ancient man-made habitat created by rural communities over many generations of grazing and wood cutting. With the decline in the grazing of animals on the heaths in the last century, the woodland has gradually started to re-occupy the heaths. Puttenham Common is now actively managed to preserve its unique habitat for plants and animals.
Watts Gallery tea shop in Compton (01483 813590), located 6.2km (3.8 miles) into the main walk and 5.7km (3.5 miles) into the Guildford Circular, serves a range of light meals (including vegan options) from 12-4pm daily, with sandwiches and cakes served 10.30am to 5pm.
The Good Intent in Puttenham, (01483 810387), located 8.9km (5.6 miles) into the main walk, is the suggested lunch pub for that walk. It has a simple menu of pub classics and a small garden, well-hidden out the back. It does not do food on Mondays (though is open 12-3pm for drinks), but serves food Tuesday to Friday 12-2pm, Saturday 12-2.30pm and Sunday to 3pm. Drinks are also served all afternoon at weekends.
Just before the Good Intent, with a wider menu including vegetarian and vegan options, but perhaps less character, is the Jolly Farmer (01483 810374), a Harvester chain pub which serves food all afternoon daily.
The Withies Inn in Compton (01483 421158 www.thewithiesinn.com) is an excellent and friendly rural pub serving bar food and more formal meals, with both inside and outside seating. Situated 7.2km (4.5 miles) into the Guildford circular walk, it is the suggested lunch stop for this walk. It serves food 12-2pm in its restaurant daily and from 12-2.30pm Monday to Thursday and 12-3pm Friday to Sunday in its bar. It is open all afternoon for drinks Wednesday to Saturday, but closed 3pm to 6pm Monday and Tuesday and after 4pm on Sundays.
Picnics: On the main walk, the best place is on Puttenham Common at the place indicated in paragraph 88 on page 8 in the walk directions. Loseley Park, early in the main walk, also has a picnic area by its lake (see paragraph 23 on page 4 - also paragraph 150 on page 11-12 of the Guildford circular). On the Farnham circular walk a possible picnic spot is the green in the village of Tisbury.
The Mulberry, the pub by Farnham station serves tea and coffee well into the evening, but it becomes a party and sports pub on Friday and Saturday evenings. Quieter pub options nearby include The Lamb and William Cobbett on the other side of the A31. Or if you cross the main road and carry on down the main road on the other side into central Farnham the Bush Hotel is a potential tea option, and the town's high street has other pubs.
On the Guildford Circular walk Loseley Park (01483 304 440 www.loseleypark.co.uk), 8.3km (5.1 miles) into the walk, has an open air Mulberry Tea Lawn. You have to pay a £7.50 admission charge (2019 prices) to the gardens at this stately home to access it, however, and the gardens (well worth a visit) are only open (2019) Sunday to Thursday 11am to 5pm in May, June and July. Otherwise Guildford has lots of options, but a surprisingly nice choice is the self-service restaurant of Debenhams, which has an excellent selection of cakes, a beautiful view overlooking the River Wey and an outside terrace. It is open during store hours, which are till 6pm Monday to Saturday and 5pm Sunday. For other options, explore up the town’s picturesque high street, or as a backstop, there is a decent-sized and quite pleasant Costa Coffee at Guildford station that opens well into the evening.
An earlier version of this walk was published in Time Out Country Walks near London volume 2. We now recommend using this online version as the book is now dated.
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Out (not a train station)
Back (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline SE (bus times): 0871 200 2233 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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Full directions for this walk are in a PDF file (link above) which you can print, or download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
This is just the introduction. This walk's detailed directions are in a PDF available from wwww.walkingclub.org.uk