Shake off your thoughts of a lazy bank holiday lie-in, and head slightly south of London, led by the lovely Alana, brunch buddy, Santa Con veteran, Tweep corraller and in this instance intrepid Kiwi reporter presenting from the British frontline for us!
Guildford Circular Walk
April and May have a glorious cluster of Bank Holiday long weekends. Normally I’d be using the extra annual leave days to travel to somewhere in Europe – but so far 2014 has been about keeping it local (if you ignore my visit to New Zealand, it’s ‘local’ if it’s your homeland after all!)
With quite a lot of enthusiasm – a term not usually associated with early on a weekend – I’ve been leaping out of bed and getting on a train to explore the countryside. London on a fine day is beautiful – but the outskirts of London are just as glorious when the sun is upon them.
Early on a Saturday morning I stepped off a train in Guildford and headed off for a walking adventure. A short walk from the station is the River Wey, which I followed south for while before heading uphill to Pewly Down. By 9am I was walking across the downs with only the occasional dogwalker for company – bliss! I kept heading west across the across the downs and along country lanes to the Newlands Corner Visitors Centre, arriving at exactly coffee o’clock. If people watching is your thing then this is the place for you. From motocyclists and tweed clad dog walkers to MAMILS (middle aged men in lycra) – all of them stop here for a restorative cup of tea and a bacon sandwich.
Freshly caffeinated I doubled back to Guildford Lane and headed to Lidwell Corpse. Following the roadside footpath I spotted something I’d intended to see since I moved to this part of the world three years ago: wild English bluebells. Excited I dived off the footpath and started photographing and Instagramming like an excited tourist on the London Eye. You may’ve seen bluebells in London gardens – but chances are these are the Spanish version. The English variety only grows in woodland, is of a more delicate build and the end of the flower spike droops in a delicate downwards U shape. They’re also a protected species – you’re not allowed to pick them (as much as you may want to take them home with you).
Buoyed with bluebell induced happiness I carried on walking and less than half a mile later I came of the brow of a hill and discovered… even more bluebells. AND to my increasing excitement these ones were even better than the last lot! Another frenzy of photography and fragrance inhalation ensued before I retired to eat my lunch overlooking a farmers field.
From here it was downhill via bridleways and footpaths across the south side of Pewly Down. I had a vague idea of where I was going using a combination of a walk I had found on EveryTrail and checking my position and direction using Google Maps. Who needs paper maps when you have mobile reception eh?
As I was leaving the woods and heading towards open fields what should I discover – but yet more bluebells. By this point I’d decided the bluebells were having a joke. Yes I was still excited to see them, but I wasn’t going to let them know it!
I headed back towards the river – past the Shalford Mill, across wetlands and finally meeting the River Wey again at St Catherine’s Locks. From there it’s a casual walk along the towpaths towards Guildford.
I stopped for an early afternoon pint and a rest at Ye Old Ship Inn – walking is thirsty work after all. Near the pub are the ruins of St Catherine’s Chapel. For some reason I neglected to see it – I blame the distraction that is beer. From here it’s a quick walk along the river to Guildford and a train home.
Overall the walk took about 5 hours and I’d guess it’s about 9-10 miles – if you walk it yourself and measure the distance I’d love to know for sure. If you’re looking for an extra challenge consider heading west from Ye Old Ship Inn and also completing this walking trail, before heading back to Guildford. I didn’t think it was as picturesque (mainly the last part where you shadow the A31) but it’s still a great opportunity to walk along the edge of farmers fields and add a few extra miles to your count for the day.
Circular walk from Guildford station
1 – Guildford
2 – Stopped following the river and headed west/uphill through the residential streets
3 – Pewly Down
4 – Newlands Corner Visitors Centre
5 – My first ever bluebells
6 – Even better bluebells
7 – Church of St Martha-on-the-Hill
8 – More bluebells
9 – St Catherine’s Lock
10 – St Catherine’s Chapel
11 – Ye Old Ship Inn
Stunning views, and no airport queues! Thank you Alana, you are a legend.