St Andrew’s Church, Farnham

With heavy rain forecast until late morning we decided to delay our departure from Farnham and attend the 10am Family Communion Service at the parish church. Jane Austen’s brother was curate here before moving to Bentley. William Corbett; farmer, parliamentary reformist and author of Rural Rides, is buried here. The rector and the congregation made us feel very welcome, showing a keen interest in our pilgrimage. Interestingly the organist for the day was the same person we’d met at Holybourne instructing hand bell ringing. After the service we stayed for a brief chat with members of the congregation and the rector David and his wife Catherine, who are both struggling with sick elderly parents.

We left St Andrew’s just as the rain was beginning to ease. We then headed south across the town to the start of the North Downs Way, beside the River Wey and the busy A31. Although the Pilgrims’s Way is not the same as the North Downs Way, they do share paths for quite a lot of the way, according to our guidebook.

Start of the North Downs Way. 153 miles – is that all?

With Greensand under foot (there’s that geologist again!), and brightening weather the walking was most pleasant. A passing cyclist stopped for a chat and told us that he planned to do the Via Francigena (Canterbury to Rome) next year. The Greensand has a very characteristic vegetation and landscape, which reminded of the happy times when we lived in Haslemere, nearby: our first house together.

Passing south of Runfold we came upon the Farnham Golf Club, with its plethora of “private” signs and notices indicating who should park where, and who shouldn’t. Having never been members of anything like a golf club, we sensed a rather unwelcoming ambience and hurried on our way.

At Binton our path became impassable with a wader-deep flood, seemingly caused by a blocked culvert under the road. The detour necessary to circumvent this wasn’t too bad and we were soon back on our path again.

One of the less pleasant aspects of this beautiful Surrey countryside is the proprietorial paranoia exhibited by some land owners. High chain-link fences present an impenetrable barrier to wildlife, and we wonder if the keep-off-my-land notices don’t tell us more about the land owner than about those reading them from the outside. It often makes me think of the countless ordinary people who have lost their lives defending the freedom of this country in the two world wars.

What does this tell us about the person who lives the other side of this fence?

We pressed onward past Cutt Mill Ponds and Puttenham Common, which Tom fondly remembers visiting on days out from prep school in nearby Shackleford. In Puttenham itself we passed the home of a childhood friend, but sadly no one was at home. Tom remembers, with that same friend, scratching an image of the Apollo moon landing on the slate roof. That must have been 1968. We wonder if it is still there!

At the east end of Puttenham village is St John the Baptist Church, but sadly it was locked. Oh dear, there seems to be an increasing number of churches locked on this route.

From Puttenham our route took along the edge of the Heath and under the A3. Here there are the remains of a Roman Villa, so we made a mental note to pay a return visit. We continued eastward passing to the north of the Loseley House and the College of Law at Brabhoeuf Manor, before descending steeply to the River Wey.

River Wey at Shalford

Crossing the river and adjacent nature reserve took us to our day’s destination at Shalford.

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