With heavy rain forecast until early afternoon, we decided to delay our departure and opted for a short day as far as Gomshall. Goodness, what wimps we are becoming!
The weather forecast turned out to be accurate and by 1400 the rain started to ease. We set off from Shalford, climbing quickly up onto the Greensand ridge. Although they call it the North Downs Way, the chalk ridge, with which one normally associates the term North Downs, actually lies further to the north.
The next summit St Martha’s Hill is the highest point on our walk so far. At 175m (575ft) it beats the previous high point at Farley Mount, west of Winchester, by one metre! From St Martha’s there are panoramic views to the south and west. With the help of an orientation table, we could just see Chanctonbury Ring on the South Downs through the murk, above where Tom’s parents used to live.
Right on the summit is St Martha’s Church. Although there has been a church here since the 12th century, it fell into disrepair. It was rebuilt in 1850 incorporating many of the original 12th century features. Sadly it was locked and we were unable to gain access. This is particularly disappointing as it is understood to have been originally built as a beacon to assist pilgrim travellers between Winchester and Canterbury Cathedrals. Tom emailed the parish administrator politely expressing our disappointment at this. He had since received a kind offer to open it up if we call ahead at some future date. We shall take this up.
Descending eastwards off St Martha’s Hill, we reached the first point of divergence of the Pilgrims’ Way from the North Downs Way, which heads north and onto the chalk ridge proper. Instead our route continued along the Greensand ridge, north of Albury, before descending to cross the Tillingbourne in the village of Shere. Here we passed the Old Prison House.
On the east side of the village of Shere lies St James’ Church, which we found open and went inside. As the day was running out we couldn’t afford to linger, so after a brief look around and an unsuccessful call to find a pilgrim stamp, we headed off for Gomshall, our destination for the day.