Pilgrims remain under lockdown

Today is our 45th day under lockdown.

According to our schedule we should have finished the first tranche of our pilgrimage, at Bar sur Aube in southern Champagne, last week and attended Tom’s Godson’s wedding in Sussex at the weekend. Sadly, neither happened because of lockdown restrictions.

So what have these pilgrims been up to in the meantime?

Julie returned out of retirement to help out at the Salisbury Hospital at the beginning of April, and remains there. Meanwhile Tom has been making himself useful at home and in the garden. He’s been stripping down the conservatory for a much needed repaint and has tied up the occasional trout fly. He’s also just started an Offshore Yachtmaster shore-based course by Zoom, which is turning out to be fun and the next best thing to going sailing, which of course we’re not allowed. Concerned by the implications of Brexit for our sailing ventures to the continent without a formal competency ‘ticket’, he decided it was time to revisit the course he started 20 years ago but wasn’t able to complete at the time because of overseas work commitments.

Progress had been made in the garden if it hasn’t with the pilgrimage. This has been much helped by the glorious weather we’ve been having. April was more like a normal July. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful for our walk down through Champagne!

The lilacs are the best they’ve ever been

We’ve been busy setting up a new veggie patch in the back garden. Fortunately our house and plot are orientated almost exactly north-south-east-west, so the top end of the back garden gets plenty of sun.

First we had to build raised beds which we made from recycled plastic decking planks so they would last.

Next they had to be assembled…….

…..and filled with topsoil and compost. Next there was the matter of how to keep the rabbits out. We found a design online recommending that the wire mesh be buried into the surrounding ground and there should be a horizontal element to prevent any would be salad eater from burrowing underneath.

Once the fence was complete we put up trellis work to grow roses on. They were ordered on line and arrived yesterday.

So far we’ve planted/sown French beans, radishes, spinach, lettuce, carrots, broad beans and onions. Meanwhile we’ve got lots of other seedlings on the go in the conservatory. All very exciting!

So what next? Tom reckons we’ve got just enough space to plant about 15 vines on three trellises to one side of the vegetable enclosure. It’s perfect south aspect with light, well drained, chalky soil. Hmm, maybe that’s a project for another year!

We will be watching very carefully what happens as we and other European countries ease lockdown restrictions over the next weeks, to try to gauge when we might be able to restart our walk. At this stage we really don’t know. Might we be able to get going again by August or September? One thing we are quite concerned about is the impact lockdown may have had on the many gites, chambres d’hote hostels and places to eat we will need to rely on and whether they will have survived in business. Moreover, how welcome will visitors from foreign parts be, especially given the number of cases of Covid we’ve had in the UK? The reality might be that we can’t get going again until next spring. Who knows?

Well, that’s about it for now, as it’s time for Tom to get ready for this afternoon’s Yachtmaster Zoom session.

Stay well and stay sane!

What do pilgrims do during lockdown?

Who needs to go to Amsterdam?

The answer is that they turn their energies into the garden, of course! What else would you do in this wonderful weather, so perfect for walking in?

We’ve been busy clearing the beds of weeds. Julie is particularly good at that. She loves to take out her frustration on them, nettles especially. We’ve pruned the vines – probably not the best time of year, but they still seem to produce loads of grapes when we do it this late.

Games with the blackbirds

We’ve been playing a great game with the blackbirds. It’s called ‘You put compost on the beds, and we’ll take it out again’. It’s great fun. At least they seem to think so!

Then there are the games we play with the rabbits. They don’t want to eat everything, just the things we most treasure. They had at least five of the lupins we planted last year. We’ve devised a plot to thwart their efforts on the remaining three. Julie cuts the bottom our of a plastic flower pot and pushes it into the soil around the surviving lupin and then places a garden fork over the top of the pot. So far, so good. We’ve only got three garden forks though, so perhaps it’s just as well really that they’ve eaten all the rest of the lupins.

Lupin defence

Ah yes, then there’s the veggie patch. We’ve never done one of those before, but there’s always a first time, and we’re determined to ‘dig for victory’. We’ve acquired the seeds, the rabbit proof wire and the all the necessary posts and nails.

Construction materials for the veggie patch

We’ve sowed the seeds into little plastic pots and old food trays and they are all sitting neatly on the kitchen window sill. It’s just the hard work bit of digging the bed which hasn’t happened yet. “Julie, where’s that barrow load of compost?”. Oh dear, it’s Monday today and she’s gone off to help out at the hospital. Maybe it’ll just have to wait until next weekend.

So there we go. If we’d been walking our way across northern France (we should have been in Bruay near Arras by now), we’d be missing all this fun. What’s more,the rabbits would have eaten our last three lupins!

Stay well and stay sane!

Coronavirus stops us in our tracks

Sadly, Coronavirus has resulted in a temporary curtailment of our pilgrimage to Rome. We were due to have left Canterbury yesterday, and to cross to Calais on the ferry tomorrow. However, continuation at this time would be impossible, since France went into lockdown ten days ago and now the UK too.

We’d got as far as Bearsted, just east of Maidstone , with an estimated two and a half days walk to Canterbury. We’d thought about doing that last weekend but the logistics proved too difficult, without using public transport and nowhere open to stay or eat.

All very tiresome really, since we’d got our fitness up to a decent level; we were making good time and thoroughly enjoying the improvement in the weather. However, it’s not half as tiresome as it must be for those poor people under lockdown in cities across the globe, and especially for those who are suffering from Covid 19 or who’ve lost loved ones to it. Our thoughts go out to them. Sadly, our Plan B, to self-isolate on the boat and go off sailing instead, is not one of the legitimate activities! At least we are lucky enough to have a garden, and we can still go for walks from home, so long as we keep our distance from others. We have a feeling that the garden, much neglected since we bought the boat, is going to look great this year. And, of course, we’ll be around to fend off the rabbits!

Thank you to all of you who have supported us in various ways: giving us lifts to and from the start and end points of our days, providing accommodation etc, and to all those who have made generous donations to our three charities. Rest assured, this is not the end of our walk. It’s just a temporary delay, though we fear it may well be for months, rather than weeks. We shall be back on the road to Rome again, just as soon as we can.

In the meantime, perhaps we shall blog about progress in the garden!

The garden benefits from our temporary curtailment


To Julie’s former colleagues at the Salisbury Hospital thank you for all you’re doing for all of us. To all our friends and supporters, stay well and keep chipper. To those of you who have succumbed, we hope you get well soon!

DAY 12

The sun was shining brightly as we departed Halling. From the church we headed down to the riverbank and the old ferry steps. Formerly this would have been the place where we crossed the Medway. The tide was out and we could clearly see the redundant steps rising up the far bank. From here our route took us along a pleasant riverside walkway southwards. We were greeted by several dog walkers and joggers out enjoying the morning sunshine. How welcome this weather was after what we’d been through earlier on our walk!

View downstream from the new Peters Bridge

We crossed the Medway by the new Peters Bridge: so recently built that it doesn’t yet feature on Ordnance Survey maps. The bridge connects Halling and the rail and road infrastructure with a large new housing complex on the east bank known as Peters Village. Built on the former site of the Peters Lime and Cement Works at Wouldham Manor, this is quite an attractive development, with a village like structure, and a pleasant riverside walkway. The walkway even has a soft track for horses!

Riverside walkway at Peters Village

From Peters Village our route took us Burham Court. Here stands the 12th century Church of St Mary, which we were pleased to find open. We found the inside of the church quite bare and cold. Just a few pews and benches, with no organ or any other instrument gave the impression that it isn’t very regularly used.

St Mary’s Burham

After stamping our pilgrim passports we then headed southward towards Aylesford, crossing some seriously wet ground. From Aylesford our path turned uphill onto drier ground. A horse-mounting step in the lea of a stable shed at Great Cossington provided a suitable place to sit and eat our lunch. On up to the base of the chalk escarpment we crossed the busy A229 and railway, joining the North Downs Way again.

Shortly we came upon a vast acreage of vines, planted on the south facing slopes of the Downs. In a while we met some people working on the vines and stopped for a chat. We gathered that this is part of the large Chapeldown Wine Estate, which manages several hundred acres of vines. The main grape variety is Chardonnay, which they grow for sparkling wine.

Chapeldown Wine Estate

At Boxley we visited the Church of All Saints and St Mary. A hand bell ringing practice was going on in an upper room of the belfry. They sounded very good! A Norman church with 13th century additions, what seemed particularly remarkable was the steepness of some of the roof pitches, currently being repaired.

All Saints and St Mary, Boxley

From Boxley we passed more vineyards to reach Detling. This village was cleaved in two in the 1960s by construction of the A249 Maidstone to Sittingbourne Trunk Road. Tragically, no provision was made for pedestrian access across the dual carriageway, resulting in four residents being killed attempting to get from one part of the village to the other. The most recent accident involved an 8 year old girl Jade Hobbs and her 79 year old grandmother killed in 2000. Following a campaign by local residents a footbridge was built in 2002, which has been named Jade’s Crossing. We were certainly grateful it was there.

Commemorative plaque on the Detling Footbridge

We called at the Church of St Martin in Detling but sadly found it locked. From Detling we headed southeast to Thurnham and the Church of St Mary the Virgin. Another locked church – so disappointing. We managed to find an email address in a parish magazine in the porch, so we sent a message expressing our disappointment and asking whether something could be done to address this, given the importance of these churches on this ancient pilgrim route. We noted that the email address uses the name ‘Pilgrims Way Churches’. There is even a Pilgrims Way plaque set in the wall by the church gate, complete with scallop shell.

Church of St Mary the Virgin Thurnham

From Thurnham we headed south to the railway station at Bearsted where we ended our day’s walk.

To sum up: a lovely, gentle early spring day. We saw at least one magnolia in full bloom and, at Boxley, a horse chestnut just coming into leaf. 11th March – goodness that’s early!

Horse chestnut sprouting leaf at Boxley

DAY 11

Church of St Bartholomew, Otford

Day 11 began where we left off, in the village of Otford, north of Sevenoaks. We paid a visit to the Church of St Bartholomew, which we found not only the church open, but also the church office and a magnificent timbered church hall, where we chatted to one of the congregation, and stamped our pilgrim passports.

Thomas a Becket was associated with Otford, where the manor at that time belonged to the archbishop. As chancellor, he lived here in 1162.

Otford Village Pond

Aged around 13, Tom remembers visiting Otford, when he and a friend camped in a family friend’s garden. He recalls spending hours staring into the village pond at the huge carp which swam there, wondering how he could sneak in and catch one! The carp are still there and so is a large No Fishing notice!

From Otford our route skirted the foot of the chalk escarpment, passing north of Kemsing. Eventually the tarred road gave way to a rather more pleasant track and into White Hill Wood.

Hazel coppice in White Hill Wood

At Wrotham (pronounced rootem for those not of Kentish extraction!) we found a signpost bearing the European E2 badge, marking a European long distance path from Galway to Nice, which shares the route of the North Downs Way through this part of Kent. We shall see this badge again when we cross paths at Lausanne in Switzerland!

Badges for the European E2 Long Distance Path

One of the badges appeared to be broken. Was this an act of defiance against the EU? Parts of Kent were strongly pro-Brexit.

We lunched on a conveniently located bench overlooking Wrotham village green. As we ate the sun began to show through at last. From here we crossed the M20 motorway, heading more northeast now as our route turned into the Medway Gap, where the river cuts through the North Downs chalk ridge. More keep-off-my-land notices: oh dear, they are so offensive, and so utterly pointless. We passed just north of Trottiscliffe (pronounced Trozzlee). What fun it is teasing people who don’t come from Kent, about the pronunciation of Kentish place names!

As our route turned northward the landscape becomes dominated by abandoned chalk quarries and remnants of the once extensive cement industry here.

The Medway Gap

At Halling (pronounced hauling – Tom got this one wrong!), our destination for the day, we paid a visit to the Norman Church of St Bartholomew, but sadly it was closed. We chatted to a passer by who was drawn to our Salisbury to Rome banners. A member of the congregation, she is a keen walker and told us about the other churches worth visiting on our route. We were able to see the remains of the Bishop’s Palace can be seen in the churchyard: built in 1086 by Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester.

Remains of the Bishop’s Palace at Halling

DAY 10

With a significantly better weather forecast; windy but plenty of sunshine and little rain, we set off from Tyler’s Green, near Godstone. The morning’s sunshine however had made little impact on the surface water lying on the Gault Clay soils, which were as muddy as ever!

Crossing the M25

After crossing the M25 and heading up onto the chalk ridge, the going improved a little. However, with both horse riders and cyclists using designated footpaths (illegally) they soon become difficult on foot. It seems there is a real problem in that the North Downs Way which we are following for significant sections, is variously designated as a byway, as a bridle way or as a footpath (no access for vehicles, horses or bicycles). Despite this it seems that some riders and off-cyclists consider the whole length of it open for their use, making some sections so muddy and impassable on foot that we found ourselves diverting to tarred roads.

View east from Gangers Hill

At Gangers Hill we were rewarded with a magnificent view eastwards along the North Downs, marred only by the incessant noise of the M25.

Our route diverted down and around a disused chalk quarry, now seemingly under restoration, and on to the Titsey Estate. Here we found a plaque marking the Greenwich Meridian.

The Greenwich Meridian

Thus we crossed from the Western to the Eastern Hemisphere!

A short distance beyond, the Pilgrims Way is blocked by the Titsey Estate, and a diversion is necessary: either by climbing up to the top of the escarpment and back down again, or by passing to to the south on the Vanguard Way and back up to Titsey Village. We chose the latter. Wouldn’t it be a magnanimous and public spirited gesture if the Trustees of the Titsey Estate were to reinstate the Pilgrims’ Way path across the park to Titsey village along with the other permissive paths they have established?

When we got to it, we found the Church of St James the Greater in Titsey village, shut up and locked. Apparently a private church owned by the Estate, it is only open at specific times during the summer. Nonetheless we were able to enjoy a seat in the sun in the churchyard, on which to eat a late lunch. A kind lady at an adjacent house agreed to fill our water bottles for us. It transpired that she’d recently moved here from Cape Town. Despite the weather she said she was loving it.

From Titsey to the edge of the Chevening Estate, a distance of four and a half miles, the Pilgrims’ Way follows a tarred lane, along the foot of the escarpment. With very little traffic other than cyclists, this was not unpleasant and it gave us a welcome relief from the mud. Part way along this we crossed the border from Surrey into Kent – the fourth and last county of the English part of our journey. Home at last for Tom!

At Chevening the course of the Pilgrims’ Way is again blocked and diverted up to the top of the escarpment and back down again. Chevening House is used as a furnished country residence for a person nominated by the Prime Minister: usually the Foreign Secretary. When Theresa May was Prime Minister, she declared that Chevening should be shared between the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Brexit Secretary David Davis and Trade Secretary Liam Fox. However Boris Johnson apparently pulled rank, and insisted that he and his family should have sole use of the mansion and its 115 rooms for Christmas 2016! What a nice chap!

Original course of the Pilgrims’ Way across Chevening Park,
now blocked and diverted

Again, what an opportunity exists to reinstate the Pilgrims’ Way to its original position, which is well away from the house and any potential security risk. In fact we found the eastern entrance to the park to be completely open.

Chevening House, country residence of the Foreign Secretary

As light was beginning to fade and we still had a fair distance to cover, we paused only briefly at St Botolph’s Church in Chevening, and did not go in. We did however note an interesting cross in the churchyard, not dissimilar to one where we used to live in Chew Magna, though in rather better condition.

Cross in the churchyard of St Botolph’s, Chevening

From Chevening we headed east in the failing light, and crossed the M25 for the last time. With head torches on we pressed on the last two and a half miles to Otford, crossing the River Darent on the way. Once one of the most heavily abstracted rivers in the South East today it was flowing strongly.

Finally at ten to seven, and in the dark, we reached Otford, our destination for the day.

DAY 9

Our ninth day was probably best summed up in two three-letter words – MUD and M25!

With Storm Jorge bringing high winds and rain pretty well all night, conditions were not the most pleasant as we set of from Betchworth. As we made our way across the Gault Clay, with mud and standing water everywhere, we thought of the Battle of the Somme, and then conceded that it really wasn’t that bad! Then, just as we climbed up onto the chalk we were hit by a fearsome hailstorm, which was so intense that the woods around us became white, as if it had just snowed!

We skirted around the base of the Buckland Hills before making a steep ascent straight up to the top of Juniper Hill. Thank goodness for walking poles. The going was so wet and muddy underfoot, that it was pretty much two steps upward for one back down again.

At the top more paranoid property owners with their get-off-my-land notices, seemingly determined to prevent anyone else getting a glimpse of THEIR view.

Private Viewing

In this particular case we thought that they’d have been better off spending their money on maintaining dilapidated fences than on reels of barbed wire and stupid notices.

Despite the wind coming from the opposite direction we became aware of the incessant traffic noise from the M25, which was to stay with us for the rest of the day and much of the next.

Soon we emerged from behind our friends’ high fences onto Colley Hill; and so did the sunshine. Thankfully this part of the ridge has been preserved for public enjoyment by the National Trust, and the views are just stunning: east and west along the chalk ridge and south, right across the Weald to the South Downs. We could just make out Chanctonbury Ring, above Steyning, where Tom’s parents had their last home.

The view west to Box Hill and beyond

We paid our respects to Tom’s father whose ashes were scattered here. He loved to walk out here from his family home on Reigate Hill. It was here, on these hills, while on brief home leave from Malaya after the Japanese capitulation, that he proposed to Tom’s mother.

We lunched on a seat at the crash site of an American Superfortress bomber, returning from a cross-channel raid in March 1945. All nine crew were killed. The oldest was just 24 years old.

From Reigate Hill we descended into Gatton Park Estate, passing the Royal Alexandra & Albert School, a rare state-run boarding school. In Gatton village we met a man who asked about our pilgrimage, and was particularly interested in the charities we are supporting. It transpired that he’d been born at the Salisbury District Hospital, where his mother had also been an A&E consultant. His brother had attended the Cathedral School, and he is a keen fisherman and has fishing at Teffont on the River Nadder. What a perfect match! Needless to say, he was given a leaflet and encouraged to make a donation.

From Gatton we made our first crossing of the M25 to Merstham and St Katherine’s church which, to our delight, we found open and welcoming of pilgrims.

St Katherine’s Merstham

We enjoyed a good look around the church and stamped our Pilgrim Passports. We were amused by a notice in the Belfry dating from 1882, entitled Belfry Rules. It reads:

  • No smoking or swearing allowed. Any member ignoring this rule will be fined one penny.
  • Any member not present at practice or stated nights will be fined tuppence.
  • The above fine not to be enforced when the attendance of members has been prevented by illness or business engagement.
  • Any member overthrowing a bell or breaking a slay will be fined eight pence.

From Merstham we crossed the M23 and headed up the escarpment towards Chaldon, and onto the original Pilgrims’ Way track again. After a short distance we passed The Beacon, where Tom’s uncle and aunt lived for some 50 years. Tom well remembers visits here and the fabulous views out across the Weald To the south, but goodness it felt exposed on a windy day. A new gate and new garage, but otherwise not much seemed to have changed.

The Beacon where Tom’s uncle and aunt used to live

From the Beacon we continued on along the old Pilgrims’ Way track: muddy as ever, and flooded in places; before descending to our day’s destination at Tyler’s Green.

Day 9 can be best summed up in two three-letter words:
mud and M25

DAY 8

Day 8 began at Gomshall in the lovely Tillingbourne Valley. However the weather wasn’t quite so lovely with wet snow, or sleety rain to send us on our way. Interestingly there is a Coptic Orthodox church in Gomshall near the station, which is dedicated to St Augustine of Hippo (not the same St Augustine who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury, who lived around a century later). Although the church building wasn’t open for us to visit, it reminded us of the cultural breadth and diversity of the Christian Church, and we thought about the persecution the Copts endure in Egypt and the Middle East. May they be welcome here.

St Augustine’s Coptic Orthodox Church, Gomshall

From Gomshall our route took us along the busy A25 to Abinger Hammer, before cutting northwards up onto the chalk ridge. Great care was needed to avoid being soaked by passing cars and lorries driving through roadside puddles. It’s remarkable how some drivers are very aware of this, slow down and leave a wide berth, while others just plough on at speed as if you weren’t there! A special thanks to the driver of the Land and Water van who actually stopped his vehicle to avoid splashing us.

Julie was intrigued by the Hammer so we had to have a picture of her standing under it in the rain.

The Abinger Hammer

As we made our way up onto the North Downs Way, the weather began to improve. At a Blatchford Down, we were blessed with panoramic views across to Leith Hill, as the the cloud lifted and the sun began to shine through.

At Blatchford Down

At Ranmore Common we came upon the Church of St Barnabas: a substantial flint building constructed in 1859. How disappointed we were to find the door firmly locked. Their website says that for many years it has been known as “the Church on the North Downs Way”, but seemingly access to it is denied to users of the same. What is the problem with these Churches? Why do they shut their doors to pilgrims and other passers by?
Is this a Surrey thing? Most of the churches we have passed in Wiltshire and Hampshire have been open for at least part of the day and welcoming to pilgrims and other visitors. What is the problem in Surrey? Where do Surrey people who are in need of peace and solace go to find it? Are these churches solely there for middle class people on Sundays? It gives such a poor impression of the Anglican Church.

St Barnabas Church, Ranmore Common – firmly shut

From Ranmore Common our route took us into the Denbies Estate, famous for its vineyards, and into Ascombe Wood where we found a suitable log to sit on and enjoy some hot soup from our flask.

Lunch stop in Ashcombe Wood

From Ashcombe we dropped down into the valley of the River Mole, passing some of the Denbies vineyards. We stopped to talk to couple of women out for an afternoon stroll. They seemed intrigued by our pilgrimage venture. One of them said she is involved with the Guildford Travel Club, and asked if we would be prepared to give a talk to them about it on our return. Well there’s an idea!

The River Mole Stepping Stones were well covered

Crossing the busy A24 dual carriageway turned out to be rather easier than we’d anticipated. However when we reached the River Mole the famous Stepping Stones were well and truly covered, such was the water level after the recent rain. Fortunately there is a footbridge a short distance downstream so we were able to cross without a problem. Interestingly the original bridge was a gift made by the Ramblers Association in memory of their members who lost their lives in the Second World War.

Saved by the footbridge

From the footbridge we climbed part way up Box Hill, then skirted around it before picking up the Pilgrims’ Way again. After a while we arrived at the disused Brockham Lime Kilns and quarry which are now managed as a nature reserve by the Surrey Wildlife Trust. They provide an interesting insight into this post industrial landscape, which is designated both SSSI and SAC.

From the Lime Kilns a short walk to us to Betchworth, our destination for the day. What a day of variety: snow to sunshine; and under foot lovely firm greensand to slippery chalk!

DAY 7

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.

Panoramic views to the south and west from Martha’s Hill

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.

S
Church of St Martha on the Hill

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.

The Old Prison House Shere

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.

St James Church, Shere

DAY 6

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.