First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A still winter’s day under a mackerel sky of white and blue as we set out from the Withies Inn at Compton. Horses in tarpaulins cropped the paddocks at Coneycroft Stud, where the farm dog ran his nose along the hedge parallel with our boots, and hoarsely proclaimed just what he’d do if he could only get at us.
Along the road the Watts Cemetery Chapel stood tall on its mound. Mary Watts, artist wife of the Victorian painter and sculptor George Frederic Watts, designed it as a brilliant Art Nouveau expression of grief and mourning through the depths of darkness and the redemptive power of light. Local villagers fashioned many of the tiles under Mary’s tuition – she was a passionate believer in everyone’s potential for artistic creativity. The exterior is packed with calm-eyed angels in flaring orange terracotta, the interior full of sombrely coloured, transcendentally beautiful cherubim and seraphim.
Mary and George Watts moved to Compton in 1891 (she was 42, he was 74) and founded a remarkable gallery dedicated to George’s symbolist work. We were tempted to spent the whole afternoon there, but the ancient holloway of the North Downs Way beckoned us away east to the banks of the River Wey on the southern borders of Guildford.
On a sandy river cliff high over the Wey we found the roofless old chapel of St Catherine, round which a notorious fair used to be held. Neither of the Wattses painted that, but JMW Turner did – a vigorous scene of fighting, drinking and sideshow action, the artist depicting the throng in swirling attitudes and splashing colours.
The River Wey was one of the first in England to be canalised, part of a wonderfully ambitious 17th-century scheme to link London to the English Channel in mutual prosperity. We walked south past neat brick lock-keepers’ cottages on the edge of its quiet waters, as still and calm as a linear lake, curving with man-made artistry through meadows where last year’s purple loosestrife stood brown and crackly dry.
Our homeward path lay westward through the arable parkland of Loseley Park. Rooks and black-headed gulls patrolled the furrows in fields of winter wheat, and squirrels scuttered among hazels from which they had stripped every last nut.
Start: Withies Inn, Compton, Guildford, Surrey GU3 1JA (OS ref SU 963468)
Getting there: Bus 46 from Guildford.
Road – From A3 just south of Guildford, Compton is signed. Pass through Compton; in ½ mile, left up Withies Lane to Withies Inn.
Walk (8½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 145): From Withies Inn, right along Withies Lane. Cross road; on along wood edge path (fingerpost/FP). Left at top of paddocks (yellow arrow/YA) to Coneycroft Farm (959475). At shed, left through gate (YA); follow fenced path to road (957475). Left to Watts Cemetery Chapel (956474).
Return up road. In 300m, pass FP on right; in 20m, fork right (957477, ‘North Downs way’/NDW) past Watts Gallery. Follow NDW for 2¼ miles to road (991483). Left (NDW) to A3100. Dogleg right/left into Ferry Lane. Detour right to St Catherine’s Chapel on hilltop (994482); return to Ferry Lane; right to River Wey (994483); right on Wey South Path for 1 mile to cross A248 at Broadford Bridge (997467). Keep on right bank of river; in 450m, fork right at railway bridge (995464) onto railway path to A248 overbridge (993465).
Left here on Cycle Route 22 (‘Peasmarsh’). In 150m join road; immediately left down Oakdene Road. In 100m, right across recreation field to cross A3100 (990465). Follow path into Peasmarsh Wood (signed); in 150m, fork right to cross railway (989465). Ahead along field edge; through far hedge (985467); left along drive to Stakescorner Road (982468). Right; in 200m, left along Loseley Park drive (FP). In 300m, left (979469, FP) past Grove Cottage. Path across 2 fields (YAs) to driveway (975466); left for 100m; right on path among trees. Over stile, then along 2 field edges; left (971465, FP) to dogleg right/left across B3000 (971463).
Cross playing field and road. Follow footpath beside Copse Side. In 400m, right at road (967459); round right bend; in 100m, left along minor road for ½ mile to B3000 (964466); dogleg right/left up Withies Lane to Withies Inn.
Lunch: Withies Inn (01483-421158, thewithiesinn.com)
Accommodation: Eashing Farmhouse, Eashing, Godalming GU7 2QF (01483-421436; compton-surrey.co.uk/eashing-farmhouse)
Watts Gallery and Cemetery Chapel: 01483-810235, wattsgallery.org.uk
The January Man – A Year of Walking Britain by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday, £14.99). For 30% off, call 01206 255 777, quoting TIMES302017.