First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A cold winter’s day in Surrey, with snow flurries whitening the North Downs and whirling through the deep lanes around Betchworth. Snowdrops carpeted the aspen groves along the River Mole. Lambs’ tails dangled thick and yellow from the hazels. Spring seemed to be giving winter a bit of a nudge, but half-heartedly as yet. With the heat of the Red Lion’s fire still cracking our cheeks, Jane and I set out well braced.
‘We’re a working forge, a proper forge,’ declared the Betchworth blacksmith, beckoning us in by the furnace and clinking his hammer like a good ’un. It was satisfying to hear that noise, pleasing to know that the sooty old craft clings on among shiny 4X4s and well-scrubbed lifestyles. Along the path the garden gates of Brockham gave onto a child’s wilderness paradise: tangles of scrub, swing trees, thickets and bramble-bush dens, and the grey Mole full of moorhens. A fine contrast to the chocolate-box perfection of the gorgeous old houses around Brockham’s wide village green. In the landscape, too, the local farms were far from airbrushed. Farmyards were muddy and ramshackle, the buildings patched as best they could be. Times are tough for farmers, in the Home Counties countryside as much as anywhere.
Out in the fields the hedges had been stripped to their spiky frames by winter. Strings of rooks wobbled across a white afternoon sky. Pigeons clattered up from the winter wheat. At Bushbury Farm we passed an ancient chaff cutter, crouching like a strange beast in the grass verge, and followed muddy old Tweed Lane to Strood Green. Here is a community fighting back against vanishing rural services, revitalising their village shop by their own efforts to offer all kinds of home-made and locally produced food, a café, internet and postal facilities, news, views and lots of gossip. It’s exemplary. If you want something doing properly …
Brushing off the cake crumbs, we went on through the bare, winter-struck pastures. There were deer slots in the chalky mud of the brassica fields beyond Gadbrook, and flocks of redwings in the overshot brush around Ricebridge Farm, where a crumbling wartime pillbox still guarded the sunken lanes and the river crossing. At deserted Wonham Mill, powder snow came slanting across the dried-out millpond. Musing on the melancholy and stark beauty of this winter countryside, we lost track of the hour, and only beat the dusk by a short head back to the Red Lion and its bright log fire.
Start & finish: Red Lion Inn, Betchworth RH3 7DS (OS ref TQ 214504)
Getting there: Train (www.thetrainline.com; www.railcard.co.uk) to Betchworth; Arriva bus service 21, 22, 32 Guildford-Redhill (01483-505693; www.arrivabus.co.uk); Road: M25 Jct 8, A217 to Reigate, A25 Dorking road
Walk (7½ miles, easy grade, OS Explorer 146): From Red Lion, right for 100 yards; left by Ye Old Gatehouse; follow fingerposts, yellow arrows (YA) past gardens, over drive, down steps to road (215502). Right to T-jct; right along Wonham Lane to T-jct by Dolphin Inn (211497 – Betchworth Forge to right). Cross road (‘Greensand Way/GW’ fingerpost); through arch and churchyard; on along fenced path (GW) for ¾ mile to cross River Mole (199497). Follow GW to road; right to Brockham village green. Cross road (196495); down Old School Lane; in 100 yards, right (GW) along stony lane. In 400 yards, left over stile (191495 – GW, YA). Cross Pondtail Farm drive; in 50 yards, GW turns right (191491), but keep ahead here for ⅔ mile (stiles, YA). Bear left between Bushbury Farm house and buildings (191481 – very muddy!) to gate into lane (192480 – fingerpost). Left to cross Bushbury Lane; follow Tweed Lane to cross road in Strood Green (201480).
Turn right for 150 yards; left (fingerpost) along hedges (stiles, fingerposts, YA) for ⅓ mile. Skirt right of house (stile, YA) to meet drive (208479 – 4-finger post); right to Gadbrook Road (209477). Left for 200 yards; opposite Gadbrook Chapel, left past Gadbrook House (fingerpost). In 150 yards, right (210481) across field to cross Snowerhill Road (216482 – fingerpost). Continue through Knight’s Gorse; follow path (fingerpost) across field and down to cross River Mole over Rice Bridge (223487). In 50 yards ignore stile, YA on right; keep ahead along sunken lane. Approaching Ricebridge Farm, left over stile (224488); bear right around farmhouse; ahead for ⅓ mile to Wonham Mill (224496). Left along road for 50 yards; right (fingerpost); immediately left (stile) past old millpond. Cross paddocks (stiles, gates) to Dungate’s Farm drive (224501). Left for 250 yards; at Fourpenny Cottage, left (223503 – GW). Follow GW across fields for ½ mile to road (216503); left for 50 yards; left down Sandy Lane for 150 yards; right to retrace outward route to Red Lion.
NB – Very muddy around Bushbury Farm – wear appropriate footgear! Online maps, more walks: www.christophersomerville.co.uk
Tea: Strood Green shop (01737-843965; www.theshopatstroodgreen.co.uk)
More info: Dorking TIC (01306-879327; www.visitsurrey.com)