First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Chilworth station on a cold, cloudy winter’s afternoon, the little train disappearing clickety-clack down the line and our feet itching for a good step-out among the Surrey Hills.
This region of upland heaths and open commons was thought wonderfully remote and wild when arty folk from London began to venture down the railway in late Victorian times. In Chilworth and neighbouring Blackheath they left a legacy of gorgeous Arts & Crafts houses, with tall brick chimneys, wonky walls, and upper storeys hung with mellow red tiles.
In the banks of Sample Oak Lane the coppiced hazels were already hung with catkins, and the very first green spear blades of bluebell leaves were pushing up through the moss in the outskirts of Blackheath Forest. Two robins sprang up from a beech log and battled furiously breast to breast in mid-air, wings winnowing and thorn-like beaks ajar, each intent on making this patch of breeding territory its own.
The path climbed gently through hummocks and hollows, at one moment a stodge of dark peaty mud, the next a pale sandy strip in the heather. Leafless bilberries made a geometric green tangle through which dogs went pattering, drawn by scents unfathomable to mere humans.
We topped out on open ground of sombre colours – heather, moss, bronze-hued bracken and tall pine trees, all bedded on the greensand ridge that underlies this landscape. Nightjars and Dartford warblers nest here in summer, but today the rooks and red kites had the airways to themselves.
Rain came spattering across the heath, then a pale watery sun drifted from the clouds and turned the pine trunks pink. We passed an ancient oak, a knobbed and twisted old monster with limbs flung wide, and turned back west past a cottage deep in the trees on an acre of grass, as snug and lonely as any of Grimm’s woodcutter’s abodes.
At Blackheath the cricket field lay battened down, its gabled pavilion shut. Handsome houses with railed porches and neat gardens lined the road, where a fingerpost pointed to ‘This Way, That Way, Somewhere Else’.
A bridleway led over the heath and down a deep, dark holloway towards Chilworth. In a beautifully laid hedge a little flicker of movement caught the eye – a goldcrest, its forehead embellished with gold, a tiny bright bird as plump as a dormouse, intent on picking sustenance from the bare twigs with a bill almost too miniscule to see.
How hard is it? 5½ miles; easy woodland and heath tracks.
Start: Chilworth railway station, near Guildford GU4 6TT (OS ref TQ031472)
Getting there: Rail to Chilworth. Bus 32 (Guildford).
Road: on A248, signed from Shalford on A281, south of Guildford.
Walk (OS Explorer 145): From station, down Sample Oak Lane. In ⅓ mile, fork left by shelter labelled ‘Brantyngeshay’ (032467, fingerpost/FP). In 100m fork left (blue arrow/BA) on bridleway. In 300m dogleg right/left past Blackheath Common signboard (035465, BA). Keep ahead over cross-tracks (occasional BAs and FPs). In ½ mile, at another Blackheath Common signboard (043462), left on broad track.
In 150m fork right (045461, BA) through trees. In ½ mile at wide clearing (050460), fork right past ‘Beth Edwards’ bench. In 250m, sharp right at 1 Lipscombe Cottage along drive (053458), soon a woodland path. In 300m cross track (049458). In 200m pass cottage (046458, stile, ‘Fox Way’/FW). At Candleford Cottage, right (044457, FP, FW) for ⅔ mile to Blackheath village.
At right hand side of cricket field, left (036461) on track to road (033462). Left; at crossroads, right (‘That Way’); in 100m, left (032463, ‘Bridleway’ fingerpost) on bridleway, keeping ahead over side tracks. In ¼ mile, just beyond ‘Tangley Way’ house, fork left (028464) ‘Downs Link’).
In ⅔ mile, at Deer’s Leap Cottage on left (020465), right on lane past Great Tangley Manor Farm. In ⅓ mile, at T-junction (025469, FP), left beside wall to A248 (025471). Right to station.
Lunch/accommodation: Percy Arms, Chilworth GU4 8NP (01483-561765, thepercyarms.net)
Info: surreyhills.org; Guildford TIC (01483-44433)