First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
With a brilliant blue flash of side feathers the jay we’d disturbed went screeching off among the trees of Sidney Wood. Raucous birds, jays: the sweary sentinels of the woods.
Squirrels had already stripped the hazels of their nuts, leaving eviscerated shells and rejected kernels all over the path. The wood was damp and green this afternoon under the cloudy skies stretched over south Surrey, and the abandoned channel of the Wey & Arun Canal exhaled a fine miasma of mud and stewed vegetation when we found it half-hidden under overarching oaks and wych elms.
The last of the three-petalled white flowers of arrowhead drooped among spearblade leaves in the damp old waterway. Greenery had triumphed in the cool shade of the wood, overwhelming the canal with reeds and grasses. All that stirred there today were late-hatching pearl bordered fritillaries, their large orange wings streaked with black like a jaguar’s coat.
It was hard to credit that this weed-choked waterway, fringed with spearmint, willow leaves carpeting its surface, was planned as a major route for goods travelling between the English Channel and London when war with Napoleonic France meant danger to cargo on the sea routes. Alas for the Wey & Arun – by the time it was opened in 1816 the war was over, and twenty years later the railways sneaked up and stole its trade away.
We followed the wide ditch of the canal through Sidney Wood, past the hollows and humps where in times past ‘forest glass’ was made using the local sand, chalk and timber. Glassworks, brickmakers, charcoal burners and potteries of these Wealden woods, the trees have advanced to swallow them all.
Five minutes munching apples on a fallen beech trunk dotted with tiny brilliant pink fungi, then we walked on out of the trees to Sidney Wood Farm where gangs of hens roamed their compound and a horse followed close at our heels as we crossed his paddock.
Soon we found ourselves rejoining the Wey & Arun once more – what a convoluted course it took! A last stretch of the old canal and we were treading the black earth of Sachelhill Lane, heading for home after this quiet afternoon’s walk through the Surrey woods and fields.
How hard is it? 4¾ miles, easy, woodland paths (can be muddy)
Start: Sidney Wood car park, near Alfold GU6 8HU (OS ref TQ 027350)
Getting there: From A271 (Guildford-Horsham), at Alfold Crossways follow ‘Dunsfold’. In ½ mile pass turning on bend, signed ‘Three Compasses’. In another ⅔ mile, just after sharp right bend, left (028352, unmarked; ‘Cobdens Farm’ sign visible immediately after turning). Fork left to car park.
Walk (OS Explorer 134): Return along drive. 20m from approach road entrance, hairpin left past ‘Sedgehurst’ sign (‘Wey South Path’/WSP). Keep ahead along drive (blue arrows/BA). In 250m, right (025349, fingerpost/FP, WSP). In ⅓ mile, pass metal gate, cross disused canal; left along right bank (021349). In 1 mile at road, WSP turns left (017338); but go straight over and on. In ½ mile, just past pond, left up gravel road (017331); at Sidneywood Farm gate, right down drive (021330). At Maple Farm, ahead (024326, FP) past cottage on right; through 2 gates; bear left along hedge. Across lane and on (025327, stiles) to meet WSP (027328, BA). In 200m, right over footbridge (026330). Ahead across 2 fields. Left by gate (031334, FP). In 500m cross Rosemary Lane (030337) on woodland path back to car park.
Lunch: Three Compasses PH, Dunsfold GU6 8HY (01483-279749)
Accommodation: Mucky Duck, Tisman’s Common, Rudgwick RH12 3BW (01403-822300, muckyduckinn.co.uk)
Info: Guildford TIC (01483-444333)