Farnham station – Waverley Abbey – Crooksbury Hill – Puttenham Common – Puttenham – Wanborough – Wanborough station
A wander along the lush Wey valley leads to idyllic Waverley Abbey, followed by a climb to the commons at Crooksbury and Puttenham, with fine views across Surrey, culminating in an ascent of the spectacular Hog’s Back ridge.
Length: 10 ¼ miles (16.6km)
Underfoot: A range of paths along valleys and over commons – in general you may encounter some light mud in the early parts along the Wey valley, on Puttenham Common and north of Wanborough village. Good shoes recommended.
Terrain: Two short but steep climbs – to Crooksbury Hill and the Hog’s Back. Plenty of other ascents and descents, but generally gentle.
Maps: 1:50,000 Landranger 186 Aldershot & Guidlford; 1:25,000 Explorer 145 Guildford & Farnham.
Getting there: South West Trains operate twice an hour (hourly on Sundays) from London Waterloo to Farnham (62 mins) via Clapham Junction (55 mins) for London Overground connections and connections from London Victoria. Coming from Waterloo, it is often faster to take a fast service to Woking and change there – a journey planner will show you when this is the case.
Useful websites: The walk follows parts of the North Downs Way. It passes Waverley Abbey and crosses the nature reserves at Crooksbury Hill and Puttenham Common.
Getting home: Wanborough is on the cross-country North Downs line, so requires a change to return to London. South West Trains run two trains per hour (one per hour on Sundays) to Guildford (7 mins) from where there are 4 fast trains per hour to Waterloo via Woking (2 on Sundays) taking around 38 mins.
Fares: An off-peak return to Farnham for £15.90 (child £7.95, railcard £10.50) will cover both journeys.
- Alighting at Farnham station on the Alton-bound platform, exit the station at the
London end and turn left to cross the level crossing. Pass the station car park and the Mulberry pub, then turn right across the pedestrian crossing. At this rather inauspicious corner, next to the A31 dual carriageway, you find the sign marking the start of the North Downs Way (NDW).
Inaugurated in 1978, the North Downs Way runs 153 miles from Farnham to the coast at Dover, following the chalk ridge of the North Downs, one of a series of parallel east-west hill or mountain ranges stretching north form the Mediterranean as far as Lincolnshire and formed by the same processes that created that shallow sea. The Hog’s Back, which rises just east of Farnham, is generally considered to be the western end of the North Downs ridge.
- Follow the NDW signpost along the pavement ahead, before long veering right (still
following NDW signs) on a narrow road. At a t-junction head right again, passing the back of a petrol station and slowly beginning to edge away from the main road.
- Eventually, you come alongside the north branch of the River Wey. The track passes between the river and half-timbered Snayleslynch Farm. Just before the next house, follow a waymark to the right on track away from river, passing under the railway. Beyond the bridge, keep to the clear path rubbing along the foot of the hill, the wide Wey floodplain to your left.
- At the end of the path, follow the NDW sign left and after 50m head right through a
kissing gate, passing a carved bench. Eventually, the path reaches a minor road, where you head left to reach a junction.
- Turn left on Moor Park Lane. This road soon leads you across the Wey and past a reasonably sympathetic new apartment development. At a road junction at the foot of the hill, head right on Moor Park House Way, leaving the NDW for now. This next section forms the Moor Park Heritage Trail, with information boards pointing out historical locations.
- Pass the ornate 19th century gatehouse of Moor Park House and then the house itself, beyond which the drive becomes a broad path along the valley side.
There has been a house at Moor Park since the early 14th century, though what you see
today is a 17th century base with significant alterations in the Georgian period. Moor Park’s most famous owner was Sir William Temple, a statesman and confidant of Charles II, who was behind the earliest attempt to create a form of cabinet government in Britain. Whilst living at Moor Park, he employed Jonathan Swift as his secretary, and several of Swift’s books were written whilst staying here. The house was once surrounded by large formal gardens which covered much of the flood plain, but these have since disappeared. The path on which you are now walking played an intriguing part in the history of public rights of way: in 1897 Sir William Rose, the then owner of Moor Park informed Farnham Urban District Council that he intended to close the path running through his estate. The council insisted that a right of way had been established, but Rose insisted on closure. On 17 January, in what became known as the Battle of Moor Park, Rose’s hired security men – including retired Metropolitan Police
officers – closed the gates with chains. Cheered on by a crowd of around 400 local people, armed with sticks and sledgehammers, council workmen immediately re-opened the gates with crowbars. No match for the size of the mob, Rose gave in and the path has remained open since.
- A little way along this lovely path, you pass two brick pillboxes, designed to turn the idyllic valley below into a killing field.
In 1940, with a German forces on the Channel coast, plans were drawn up to counter the seemingly imminent invasion. The North Downs formed a major barrier to an advance towards London from the likely south coast landing sites, and were heavily fortified. The Wey valley here at Moor Park was thought to be a likely route north for an invading force, as it was the shortest route from the Channel that allowed armored divisions to skirt the steep slopes of the Downs. These meanders around Waverley Abbey were chosen as a key point to halt such an advance, bogging down the invaders with anti-tank structures in the valley floor, making them sitting ducks for defenders on the slopes on either side.
- After a wooded section, with the Wey meandering through the trees immediately below, you pass Mother Ludlam’s Cave.
The monks of Waverley Abbey called this cave, with its natural spring, St Mary’s Well. However, this was superseded in post-dissolution days by the legend of Mother Ludlam, a white witch who lived in the cave, and who was given to lending to local people from her wide selection of kitchen utensils. Inevitably, the devil turned up and asked for the
loan of a cauldron, which Mother Ludlam – recognising the cloven hooves – refused. The devil stole it instead and ran off – in the process creating the hills known as the Devil’s Jumps to the south. The devil dropped the cauldron and it was recovered by Ludlam, who placed it in Frensham church for safekeeping, where it remains today. The cave is now closed off due to vandalism, but also to protect the sizable colonies of Natterer’s, Daubenton’s and Long-eared bats that live within.
- A little beyond the cave, having passed a lodge house, the path reaches a road. Turn
right and at junction continue straight ahead to cross Waverley Mill Bridge, beside a willow fringed mill pool, turning left beyond the bridge following signs to Waverley Abbey. Beyond a small car park, a short track beside the lake leads to the picturesque remains of the Abbey. Waverley Abbey House sits on the opposite bank of the lake.
Founded in 1128, Waverley Abbey was the first Cistercian abbey in England, creating six satellite monasteries over the course of its first hundred years. For several centuries it was one of England’s leading monasteries, visited by King John and Henry
III, but it went into decline and by the time of dissolution in 1536, just 13 monks were living here. Relatively scant remains of the abbey still stand, but they include an impressive section of the refectory undercroft with its vaulted ceilings. The name of the abbey was adopted by Sir Walter Scott as the surname of his hero in the Waverley novels – the heir to a large southern English estate – leading to the situation where the name, clearly arising from the river beside the abbey, is now better associated with Edinburgh’s main station. The 19th century Waverley Abbey House,
across the ornamental lake, was owned by Florence Nightingale’s family, and entirely coincidentally, became a military hospital during World War One.
- From the abbey, retrace your steps. Returning to the road, head right back across the bridge and at the junction head right towards Godalming. Take care along this sometimes busy road.
- Ignore the byway branching right at a corner and continue to follow the road uphill. Just beyond the entrance to Keeper’s Cottage Stud, follow a bridleway sign to the left on Yew Tree Cottage’s drive. At the cottage, keep to the track swinging right, leading you through the woods to another pair of cottages and a second rather busy road.
- Head left along the road, climbing gently, and where it swings left head right into Crooksbury Hill’s car park. From the information board, follow the waymarked path ahead, climbing steadily through the scrubby woodland.
- After some tough steps you suddenly arrive at the trig point on top of Crooksbury Hill, from where there are superb views south westwards across row after row of hills to the South Downs.
- Take the path continuing into the wood beyond the trig point. This soon splits – keep to the righthand path descending steeply, twisting through the scots pines. Where a path veers left, keep straight ahead, descending further.
- Keep straight ahead until you reach a small road opposite a modern house. Head right on the road for about 100m before you follow a bridleway sign left on Crooksbury Lane.
- The track passes scattered houses, before cutting more deeply into the woods. On
reaching the end of the track at a small road, head right, the road very soon becoming a broad path cutting into lightly wooded Crooksbury Common.
- Past a barrier, a track heads right but you continue to descend gently straight ahead. After about 200m, keep your eyes peeled for a broad path climbing gently through the pines to your left, and follow it.
- Just below the ridge line you cross a small track and continue straight ahead over the ridge, veering right on a path dropping gently between tall scots pines and younger conifers. Note a pair of distinct burial mounds on the hilltop to your right.
- Descending into more open heathland, you soon teach a wide gravel track. Head left along it and reaching a track junction, turn right. Beyond a barrier, keep straight ahead to reach Seale Road.
- Turn very briefly right on the road then head left through a gap in the fence to take the path heading straight into Britty Wood. Keep straight ahead through the silent rows of scots pines, at one point descending steeply and eventually reaching a slightly boggy area with silver birch where you meet a path waymarked as a public footpath.
- Join the footpath, heading left, eventually reaching Littleworth Road on the edge of Little Puttenham Common.
- Head right along the road, following it round a curve and after about 300m head left on
a small, unsigned road. Where 2 roads join, keep straight ahead on a path through the trees. This soon brings you down to the shore of The Tarn.
The Tarn is one of a chain of five fishing lakes created along this small valley, probably in the 18th century, as part of the Puttenham Priory estate, stretching for well over a mile and divided only by narrow causeways.
- Swing left to cross the causeway between The Tarn and Warren Pond. On the far side, climb the low bank ahead and swing left on a clear path through the trees, with a fence on your lefthand side.
- A waymarked bridleway soon joins from the right and you follow these arrows ahead.
An often muddy stretch brings you to General’s Pond. Ignore the bridleway signed to the right and continue straight ahead along the west bank of the pond.
General’s Pond was a ‘stew pond’, where fish were allowed to grow to a suitable size before being transferred to the main fishing lakes in the valley below. It is likely to be named after General James Oglethorpe, who owned the Priory during the 18th century and whose main claim to fame is the founding of the Colony of Georgia, in what is now the USA, as a place for ‘the worthy poor (and reformed prisoners) to remake their lives.’
- Continue to follow bridleway waymarks beyond the pond, gradually climbing into more
sandy soil. Eventually, you reach a waymarked path junction amongst the faint earthworks of a fort.
This is Hillsbury fort, of whose history little is known, despite significant excavations in the 1870s. It is almost certainly pre-Roman, but artefacts found on the site point to significant use during the Roman occupation.
- Take the bridleway waymarked straight ahead. You quickly emerge onto the high open land of the common, the Hog’s Back ridge immediately ahead. The clear path quickly leads you down to another path junction.
- Again follow bridleway waymarks straight ahead on a smaller path through the trees.
The path drops through one small dip, wanders through the bracken, then drops into Long Bottom, climbing steeply out up a narrow side valley.
- At the top of the hill, where bridleway waymarks point left and right, ignore them and cut along the path straight ahead to reach a byway where you turn right (you are now back on the North Downs Way). The little track curves around the top of Little Common before climbing slightly to the house at Little Lascombe.
- Continue straight ahead on the houses’ access road, descending past a junction to the edge of Puttenham. As you descend, look out for the hop gardens in the valley below, some of the last in Surrey. Head right along the main street through the village, passing
some fine red brick cottages.
To view the fine Palladian priory and the next-door medieval church of John the Baptist continue straight ahead past the Good Intent pub. Puttenham is today a sleepy little Surrey village in the shadow of the Hog’s Back, very different from the description of a future Puttenham that Aldous Huxley paints in Brave New World: “Puttenham was a modest little village nine stories high, with silos, a poultry farm, and a small vitamin-D factory.”
- The route turns left, just before the pleasant Good Intent inn, on School Lane. Past the smart little school, continue straight ahead on track heading up the steep slope of the Hog’s Back.
- Past the entrance to Springfield Manor the track becomes a hedged in path. As you near the road at the summit, ignore the path cutting left into the trees and continue straight ahead to reach the busy A31.
The Hog’s Back’s name’s derivation is obvious – and is probably so-called as its narrow ridge is so distinct from the rest of the North Downs, which mainly feature a steep escarpment on their southern side and then much gentler slopes to the north. This ridgetop has long formed the main route from London to Winchester – at least since Roman times and probably far earlier – and continues to do so today.
- Turn right on the verge to the main entrance to Springfield Manor and here cross the
westbound carriageway with care. A gap in the trees and a rusty footpath sign points through the central reservation and you can then cross the eastbound carriageway.
- A further footpath sign points you through the hedge into an open field with a stunning view northwards to Woking and beyond. Follow the waymark down the slope towards the cluster of houses of Wanborough below.
- On reaching the road, turn left along the little tarmac path beside it. On the right, as you pass through the village, is the black timbered Great Barn.
This little hamlet has a very long history, probably due to its location at a spring just
below the ancient highway of the Hog’s Back, with settlement here from around 8000BC. The manor was purchased by Waverley Abbey in 1130 for £80 and was used to supply sheep and crops for the monastery. The Great Barn, built from huge oak timbers, was constructed by the abbey in 1388 to store and process crops – its remarkable interior can occasionally be visited. Beyond the barn is the manor house, the current house having been built in 1670 by the then MP for Guildford, and the 11th century St Bartholomew’s Church. During World War Two, Wanborough Manor was used as a training school for Special Operations Executive agents prior to missions into occupied France.
- Continue beside the road around the sharp curve to the L on exiting the village. Just
after Crabapple Cottage, where the pavement ends, cross and follow the footpath sign into the fields. The path runs along the field edge, beside a small stream. After a second, long field, you reach a waymark post showing a fork in the path. Take the right hand path (the left hand route is slightly shorter, but can be extremely muddy), following the stream through three smaller fields to reach a minor road.
- Head left on the road, uphill, past a row of early 20th century houses in Flexford to reach a junction with a busier road. Here head right on Glaziers Lane, lined with newer houses. At the station sign take the road left which soon brings you out in front of the little station house. Cross the footbridge for Guildford-bound (for London) trains.