Monday, 12 January 2009

Roaming along the Greensand Way Day 2 Witley - Shamley Green

Hambledon Common
The second stage of the Greensand Way is a very interesting walk through woodland and heathland and for the first time a definite ridge becomes apparent with occasional views across the Weald to the South Downs.

Hambledon Church
As suggested yesterday, take the car to the finish point of the walk. In this case it is the small Surrey village of Shamley Green just south of Guildford and a couple of miles to the east of the main A281 road. From here there is a half-hourly bus service into Guildford, from where you can catch the train to Witley station (an hourly service).

The Hurtwood
At Witley, the Greensand Way passes right by the station so there is no need for any lengthy diversions to reach the path. Once you have passed through the village you will reach Hambledon Common, where you get a great view across the Weald. The sandy heathland is a landscape you will get very used to in the days ahead. In between these sections of heathland the path crosses many woods, where silver birch dominate. This is a sure sign that the soil underfoot is of very poor quality as, if it were better, it would support a greater range of trees such as beech and oak. Occasionally you will also come across stretches of woodland dominated by majestic Scots pines.

Hascombe Church
This part of West Surrey feels very remote and aside from the odd village here and there, if you pick the right day you will probably have the whole countryside to yourself (contrast this with the North or South Downs!). On this particular day I only met three people on the whole route.

Hascombe Cottages
At the village of Hambledon you will pass another church, this time a much more squat affair than the one passed at Thursley on day one. However, the area is very attractive, being adjacent to a farm that is traditionally built with hung tiles. The path continues along the side of a field and overlooks the intriguingly named Hydon’s Ball, a wooded hill to the north. While walking alongside the field keep a look out for a rather strange tree that has its roots exposed. At Vann Hill the route once again hugs the top of the ridge, but the woods are too thick to get any more than a glimpse of the view beyond. This is slightly frustrating, but this is a normal feature for much of the walk.

Hascombe Pond
The path crosses the Hurtwood, an area of working forest. Some sections have been cleared for timber, while others still show signs of the damage caused by the hurricane in 1987. Once through the Hurtwood, the path drops down into the next village, Hascombe. This is a quintessential English village, complete with attractive pub and duck pond and some delightful houses clustered around the pond. The pub does food and I’m sure would make a welcome lunch stop.There are a couple of obstacles at Hascombe that are worth mentioning. The ground at the bottom of the hill is pretty marshy and is probably worth avoiding if the weather has been very wet. The other is the poor signage through the village. On the whole the waymarking along the path is very good, but on the Surrey stretch can be quite poor when meeting roads.

Once through Hascombe, the path then returns to lonely countryside dominated by woodland until Selhurst Common. On this stretch in March there were masses of snowdrops, the first sign that spring was truly underway! At Gatestreet Farm, there looked to be a few strange goings on with several structures in the landscape that looked like they were being used for some kind of film set. These included an igloo and what looked like a jousting area.
Downs Link
Shortly after Gatestreet Farm the sweep of the Wey valley becomes apparent. In front you can see the large Greensand hills beyond. These look fairly daunting, but fortunately these are saved for another day! Once safely across the A281 you come across two defunct transport routes before reaching Shamley Green. The first is the Downs Link, which used to be the Horsham-Guildford railway line and now used as a cycle path. Shortly after you will cross the Wey and Arun canal, ‘London’s Lost Route to the Sea’. From here it is a short step to the village of Shamley Green, where hopefully you will be reunited with your car!
Looking Ahead to Day 3

This stretch of the walk is relatively easy, with few climbs and some delightful landscape. Some stretches of the walk are quite lonely and it is best to ensure that you are properly equipped. Some sections are quite difficult to navigate but perversely these are not the stretches of dense woodland, but sections of road where the waymarkers appear to dry up! If, like me you pick a dry spring day you will find few problems with mud and it would be a winter-friendly walk. Tomorrow, I shall tackle the next stage and start climbing those Surrey Hills!

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