I had a small companion with me for this walk and she was keen to visit somewhere new where we hadn't been before. After dropping off older daughter for a weekend away younger daughter and I took advantage of being away from home to visit Surrey and thought that Waverley Abbey would make for a good focal point for our walk. Hence we chose walk number 13 from the Pathfinder Guide volume 65 Surrey Walks.
Our walk started in Tilford. Unfortunately I got my bearings a little wrong and we ended up parking just outside the village which meant that we had to walk a little way before getting to the official start at the village green. This was clearly set up for cricket but being a Friday there was no cricket today. As with so many villages in Surrey and Sussex though all the elements of tradition were there - beautiful houses; cricket pitch; attractive pub and as we were soon to discover - a functioning village shop. It was good to see that this corner of Surrey is thriving.
As soon as we left the village green behind we crossed the River Wey by a small historic looking bridge. This was apparently once used by monks from Waverley Abbey although I am sure the bridge has been modernised a bit since then. We stopped briefly at the village shop for some refreshments and continued along a path at the edge of the Wey Valley where the floodplain reaches the valley sides. It was interesting to see that there were lots of World War II relics alongside the path including pillboxes and tank traps. The home defence must have believed that this valley would have been used by the enemy to make incursions into the English countryside.
A little further on and we passed by the magnificent Tilhill House. This rather handsome looking house had recently undergone some renovations by the looks of things and the finished result was magnificent. Having finished the main house the renovators had turned their attentions to the outbuildings and I rather suspect that these were to be turned into holiday lets. Whatever the final use there was some serious investment going into this estate. My daughter befriended a cat here and I had to wait patiently while she finished with the stroking - that wasn't the only animal she made friends with that day.
Our onward walk continued through thick woodland and the rain of the week before ensured that some very deep puddles had formed on the path. In fact some were so large you would be forgiven for thinking they were ponds. They weren't at all inviting either as they were extremely black and murky looking. Even my daughter was wary of testing one! We were quite pleased to be past this section although what was to follow was equally unappealing albeit for very different reasons. The path came out onto a very busy road and we had to walk several hundred metres along here before finding the entrance to Waverley Abbey. The road did pass a rather fascinating section of weirs which were associated with the adjacent mill, although I somehow doubt that this still works.
We left the road and headed alongside a wider section of river, I imagine formed by the damming that we had seen by the road. This was I imagine the water supply and source of fish for the monks at the oldest Cistercian Abbey in the country. Not much of Waverley Abbey is left now. Along with so many of these religious institutions it was finished off by Henry VIII in the Reformation although in truth it was already in decline at that point. We were lucky in that our arrival coincided with the clearing of the clouds that had dogged us during the woodland phase of our walk. We took the opportunity to have our picnic here - the walls of the abbey providing a dry place to sit instead of the wet grass that had meant our shoes were already very wet.
Most of what is left of the abbey is the refectory - the church has long since been reduced to the outline and fragments of wall. I am always curious as to why it is the more domestic buildings that survive. Is it because the stone used for them is inferior and therefore a waste of time to use elsewhere? I imagine some of the better quality stone found its way over to the large house that has been built on the other side of the water. We lingered for quite a while reading the interpretation boards and finishing our picnic lunch. Even when we moved on we spent quite a lot of time by the water enjoying the butterflies and flowers.
We then had to retrace our steps along the rather horrible road (and in fact head on a little further) before disappearing into the woods once again. The path headed past a small collection of houses deep in the woods. The setting looked idyllic but I am not sure I would like to live in such a place. For me the trees moving about on a windy night would make me feel very nervous. We crossed another road and headed uphill to a viewpoint at Crooksbury Hill. From here we got the most amazing view south even being able to see Chanctonbury Ring, some 30+ miles away. By now the sun had taken over completely with most of the clouds moved off to the distance. With so many moving around though we didn't think that it would last and so made the most of our good fortune while it lasted.
Our onward walk was now almost completely woodland for a good long time as we crossed Crooksbury Common. We also enjoyed the fact that our path was largely downhill from the viewpoint. We enjoyed plenty of chat on this stage of our walk as although the woodland was lovely there was very little of note to get excited about. In fact we were hard pressed to even find any natural things to look at like flowers, fungi, butterflies or birds. The next thing of note we saw was a very elegant looking house as we approached the hamlet of Charleshill.
Across the road from the end of our path was a pub called the Donkey and we stopped here for a drink in the beer garden, enjoying the warm sunshine as we did so. As we sat enjoying our drinks the very kind staff from the pub came out armed with a bowl of vegetables for my daughter to feed the donkeys after which the pub gets its name. She was absolutely delighted and soon was feeding both of the donkeys who seemed very hungry! We stayed until all the vegetables and drinks were consumed and headed off on the last leg of our walk back into Tilford. This was largely along estate roads and country lanes. By now the sun had disappeared behind clouds again, meaning that we had a very different outlook on the countryside. It was just our luck that the sun didn't reappear until we reached the car once again. This was a short walk with a definite highlight of Waverley Abbey. The rest was pleasant but not especially diverting. The pub however is worth remembering for it was delightful - next time I shall aim for lunch here!