Deepdene Trail and Betchworth Castle

Blessed with wonderful weather, we were fortunate in being guided around the Grade 2 listed Deepdene gardens by Alex Bagnall from Mole Valley District Council, who has led the Deepdene project since it started over 10 years ago.

Starting after coffee at Dorking Golf Club, we climbed up onto the Terrace with wonderful views across Chart Park to the South Downs in one direction and down across the formal Deepdene gardens to Box Hill in the other direction. This is the site of a Temple, back in the heyday of the gardens.

We then wound down through the woodland and descended the steps by the Embattled Tower to the Parterre. Here we were given a potted history of the gardens and house, and their owner Thomas Hope.  We also learnt about the tunnels that extend into the hillside under the Tower and were used as the railway offices, during the war. We were given a vision of future work to be carried out in the development of the site and of the work undertaken by the fantastic volunteers.

Embattled Tower from Parterre

We walked up the slope to the Grotto, and after an introduction to its history, climbed the flint steps back to the Terrace.

We then descended past the Golf Club to visit the Mausoleum and learn about the occupants still resident and about how it was buried when the gardens were abandoned.

Deepdene Mausoleum

After lunch at the Golf Club, we were guided by Gail Mackintosh, another long standing member of the Deepdene trail team from Mole Valley District Council, to walk, still on the Deepdene Trail, across Betchworth Golf Course to the ruins of Betchworth Castle. After the Castle was abandoned, it was deliberately demolished to form a folly.

Betchworth Castle

We walked back across the fields, with views back to Brockham and across to the North Downs, before returning to Dorking Golf Club. 

This was inspiring visit to one of Surrey’s hidden gems, guided by members of the team that have worked on the project for over 10 years.

Walk from Shere to Albury Saxon Church in association with Investec International Music Festival

This year marks the 10th year of the Investec International Musical Festival and the Surrey Hills Society was delighted to be invited to integrate interesting walks into the festival. This is hopefully the beginning of a long-term collaboration between the Festival and the Society.

The walk started in the beautiful village of Shere. We strolled through the village, along the side of the Tillingbourne River and into the ancient woodlands, where we were told how the woods are managed, and onto Albury Park.

On arriving at the church, we were met by a volunteer from the Friends of Albury Saxon Church, who informed us that the church dates back to Saxon and Norman times. The large front door dates from the 13th Century and she opened the door with the original key, which is quite ornate and around a foot long and really rather heavy.  Inside, the church is light and airy and the works of refurbishment have been carried out leaving many of the original features being enhanced. There is a rather bizarre painting depicting St. Christopher with Jesus perched on his shoulders. 

The ceiling of the Drummond Memorial Chapel

On the side of the church is the Drummond Memorial Chapel, commemorating Henry Drummond who bought Albury Park in 1819.  This is so different from the main Church.  The main part of the church is very understated and plain in its appearance, but the Chapel is incredibly ornate with wonderful colours and a stunning stained-glass window.  It actually feels rather out of place in such an old and modest church.  We were lucky enough to have this part of the church open to us.

The soprano, Kim Collins singing in the ancient, main part of the Church

After our very interesting talk, we were offered refreshments of tea and coffee and wonderful homemade cakes. We were delighted to be serenaded by Kim Collins and Stephen Petch, a soprano and tenor of exceptional quality, providing us with a short but varied programme. The acoustics of the church augmented their truly fabulous talent.

On our circular walk back to Shere, we were shown the Catholic Apostolic Church and there was talk of the priest-holes and underground tunnels. Our morning was completed by a lovely lunch in Shere village. I think integrating the Music Festival with the Society was such a wonderful idea and I look forward to seeing what will be on offer next year.

Discovering Ramster Gardens

“So where are Ramster Gardens?”  This is likely to be the response from most people when it is suggested that they deserve a visit.  The simple answer is that if one heads down the A283 from Milford towards Petworth, passing through Chiddingfold, the gardens will be found about one kilometre before falling over the county boundary into Sussex.

Rhododendrons during our visit

Our intrepid group of Society members and their friends make this journey recently and braved a wet and miserable drive to do so.  Was it worth it?  Unquestionably!  Everyone had a wonderful time wandering around this beautiful woodland garden and enjoying magnificent displays of rhododendrons, azaleas, acers and many other plants.  Being a combination of glades, valleys and hidden corners, each section has its own microclimate.  Thus we had plants which were flowering early, others which one would have expected to be well past their peak and a whole host of the unexpected.  The weather may have been wet to start with but as the sun came out later in the morning, the colours really glowed.

Added to the plants were the superb sculptures – ranging from bronzes and stone structures to some superb wooden carvings.  These included a family of hogs all carved from a single tree-trunk and a bench with the back carved as an owl in flight.  As one of our group said on first seeing it – “Absolutely brilliant”.

Part of our group with a sculpture

For almost all the group this was a first time visit but for many it certainly won’t be the last.  At least one couple signed up there and then for garden membership so that they could get a season ticket.

The “icing on the cake” – if you will excuse the pun – was the tearoom.  Not only did it provide us with shelter on arrival but also enabled us to sample their tea and cakes. These cakes are wonderful and the tearoom (which is accessible without having to pay for garden entry) is worth a visit just to sample them.

Was it a success?  Definitely.  The gardens are also open briefly in the autumn to show off their autumn colours. We know that several of our group will be heading back then – if not before.