A Day on the Farm

On a glorious mid-September day, members of the Society visited Manor Farm at Wotton to learn more about farming in the midst of the Surrey Hills. After a brief introduction in the farmyard, we climbed into a large cattle trailer and were taken for an extended trip around the area to see various aspects of the business. 

We were privileged to be hosted by Paula Matthews and her husband Laurence – both of whom took time out to give us a fascinating insight into their work.  Whilst Laurence joined us in the trailer to give a commentary on what we were seeing, Paula did a sterling job driving around opening gates for our tractor / trailer and keeping everything running smoothly.  However, once we arrived at the Belted Galloways, we had a complete role reversal.  These are clearly one of Paula’s loves and the time we spent on that aspect gave us a much better understanding of the rearing of the animals, how they are used effectively for conservation grazing and, ultimately, how they become part of the food chain.

This latter aspect was particularly relevant since Laurence had taken the landrover at that point and dashed back to base to get the barbeque sorted out ready for our meal of home-made Belted Galloway beef-burgers plus all the trimmings.  Truly an example of “from farm to fork”.

Manor Farm is one of the larger farms in Surrey with the Matthews family managing about 3000 acres as tenant farmers, under about 10 landlords, plus another 30 or so of their own land.  We learned a little about the complexities of such an estate and the way that global economics play such a major part in modern farming.  One example of this was how the selling price of different grades of wheat are impacted not only by international demand but also by exchange rates and climatic issues – which are well beyond the control of the producer.

We all had a great time on this visit, learning a lot, seeing another important aspect of our Surrey Hills, and gaining a better appreciation of the way that farming shapes our landscape.  Oh, and we had some brilliant food as well!  The finale was the opportunity to order “Beltie Beef Bags” for the next sale of meat from the farm.  More details of this aspect can be found on their website www.manorfarmsurrey.com.

Our visit to Mane Chance Sanctuary in Compton

On 17th September we were lucky enough to have a private tour of this very special little part of the Surrey Hills. 

In 2011 the actress Jenny Seagrove set up Mane Chance charity to home some horses that a friend of hers could no longer look after.  Through a lot of hard work and galvanising many of her friends and acquaintances she bought the land in Compton and it is now in trust for the Charity.

We were greeted with tea and coffee and cake which is always a good start to any Society function and then were shown a promotional film about the Sanctuary which was incredibly moving, learning of how badly some of these poor beautiful creatures were treated prior to them being brought to the Sanctuary.

We then had a guided tour of the Sanctuary and were introduced to some of the horses and Shetland ponies.  There is a brand new area of the Sanctuary specifically designed for Shetland ponies which was opened this summer by Michael Crawford, a friend of Jenny’s. 

During our visit we were informed of how the volunteers and paid staff managed to gain the trust of each horse depending on their circumstances prior to being rescued.  It could take many months of very careful love and attention to even be allowed to get close to a horse as they would be fearful of humans if they had been badly treated.

Our tour was followed by a picnic in the orchard complete with Jenny’s dog very enthusiastically playing amongst us.

Many children visit the Sanctuary who may have learning difficulties or a physical disability and with help they manage to relax and the horses seem to have an affinity with them.  The Sanctuary also holds corporate visits to promote team building.

All the people who work, volunteer and fundraise for the charity are so very enthusiastic and really enjoy being there helping these magnificent creatures live their lives out in this haven of care and love.

Growing Ventures in the Surrey Hills

Outside Grace and Flavour

On an extremely wet day in August, a group of members visited two venues in Horsley engaged in growing things.

We arrived at Grace and Flavour while it was still fine and so opted to do the tour of the garden first. This is an amazing set up, totally run and worked by volunteers. For their pains they become members and can then purchase the fresh produce which is harvested weekly. The cost of the vegetables for you is then set depending on how much work you have put into the garden.

It is a no-dig system which seems to work very well – we certainly saw an awful lot of produce which would be harvested in the coming weeks. All the plants are grown from seed and the rotation of crops is carefully planned. There is fruit too – soft fruit and apples, pears and plums.

This year is their 10th anniversary and they have certainly come a long way from the walled area that was very overgrown with brambles and had become a dumping ground. They managed to secure a grant which helped them to build their large ‘potting shed’ which provided shelter for us as the rain hammered on the roof while John, the head gardener, told us all about the project.

Thanks to all at Grace and Flavour who gave up their time to show us around and particularly to John Fluker, a Society member and erstwhile chairman of Grace and Flavour who helped us set up the visit.

After warming up over lunch in the pub, we made our way to Plantpassion. We were particularly pleased to include a visit to a member of Surrey Hills Enterprises, another part of the Surrey Hills family. Claire Brown is indeed passionate about her flower growing and about providing flowers that are actually grown here locally. She gave us a quick introduction to what she is doing and then we wandered round the flower growing area looking at amazing dahlias amongst other things. Again the weather was not kind, but a cup of tea and homemade cake soon made up for it.

We then had a demonstration of how Claire puts together a bouquet from her flowers. We raffled the result which not only by chance gave the Chairman’s wife, Sue Jackson, a very attractive bouquet to take home but also raised some extra funds for the Society.

Claire at Plantpassion

Everyone felt that we had made the most of a pretty awful weather day with interesting things to see at both venues.

SHS helps make Guildford Walkfest a success

1st September saw the start of Guildford Walking Festival – a month long series of free walks in and around Guildford Borough. Walks have been organised by a whole range of organisations and walking groups – including Surrey Hills Society (SHS) who are also joint sponsors of the festival. Of the fifty or so walks scheduled, ten of them are organised and/or led by us – a significant percentage!

The Society has always had a strong focus on getting the public out into the Surrey Hills and local communities so it should not come as a surprise that we have been strong supporters of the walking festival for some years. However, in recent times that involvement has grown significantly. For a good number of years, our then chairman – Christine Howard – formed part of the organising team but when the chairmanship of Walkfest was vacated, Chris stepped up and got the organisation back on track.

Helen Barnsley, representing Guildford Borough Council (GBC) was already involved but is also an active volunteer for SHS – particularly helping at our external shows and on our own walks. Other SHS members have also taken on various organisational roles: Jeff Holliday from our Events team, Pete Lambert organising and leading walks, Ken Bare helping to produce the brochure and as author of the Walkfest Blog, Steve Peacock – who undertook much of the mapping and walk development of our Tales of the Tillingbourne project – is leading a walk as is our new Chairman, Gordon Jackson.

All of the events with which we are involved are appearing on the Events page of our website and it was good to see a number of our members turning up for the launch walk on the 1st – clearly the advertising is working.

With Guildford Mayor, Richard Billington, cutting the tape to get the festival off to a start, this first event was a gentle stroll from Spectrum Leisure Centre. It took in nearby ancient woodland, WWII defences and then followed the paths around Stoke Park to discover some of the lesser known features. The 24 attendees thoroughly enjoyed themselves in the warm sunny weather and everyone discovered places and facts that were new to them whilst benefiting from fresh air and gentle exercise.

Why not take a look at the Walkfest programme at www.guildfordwalkfest.co.uk or pick up a brochure from Guildford Tourist Information office in the High Street, GBC reception at Millmead or various other locations across the town. Walks vary from less than a mile – for example Town Guides walks and many of the Walking for Health events – through to a small number of long distance walks along sections of the North Downs Way. There is even a sponsored walk on Saturday 28th September from Guildford to Dorking in aid of Guildford Street Angels – led, as you might expect, by SHS.

There really is something for everyone and as it says in the Walkfest advertising – Keep Healthy, Keep Walking.