Surrey Hills Society celebrating with Mole Valley District Council

Following the recent announcement of our Queens Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS), we received an invitation from the Chairman of Mole Valley District Council (MVDC) to attend their full meeting on 9th July.   Chris Howard, Ken Bare and Martin Cantor represented the Society and Ken talked for a few minutes over a slide show about the role of the Society and the importance of all the work done by our volunteers.

Mary Huggins, the Chairman of MVDC, then presented the Society with a certificate to recognise our achievement.

The slideshow/talk can be found as part of the MVDC webcast click here with the relevant section beginning about 10 minutes into the recording.

It was also pleasing that Carmel O’Shea from the Dorking based Patchworking Garden was also presented with a certificate for their QAVS.  The Society has visited the garden on two occasions and one of our key volunteers is also a core volunteer of that group – mainly as a result of being on our first visit there.

From left to right: Martin Cantor, Carmel O’Shea, MVDC Chairman Mary Huggins, Chris Howard and Ken Bare

Surrey Hills Society took the stall to Cranleigh Carnival

Four Surrey Hills Society volunteers took our Surrey Hills stall to the Cranleigh Carnival on Saturday 29th June, as part of our summer shows programme of raising awareness with local people about the extent and the importance of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Chris Howard, Vice President of the Society and lead volunteer for the Cranleigh Carnival said, “I always look forward to the Cranleigh Carnival. It is such a friendly, happy community event, with so much to see and to do. I think the Carnival parade really makes the whole day. The local schools, Girl Guides and other local organisations dress up to a theme each year – this year being Cowboys and Indians.  Best of all though is the two samba bands that play every year. So colourful to watch!”

“It is such a nice way to spend a Saturday, talking to nice people about a wonderful topic – our precious Surrey Hills,” she added.

If you would like to consider offering to volunteer for the Surrey Hills Society Shows programme over the summer season – even just once a year at your local show, please contact: to discuss further.

A big “Thank You” to all our Volunteers

On 2nd June it was announced that the Surrey Hills Society had received The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS). This award honours the outstanding contribution of all our Surrey Hills Society volunteers in their support for the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).  It is the equivalent of an MBE and, as it states on the official website, “It is granted to exceptional volunteer groups across the UK who are making a positive impact on the lives of others.”

The selection process is rigorous, looking at all aspects of what the Society has been doing in recent years and how it achieves the objectives for which it was created.  But more than these processes, it is the people who make our organisation such a success.  We identified that there are currently approximately 70 active volunteers who give their time freely to support the Society across a range of activities.  Amongst these are our Trustees and management team, members of various sub-teams who deal with communications, events, our newsletter, membership, support at shows, finance, administration and so on. These people are the life blood of the Society and their work enables all our members – and those that we connect with through all our activities – to enjoy, enhance and conserve the Surrey Hills AONB.

But it is not only our current band of volunteers to whom we dedicate this Award success.  We could never have created such as successful and vibrant charity if it had not been for the hard work and foresight of those who helped establish the Society and have supported us throughout the years.  Many names come to mind but three in particular deserve a special mention. 

Neil Maltby (left) with Peter Hattersley, a very long serving Shows volunteer

Our founding chairman – Neil Maltby – steered us through our first three years and is now our President.  Neil’s contacts and enthusiasm gave us the firm foundations from which we are still benefiting.

June Robinson (right) with Diane Cooper, our Marketing and Communications Team Leader

June Robinson came on board as a paid administrator but did far more hours as a volunteer than she ever did in return for payment.  June not only managed the Chairman and Trustees and kept the organisation pointing in the right direction but she was also the “go to” person when we needed input on Arts related matters or contacts in the area. Added to that, June was such a highly motivated volunteer that she was a major player in driving the Society forward through those early years. She famously said that she would have finished her job when she had made herself redundant.  By that she meant that all her work had been passed on to competent volunteers.  She succeeded and moved on to other activities – but is still a very supportive member.

Another founder member who had a major impact on the direction of the Society was Graham Butler who, sadly, died recently.  Graham was the first chairman of our Events team and it was he who instigated the early elements of our walks programme which now goes from strength to strength. 

Graham Butler (right) with other Founder Members who volunteered during our early years

Again, his breadth of knowledge gained via his role with the Ramblers and similar organisations, enabled us to kick start our events programme and create activities which our members wanted to take part in.  This then provided an engine to drive membership growth and support the rest of our work.

Over the years, many volunteers have been part of what makes the Society special and we thank all of them for their contributions.  One of the things which differentiates the Surrey Hills Society from many other charities and volunteer groups is that our remit is to promote, and conserve the Surrey Hills AONB but we don’t own or have responsibility for any land.  Thus we are able to work with, and support, any other relevant organisations across the AONB to our mutual benefit.  As an “umbrella” organisation we can work with other charities (large or small) and are quite happy for our members to head off and work with them if they find a topic of interest.  For example, we have members who volunteer with the National Trust in various roles – in some cases as the result of an interest triggered by one of our visits.  Another one took part in a visit to a therapy garden at Dorking, joined their team and this year that group has also been awarded the QAVS.  There are many more examples of our members becoming volunteers either with us or with partner organisations.  The key point is that all of them are doing things which they enjoy and that benefit the long term future of the Surrey Hills AONB.

Volunteers come from all age groups and backgrounds, with different skill sets and with differing interests or amounts of free time.  We have opportunities for all of them to help grow the Society so that we can show to the world that not only were we good enough to get the Queens Award for Voluntary Service in 2019 but that we are using it as a launch pad to get even better and more successful in future years.

A massive “Thank You” and “Congratulations” to all our volunteers – past and present.

Surrey Hills Society receives The Queens Award for Voluntary Service

More than 70 Surrey Hills Society volunteers have been recognised for their outstanding contributions in support of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, as a result of the Surrey Hills Society receiving The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, which is the equivalent of an MBE for volunteer groups.

The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service is the highest award given to local volunteer groups across the UK to recognise outstanding work done in their own communities. It was created in 2002 to celebrate the anniversary of HM The Queen’s Coronation.

Surrey Hills Society volunteers promote this special protected landscape in many different ways, ranging from:

  • Manning our stall at local shows across the county, handing out free walks leaflets and showcasing the special attractions of the area
  • Giving talks to other groups and organisations
  • Running events to educate our members and residents about the area
  • Leading free walks across the county
  • Supporting and promoting the work of other related charities

Our volunteers share their passion for everything to do with the Surrey Hills – from its wonderful flora and fauna and rare habitats to its unique culture and heritage, as well as its leisure opportunities. They also collaborate with other organisations across the Surrey Hills to raise funds for agreed worthwhile projects within the area, which benefits both wildlife and the residents of Surrey.

Representing all the award-winning volunteers, former Vice Chairman, Ken Bare and his wife Angela Hume, who is also a volunteer with the Surrey Hills, attended a Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace recently to celebrate the charity’s success. Along with Chris Howard, Ken is probably the most well-known volunteer with the Society, as he has been the lead at shows and fetes across Surrey for the last ten years and is also the main public speaker for the talks programme that is delivered to a variety of organisations across the south east.

Ken said: “It was such a privilege to be invited to Buckingham Palace. Being a representative for all the volunteers across the Surrey Hills was a great honour. It was a wonderful occasion and we were lucky enough to have a beautiful sunny day to enjoy the magnificent garden at its best.”

Meanwhile all volunteers from the charity will be celebrating later this year, when the Surrey Hills Society will be presented with the award by Michael More-Molyneux, Lord-Lieutenant of Surrey.

Gordon Jackson, Chairman of the Society, said: “We are absolutely delighted to receive this Queen’s Award, which recognises the huge voluntary contribution this relatively young charity has made to this county. I am so pleased that our volunteers have been given the recognition that they deserve and we look forward to continuing to promote the iconic and distinctive landscape of the Surrey Hills and to help discover and conserve our Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”.

Current Vice President, Chris Howard, who was Chairman of the Society for seven years and stood down only last year said “We hope our volunteers feel extremely proud of the recognition that this award represents. They have all been so wonderful to work with and many have become my dearest friends”. Chris added: “I would recommend volunteering with the Surrey Hills Society to anyone who shares a passion for the Surrey Hills’ unique landscape and wants to learn more about this wonderful countryside on their doorstep.”

Celebrating the North Downs Way with Farnham Walking Festival

Surrey Hills Society Walk Leaders Pete Lambert, Chris Howard and Ken Bare led 21 walkers along the North Downs Way National Trail from Farnham to Chilworth, as part of this year’s Farnham Walking Festival. 

The North Downs Way is one of 15 nationally designated trails in the UK, which covers 153 miles from Farnham to Canterbury. Farnham Walking Festival is now in its third year. The Surrey Hills Society has led a walk along the trail each year as part of the festival.

Walk Leader Chris Howard said “We are delighted to support the Farnham Walking Festival and provide this walk each year.  It is such an interesting walk, covering 14 miles of varied terrain from flat sandy farmland at the start, through woodlands and pretty villages like Puttenham, before climbing the Downs towards Guildford at the ruined chapel of St Catherine’s. After crossing the river the route passes over Shalford Park and up into the picturesque woodlands of the Chantries. The final ascent of the day is to St Martha’s Chapel, where you are rewarded with fantastic views over the Tillingbourne Valley. The walk finishes by following a path through the ruined Gunpowder Mills of Chilworth.”

The day came to its end with a relaxing drink at the Percy Arms Pub to finish off the day before returning to Farnham via the adjacent train station.

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.