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.

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.

Happy St John Seminary visitors

This visit was so popular that we had to open a second group and double our number of participants. Everyone was very pleased with the event and shared their enthusiasm as below:

“I drive by this building almost every day and have wanted to look inside for a long time.”

“What a fascinating building architecturally!”

“One thing I really like about the Surrey Hills Society, is that we get to see things that are not open to the general public.”

A big thank you to our lovely members and to our volunteer event organiser! The event wouldn’t have happened without him giving his time.

Exploring Godstone & Tilburstow Hill – free Sunday walk

Thirty members of the Society explored Godstone and Tilburstow Hill in the east of the County on a frosty February morning. Although we could see the M25 Motorway in the distance on our walk, the area is incredibly beautiful and rural.

Starting on the green in Godstone we originally explored the series of lakes developed by the Evelyn family in 1588 for their gunpowder mills. The area is now known as Bay Pond and is a nature reserve managed by Surrey Wildlife Trust. We then ascended the steep Tilburstow Hill and explored the Greensand Way, with several outstanding panoramic views along the way.

The area is extremely historic and is mentioned in the 1086 Domesday Book. It was owned by King Ethelred and was passed to his daughter Goda upon her marriage and became known as “Goda’s Place”. Goda died in 1055.

Godstone is built on a stretch of the Brighton Way Roman Road, which comes through the high Caterham Gap, and continues southward along Tilburstow Hill Road.

The village was also a famous historic coach stop with The Bell Inn dating from 1393. The White Hart and the Hare and Hounds date from 1500s. Several members very sensibly reserved tables in advance of the walk as the pubs here are incredibly popular and it is impossible to get a table on spec on the day. There are also several really nice cafes which our members sampled both before and after our walk.

Surrey’s Local Producers – a talk by our Vice President

In late January, the Society was lucky enough to enjoy a fascinating talk by one of our Vice Presidents, Ken Bare, in the lovely Shere Village Hall.

Ken has a wealth of experience when it comes to the Surrey Hills and in particular to the small artisan businesses that have started and grown over the years.  The talk lasted for an hour and a half and was very varied in relation to the businesses that not only survive but thrive in the area.  Ken also discussed in detail the various problems that some of the smaller producers faced on a daily basis and also ways people are diversifying in order to create a new business from an existing one.

An example of this is The Fillet and Bean which is a fully fitted kitchen within an american Airstream caravan.  The owner runs a farm in the Surrey Hills and uses his own meat to supply the unit.  The caravan is taken all over the area to support numerous shows, fêtes, corporate launches, etc and provides wonderful free range meat dishes and good quality locally roasted and blended coffee.

The variety of businesses described was really diverse – including a lavender grower, a coppice expert, a rocking horse maker, food & drink producers and many more.  It was an inspiring talk and one that reminded us of the quality and varied local produce that we are fortunate to have on our doorsteps.

Although this talk formed part of the Society’s events programme, it is also available to be given to external groups and organisations – just contact for more details.

Greensand Way from Haslemere to Hindhead

Our monthly, free guided walk took us this time along Greensand Way from Haslemere to Hindhead

For the first event of the new year, 25 members of the Surrey Hills Society set off from Haslemere for a 6 mile walk along the Greensand Way to Hindhead. The walk was in celebration of the Surrey Hills Inspiring Views project. An Arts project to create beautiful works of art that also serve as benches, on which you can sit and admire the view. The bench at Hindhead was created by Sir Walter Bailey and is called Xylem.

For this bench at Gibbets Hill, Hindhead, the artist explored charcoal, its historical relevance to the Greensand Way and how this material has supported individuals and industries enabling the shaping of copper, bronze, glass and iron. He examined charcoal under the microscope and made enlarged studies of these to inform his intuitive approach of carving directly out of oak.

Everyone enjoyed getting out in the fresh air after Christmas. Several members had not been to the Haslemere area before and commented on how pretty the area was.

Chris Howard, Walk Leader

Have Your Say

The Surrey Hills was one of the first landscapes in England to be designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1958. It is now one of 34 AONBs in England and has equivalent landscape status to a National Park.

Every 5 years the Surrey Hills AONB Board have a statutory duty to produce a Management Plan setting the policies for the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Plan needs to be approved by the Secretary of State and adopted by all the local authorities to ensure the Surrey Hills is conserved and enhanced for future generations.

This is YOUR opportunity to inform the policies and priorities in the Surrey Hills AONB Management Plan for 2019 – 2024.  Let us know why the Surrey Hills are important to you and help us to identify the main challenges and opportunities for the future.

Simply visit and complete the short survey by 13 January 2019.

A Change of Chairs

At our October AGM, Chris Howard stood down as Chairman having completed her allotted time as defined by our Constitution.  Although the formal business of the AGM allowed us to have a small amount of time to say “Thank You”, the Society decided that it would be more fitting to have a separate celebratory event to recognise Chris’s enormous contribution.  Thus was the Change of Chairs event born.

We felt that this event would also be a great opportunity for our members to meet and get to know the incoming Chairman, Gordon Jackson, and for him to get feedback on the way our members want the Society to evolve.

It is a well established fact that our members like their food and drink so, to provide continuity to the evening, we put on a substantial buffet and – in a long standing tradition – created one of our photo quizzes about the Surrey Hills.

The evening was a great success and as Chris said afterwards “I for one thoroughly enjoyed myself. It was lovely to just enjoy the event, rather than worrying about delivering an effective AGM”.


Footnote: Chris Howard and Ken Bare may have ceased to be Chair and Vice-Chair of the Society but they have not gone away.  The Trustee board has appointed them as Vice-Presidents and in that role they will continue to work closely with the Society, supporting new initiatives and working as active volunteers.