Map Reading Day

The chilly weather didn’t discourage our participants. The course was fully booked and all were very keen to learn how to use their maps and compasses in an accurate manner.

The morning was spent learning everything in theory and in the afternoon we tried to follow the instructions of the morning session, some more successfully than others.

A few comments at the end of the day:

“Thank you for a very informative day! I have learnt a lot – I just need to get out and practice now.”

“After today’s training, the map reading is not such a mystery any more. Thank you Peter!”

A Day out in Dorking

Part of our group, who had a fascinating day despite the weather, by the war memorial.

One of the many questions on the day was about the date, why 1919 instead 1918 designating the end of the war? We were told that it includes some who died after repatriation from wartime injuries.

A Society member comments on the day:

“Dorking is a very interesting town – surprising what there is behind the High Street which you normally never see as you travel through!”

Bluebells at Gatton Park


… where nature seamlessly meets the man-made.

The afternoon began, as it so often does on Surrey Hill Society visits, with greeting familiar faces and getting acquainted with some new members. All from the shelter of my waterproof hood as the clouds decided to sprinkle us with rain. Hey Ho: Spring Time in Surrey. No matter; within minutes of starting to walk, the sun broke through and we found ourselves bathed in the sight and sound of the bluebells of Nut Wood. A mile or so later, breaking out of the wood, the Capability Brown landscape opened out before us. However, it was only seeing it through the eyes of our expert guide, Glyn Sherratt, I realised just how much contrived the whole scene is. Was it just co-incidence that we passed by the lakes at exactly the time when the sunlight turned the ripples into gold and silver sparkles? Or was it that Glyn was guiding us according to Capability Brown’s design of when best to view it? Something to contemplate as I stood in the tranquillity of Japanese Garden. And yet nothing quite matched the privilege of seeing the view from Gatton House itself across the Mole Valley, usually only visible to the staff and students of the Royal Alexandra & Albert School. Tea, cakes and one final mystery before the end of the afternoon: just how did those earlier gardeners produce the Bundled Ash? I think it is rather nice that our predecessors can still baffle Modern Science!

Carol Coyne – Founder Member

A visit to the Arts and Crafts Community of Blackheath

What a day!  One recent Saturday I felt as if I had been transported back in time and I was once again reminded why I fell in love with the Surrey Hills in the first place.  I had the great pleasure of spending a day in Blackheath village and visiting a few of its magnificent Arts and Crafts houses.  This hidden gem in the heart of the Hills really is worth the visit.

I was a bit worried in the morning of the visit as it was pouring with rain when I left home and I was taking a friend with me promising her a day she wouldn’t regret.  Luckily the sun came out again as we entered the Cricket Pavilion where the other members of the group were gathered.  The sun stayed with us for the whole day and my friend enjoyed herself so much that at the end of the day she decided to join the Surrey Hills Society.

Thanks to the excellent organisation of the Society, we had Sarah Sullivan – an architect and member of the Arts & Crafts Movement in Surrey – as our leader for the day.   We were able to hear all about the history of the village and especially its Arts and Craft identity through the work of architects like Charles Harrison Townsend.  We also learned about influential women having sojourned in Blackheath – people like Anna Lea Merritt whose work can still be admired on the walls of the village church.

A wonderful lunch and delightful cream tea were served in the Arts and Crafts style Cricket Pavilion. Even a Victoria sponge cake, freshly made by the daughter of one of the home-owners of a house we visited, made its way to our table!  Delicious as it was, it disappeared in a flash.

What a lovely village and such marvellous and friendly inhabitants!  They say that once you settle down in Blackheath, you never move away.  You might swap houses with your neighbours, but not go further than that.  And now having seen it for myself, I truly understand why.

Marika Elzinga

Once again an enjoyable trek

I joined ‪#‎DiscoverGuildford at the Compton Circular walk a few weeks ago as a plan of ‪#‎GetFit2015 and decided to come on The Surrey Hills Society trek along The Devils Punchbowl which Pete also lead.
Pete is a really knowledgeable and fun guide to be with. He does not rush new trekkers like me. Instead he always takes good care of us with well-planned routes and good cultural and historical stories behind every corner we have been to. I thoroughly enjoy his treks.

We meet new people every single time; good fun, good laughs and good people. I strongly recommend these to all my friends and just cannot wait for a weekend to join a new trek as a mini getaway from the busy daily life.

Well done Pete, and good luck for your plan to climb the Kilimanjaro.

Thanh Hà Dương (who regularly participates to the 20-30s walks)

A novice joins our map-reading session…

Many are the woes of a keen rambler who doesn’t know how to use a compass. Whether it is the reluctance to explore the path less taken in a no-mobile-network area or being the group simpleton in a team of full of veteran ramblers, it is not fun being ‘that’ person. ‘That’ person could be the one getting ‘simplified’ instructions at de-briefing dinners or he/she could be the one that the Mountain Marshall distrusts! Don’t believe me? Let me narrate an incident.

Around mid-summer I took on the 3-peak challenge – climb 3 of the highest peak in the UK within 24 hours. Two of the ‘must-brings’ in the equipment list was a compass and a map. I argued that those items will only add to the weight in my bag without serving any other purpose. The Mountain Marshall decided that I was an enemy! He did remember, though, at the de-briefing dinner to keep instructions simple. “In case you separate from the group and get lost, keep going northwest and you are bound to hit the right trail”. Then, catching the Garfield-look from me, he goes ‘walk compass needle pointing top left!’ See what I mean?

So no points for guessing my reaction when I saw the Surrey Hills Navigation Walk advertised in the Newsletter. It was a sign – the universe was telling me to overcome my navigation disability.

After waiting for, what to me seemed like forever, D-day, July 2, dawned bright and sunny. A small group of friendly people under Pete’s leadership met at the Chilworth station. Starting from the Station, the group was paired up and it was decided that each of the pair take turns to lead. Each team of two was assigned the co-ordinates and it was their responsibility to figure out the path and get from Point A to Point B. Although this was a follow-up walk to a theoretical meet-up last February, absolute newbies like me (I only became a member at the end of June 2014) were given due guidance in understanding some of the map’s features and legends. Needless to say, it was one of the most interesting of walks I had done recently. The comradeship that comes out of knowledge sharing and information consulting can be quite stimulating. It keeps you encouraged, energised but mostly involved.

To me, as someone, who is keen on improving directional abilities, the best part of the walk was when we stopped on Blackheath to get our bearings. Standing there in a heath, setting the map with the compass so that it matches what you see in the distance and trying to point it in the right direction was quite interesting. We had the St Martha’s Church (yes the one at St Martha’s Hill, what an incredible sight) in the distance which we used to identify our position with, adjust the Magnetic North and Map Grid North and then decided on the direction of the path that would take us to our pre-designated spot.

At the end of the walk, I was, as they say ‘well chuffed’!

As a new member, I am keen to see unique and interesting Walks like these.

Can’t wait for Pete to organise another such walk. Come rain or shine I will sign up!

Editors NoteThe author of this article – Supriya – is a young Indian lady who is working in Surrey at the moment. She comes from a family background where walking in the country is not regarded as “safe” so the concept of walks in the Surrey Hills is inspirational for her. She has recently joined the Society, and taken part in a number of our 20’s to 30’s events and others from our mainstream programme. Supriya is an excellent ambassador for the Society and shows the way that we can help people to explore and appreciate our special Surrey Hills.

Vineyard Development in Surrey

I first became interested in English wines in the mid-1970’s when a couple of very warm summers helped producers to show what could be achieved. I remember examples from Hampshire, Sussex, Kent and even Essex but have no recollection of Surrey being represented. How things have changed! Surrey now has at least seven vineyards producing wine grapes and several more have been planted but are not yet in production. Denbies was probably the first and is certainly the largest. Others are Godstone, Greyfriars (Hogs Back), High Clandon (just entering production), Iron Railway (Merstham), Painshill (Cobham) and Wisley. Amongst the vineyards which have not yet started producing is Albury Organic Vineyard (by Silent Pool).

Developing a vineyard in Surrey requires a lot of faith and dedication. This is not because of the climate or geology – both of which can be checked out beforehand – but because of the capital investment and long lead time before a product is available to sell.

Having bought, leased or otherwise obtained the land, the soil needs to be prepared and planted with young vines. These days, this can be a high tech project. I recently watched a 4-5 hectare plot at Greyfriars vineyard being planted. A GPS beacon was set upon the corner of the plot – if the rows are too narrow or wiggly, then a tractor cannot get up and down them to work the vineyard and if they are too far apart, valuable land is wasted. A specialist vehicle, hired with it’s crew from Germany, was being driven up and down the slope using the GPS for exact positioning. On the rear of it, two people were feeding the young vines into equipment which dug the hole, planted the vine and backfilled as it went along. The expectation was that all of the 13,000 vines required for the plot would be planted within about a day! This is an enormous step forward from the traditional hand-planting approach which was so time consuming and labour intensive.

Posts and wires need to be erected along all the rows of vines to allow them to be trained and supported. Tying in of shoots, pruning, spraying, weeding and various other tasks keep the vineyard staff busy throughout the year. Then comes the winter. The vines need to be pruned back during their dormant season and are relatively hardy at this point. But once the sap begins to rise and shoots have started to show, frost becomes a major risk. Frost damage in the spring can knock back the new growth and decimate the potential crop. There are many techniques used to minimise frost damage but vineyard owners tend to have disturbed nights whenever there is a frost warning. Many vineyards can also suffer from animal and bird invasions which would destroy shoots, buds and grapes, so deterrents such as fencing, netting and bird scarers may all be needed to protect the crop.

The growing, pruning and vine management cycle continues for three years before the vines are old enough to produce grapes for a little bit of wine. This first crop is likely to be small but very eagerly awaited. The grapes will be picked and vinified and it is only the following spring that the vineyard owner gets a first taste of the still wine that has taken so much commitment to produce. Many of Surrey’s producers are aiming to make sparkling wine and these patient folks have to wait several years more to taste their first product since the process takes so much longer.

Some owners will have taken the major step of building their own vinification and bottling units whilst for others, third party contracts will be more cost effective. Either way, this is another significant overhead. Then there is labelling, storage, marketing and the inevitable vat on the product.

English wines are now winning significant numbers of awards and the best are winning internationally. Surrey is a natural home of sparkling wine due to the local geology and it is definitely true that the quality, complexity and finesse of these wines is comparable with many premium products from elsewhere. So when you buy your next bottle of Surrey wine, don’t consider that it is expensive compared to the mass produced products from some other parts of the world. What you are buying is a high quality local product with a flavour that encapsulates the Surrey land, climate and dedication of its producers. Go out and buy some today if you want to confirm this for yourself!

Ken Bare