Blowing off the cobwebs – today’s walk around Godalming

Here we are at the Phillips Memorial Cloister

Fifty members of the Surrey Hills Society attended the first event of 2020 – the charities monthly free walk somewhere in the Surrey Hills. This month the group explored the beautiful market town of Godalming – often included in the top 5 in any survey of the best places to live.

Our members, on this town walk, could all see why it is such a popular place to live.  Apart from its convenient commute to London by train, its ancient High Street, with many of the buildings dating from the 15th and 16th centuries, and expansive countryside seen all around, gives it a very attractive feel. The large Jack Phillips Memorial Gardens, sitting alongside the wet lands nature reserve of the Lammas Lands, give the residents of Godalming an attractive place to come and enjoy all year round.

Jack Philips was the radio operator on RMS Titanic, the fatal ship that sank on its maiden voyage in 1912. He stayed at his post to the end, sending out SOS messages in the hope of being heard by passing ships. The local community and the Wireless and Telegraph Company he worked for created a fund to commemorate this 25 year old Godalmian. The cloister was designed by famous Arts and Crafts architect, Hugh Thackery Turner and the surrounding gardens by influential garden designer and local resident, Gertrude Jekyll.

Chris Howard

Walking off our Christmas Puddings

What a tremendous turnout for our annual Walk off Your Christmas Puddings walk!  About 55 people congregated at the March Hare in Guildford.

It was quite a sight as we trekked down through the the back roads on to a route that took us along the North Downs Way and then gently up through the Chantries to enjoy spectacular views to the West and South with Shalford and Chilworth lying in the valley below.

After all the rain we have had recently, there was inevitably a little bit of mud to negotiate, but overall the walk was remarkably dry. It was great to see some new faces, and several people I spoke to said that they just hadn’t realised that there was such beautiful countryside, a few minutes walk from the centre of Guildford.


Avoiding the mud and

through the gate

From the Chantries, our walk leader, Pete Lambert, led us towards Pewley Down through pleasant green fields below Halfpenny Lane where we admired some very impressive houses in the distance .

With so many people joining us, we met quite a few walkers, who wanted to know who we were. It was great that so many immediately knew of the Surrey Hills Society and recognised the work that the Society does for our precious landscape.

On the top of Pewley Down we drank in further wonderful views and we were able to see some of the work that is being done by the Pewley Down Volunteers, who clear areas to protect the habitat of the small blue butterfly, by encouraging the growth of kidney vetch that is essential food for its caterpillars.

On top of Pewley Down

From here it was a short walk back to Guildford and a well deserved mulled wine at the Keep Pub. By the end we all felt we had at least done something towards counteracting our Christmas feasting and we really couldn’t think of a better way to enjoy a mild Christmas morning out walking in our special Surrey Hills


Lovely walk and now for some mulled wine

Thank you to all the volunteers, who assisted with the organisation of our last walk of the year.

A very Happy New Year to everyone.

Gordon Jackson, Chairman

Celebrating the start of Christmas the Surrey Hills way

Following on from our annual walk up Holmbury Hill, followed by mulled wine and mince pies at Belmont School, on the first Saturday in December, our second festive event is natural wreath making and decorating for Christmas.  Sixteen members of the Society gathered for a sunny morning walk, gathering greenery in a private wood in Wonersh, near Guildford.

Foraging for winter greenery

The group then spent two happy hours talking and drinking mulled punch and mince pies while making some beautiful natural wreaths from twigs, moss, holly, ivy, yew and rose hips.

Volunteer leaders Chris Howard and Charlotte Choi led the group, while Jeff Holliday and Ken Bare kept the mulled punch and mince pies flowing. Chris said ” we had such a range of people come from a mum and 7 month old baby, to a mum with three grown up daughters who come every year to our wreath making.  It is one of their  family’s little treats over the festive season.”

Chris also explained that with all the talk about Climate change and habitat loss, it was important to cherish our wonderful native plants like holly and ivy.  The prickly holly makes a great hiding place for small birds, and the berries a natural food source. The ivy flowers late in the autumn so is a great source of nectar for insects, as well as great nesting sites for birds in the summer. Chris added “I encourage the participants to plant holly, ivy and yew in their gardens, so not only can they decorate their houses festively and cheaply at Christmas time, but they are also helping to sustain this counties wildlife all year round.

All finished and feeling Christmassy now

The next event in our festive season line up is a walk around Guildford on 27th December, called “Walk off your Christmas Pudding” led by Pete Lambert. 

Pre-Christmas walk for all the family from Belmont School

Getting into the festive spirit in the Surrey Hills

Belmont School

For the 11th consecutive year, the Surrey Hills Society have walked from Belmont School to Holmbury Hill, near Dorking, as part of their festive season celebrations. Originally designed as one off event for the charity’s members, it was requested again the following year and then again, until it became a regular festive date in our packed events calendar.

All proceeds from the walk go to support the work of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which covers about a quarter of our county. Over the years the event has raised well over £1,000 for our charity, thanks to the generosity of Belmont School, who have hosted the mulled wine and mince pies at the end of the walk.  The main building of the school is a Victorian Arts and Crafts designed house, created for Edwin Waterhouse – one of the founders of Waterhouse Coopers, the internationally known business consultancy firm. The house, originally called Feldemore, contains beautiful elements, including a tapestry by William Morris and De Morgan tiles.

Chairman of the Society, Gordon Jackson commented that “it is always such a pleasure to come to Belmont School and see the beautiful Arts and Crafts designs in this building, as well as see how the children have decorated their school each December.

The other treat is reaching the summit of this once Iron Age Hill Fort at Holmbury Hill, to take in the breath-taking view from the summit.”

The Surrey Hills Society has an eclectic mix of events and activities throughout the year which showcase all aspects of the Surrey Hills AONB, from its wildlife and conservation work, to its interesting architecture, music and cultural activities which includes walks, talks, visits and practical volunteering.

Fabulous walk and now for mulled wine and mince pies

New members are always welcome – why not make 2020 your year to get out and about learning more about our wonderful county?  See for more details.

Surrey Hills Symposium

Our Natural Health Service

We were delighted to support the Surrey Hills AONB Symposium, which was organised by the AONB team and our Chairman, Gordon Jackson, in his capacity as Chairman of the Advisory Panel for the Surrey Hills Trust Fund. This was a great event which brought together over 400 people with an interest in the Surrey Hills.

The theme of the Symposium was the importance of nature in improving society’s health and well being and we were honoured that Dame Penelope Keith, as Patron of the Surrey Hills, opened the evening and introduced the first guest speaker.

We heard a fascinating talk from Dr William Bird MBE, who founded the Walking for Health charity, which demonstrated the many medical benefits that are associated with being out in the countryside.

This was followed by a talk from Professor Caroline Scarles from the University of Surrey, who presented her research about Living Environments for Healthy Ageing. We heard how tests have shown that the elderly derive great benefits from experiencing the countryside through immersive technology even though they have been unable to go outside. In some cases this even encouraged people, who had not previously ventured out for some considerable time, to go on walks and enjoy the outdoors.

Dr Birgitta Gatersleben, also from the University of Surrey, concluded the presentations by giving the audience a brief summary of the findings of a research project carried out by Genevieve Lebus, under Birgitta’s supervision, entitled “Into the Wild”. This project was commissioned by the Surrey Hills Trust Fund in association with LC Energy and the University.

The detailed research runs to 100 pages and highlights the significant deprivation that exists in some parts of Surrey and identifies that some 10,000 young people aged between 5 and 15 suffer from mental health issues. It also reviews the many studies that demonstrate how young people’s health and well being can benefit significantly from being outdoors. There is clear evidence that mental health issues can start at a very young age and early intervention can prevent a person suffering later in life.

The study also identifies youth groups in Surrey that would like to do more in the countryside, as well as those that could help and the barriers that are encountered.

There was an enthusiastic question and answer session at the end of the presentations and the evening was concluded by the High Sheriff, Bridget Biddell, whose theme for her shrieval year is “Nurturing through Surrey’s Nature”. Gordon Jackson promised that the Surrey Hills Trust Fund and the AONB would establish a steering group to spearhead a concerted effort to work with all interested parties so as to develop ways to improve the opportunities for Surrey’s youth. The focus would be on young people from deprived areas and would look at ways to overcome barriers in order to capitalise on the many opportunities that already exist and facilitate engagement with the countryside through our beautiful Surrey Hills.

The presentations and the full text of the Into the Wild research project can be seen at

Our Royal Visit

Neil Maltby, Gordon Jackson, HRH Earl of Wessex, Chris Howard, Ken Bare

Earl of Wessex presents the Surrey Hills Society with The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service

The Earl of Wessex KG GCVO presented The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS) to the Surrey Hills Society on Wednesday 6 November 2019 at a ceremony attended by over 40 of our volunteers.  The presentation took place at Albury Old Saxon Church.  The Award has been presented to the Society for “encouraging people to explore and learn about the special qualities of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”.  It is the highest award given to local volunteer groups across the UK to recognise outstanding work done in their own communities and was created in 2002 to celebrate the anniversary of HM The Queen’s coronation.

Before presenting the Award, the Earl, HRH Prince Edward, spent time talking to the Society’s volunteers about the work that they do.  He heard about the Heritage Lottery funded Tales of the Tillingbourne project, which sought to encourage various communities along the valley of the River Tillingbourne to engage in the unique and beautiful landscape by researching its industries, promoting heritage trails throughout, capturing local knowledge through oral histories, and monitoring and recording the ecology of the river. Part of the legacy of the project is a permanent display at Shere Museum that includes 7 (1.2m high) puppets, that were specially loaned for the occasion.

The Earl was shown a short play by Nick White of Geeyou entitled “Tales of the Wey”, which the Society hopes to develop as part of a sequel to the Tales of the Tillingbourne Project.

His Royal Highness was also presented with two books.  One entitled, “Our Changing Landscape”, written and researched by Society Vice President Ken Bare, tells how the Surrey Hills AONB came into being 60 years ago and how the area has changed since.  The other “Walks for All Ages” was written by the Society’s other Vice President, Christine Howard and features 20 Surrey Walks ranging from 2 to 6 miles long. 

The Earl heard how we promote the special protected landscape and cultural heritage of the Surrey Hills, through activities such as:

  • manning stalls at local shows handing out free walks leaflets and showcasing the special attractions of the area
  • giving talks to other groups and organisations
  • running local interest events to educate Society members and residents
  • leading free walks across the county
  • supporting and promoting the work of other related charities

Our volunteers share a passion for everything to do with the Surrey Hills – from its wonderful flora and fauna and rare habitats to its unique culture and heritage, and 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.   

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

Exploring Reigate

We were extremely lucky to have a window of some beautiful weather for our Reigate town walk on Sunday.  Twenty four people took part including several people who did as it says you can and just turned up on the day.  There are many surprises behind the high street that we don’t normally see as we drive through – including some Tudor buildings and the remnants of the castle.  Whilst most of the party repaired to the café in the park for coffee, some enthusiasts took the opportunity to explore further into Priory Park. A good Sunday morning stroll.

Cage Yard