Exploring Blackheath

Would it be on? Would be off?  As the “Beast from East”, Siberian weather battered the UK in the week running up to The Surrey Hills Society Free monthly walk for March, this was the topic of debate among organisers. A very pleasant winter wonderland walk was had on Monday 26th February by Walk Leaders, Chris Howard and Jeff Holliday. “Looking at the weather forecast we realised this was probably the only day we had to check the route before the snow really set in”, said Chris. “It was very pretty walking in the flurries of snow, as the bad weather set in that afternoon.”

And on the day, it was definitely worth putting in the preparation as the day dawned bright, with a “barmy” 8 degrees predicted. With all the snow virtually disappeared,  a muddy, rather than snowy, walk was had.  Jeff said” It was so good to get out again after being stuck indoors since Tuesday, due to adverse weather conditions”.

The heathlands of Albury and Blackheath are incredible wilderness areas that until the 20th century were wide open heathlands or heather and gorse.  The poor sandy soil means the area was never great for farming, but peasant farmers did graze the land with their cattle and sheep, which always kept the trees at bay.

After the First & Second World Wars the government incentivized landowners to plant pine trees on the heaths. The pines, invasive birch trees and other species have spread to cover most of the heathlands in Surrey now, as farming became more and more challenging in Surrey.

Albury Heath sculpture celebrating 60th anniversary of the Albury Produce show.

This walk had a variety of landscapes. Starting on Albury Heath amongst the heather it quickly enters birch woodland.  After dropping down off the hill, you traverse around the rolling grasslands of a farm, before enjoying a stiff hike up the hill to Blackheath through a pretty pine plantation.

“We passed trout fisheries, quaint cottages and even a small training race course. The William IV pub, nearby is a really pretty historic pub that is very popular with walkers, where some of us retired for a quick drink” added Chris. “Some went off to visit the ancient Saxon church nearby, while others headed for the Drummond Arms in Albury for a well- earned Sunday lunch.

Map reading day in Wotton

12 people attended our very useful map reading day with our experienced leaders. The course is always a success and comes back every year by popular demand. This time we were delighted to have so many non-members in the assistance.

A few participants commented the day:

“Excellent Day – just what I needed – map reading with compass!”

“Very informative and good value!”

“Very useful and I should be able to put things learnt into practice!”

“Very useful course and good catering!”

The morning was spent in the hall to learn how to read a map. In the afternoon there was practical training in the surrounding woods and fields.

Chairman of Surrey Hills Society opens Surrey Hills inspired art exhibition at Watts Gallery

Chris Howard, Chairman of the Surrey Hills Society, was the guest speaker at the opening of the new contemporary art show at Watts Gallery on Saturday 13th January 2018.

Surrey Hills based artist, Diana Croft is inspired by her immediate surroundings. The exhibition features a series of stylised prints derived from sketches of the Surrey Hills and South Downs near where she lives in Dorking.

Chris Howard with artist Diana Croft and Watts Gallery Director Alistair Burtenshaw

When opening the show at the Watts Contemporary Gallery, Chris said she “had come in from a grey January day into all this amazing light, texture and colour. It was truly inspiring and uplifting.”

All prints are for sale.

The exhibition runs from 13 January til 18 February 2018 at Watts Contemporary Gallery, Compton near Guildford.

SHS AGM at Undershaw

We were delighted to welcome 50 members to our this year’s Annual General Meeting at Stepping Stones school at Undershaw, Hindhead.

Our President, Neil Maltby and Chairman, Chris Howard hosted the event and summarised the activities from last year. You can read the Chairman’s report under About us and AGMs tag on the website shortly.

The meeting was followed by an interesting talk about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by local historian Julia Mayo. Undershaw used to be Sherlock Holmes’ creator’s home which we were lucky to be able to visit to finish our afternoon. The old Arts&Crafts building is part of a beautiful school site and we would be very happy to go back again.


Successful talk at the Reigate Society

Our vice-Chairman’s talk at the Reigate Society about the AONB and our Society received a warm welcome and delightful feed back:

” Your talk on the Surrey Hills Society at our Members Evening last Monday 9th October was excellent. We were all greatly impressed with your easy delivery and depth of knowledge as well as your enthusiasm. We all know much more than we did before. Many of the members have told me how much they enjoyed the evening and your presentation and I pass on their thanks.

I appreciate you giving the time to come to our event. We wish you well and also the Surrey Hills Society which is doing such good work for us all.”

Bridget Doughty, Honorary Secretary of The Reigate Society

The Tillingbourne Tales taken to schools


The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre’s involvement in The Tillingbourne Tales Heritage Lottery Funded project stands out as one of our most memorable education programmes of 2016.

John Lambert, Job Durbridge, Charles Ball and Peggy were brought to life by our education team and placed each group of children as Mill employees, exploring working conditions and recreating life as it was when the mills were operating at their peak.  Our schools workshops are designed to place each child into the shoes of their forefathers and foster lifelong learning through interactive teaching.  We aim to inspire all participants by giving them a true taste of life from their past and through the retelling of their experiences in a school assembly, we allow the young people of the Tillingbourne Valley to educate each other about their rich history.

Of course, teaching can sometimes become a little bit repetitive, so with just a little bit of artistic licence, John, Job, Charles and Peggy also appeared at a number of other events as part of the HLF project and at one memorable after dinner event, demonstrated that adults can have just as much fun as the children!

Fast forward to 2017 and we were delighted to receive the news that Fidelity International have awarded a continuation grant for this part of the project.  We have just put the finishing touches to our updated workshop that will allow another entire year group of young people to explore the characters from the Tillingbourne Tales.  These workshops are scheduled to take place in the autumn term and are testament to the lasting legacy that the HLF project has achieved.

Nick White, Head of Youth, Education & Community at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Surrey’s Public Paths Network 

We all love Surrey for its many open spaces, woodland and overall green environment, but do we ever consider what it takes to keep it that way for residents and visitors?

A volunteer fixing a footpath waymark to a stile.

This piece focuses in particular on public paths, of which there are over 2,000 miles across the county.  That’s the distance from Guildford to Istanbul!  Many Society members enjoy our monthly guided walks, when you’ll nearly always be walking on a local right of way.

Public paths may be footpaths, bridleways or byways and any of these might be permissive paths, which means they are open with permission from the private landowner, and maintained by them.

But the majority right across the county are looked after by Surrey County Council’s Countryside Access team of 7 people, as well as a small but busy, legal team who deal with path closures, permanent or temporary diversions and public inquiries.

There is a statutory duty for the council to maintain and keep the public paths network open for public enjoyment, but the team have faced staff and budget cuts for at least four of the last five years.  The latest budget cuts are very punishing – in the region of 60% down from last year – which makes it very hard-going to keep the network even in a basic state for public accessibility, with vegetation cuts now barely happening even once a year.   It used to be twice.  They also need to keep approximately 10,000 waymarks and signage in place and ensure 5,000 stiles and gates are in good condition.

On top of this, the team also now looks after more than 1,400 bridges across the county.   One creative idea they’ve come up with is for local interested parties (like Ramblers groups or conservation charities) to ‘adopt a bridge’ and then agree to look after its basic maintenance and report issues back.

Volunteers helping with a broadwalk at a moat in Elstead.

Volunteer groups play a huge part in helping to check up on and provide basic maintenance on public paths and the Countryside Access team would struggle to cope without their ongoing help.  SCC have a very good arrangement with conservation groups and regularly provide training and tools for Volunteer Path Wardens who commit to looking after a particular section of path, usually in their local area.   Additionally, local Ramblers Group have just agreed to make annual donations towards the provision and installation of new kissing gates where required. This is seen as very good news.

Volunteers can be proud of their work!

If you come across an issue on a public path that you think should be reported, use the online reporting form found on SCC’s website.

Diane Cooper, SCC Countryside Marketing Officer