Well the summer is over – it is dulling heavily. Nevertheless there is walking to be done – Alton to Farnham marks the final day with St Swithun which is a shame because our guide book definitely has a medieval feel ……
From Farnham we move to the North Downs Way to guide us to Canterbury. The routes combine to create what is known as The Pilgrims Way. This is thought to be the route taken by a penitent Henry II following the murder of Thomas a Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. Since then it has been walked by countless pilgrims. Although we have not seen it very often along the way, it is indicated by the scallop shell the same as the one that denotes the pilgrim route to Santiago –
However, I digress. Back to our pilgrimage. The route out of our accommodation took us back past The Butts – an old archery green – on the way into Alton and then through Alton town. Alton, like many of the places we have travelled through, was mentioned in the Domesday Book. However, unlike some of the others, there was little evidence of the town’s historic background as it bustled into another Monday morning.
There is nothing quite like a grey Monday. My ‘good mornings’ were met with everything from utter amazement to being totally ignored! Hey ho! We walked the length of the High Street and then followed an alley way that ran parallel to the main road and then eventually emerged at the playing field of a college. We were gradually getting out of town. As we left the main town behind the houses started to get bigger again and gradually the converted barns and large residences started to reappear. After crossing a newly ploughed field and and walking through a small wood we came out to the very upmarket village of Upper Froyle. Here we were to experience the first of several technical hitches of the day. After running the gauntlet of a number of beautiful houses, several with very recently thatched roofs, our guidebook told us to look for a stile to our right 500m after the Old School House. Having found the Old School House, we spent the next half an hour walking up hill to find the turning. No turning – with or without a stile! After retracing our steps back to the Old School House we found the stile opposite the school house. Hmmmm.
There was then a long walk over woodland, fields and farm land. The deep ridges of potato fields, the pungent smell and acid yellow of oil seed rape. Barley shoots a foot high. Our route crossed vast fields and woody hollows. We found cowslips in abundance here – great to see as they were in decline so recently.
Another delight was the new bracken shoots. Fresh bright green sticks emerging from the ground for about six inches. They are topped with tightly furled curls. They look a very small beginning for the big bracken fronds that will cover vast tracts of land as May moves into June. From small beginnings……….
We were then advised by our esteemed guidebook to take care walking through hop fields – which I think have been gone long since – on our route to Bentley. The hop guide cables were the worry – there was no worry – there weren’t any there! The hops have been overtaken by horses.
It was at this point we came to the biggest technical hitch! Our guide told us to ‘continue across the open field’ and to pass a cottage on the right. We started out across a meadow and at the point we reached an enormous field – we found the sign post lying on the ground and our route sign (a small scallop shell with two croziers) facing skyward. This was a little awkward. Having looked around for further signs, we decided to cross the field even though the field had got no sign. Once we got to the other side there was absolutely no indication of the route. Great!
I rested on a stile while Keith heroically scouted around for some clue as to the route. There was no sign and no cottage. We knew we were some way short of Farnham so we had to try to pick up the signs again. After another long delay we were moving forward again in the general direction of north and after some time we found a sign. We were back on track.
More very nice houses with ornate gateways (which were often to be seen opening and closing without any sign of human intervention), pristine gardens and neatly pruned hedges. We were in stockbroker country – we had crossed from Hampshire to Surrey…….. and we started out on what was to be the last and longest mystery of the day. We took the bridle path as described. An hour later we were still walking up hill and down dale. We passed perhaps three large houses on the way, but nothing else. We were walking through a land of vast estates. The land beyond the fences was very definitely ‘private’. Some of the fields had sheep grazing. There were beautiful horses – but no sign of our route into Farnham. We were saved by a lady in an enormous black car who I hailed as she appeared through yet another pair of magical gates. She directed us down to the art institute. We were saved from walking for ever!
As we found that our accommodation for the night was out the other side of Farnham, we took the precaution of having food in town before venturing out to the eyrie that was to be our home for the night.
That experience is best kept for tomorrow…….