Farnham to Guildford

10th May

It was the first time I have had ever woken up in a half tester bed ……..

What a difference a day can make.  It was a very old fashioned room, full of a mixture of brown furniture and books with faded covers.  The twin beds had never been twinned. Keith’s was very old but did not have the curtained grandeur of mine!  One of the great joys of these journeys is where you end up each day and this stop proved to be exceptional.  

Our hosts were from a different era.  Alexine was an author.  Warren definitely ex army with a handshake that crushed your hand so hard it brought tears to the eyes and you hoped he did not notice you wince.  The house from the outside was large in a faded glory sort of 20’s design.  The lights were suspended on brown cords.  The walls in the dining room were covered with portraits of distant ancestors. Gentle folk.    There was no sign of an ‘en suite’ but there was an old fashioned bath room down the panelled corridor, but, we were told, ‘you have a hand basin in your room’ ……. For the wash down with a flannel?!

They were charming. Sadly Warren was very deaf but he appeared at breakfast in a very dapper orange cravat. Alexine’s white hair was just about caught in a bun, she was tall and slim but slightly stooped and had the most amazing smile. We assessed that she was probably close to ninety.   Besides serving breakfasts to passing guests (there were two other couples beside us on the morning we were then) she is working on a new volume, this time about the civil war and goes to The British Library once a month for research.   

Amazing!  After we had bought her book, a historical novel based in Farnham, she showed us to a hole in the hedge (the house was in a sort of clearing on a tree covered plateau above Farnham).  This led to a private, muddy and slightly overgrown steps, that took us down to a lane and then to a footpath that led to the North Downs Way.   We had turned east.  We were en route to Canterbury.  The route immediately feels very grown up and ordered.   Our route sign now is an acorn.  It is very well signposted.   

It was raining from the start of the day but it was a gentle rain and because the route often took us through woodland so we hardly noticed.  As Keith says, there is no such thing as bad weather it is just that you are wearing the wrong clothing…….  I was duly ‘kagooled’ and gaitered and the weather didn’t intrude on what was a lovely walk.  What was noticeable was that the earth had become quite sandy.  It was quite springy under foot and we had returned to blue bell country.  It was mainly an agricultural landscape interspersed with woodland and a couple of really sandy ‘heaths’.  It was a very gentle day’s walking with no major climbs or descents – there was a feeling that we hadn’t yet got to the ‘downs’ aspect of the journey.  We saw very few houses on this leg of the route but there were lots of wild flowers and hedgerows busy with birds twittering.  It was a lovely walk.  

We passed through one small village, with small cottages and busy front gardens.  The pub – the Good Intent – was in a state of refurbishment, but notices assured us that it was ‘Business as Usual’.  After crossing a very busy road, our route took us to a very busy art gallery and studio complex. This was bristling with retired ladies lunching in the noisy tea room. What it did have was an exhibition that we could not resist – paintings of the Silk Road.  The artist had, we found, painted in Uzbekistan and we recognised aspects of Samarkand and the surrounding areas that we new.  The paintings were interesting and very expensive.  Fascinating that they should appear at the end of a woody footpath in Surrey………

Enough of civilisation.  Back to the walk.  Our way moved up from a slightly odorous pond beside the gallery (I am not sure that their eco friendly loos were quite up to snuff) and followed the leafy path to a farm on the Losely Estate (think ice cream).  We were nearly at the end of the days walking.   However, the day was not to be without its ornithological excitements.   There to our left in a fallow field was a bird of prey.  It’s hooked bill and beady eye surveyed the area with the superior attitude that seems to exude from these creatures and showed a total disregard for the two excited humans staring over the fence at it.  What confidence! It glided off a bit but then settled in the grass again.  What was it watching or guarding?  Who knows 

We meandered off, soon to arrive at Ye Olde Ship Inn where we were to leave the path for our hotel.  Regrettably this proved to be a mile off.  A long descent to the edge of Guildford and an equally long ascent two roads away that rendered us determined not to retrace our steps even to eat. The ‘hotel’ was a very efficient basic hostel for travelling salesmen.  Very clinical and clean but pretty characterless.  A night for washing put clothes and not much else.  

Alton to Farnham 

9th May

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…….

Alresford to Alton

8th May

Another beautiful day dawned.  A quick nip into the town to post a card revealed a perfect and very beautiful little Georgian town.  There were few people around but by the time we emerged to start the day’s walk, church bells were in full peal and early dog walkers were collecting their Sunday papers.   

Our route took us out along the road to Bishop’s Sutton.  To our left the track of the Watercress railway could be seen just down from the horizon.  The village reached, as we turned out toward our next landmark we had to cross a ford.  The tentacles of the Itchen are still with us!  Luckily a bridge was available for those on foot – otherwise it could have meant a very soggy walking day.  As it was it was glorious.  Birds hopped in and out of the water and chattered in the hedgerows.  The stream sparkled.  Then there was a hoot and – great excitement – the Watercress Line steam engine trundled across the landscape!

Back down to earth and steam era attractions over the instructions went a little awry at this stage – the left turn that was due to materialise didn’t – which meant a loop along a country lane instead of a walk over the field which probably put another hours walking on the day.  Hey ho!   It was no hardship. There was no traffic except an old English motorbike chugging past.  What’s another mile or so between friends?!?

The next village was stunning. Ropley had a whole row of thatched cottages.  The gardens were stocked full of flowers and vegetables. We walked on through the beautiful stately homes that we have come to expect to line our route. In one ofthe smaller establishments, a family was out gardening – the little boy rather loudly asked the time of Dad…… It couldn’t really still be half past nine and hours of gardening before lunch?!? The balloon over his head indicated!

It was very warm and we dipped into the open village shop cum post office to buy more water which we consumed in their courtyard as it was cold and wat and not to be missed.  We moved on again. Out of the village and away up a hill and over fields and up again.  Every so often toot of the Watercress Line could be heard wafting over the landscape. For us it was then up again, this time to reach a forest carpeted in blue bells.  It was breathtaking.  Such a strong blue against the fresh green of the new leaves of the woodland.   The canopy of the trees also provided some almost welcome relief from the sun as we had reached mid day.  Beyond the branches the sky was a cloudless blue.  England at its best!

We left the wood without any sightings of the roe deer mentioned in our guidebook and struck out across a newly ploughed field. It was then down to a road and up over another field. The horses in it lazily turned their heads as we passed. Even the horses in Hampshire seem a cut above the rest!  Following this superiority it was down to earth when we reached a much heralded garden centre teaming with cars and elderly mums being taken out for Sunday afternoon tea.  Trolleys laden with plants crossed our path heading for the patios and borders of their purchasers. Still we wandered on. 

By now we were heading for the village of Chawton – the location of the last home of Jane Austen. The route there was incredible.  First we walked along a broad track through woodland.  Once again the woods were full of bluebells.  Our path then took us out into bright sunshine and open fields and just the overhead a red kite wheeled – so low that its red forked tail and the distinctive markings on its wings were clearly visible  – it was magical.  What a treat!

The next ‘treat’ was probably one of the largest houses I have ever seen. It was described as a ‘farm’ but it was huge and from the look of the building works going on, it was still growing!! It was made out of red brick and looked out over the valley.  To top it all it had huge iron gates and – incredibly – two large Chinese lions on the top of the gate posts!  What were they doing there?  I could not help but feel that there was a Chinese temple somewhere missing its lions…….!!

This was certainly the walk that just never stopped giving – for we then arrived at Chawton.  One chocolate box picture house after another.  Cricket being played on the village green….. The perfect Sunday afternoon.  What was even better was that there was a tea shop and time to put the rucksack down and have a glass of cold lemonade.  Nectar of the gods!

From there it was a short walk into Alton and a very worldly bed and breakfast in an ex Catholic Church!! ‘Joan’ was very jolly and just off out for champagne to celebrate her birthday.  I almost volunteered to tag along!! Being a bit partial to a few bubbles – but I am not sure St Swithun would approve………

Instead dinner with an old friend and another day on the road drew to a close.  

Musings from a Pilgrim journey РWinchester to Canterbury 

7th May, 2016

And so it was that we set out to extend the Via Francigena journey from Canterbury to Rome by walking from Winchester to Canterbury – a route many would have taken in the Middle Ages. The first part of the walk – from Winchester to Farnham – follows St Swithuns Way, starting from the doors of Winchester’s magnificent Norman Cathedral.

We spent the previous day as ‘tourists’ walking the city bounds, visiting the Great Hall where history and legend meet with tales of King Arthur, taking a tour of the Cathedral – the sun shone, people sauntered and it felt like a holiday……..

But on Saturday, 7th May,  it was down to business. Being the purists that we are, we waved goodbye to our luggage (the lovely Keith has arranged for it to be transported for us!), expressed our thanks to our wonderful bed and breakfast hosts and set out for the cathedral where The St Swithuns Way starts.  

Before we get started, just a few words on St Swithun.  A very righteous and holy man by all accounts, he received his sainthood by public demand rather than Rome it would seem.  In life, there was the miracle of the eggs.  He met a woman on the bridge whose eggs had all broken and he made them whole again (or did he just buy her another couple of dozen maybe?!?).  Anyway he became famous for this and then, of course, there was the rain.  It would appear that he wanted to be buried – as he was initially – outside the old Minster of Winchester. However, once the Cathedral was built they wanted to be associated with his glory and the pilgrims he attracted. So up came Swithuns remains and his bones were taken into the Cathedral. As they did this the heavens opened and it is said to have rained for 40 days – hence the saying.  The old chap didn’t end here as a source of worry.  They reburied his bones in the inner sanctum of the Cathedral where only monks could go and then the pilgrims could not get close enough – so they had to put a little door in behind the alter to allow the pilgrims access……   The moral of the story – don’t mess with miracle workers!

Leaving the Cathedral behind, we headed for the High Street through a very narrow covered passage out into the main thoroughfare of the city where the day was starting in earnest.  Stalls were being set up to run the length of the pedestrian area. Our first point of note was Queen Eleanor’s cross, one of the many King Edward erected to mark the passing of his beloved queen.  Probably the most famous of these is Charing Cross in London……

The city centre was soon behind us and we were wandering along streets named after the ecclesiastical establishments and the activities that were previously associated with the area.  Parchment Lane, Nuns Walk, Monks Row.  Soon the noise and traffic of was behind us and we made our first connection with the River Itchen that was to accompany us for most of the day.  After an initial hiccup when I (much to Mr Gregory’s understandable frustration) lost my magnetic north and could not understand  which way the route was heading, we left the metropolis behind us to follow the river Itchen.

The Itchen is a fast flowing, clear, shallow river which has tributaries running all over the water meadows of the area.  Initially there were allotments on the other bank where small sheds stood sentry on industrious looking allotment patches.  There was only one man working – industriously wheeling his barrow to somewhere important.  Birds were tweeting all round.  A cuckoo called. 

Eventually we came to a tunnel under a busy road and we came to the village of Kings Worthy.  Despite our St Swithuns Way guidebook insisting that there was a ‘vivid’ stained glass window of St Swithun in the church, I could not find it despite a thorough search, so before long we were back out in the sunshine and heading further along our route. Having left the river behind (although not for long) our path was edged with wild garlic – now in flower and past its picking time for another year. 

We wandered on over styles and along the edge of fields.  We passed under the M.3 and we were back to the River Itchen and the water meadows again.  The houses we passed along the way were the large mansions of the investment bankers and captains of industry of the City of London.   I do hope they have time in their busy lives to spend time in these amazing palaces. They were certainly in prime spots!  A number of the older houses in the small hamlets were thatched and were surrounded by beautiful gardens full of spring flowers and scattered with bluebells.  Once again we climbed away from the river,  this time to reach the village of Itchen Abbas famous for its watercress.  

Next in view was Avington Park, a stunning Georgian mansion with its landscaped grounds and huge black wrought iron gates.  It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and a real treat to walk through such glorious countryside but we were very pleased to take advantage of liquid refreshment at the Bush Inn when it presented itself. We sat in the garden and quaffed our pints gratefully, knowing that Alresford, our destination, was close at hand.  

Our last lap involved a very nice walk along a leafy lane and then more watercress beds and we had to turn from the path to get into Alresford proper.  The downside of walking.  When you get to the sign that says you have reached the town and you have over a mile to walk up hill to your accommodation.  Not much was said. It was heads down…….

Eventually, after going under the bridge of the Watercress Line railway, we were walking up the Georgian high street of Alresford.  By this time the  niceties of the little town were of little interest – The Swan Inn was our goal.  

We arrived to find the inmates of our hostelry an amalgam of a wedding party and a group watching Leicester City receive their premiership trophy. When we had made our way through the throng, trying not to trample on the younger wedding guests, we were somewhat surprised to be informed that we were in the bridal suite!  Looking at each other rather blankly at having this honour bestowed upon us, we made our way up the stairs to our room to find that our room was, indeed, at the rather exotic end of three star bedrooms and comprised a four poster bed and a metal slipper bath.  Keith rather unromantically was extremely pleased to find a very sensible showe in the bathroom.  While in the bathroom (as it were) I was interested to note the double hand basin.  I have always been fascinated with this approach as I have never been able to work out the attraction.   Why would you want to clean your teeth in tandem, particular on a wedding night.  I have never thought myself particularly attractive with toothpaste running down my chin……….

We move on. Having made use of the bath – I could hardly see out once in it – we had a meal in the hotel restaurant and I was asleep before my head touched the pillow.