Walk: Cranleigh

12 May 2012

By train to Ockley in Surrey, a few stops south of Dorking. Cycled 6 miles to Cranleigh through the villages of Ewhurst and Forest Green. For the first few miles the tower of Leith Hill was continuously in sight and in the sunshine, revealed by a clearing in the trees on the ridge. Somehow comforting. St Margaret’s church, Ockley. St Peter and St Paul, Ewhurst. Cranleigh styles itself the biggest village in England. I didn’t like the high street, disfigured by all the usual chain stores, nor the leisure centre and scrappy playground at the end of a tarmac cul-de-sac. Here the 30 mile long muddy Downs Link path comes to a temporary end, obliterated by a shopping centre. But…

But walk back along the sports centre track to Knowle Lane, turn left, and in a hundred yards you come to a gap in the hedge on the right. Walk through it and this is what you see.

Knowle Park, Cranleigh

Knowle Park, Cranleigh

Knowle Park is a white Victorian mansion, built on a commanding bluff, overlooking miles of farmland to the distant North Downs, now converted into a care and retirement home. The walk skirts the edge of the grounds with magnificent views in every direction.

view of Knowle Park

view of Knowle Park

Reluctantly you leave the views behind upon joining Alfold Road, stroll along a few hundred yards before turning down a gravel drive to the impressive Utworth Manor. Through a gate into fields, across an old wooden bridge and you reach the lazy Wey and Arun canal, built in the 1810s and abandoned as long ago as 1870, lined with trees, a haven for wildflowers and a wonderful walk.

footpath beside the Wey and Arun canal

footpath beside the Wey and Arun canal

Everywhere I saw red campion, little blue germander speedwell, greater stitchwort and – a flower new to me – ground ivy. After half a mile the canal ends and becomes the dry moat for a farmhouse. You cross an ancient brick bridge decorated with lichen, and squelch through boggy fields to a fine timbered house, Great Garson.

Great Garson

Great Garson

In a pond I saw marsh marigolds and next to it red and purple orchids. The drive brings you back to Alfold road, open views of wide fields, with a little verge of bluebells, beneath an English summer sky…

view from Alford road, Cranleigh

view from Alford road, Cranleigh

…and then into bluebell woods lining Lion’s Lane, a half a mile ambling track through old woods. Across a few grassy fields belonging to Snoxhall Farm, and up steps onto the embankment which formerly carried the Cranleigh to Guildford railway. Closed in the 1960s this now forms a long straight section of the Down Links path. Half a mile of ferns and dog violets and you’re back in Cranleigh.

Cycling back to Ockley station, I was struck by this very red example of Surrey architecture, note the decorative brickwork and hanging tiles. It was not a rich man’s house, which made the effort which had clearly gone into building and decorating it all the more striking.

Surrey architecture, on the Ockley road

Surrey architecture, on the Ockley road

For photos of the flowers I saw on this walk, go to English Wild Flowers.

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