Surrey Hills Society on one of Surrey's best kept secrets - the North Downs Way
PUBLISHED: 19:11 10 June 2016 | UPDATED: 09:25 13 June 2016
Chairman of the Surrey Hills Society, Christine Howard, on one of our county's most under-appreciated assets
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine May 2016
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One of the most under-rated assets in the south-east of England has got to be Surrey and Kent’s long-distance walking path called the North Downs Way or, more romantically, the Pilgrim’s Way. It is said to be part of the ancient walking path between Winchester Cathedral and Canterbury Cathedral that medieval pilgrims travelled along. However, the route appears to be even older than that. It is the highest ridge in the south of England, and therefore made it safer to travel along, as you could see any adversaries. Its geology is mainly chalk, which meant it also remained relatively firm under foot, in all weather. Going further back still, archaeologists have evidence that it was even used as a migratory route for woolly mammoths in the age of dinosaurs!
The route passes through some of the most stunning countryside in Britain – hence its protection within the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Over the border, it becomes the Kent Downs AONB. This rare chalk grassland habitat is home to some species of insects and flowers that are found hardly anywhere else. This includes the pretty Adonis Blue butterfly and several rare orchids including the bee, man, and pyramidal.
The 153-mile path has one end at Dover and is marked by an attractive and striking sculpture gate that marks the end/start of the route. It gives visitors a sense of completion at the end of their challenge, or a significant icon for the start of their adventure. Unfortunately, Surrey’s entrance to the trail was somewhat of a disappointment… or to be frank, virtually impossible to locate! However, thanks to a project led by Surrey County Council and Utopia Forge (based locally in Guildford), that has now all changed.
I recently attended the official launch of the brand-new metal sculpture, marking the entrance to the North Downs Way, not far from Farnham Railway Station. This will give walkers and runners a sense of arrival or completion of their journey and balances the art installation in Dover. Artists Andy Quirk and Graham Hart have created the metal sculpture from steel and corten (the metal used on the Angel of the North) and it depicts interesting things associated with the area.
This special landscape right on our doorstop is ours to enjoy. Yet so often when I speak to young athletic types, they tell me of all their amazing adventures in the north of England, on the Coast to Coast, or in the Peak District National Park (as well as moaning about the long journey up the M1!). Yet when I mention the North Downs Way they look at me blankly. However, more and more marathons are now being organised on the North Downs Way, as some of the hills are just as high and challenging as their cousins in the north.
Less athletic types are welcome to join me on a free walk from the new NDW sculpture, from Farnham to Guildford, on Sunday July 3 starting at 11am. See surreyhillssociety.org for details.
• If you would like to join the Surrey Hills Society, or if you are a business join Surrey Hills Enterprises, you can find out more on the official website at surreyhills.org