Some of the best things to see and do in Godalming
PUBLISHED: 14:55 25 February 2019 | UPDATED: 14:58 25 February 2019
Andy Newbold Photography
Found among stunning countryside on the banks of the serene River Wey, Godalming is home to Titanic history, picture perfect streets and, more surprisingly, great Asian fusion tapas. It's the perfect base for a little fresh air
With water meadows straddling the banks of the River Wey and historic buildings lining its streets, Godalming is a picturesque destination and a much in demand town to live in – and around.
To top its riverside location, Godalming is surrounded by beautiful countryside and alluring south west Surrey villages, such as Bramley, Hambledon, Witley, Thursley, Elstead, Compton and Chiddingfold… well, you get the idea. They’re all lovely.
It’s a town that claims to be the first place in the world to have had public electricity (you’ll never beat that, Elon Musk); it’s where one of Britain’s foremost garden designers, Gertrude Jekyll, lived (at Munstead Wood, which is still open by appointment); it’s also the birthplace of Jack Phillips, a wireless officer who died sending distress signals on the Titanic; and, well, the Pepperpot.
The latter is one of the iconic symbols of the town. In case you’ve never visited, it’s a pink structure that stands isolated at the junction of High Street and Church Street. It was, once upon a time, the market place or Town Hall and, we’re told, dates from 1814 (but replaced a prior timber structure).
Godalming life today swirls around it at its own particular pace. You can get into London on the trains in about 50 minutes if that appeals, but it’s also a wonderful place to, well, just get away from it all.
A few minutes’ walk around the compass points from here can take you to the likes of The Kings Arms & Royal Hotel, which gets mixed reviews these days but once upon a time is said to have hosted royalty; the Red Lion, which was the original Godalming Grammar School; and The Star, an award-winning pub that dates to the 1700s.
A little further on from that astrological hostelry, you find the picturesque Saint Peter and St Paul Church and, beyond, the riverside Phillips Memorial Park and Cloister. This is the perfect place for a little contemplation and it’s a striking little memorial created in honour of our Titanic hero. The garden was originally planted by Gertrude Jekyll.
The nearby Godalming Bandstand is where you’ll find music in the warmer months and congregations of people relaxing on the grass with their picnics.
Those picnics may well have been compiled back up on the High Street at Godalming Food Company, an independent delicatessen that’s been plying its trade since 2012 and focuses on Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire fare. Godalming Farmers’ Market is set to return in March 2019, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for that too (oh, and Godalming Fish, the local fishmonger, if your picnicking skills are up to it!).
If you’re looking for a table for two (or more), then the likes of Bada (Asian fusion tapas with a great selection of drinks and a social atmosphere), Changing Perceptions (a unique social enterprise café that supports the Meath Epilepsy Charity), Acorn (a Spanish fusion restaurant, tapas and oyster Bar) and Café Mila (where you can not only enjoy fantastic coffee and a predominantly plant-based menu but also book a yoga class…), may well appeal.
Elsewhere in town, fill your home with incredible artworks at The Wey Gallery on Bridge Street, find affordable ladies wear at Hello Lovely on High Street or head to Wattle and Daub on Church Street, where you’ll find everything from ceramics, glassware and handmade jewellery to textiles, furniture and one-off vintage finds.
So, the Titanic story then. At just 25 years of age, John George Phillips – better known as ‘Jack’ – was the chief wireless operator of the doomed ship, which you may have heard of by now, and he continued to send distress signals until he was plunged to an icy death. Most obviously, this tragic event is marked by the cloister mentioned in the main body of this piece. But, his memorial headstone is actually found in the family grave at Godalming Old Cemetery, carved in the shape of an iceberg…
Top 5 beauty spots
• Godalming Museum - Having enjoyed a little refresh of its Local History Gallery at the start of the year, Godalming Museum is a little surprise off the High Street. Its doorway reveals nothing and yet inside, you’ll find local history, fascinating artworks and a gorgeous walled garden, which comes as a complete surprise and yet is complete with a summer house copied from the Edwin Lutyens designed Millmead in the neighbouring village of Bramley.
• River Wey - No visit to Godalming is complete without a visit to the river. Not only are there riverside strolls as picturesque as any you’ll find in Surrey, but there are also Farncombe Boat House, from whom you can book a narrowboat holiday when the river is in the right frame of mind, or Godalming Packetboat Company, where you can enjoy a horse-drawn narrowboat ride from Godalming Wharf.
• Secretts - Undoubtedly one of the powerhouses of the Surrey food and drink scene, Secretts is found in the neighbouring village of Milford. Not only has the farm produced fresh fruit and veg for pubs, restaurants and markets since 1938, but it is also home to an excellent farm shop, butchers and English wine store (Hawkins Bros).
• Charterhouse School - With 400 years of history, Charterhouse is one of the leading independent schools in the world. The school moved from London to its current 250-acre site in Godalming in 1872. Famous alumni, known as Old Carthusians, include the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, the founder of the Scout movement, Robert-Baden Powell, and most of the members of the band, Genesis.
24 hours in…
• Morning - Godalming is not a place to rush about. Settle down and relax into your visit. Depending on where you’re staying or visiting from, perhaps an excellent breakfast/brunch at somewhere like Café Mila would be the perfect start. You may wish to partake in a little yoga, if there happens to be a class going on, but at this time of day – and if the weather is playing the game – then it’s only a short walk to the riverside anyway. Bliss.
• Afternoon - If you’re looking to stay local for a wrapped up riverside picnic, pop into Godalming Food Company, but if you’re looking to head further afield then Secretts is a must – make sure to grab a bottle of English sparkling wine at Hawkins Bros while you’re there. If pushed, Winkworth Arboretum should be your destination. Even if it’s a little early for spring, you’ll get the feel for the life to come here.
• Evening - Let’s be honest, you’re not going to visit Godalming for the nightlife but there’s plenty of lovely country pubs to escape to on the fringe and, if you’re looking for a meal out, then Bada is well worth a look if you’re open minded – sophisticated cocktails and delicious Asian fusion tapas is an excellent adventure.
• What’s on in Surrey this month - We round up some of the best events and things to do across Surrey this month