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Open Spaces Society's Hugh Craddock on his perfect Surrey weekend

PUBLISHED: 10:11 18 August 2016

Come the weekend, Hugh and Debbie enjoy nothing more than a hack on Banstead Heath followed by a drink at The Sportsman (Photo Lindsey Harrap)

Come the weekend, Hugh and Debbie enjoy nothing more than a hack on Banstead Heath followed by a drink at The Sportsman (Photo Lindsey Harrap)

Lindsey Harrap

With a long history of working in rural affairs, including for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Hugh Craddock has been appointed as the new casework officer for the Open Spaces Society, Britain's oldest national conservation body. Here, the Epsom resident chats to us about his own love of the Surrey countryside

Come the weekend, Hugh and Debbie enjoy nothing more than a hack on Banstead Heath followed by a drink at The Sportsman (Photo Lindsey Harrap)Come the weekend, Hugh and Debbie enjoy nothing more than a hack on Banstead Heath followed by a drink at The Sportsman (Photo Lindsey Harrap)

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine July 2016

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My weekend now starts a day early on Thursday evening, thanks to a recent switch to part-time working. But for my wife Debbie, it’s still strictly Friday evening, and at the end of the week we’re both ready to rely on someone else to do the catering. Living just on the edge of Epsom town centre, we prefer a venue within walking distance, enabling us to share a bottle of wine over dinner – The Canopy is a long-standing favourite, while The Jolly Coopers near Epsom Common is a new discovery for us, and the half-hour stroll home gives us the (entirely false) impression that we have justified our indulgence.

Saturday starts with the weekly shopping. Epsom lacks the range of independent stores found in neighbouring towns such as Ashtead and Guildford. Twenty years ago, when I arrived in Epsom, the Upper High Street had a baker, butcher, delicatessen and supermarket, such that it was hardly necessary to go further into town. We continue to depend on Sandford & Fletcher for our meat – Derek supplies great sausages that bear no resemblance to anything on offer in the supermarkets – but sadly the others have long since gone. In the centre of town, Lester Bowden has been trading since the beginning of the last century, and now occupies the splendid old Spread Eagle coaching inn: we might drop in to see what’s on offer in the casuals department. And on the way back from the town centre, Debbie will want to pick up some art paper or add to her collection of watercolour paints at Pullinger’s. Debbie has been painting botanical art for over a decade, and it’s great to have this art shop here in Epsom, one of a group of three independently-owned stores all in Surrey.

Hacking out

Debbie and I have each had horses for at least 20 years: they’ve always been kept on livery at Pachesham Equestrian Centre near Leatherhead. Ralph and Dexter are easily Pachesham’s longest-standing clients — and it was at Pachesham that Debbie and I first met! So on both Saturday and Sunday, we’ll take the horses out for a hack: we see very few couples who ride together, so we’re quite lucky to share our passion for riding. If we’re short of time, we might head down River Lane and through Fetcham village to Bookham Common, and on the way back, perhaps take the horses into the River Mole at Oldmill Bridge. We find Fetcham motorists very respectful of the horses, so riding on the local roads is usually pretty relaxed.

On Sunday, though, we will use the horsebox to take the horses further afield: perhaps to Banstead Heath and Walton Heath, where the grasslands are a joy to both rider and mount, and the bridleways across the impeccably maintained heather roughs on the superb golf course reveal how most Surrey commons would have looked before grazing ceased in the early 20th century. On a warm day, we might end up at The Sportsman, where one of us will go inside to buy the drinks, while the horses need look no further than the grass on the green outside.

Riding on Banstead Heath brings to mind the stealthy attempt in 1876 by Sir John William Cradock Hartopp (no relation, so far as I know!) to buy out the commoners’ rights and enclose the common for house building. Lengthy court action by local commoners supported by the Commons Preservation Society (now known as the Open Spaces Society), Britain’s oldest national conservation body, eventually saw off the threat, and an 1893 Act preserved the common in perpetuity. When I left behind a 30-year career in the civil service earlier this year, much of it involved with commons, taking up a new role as case officer with the society felt absolutely right. We’re still fighting much the same battles a century-and-a-half later, and I’m glad now to be part of it.

• The Open Spaces Society was founded in 1865 and is Britain’s oldest national conservation body. The society campaigns to protect common land, village greens, open spaces and public paths, and people’s right to enjoy them. For more information, pay a visit to their website at oss.org.uk

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