Guildford – St Martha’s Church Circular
Aerobics and Meanderings in the Beautiful North Downs
A fast train from Waterloo delivers you to the meandering River Wey and then, via an old watermill to an ascent along ancient pilgrim paths under open skies and woodland, to reach the North Downs Way. An aerobic climb to the perfectly located St Martha’s Chapel for a rest and lunch; followed by a descent around the back of the hill to follow a quiet, shaded track – the historic Pilgrim’s Way – passing tranquil, moody conifer woods and a return along the river.
Featuring: The River Wey, Shalford Mill (HQ of the mysterious all female Ferguson Gang), the North Downs Way and the historic Pilgrims Way, vistas from St Martha’s Church across classic southern English wooded landscape over Surrey, Sussex and, in the far western distance, Hampshire.
Moderate / 7 out of 10
7.7 miles / 12.4 kilometres
OS Explorer Map 145
How to get here
Eat and drink
Riverine, moderate/steep brief ascents, woodland paths, views.
Frequent fast trains to Guildford from Waterloo (35 to 40 minutes).
Check to avoid the slow trains which take over an hour.
See Travel Section in Tips and Resources for ways of using your Oyster/Travel Card to Zone 8 to get very cheap fares.
There are toilet facilities at Guildford Station.
Otherwise there are some wooded covered areas along the route.
As you would expect, there are many pubs and cafes in Guildford, and the Seahorse Pub near Shalford Mill (Point 10). But we recommend on this route that you bring your own lunch to picnic whilst resting and enjoying the spectacular views from the top of St Martha’s Hill (Point 20).
This extensive 153 mile long footpath through Surrey to the Kent Coast at Dover runs along the chalk ridge of the North Downs taking in plenty of quiet open and beautiful countryside>>
A great example of an 18th-century watermill located on the River Tillingbourne in Shalford. In 1932, the mill was endowed to the National Trust by a group of eccentric young female philanthropists called Ferguson’s Gang>>
The beautiful St Martha’s Church (also known as St Martha-on-the-Hill) is perched on the top of the hill on the North Downs Way and is accessible only by foot. It is the only church in Surrey to be on the Pilgrims’ Way>>
The Pilgrims’ Way is the historical route supposedly taken by pilgrims from Winchester to the shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury, stretching some 150 miles across Hampshire, Surrey and Kent>>
The ruins of this ancient monument sit magnificently atop St Catherine’s Hill on this route south of Guildford. Built in the early 14th century by the rector of the church, Richard de Wauncey, a five-day fair has been held here historically since 1308>>
NOTE THE MAP FOR THIS ROUTE STARTS AT POINT 4
Start: Guildford Station
NOTE THE MAP FOR THIS ROUTE STARTS AT POINT 4
Exit the station and turn right to take the pedestrian tunnel about 50m away. Descend and turn left to go under the main road, then at the T-junction take the right turn to emerge on a busy road. Staying on this pavement continue onwards to the left around the side of Wey House offices. This will, in less than 100m, take you to the left side of the road bridge down to the River Wey.
Turn right under the bridge and now continue on with the river directly on your left. (Note this bridge and turn as you will use it on your return).
Keeping the river on your left you continue on for five minutes or so, ignoring the wide bridge to your left which would take you to the High Street, instead continue ahead to pass around the left side of the White House pub, still keeping the river on your left.
Passing between the pub (on your right) and the river, note the statue of reclining children and a rabbit shortly after.
NOTE: previously the official footpath runs straight ahead, following the canal on your left for 300m to pick up the River Wey, opposite a rowing club, where would you turn right as in note 5a below. But at the time of writing, and for over three years now, this simple option has been blocked by engineering works and the bureaucratic idiocy of the numpties involved.
So here I will guide you through the simple options that are available to you as of April 2023…
Continue on a short distance from the statues until you come to a black and white footbridge. Cross this bridge and then the canal to take the newly diverted path away from the river towards the road, which in 80m or so emerges by the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre.
Pass the Theatre to emerge onto the main road. Turn right and follow this busy road for another 500m, passing on your right a large car park and then a curious tucked away 14th Century cottage below the pavement and the Weyside Pub.
Less than 50m past the pub at the footbridge immediately on your right, check to see if there are any diversion notices. If not, descend to the meadow, with the River Wey and the rowing club on the opposite bank on your left. Proceed towards Point 6 below, soon crossing a small, roaring weir after 100m.
Continue on for about 2km, following the meandering riverside path with no diversions to reach Point 6 – the footbridge over the river – after about 12 minutes or so.
If the route from the footbridge is blocked, then you are simply going to follow the same river route but you will do so on the other (left) side of the river bank, following an unofficial path that will lead you to the wooden footbridge at Point 6.
To do this, continue on a short distance along the road to gain access to the river and rowing club building – with the wide meadow opening up behind both.
Drop down to pick up a track running directly behind the rowing club which follows the river. Simply follow this track as it runs alongside the river for a couple of kilometres to reach the wooden footbridge at Point 6. Cross over this bridge to rejoin the original intended route and carry on with the river now on your left.
Follow on from Point 6 – the main route for all.
Passing under the black wooden footbridge (which you will encounter again later) note the golden sand along the river bank – giving the Anglo Saxon origins of the town’s name ‘Gold Ford’. Continue on as the river (on your left) meanders, with water meadows on the far side, and eventually you will come to open land and an obvious canal lock – St Catherine’s. Cross over – left – here.
Pass through the kissing gate with the canal adjacent and kept close by on your right. Follow the canal path through the open meadow for another few hundred metres towards the isolated canal side cottage. Pass along the front of the cottage to follow the path round, over a weir and left.
Now with the river on your left, continue on through the water meadow (sometimes boggy after rain). After 250m, use the wooden planking walkway to take you on towards the short rise in front of you. Ascend the rise to merge at a path by houses where you turn (perhaps surprisingly) left.
(NOTE : rarely, after very heavy rain, this can be impassable. If so you’ll need to take a 15 minute diversion, as follows: Return to St Catherine’s lock. Cross over the canal, turn left, walk for 8 -10 minutes to the first road bridge. Turn left to join the road, cross the bridge over the river, stay on this for a few hundred metres where, after a row of houses, a green space opens up on your left. Turn left and continue on sign-posted Shalford. Soon, passing allotments on your left, you will emerge at Point 10 where you continue straight ahead.)
Ascend the rise to merge at a path by houses where you turn, (perhaps surprisingly), sharp left.
Follow this path through trees (with the water meadows now hidden away down to your left) and the backs of houses and gardens on your right. Continue on this path for about 400m, ignoring any paths off. At a junction of paths look out for the blue painted tree; this is your cue to turn right out of the trees, between the buildings, and towards the main road.
At the main road use the pedestrian crossing to cross over, then turn right passing the Seahorse pub opposite. Now look for the finger post directing you towards Shalford Mill on your left. If it’s open (unlikely) take a look. If not, take time at some point to check out the tale of the mysterious and benevolently bonkers Ferguson’s Gang below.
Continuing on past the mill, emerge into a wide open meadow and head directly onwards towards the hedge, 400m away, on the far side. Note: as you reach the hedge, don’t exit by the stile in front of you (as this will put you on the road) but instead take the gate to your right in the corner of the field to take the more tranquil route parallel to the road, following the hedge on your left and with meadows now to your right.
Continue along the hedge for about 350m, you might catch sight of a carved tree trunk shaped like a chair buried in the hedge. You might sit here in regal splendour for a fleeting moment and contemplate the not-quite-inspiring view. Then shortly after take the obvious signposted exit in the hedge on your left. This puts you back on the road and directs you to your next footpath which is opposite and slightly to the left.
Pick up this path to enter open land, with the North Downs rising invitingly ahead and above you. In spring and summer, listen for the silvery, liquid warbling of ‘larks ascending’…
Ahead, after a few hundred metres, the path makes a T-junction with an obvious hedge-line where you turn right.
Continue on this path for another 300m where, at the edge of the large field you have been following on your left, you leave your path to turn left (not signposted) towards the rising Downs with a hedge now on your left.
After 200m the path enters the woodland at the bottom of the Downs. Pass through the gate – don’t proceed onward, but take the upward diagonal track immediately angling off and up quite steeply to your right. Your direction will be a diagonal climb up this hill to the edge of deep woodland.
Take your time as you pick your way upwards and onwards. After about 350m you will meet an obvious well used path by fenced woodland. Continue onwards (right) along this path with woodland on your left and views soon opening on your right. This will be your main path from now until lunchtime.
After c300m, pass through a metal gate looking out for a wide meadow on your right which has at its far side on your right (south) a set of carved wooden benches facing away. Take this looped diversion off the main path towards the benches and a welcome rest with splendid views across several counties of southern England – even as far as Hampshire, allegedly.
Leaving the benches follow the curving path onward, around and back through a metal gate and heading towards the edge of the woodland (avoid the gate which leads to a path heading slightly down hill).
Returning to continue onwards at the edge of the woodland you will soon emerge into an open area/campsite with a few ramshackle brick buildings. There is a tap for freshwater here. Continue to the edge of the wood ahead. Don’t veer left in to the main deciduous woodland, but pass directly ahead into the trees, passing into a small but atmospheric conifer forest (you may allow yourself a brief Scandi-moment).
After about 200m this emerges at a road (on the OS Map ‘Halfpenny Lane’). Turn left, then immediately right uphill following the signposted North Downs Way, heading upwards.
Note: Eyeball this point as you will be coming back this way. If any tiring walking companions can’t face the final ascent, hand them basic provisions and tie them to a tree ready for your return.
A steady uphill climb for ten minutes or so, throughout which you will heroically try to disguise the fact that you are increasingly out of breath, leads you up a wide sandy path to St Martha’s Church. Try to bag one of the benches either directly up against the church itself at the front, or one of the others more hidden along the church wall facing south. There is another bench on the far side of the church.
Those who don’t like hills can stop moaning now because the rest of the day is downhill or flat. Hooray!
Enjoy a rest and whatever drink, nibbles and tasty knick knacks you have brought to snaffle.
BTW in the Features Link below, there is a remarkable story of the action-hero and famous Kiwi, Bernard Freyburg and his family. Their graves are in front of the porch.
The route back…
Refreshed, suitably or otherwise, retrace your steps back down hill to Half Penny Lane. Release your tiresome companions and take the signposted North Downs Way (NDW) path opposite. Don’t veer on the right hand track downhill; proceed ahead through the trees. You will follow the NDW for over 2km. At this point you are also on the historic Pilgrims Way.
Note the NDW can become muddy. If so look out for the faint diversions trodden by other walkers which are often to one side and parallel to the path.
Continue onwards through the trees to reach an open sandy lane after about 5 minutes. Cross the open land following the fenced-in sandy path to enter woods, then soon emerge at a junction of paths and metalled lane – continue straight on.
Your route will give you the option of following the lane, but it is more agreeable to pick up the trail that runs parallel to the road just inside the wood, on the left.
This will occasionally briefly rise up and away from the road, but trust the direction to follow the route continuing ahead, tracking roughly parallel to the NDW for about 1.5km.
Towards the end, your woodland path will briefly rise up and slightly left towards the shoulder of the hill. Without cresting the hill continue on and veering around the hill.
Emerge at a wide junction of paths, a cottage or two and car park to leave the NDW and continue straight on to the main road. Cross over and turn left following the road, lined with large houses, for 500m to meet a road junction to cross directly over to open sports ground.
Continue directly on across the sports field towards the line of trees ahead of you to pass through the trees to a rough water meadow. You will see, higher up and ahead, the silhouette of chapel ruins: St Catherine’s.
After 200m, reach the River Wey and the footbridge over to your left.
You can return to Guildford on either side of the river here. Depending on which diversion you took earlier and/or your inclination, either cross the bridge to the ‘golden’ banks on the far side, turn right to follow the river (which will then be on your right), back.
Or…. for a quieter route, don’t cross the bridge but instead, keeping the river on your left, track your way along through the trees to the water meadow and eventually the rowing club and road.
In both cases you will simply be following your steps back to Guildford Station.
Don’t even try to hurry this last mile or so, your legs won’t let you. Besides, there are plenty of trains back to the big City and even a pub or two on the way…
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