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
7.3 miles / 11.7 kilometres
OS Explorer Map 145
How to get here
Eat and drink
Riverine, moderate 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>>
Start: Guildford Station
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.
Continue on a short distance 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.
*note at the time of writing (February 2022) this is the only route. Previously you could continue directly on following the canal for 300m to pick up the River Wey, opposite the rowing club, where you turn right (as in Point 4). This route may yet open up once the current engineering works are completed.
For now though, pass the Theatre to turn right at the main road 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, take the footbridge immediately on your right and descend down to the meadow, with the River Wey on your left – ending your diversion – with the rowing club on the opposite bank.
Now keeping the river immediately on your left, on crossing a small weir, continue on for about 2km, following the meandering riverside path with no diversions.
After about 10/12 minutes, 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 meanders with water meadows on the far side and eventually you will come to open land and an obvious canal lock. 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.
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 and you have time, take a look.
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, then find an 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. 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 the field end and 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 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.
Leaving the benches follow the curving path onward, around and back towards the edge of the woodland.
Soon you will emerge into an open area/campsite with a few ramshackle brick buildings. There is a tap for freshwater here and another 100m further on at the edge of the wood. Continue to this second tap at the edge of the wood ahead. Don’t veer left in to the main deciduous woodland, but pass directly past the tap 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.
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.
Continue your previous direction picking up the path on the far (eastern) side of the church (don’t descend directly down towards the views) taking the most obvious wide sandy path at the edge of the hill, down hill. Your aim now is to descend for c200m or so, passing through a sparse wooden barrier with small red reflectors on each side, to pick up the signpost angling you left away from the edge of the hill into trees and downhill. If you miss this turn, or meet the car park don’t worry, you will still arrive at the road where you will turn left to Point 22.
At the road look for the large redbrick cottage (on the OS Map ‘Keeper’s Cottage’) on the left. Pass around the front of this to pick up the bridleway sharp left – heading away from the road – on its far side. You are now following the back of the hill you have just climbed and will do so for a couple of kilometres with no major turns off.
Follow this sandy track, along a quite different landscape now, with a shallow valley to your right and the hillside woodland on your left. Stay on this for about 1.2 km when you reach the newly redeveloped Tyting Farm. At the road, cross over and continue straight on.
After less than 400m, your route will meet woodland and a lane. Ignore the lane to continue on along the track which soon bears left to meet a T-junction of paths where you turn right.
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 rise up and away from the road but trust the direction and the route continuing ahead, for c1.5km, around the base of the wooded hill.
You will pass along the edge of tranquil conifer woodland and a colourful sign depicting Pewley Down, while also walking the ancient Pilgrim’s Way.
Emerge at a wide junction of paths and car park to continue straight on to the main road. Cross over and turn left, following the road 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. Passing through the trees to rough water meadow you will soon see, higher up and ahead, the silhouette of St Catherine’s Chapel ruins.
After 200m, on reaching the River Wey, take the footbridge over to your left to cross the river to coincide with the golden sandy banks and path encountered earlier (Point 6).
Turn right to retrace your steps back to Guildford Station – about 25 minutes away.
Don’t even try to hurry, your legs won’t let you, besides, there are plenty of trains…
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