Sunday 29 March 2020

LEITH HILL WALK with Tony Brown and John Lodge.

The Ordnance Survey Map showing  Leith Hill in Surrey.

Friday 13th March, the Coronavirus is now causing us to “social distance.” We are still wondering what,  ”social distancing,” actually means in practice. Toilet rolls are disappearing like,” hot cakes,” off TESCOS supermarket shelves. Is that a good analogy? The sudden need for toilet rolls is leaving many of us bemused. We are beginning to feel cautious about  meeting people and we have decided that going to the local pub or restaurant is not a good idea at this time. John, Tony and myself still, however, felt confident about driving to, Leith Hill,  within our cars. Walking up steep inclines and along the muddy tracks dissecting dense woodland, didn't bring us into contact with anybody. Boris Johnson and  the chief medical officer for England, have assured us that taking daily exercise in ones and twos is a beneficial thing to do at this time. Very few people were about and those we encountered could easily be kept at a distance.

The way to the top of Leith Hill from Landslip Car Park.

Leith Hill  is the second highest point in the south east of England at 294 metres in height above sea level. It is an SSI site (a site of special scientific interest). The area around the hill supports rare moths, many examples of fungi, all three types of British woodpecker and a large and varied invertebrate community. It is part of the Greensand Ridge which, in turn, is part of the Artois Anticline which covers South East England and Northern France. This geological stratum was laid down in the Cretaceous period 145 to 66 million years ago. Greensand is a sandstone escarpment consisting of ironstone and Bargate Stone, an extremely hard stone.  The sandstone is overlain by chalk and clay deposits. This diverse substratum attracts many species of trees and wild flowers.

Leith Hill Tower on the summit of Leith Hill.

On the summit of Leith Hill is an 18th century tower built in the Gothic style. It was built between 1765 and 1766 by Richard Hill who lived in nearby Leith Hill Place. It was at first called Prospect House, but this later changed to Leith Hill Tower. It is 19.5 meters high. In the 18th century visitors to the tower were provided with, “prospect glasses,” similar to binoculars. Nowadays there is a telescope for visitors to view the scenery. The south coast can be seen from the top on clear days.
Leith Hill Place, seen nearby from the tower was originally owned by Richard Hill who had the tower built. When he died in 1772 he was buried underneath the tower. It fell into ruin after his death. It was later reopened in 1864 by a Mr Evelyn of Wotton House situated to the north of Leith Hill. On the parapet of the tower there is a viewpoint indicator that commemorates Edmund Seyfang Taylor, an early pioneer rambler. Leith Hill Place was later owned, in 1847, by Josiah Wedgewood III and Caroline, his wife. Josiah and Caroline were the grandparents of Vaughn Williams, the composer. Vaughn Williams spent much of his childhood years at the house and later inherited it and eventually left it to The National Trust. There is an exhibition about his life at the house. Caroline Wedgewood was a member of the Darwin family and Charles Darwin often visited Leith Hill Place and conducted experiments in the grounds.

The Ordnance Survey triangulation point at the top of Leith Hill.

At the top of Leith Hill next to the tower is an Ordnance Survey triangulation pillar. It is the position where the 6 inch and 1:2500 Ordnance Survey maps for Surrey originated from.

 Tony and I parked in Landslip Car Park in a wooded area below the summit. John,  parked on the other side of Leith Hill. We arranged to meet next to the tower. When Tony and I arrived at the top there was no sign of John at first. Then we noticed a vigorously waving person calling down to us from the top of the tower. My first thought was of the Monty Python film, The Holy Grail when a French knight in armour shouted insults in a bad French accent at the attacking English force. No insults, in bad French  came our way. We climbed the narrow steep spiral staircase to the top and joined John. The view was breath-taking. It was a  clear day  and we could see to the horizon. Some riders on horseback emerged from woodland near the base of the tower as we looked down.

Horse riders at the base of the tower.

A lady serving tea in the National Trust cafĂ© in the base of the tower assured me that the area of grass just outside the tower was where the recent Jane Austen film adaptation of the Box Hill picnic scene from the novel EMMA was filmed. The 2020 version of Emma, directed by Autumn de Wilde and starring Anya Taylor Joy and Johnny Flynn in the starring roles is worth seeing. It is a version of Emma for today. Some Janeites disapprove of it. The real Box Hill is only a few miles away from Leith Hill on the other side of Dorking. Nowadays it is a great attraction for cyclists, walkers and family picnics, so perhaps it is too busy for filming purposes. The elevation of  Leith Hill and the panoramic views form the top are virtually identical to the height and views from Box Hill. Nobody would know.

The site used for the picnic party on ,"Box Hill," in the latest film adaptation of Jane Austen's novel EMMA. 

From here we  used an Ordnance Survey Explorer map (Dorking, Boxhill and Reigate 1:25000 scale) to work out a route, walking north west to begin with, taking us from the summit of Leith Hill. A group of  scots pines stand majestically at the top of Leith Hill and we started our walk underneath their spreading canopies. Descending the slope of Highashes Hill, to one side of Leith Hill. we made our way down a steep muddy slope through mixed deciduous and coniferous woods. Silver birches, pine, larch, interspersed with a few large oaks constituted the woods.  Walking has a number of advantages. You tend go at a slower pace, especially when the going gets difficult. You have time to look and listen and take in the natural world around you.  We approached High Ashes Farm. The farm house, barns and sheds were grouped in an open space.

High Ashes Farm.

From High Ashes Farm we walked on into woodland again, passing through Burnthouse Copse, Great Foxmore Wood and Rosiers Wood. As we  slid and stumbled along one very muddy path we came across a car, smashed and dented, hidden within the trees and undergrowth. It appeared somebody had driven it there along the muddy track. It had off road tyres and the exhaust pipe was positioned like a mast sticking up above the car bonnet.  We checked nobody was inside. It didn’t look as though it had been their long.

Wrecked and abandoned car in the woods.

Further on we passed Hopedene Farm.  The three of us emerged onto the Horsham Road with a few houses hidden behind tall hedgerows and trees here and there. This was the outskirts of Holmbury St Mary. The village is situated on the sides of a steep ravine cut into the Greensand ridge within the Hurtwood Forest which is reputedly the largest area of common land in Surrey. It is unusual because its geographical location places it in two different borough councils. Most of the village is in the borough of Guildford within the Shere civil parish. The east side of the village street however is within the Mole Valley District within the Abinger civil parish. People in Holmbury St Mary pay their local council taxes to two authorities.

Holmbury St Mary, seen from the churchyard of St Marys.

As we entered the village we were passing St Marys church and decided to look inside. We walked through the graveyard to the church entrance. From here, because the church is situated on the hill side, we got a clear view of the main part of the village and the hills surrounding us. The interior of St Marys is in the gothic style, much copied by the Victorians.  Stained glass windows streamed coloured light into the interior.  A calm, meditative place.

The interior of St Mary's Church Holmbury St Mary.

Originally the village was called Felday.  St Mary’s, was built there in 1879, paid for by George Edmund Street who also built himself a large house in the village called Holmdale. He had the village renamed after Holmbury Hill, which overlooks the village and the name of the church, put together. The village has two styles of architecture, the Woodhouse copse style, an arts and crafts style designed by Oliver Hill in 1926 and Jolwynds, a modernist house, also designed by Oliver Hill in 1926.

An arts and crafts style of house in Holmbury St Mary.

There is a well in the middle of the village where Tony, John and myself took photographs of ourselves posing with the winding mechanism under the oak supported tiled roof shading the well. After asking a passing local the way to the pub we retired to The Royal Oak where we were welcomed by a cheery barmaid. We found a corner table near a window overlooking the front of the pub and settled down. The pub has its own microbrewery and so we ordered the house beer, three pints of,” Felday Special.” Always the sight of fish and chips on the menu is an attractive prospect so we also ordered three fish and chips too. The beer took a while to arrive because the landlord needed to put on a new barrel. After putting the new barrel on tap he came to talk to us and we learned that the fish we were about to eat came fresh from Cornwall every day. He also told us about his beer brewing exploits. The fish and chips were superb. I haven’t eaten such well-made chips in a pub for a long time. The beer went down well too and if we were not moving on I could have stayed and drunk another pint. What we only noticed when we got outside the pub and were walking away was that the receipt I was given for our beer and food was rather cheap. Tony realised, that because we had had to wait for the beer to be served, the barmaid hadn’t charged us for the beer. I for one am going back to the Royal Oak in Holmbury St Mary. How good is that?

The Royal Oak pub.

We made our way through the village looking at some of the  cottages and a small field laid out as allotments where people are growing their own fruit and vegetables. We passed Felday Chapel on the rise of ground to our left, as we walked on. It is a 19th Century Congregational Chapel. The Congregational Churches are independent religious groups that hark back to the Puritan tradition. They are non conformists . This tradition is much simpler and less elaborate than the Church of England services held at St Marys on the other side of the village.

Felday, Congregational chapel.

 The village is reputed to be a template for the Surrey village portrayed in E. M Forster’s ,”A Room With A View.” E. M. Forster was brought up in Abinger Hammer nearby and knew the Surrey Hills well.
 A path took us off to the right in a north easterly direction up a  steep hill. We plodded up this high slope through a wood of tall.slender  larch trees. A young deer hurried through the trees near us and disappeared into another part of the wood. We eventually reached the top of the hill and came out onto a plateau with an area of felled trees and a wide woodland path. We began to lose our position on the map but Tony decided that with the sun in the sky on our right, our final destination, back at Leith Hill Tower was south of us. We carried on eastwards through the woodland covering  the crest of the hill and came across some converted farm buildings. They appeared to be wealthy homes with Range Rovers and Porche sports cars parked in their drives. 

John and Tony walking onward and upwards.

We walked on through ,”Pasture Wood,” and crossed Pasture Wood Road into a lane which we thought took us in the correct direction. In front of us was a magnificent arts and crafts, Mock Tudor, mansion. Manicured sports fields spread out in front of it. Some teenagers were being taught football skills by a sports teacher. We stopped for a moment to work out our route once more.I later found this school on my OS map. It is called Hurtwood House School.
This is a statement on the school website.
“ Hurtwood combines the best elements of the traditional boarding school system with the best elements of the modern sixth form college to create a wholly unique and individual establishment.
While breaking new ground educationally, it has retained traditional values and has created an inspirational but safe stepping-stone between school and university.”
I read on about its educational philosophy and I must admit I was impressed. It’s teaching methods are creative and child centred. It is a fee paying, private school.
The building, Hurtwood House School is based in, has an interesting history. It was built originally for Beatrice Webb and became the centre,between 1947 and 1986, for the, ”Webb memorial Trust for Rethinking Poverty.“ Beatrice Webb  helped her cousin Charles Booth in creating his poverty map of London in the  late 1890s and early 1900s and she contributed new ideas to political and economic thinking. Along with her husband, Sydney Webb and George Bernard Shaw she helped found the London School of Economics. She supported the cooperative societies.

Larch woods.

Tony, John and I walked on uphill now, keeping Leyland Farm and Leylands Road to our left until we branched south and, as we hoped, made our way back up to the summit of Leith Hill. We got back to Leith Hill Tower, rested for a while looking out over the Surrey countryside and then said our farewells. 
Tony and John resting, back at the top of Leith Hill after our walk.

We have another walk planned for when this virus eventually disappears. John and I have begun a Shakespeare walk in London which we have half completed. Tony will join us for the final section, when we can continue.

 Tony Brown and myself on the top of Leith Hill Tower.