Kiddiwalks: Gunpowder at Chilworth (3 miles)

A lovely walk that starts in peaceful woodland where only the bird song and the sound of running water breaks the silence. Amongst the trees will be found the stark remains of Chilworth’s old gunpowder mills, at one time the most important in England. Just imagine the scene as horses pulled wagons along wooden tramways, water rushed down leats to power the mills and 400 workers went about the business of making their deadly product. Youngsters will enjoy the challenge of climbing to St Martha’s church, high on the hills above, where the views are outstanding. The descent brings you to Chilworth Manor below where the way soon rejoins the woodland and cool waters of the Tillingbourne. Bring a picnic.

1. Follow a narrow path to the left of the infant school to reach a wooden bridge over a leat. The path follows the course of a tramway where horses once pulled their loads of gunpowder to the railway in Chilworth and on your right by the bridge is a remaining part. Fork right and soon turn right and pass picnic tables in a clearing. Keep to the wide path through woodland and ignore a left fork by a mound of earth. Soon pass the remains of the mill buildings to reach an information board and a bridge.

2. Turn right over the bridge and cross a stile ahead of you to enter a field. Press on through a second and third field with more recent evidence of the gunpowder works through the trees on your left. After the path narrows and passes the rear of gardens, a road is met. Bear left over a bridge and continue along a tarmac drive with housing on your left and a lake on your right. This was the site of Postford Mill, originally a paper mill before changing to a flock mill. After its closure it became a fish farm before finally succumbing to housing. Continue along the drive and , when it bends sharply left, ignore a footpath ahead of you.

3. At the gateway to Millstream Cottage ignore a path on the right and fork left alongside the garden. Soon you are immersed in majestic beech woodland where you gradually gain height and leave the Tilling Bourne flowing between the trees below you before the path bends away from the stream and begins the climb in earnest. When an undulating field is seen to your left, keep right on the main path and when nearing the top of the hill ignore a right fork. Soon reach a directional post by a clearing that is the haunt of green woodpeckers that feed on the anthills here.

4. Turn left along the rising sandy bridleway and keep ahead in 50 yards at a junction of tracks. Pass by a WWII pillbox and keep to the bridleway as you pass by a Downs Link path on your left. When the track divides, leave the bridleway and go ahead on a public footpath that will finally bring you to St Martha’s church and the end of the climb. Continue left around the wall of the graveyard to find welcoming seats that offer stunning views and a good excuse to rest awhile or have a picnic. Just the other side of the wall is the grave of one of WWII’s most charismatic leaders, Major General Bernard Freyberg VC who, although being English, commanded New Zealand troops. Other noteworthy graves include Sir George Edwards, a man who had his hand in many aircraft designs and later, as chairman of British Aircraft Corporation, ensured Concorde entered into service, and the actress Yvonne Arnaud, after whom Guildford’s theatre is named.

5. The return to the valley below begins on a downhill path directly in front of the seats. The path is steep and caution should be used. Remain on the path until it ends at a T-junction with a field beyond. Turn right to join the drive of Chilworth Manor and follow it leftwards to reach a road. Continue ahead along the road and after it passes over a second bridge turn immediately left on a path by a lodge gate that was once the entrance to the gunpowder mills. Continue ahead on the wide path where again you will detect the remains of the mills in the woodland. Finally cross a bridge over the leat on your right to rejoin the infant school and the end of this great circuit.

DISTANCE: 3 miles
OS MAPS: Explorer 145 Guildford & Farnham
STARTING POINT: A248 roadside near Chilworth Infants School.
GETTING THERE: Chilworth is south of Guildford on the A248 between Shalford and Albury.
REFRESHMENTS: The Percy Arms, 75 Dorking Rd, Chilworth GU4 8NP. Tel: 01483 561765.
TIME: Allow 2 hours, more if picnicking
TERRAIN: Level apart from one stiff climb of 390 feet to St Martha’s church and a fairly steep descent.

Walk taken from Kiddiwalks in Surrey by David Weller, published by www.countrysidebooks.co.uk.

Mills have occupied the Chilworth site since Domesday although they were most likely corn mills. Gunpowder came to Chilworth as early as 1580 and, by 1625, the East India Company operated them. Water provided the power source during the early days but in 1885, when the Chilworth Gunpowder Company was formed, power came from a stationary engine. During the 1890s, and the development of high explosives, the site expanded over the fields westwards.

Originally the gunpowder was carried by punt along the Tilling Bourne to the river Wey at Shalford where it was loaded onto barges for its journey to London. At the coming of the railway to Chilworth in 1888, the works’ international railway, operated by horse-drawn wagons, was extended to Chilworth Station. Two years after the end of WWI, the works became a part of Noble Industries but soon closed and Noble was swallowed up by ICI.

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