This walk explores some hidden and unusual aspects of Farnham’s history and celebrates the launch of the town’s second free walking festival which runs from May 20th-June 3rd. Farnham has an interesting part in ensuring walkers’ rights of way, played a key part in the 1940 invasion defence preparations and is at the start of a national trail. Those connections and other interesting facts will be explored during the course of this short introductory walk. Visit www.vantagepointmag.co.uk/walks for the walk map. More information about the festival can be found at www.farnham.gov.uk/walkingfestival and bookings for each walk can be placed online.
1. Start at the Shepherd & Flock public house which is located within the roundabout bearing the same name at the end of the A31 Farnham by-pass. Limited parking is available in the road here or, if you’re using the pub, in its car park. Walk in front of the pub towards the houses and turn left down an unmade lane through this strange “island village” isolated from the rest of Farnham by the incessant traffic. Continue along the lane through an interesting mix of quirky building styles until you are in the shadow of the bridge carrying the main A31 road over the lane.
To your left is an Edwardian lodge building and this was the scene of a confrontation on the 17th January 1897 when Sir William Rose of Moor Park House (see later) attempted to close off the lane to public access. The lane leads ultimately to Waverley Abbey, a popular spot for Sunday strollers, then and now.
This action led to an event which has gone down in the annals of town history as is well recorded in W Ewbank Smith’s ‘Victorian Farnham’: “Farnham’s miniature battle was fought out in the cold January weather. Sir William’s men duly closed and chained the gates early on Sunday morning and a crowd of some four or five hundred townsmen, and a sprinkling of women, gathered outside. The snow lay on the ground; this came in useful as ammunition for those who were not armed with sticks, crowbars, sledgehammers and other assorted ironmongery. Herbert Frost and his rural colleague, John Stedman, (council surveyors) were cheered as they forced the chains with crowbars. The defenders, consisting of a handful of lodgekeepers and other servants, though reinforced by the six ex-City policemen, were clearly no match for the superior strength of the attackers, who by sheer weight of numbers breached the gates and won for the town a victory that has never since been challenged.”
2. Continue along the lane under the road bridge and, further on, below the railway. 50m after the railway bridge look to your left where you will see partly hidden among the vegetation on the bank a rock-lined cleft. Once an ornamental waterfall in the grounds of Rock House on the bluff above, its origin is the outfall from a watermill that predated the house itself. Further along the lane take the right turn between fences towards High Mill. This is another of the town’s ancient mills and this one, whilst now purely a residence, is believed to still contain a full set of milling machinery. Walk across the forecourt of the mill and exit through a set of gates into a track between meadows. Continue down the track to cross the river Wey via a footbridge beside a ford.
3. Walk along the path ahead into the edge of woodland where you will soon see a path to your left signed ‘North Downs Way’. Take the North Downs Way, a national trail leading from Farnham to Dover, through young woodland to emerge onto a narrow road and turn left. Walk, with care, along the road turning first left to re-cross the river by a small bridge. Continue ahead, noting the large anti-tank cylinder obstacle in the left verge, to crossroads at the foot of a steeply rising sunken lane.
4. Turn right here, leaving the North Downs Way, joining the Greensand Way through the large gates to Moor Park House. Walk along the drive between more concrete anti-tank cylinders to reach the main entrance to the large house. Now split into luxury apartments with grounds sweeping down to the river, this was formerly a country house owned by Sir William Rose of the right-of-way dispute above. Built in 1630, earlier occupants included Sir William Temple who employed one Jonathan Swift as his secretary. Swift wrote A Tale of a Tub and The Battle of the Books while living here though many will know him better through Gulliver’s Travels. Later the house became a Christian Adult Education centre.
5. Continue walking along the lane ahead which gradually narrows to become a path between the foot of the slope and the fenced fields on the right. After about a third of a mile you will find a pillbox adjacent to the right hand fence.
This is part of the GHQ defence line erected rapidly (over approximately six months) in 1940 when the threat of German invasion was at its height during World War Two. The line runs through Farnham from Ewshot to Waverley and then continues through Elstead and Godalming. This pillbox was designed for a maximum garrison of nine men with five light machine guns and two rifles. It is positioned to provide covering fire to a larger anti-tank gun emplacement further along the path.
6. A little further along the path, where the ground rises, you will find the anti-tank emplacement designed to house a 2pdr gun, complete with its carriage, firing out through the large embrasure with a good view and field of fire across the river meadows below. Return to the path and continue along the terrace above swampy ground to the right and among mature trees. This area is a nature reserve and shortly you will come to a stream issuing from a gated cave mouth.
This natural sandstone cave is known as Mother Ludlam’s Cave and is surrounded by numerous legends. They largely centre round a supposed one-time occupant, Mother Ludlam who was reputed to be the white witch of Waverley. The story goes that she often loaned out utensils to local people but was displeased when a large cauldron, now in Frensham church, was late in being returned. The cave originally extended around 200 feet in length and the brothers of Waverley Abbey dedicated the fresh water spring within to St Mary. Now it is home to Natterer’s, Daubenton’s, Long-eared and Greater Horseshoe bats.
7. From here retrace your steps back to the gates of Moor Park House (it is possible to continue on to Waverley Abbey but this involves crossing the busy Farnham to Godalming road).
8. At the crossroads, cross straight ahead into the made up lane. In the field to your left is another pillbox. Further down the lane, where it comes closest to the river, you will find a number of ‘dragon’s teeth’, small concrete cones from the defence line designed to prevent tanks from fording the river at this point. Continuing along the road you will come across another anti-tank gun emplacement on the right. After the war this was converted to a garage or shed. Just beyond are the buildings of Moor Park Farm. Just visible at the end of the track to the right is a very large block of former hop kilns now converted to luxury homes. Continue on the lane alongside the fence passing another anti-tank concrete cylinder in the field on the left.
9. Continue on along the lane past the entrance to High Mill and beneath the railway and road bridges to return to your starting point at the Shepherd & Flock pub.
This walk introduces a number of the themes that will feature in this year’s Walking Festival, sponsored by Breaking Free. They hope to welcome you on some of those walks to explore Farnham and its surroundings further.