Section 5a: 7 miles (11 kilometres), September. Sunny, solo with dog. I split section 5 into two parts, for reasons.
TL;DR Autumn is in the air, there be dragons, there be hoofprints, there be no lunch
St. Catherine’s chapel squats on a hill south of Guildford which once had a riotous annual fair. Since medieval times people would basically drink a hell of a lot for five days. Turner painted it, and in his time drunk ne’er-do-wells would pelt passers by with chestnuts and get in the papers. More recently a cave was discovered under it which is far older than the chapel, from when the hill was called the Hill of Dragons, and inside are the decorative carvings of an early medieval shrine.
I’m keeping one eye out for dragons and chestnuts but sadly there’s no way to get near the dragon’s cave, even though I spend half an hour scrambling about getting lost. It isn’t technically on the PW but with a firm bowling arm you could stand on the hill and throw chestnuts at pilgrims as they went down to drink from Artington ancient spring and cross the river Wey by ferry.
Reluctantly I get back to the path and the walk goes down a lovely leafy tunnel to the river Wey. We have it to ourselves: me, my dog, a man, his dog, but soon I cross over the bridge and head away from the restful slow river.
And the rain starts, plinking into the water, enough to need a jacket, enough to get too hot in the jacket and get sweaty damp inside and out. Just as I settle into the pace of woods and fields and start to breathe again, I find myself on a common back in town and on a street called, appropriately enough, Pilgrim’s Way, by a house called Pilgrims Corner.
At least I am reasonably sure today I’m not lost. You would be surprised how often I think I am, or perhaps not surprised. It’s Pilgrims Way Bin Day.
In Chantry wood there is bird song everywhere and it takes me by surprise. I’ve got used to the birds being quieter at this time of year, but I don’t know enough to identify the species, and Chirpomatic app seems to be struggling. There’s one repeated over and over, a long whistle that I’m perplexed by to the point of wondering if someone has an aviary nearby.
The dark tree trunks are glistening wet like haematite, there must have been an earlier thunderstorm. Things feel slightly odd in this wood, especially when you’re alone. Every dark fairy tale has a wicked wood.
It’s a small haul up the hill to reach St. Martha’s Hill and the church. St. Martha’s has been used as a film location for the Canterbury Tales and a Kenneth Branagh film I’ve never heard of, In the Bleak Midwinter.
But the church is locked up: I would have liked to investigate inside (and get the stamp) but for now I’ll make do with the view and clouds hanging like smoke on the distant horizon.
Downhill it’s beginning to look a lot like autumn, with bracken and heather starting to turn russet brown, then another gorgeous stretch beside an oak wood. From here it feels as though oak trees line the route for several miles and it feels good to have their oaky company.
At Albury there’s a huge and ostentatious church on the estate and beyond that a path through the estate wood which smells of woodsmoke and autumn. There are hoofprints and horseshit, and you know what means…. Rich people.
I had high hopes for Shere, billed everywhere as a lovely quintessential English village. It really isn’t. I’m sure the houses are delightful, what you can see of them behind 4x4s and a village green rammed with very expensive sports cars, but it isn’t a friendly welcome for a sweaty walker and a grubby dog. You come to Shere in your finest designers and eat very expensive lunches, but I don’t know any walkers happy to pay £15 for cheese and bread. The church was open, but for some bizarre reason the stamp wasn’t there, and instead a note pinned on the wall to the effect that if you really wanted the stamp you could phone the mobile number and if they had time they would come and unlock it and, supervised, you could borrow it. Perhaps they think we’re going to steal it. No thanks. The adjacent village, Gomshall, on the other hand was great, a huge kids playground, a free bus stop lending library and the pub was friendly too.
At this half way point I made a call on walking on to finish section 5. I’ve mentioned before how distracted I can get, looking for medieval graffiti, dragons, getting lost, trawling through the menus of several expensive eateries etc. More importantly this month I am a lone parent so I decided to chop it in two to be back for after school. If I’d known how impossible getting back to Gomshall the next three weeks would turn out to be I would have planned differently. Three times my train was cancelled: damn you Southern Rail.
I’ll be back.
More walks on the Pilgrims’ Way
I use The Pilgrims Way by Leigh Hatts as a guidebook, it’s pretty much essential for this walk. You can buy it here or from good independent bookshops.
I also use a GPX file imported from British Pilgrimage Trust into the Ordnance Survey app. It is available from their website and occasionally differs from the book.
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