It was a hot day. Why, thought I, had I agreed to an afternoon wandering around Farnham when I could be sitting under the shade of a tree in my garden?
How do we find Holy sites in England? Or to be more exact, how do we find such sites in the absence of a guide? That was the question posed on Excess Baggage on BBC Radio 4 that morning. The answer was to write such a guide. Though it still begs the question: How to find these sites to write the guide? [see Britain's Holiest Places]
It got me thinking. If I am to visit Farnham, why not visit Waverley Abbey?
On arrival at Farnham I checked my map. Waverley Abbey was too far to walk to.
As it was a pleasant day, my friend Erica and I decided to walk a little way along the North Downs Way. This is a long distance route that runs along the North Downs following the route of the Pilgrim’s Way which ran from Winchester to Canterbury.
It was pleasant and shady, the River Wey ran beside us. We diverted from the North Downs Way and walked alongside the water meadows.
We found amazing specimens of Cuckoo Pint or Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum) growing in the hedgerows.
On the edge of the watermeadows Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum). These keep their seedheads providing food for the birds in the winter.
We walked as far as Moor Park.
It was whilst at Moor Park as secretary to Sir William Temple that Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), satirist, author of Gulliver’s Travels (1726), wrote The Tale of a Tub (1704) and The Battle of the Books (1704). Swift took a fancy to Esther Johnson, who he taught to write. Swift called her Stella and dedicated his Journal (written 1710-11) to her. She later joined Swift in Ireland as his mistress. The two lie buried side by side in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.
An ugly development is taking place next to Moor Park. Why has this been allowed in unpspoilt countryside? Yet another example of the failure of local government.
We carried on down the side of Moor Park. Passed WWII gun emplacements and pill boxes, passed Mother Ludlam’s cave. She was a local witch.
Following the withdrawal from Dunkirk, German invasion was thought to be imminent. The gun emplacement housed an anti-tank gun. It was part of the GHQ Line, a defensive line to contain any German invasion. The garrison town of Aldershot was nearby, Canadian troops were billeted at Moor Park. The valley below was intended as a killing ground for German tanks.
We seemed to be on the spring line.
Where were we? I checked the map. We were very close to Waverley Abbey, so we decided to carry on.
Waverley Abbey was the first Cistercian abbey in England, founded in 1128 by William Giffard, Bishop of Winchester. King John visited Waverley in 1209, and Henry III in 1225. The abbey also produced the Annals of Waverley, an important source for the period. The abbey was destroyed by Henry VIII in 1536 as part of the dissolution of the monasteries. It was then looted of its stone. All that now remains are ruins. It is a very tranquil spot in a bend in the River Wey.
Monks from Waverley Abbey founded five other abbeys including Fountains Abbey, Reivaux Abbey and Tintern Abbey.
Not far away from Waverley Abbey lies Crooksbury Hill, the highest point of Crooksbury Common, a fine sandy heathland, with offers of excellent walking. It was here, on a solitary road crossing the desolate heath, that Sherlock Holmes was called upon to solve a singularly interesting case involving Miss Violet Smith – The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist (published in the collection The Return of Sherlock Holmes).
But we had gone far enough, we were tired and had to walk all the way back. We turned around and headed back to Farnham, though this time following a different route.