Gentle Hills and Daffodils, Pleasant Copses and Snowdropses
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Our route should be lined with daffodils and snowdrops, but as they're already out in early February, they'll probably have faded by mid-March. Ho hum. The backdrop will be the densely wooded hills of Leith and Holmbury (which we'll visit later in the year when the weather is better) while downstage will be a well-wooded but less elevated landscape in which a huddle of hamlets have haphazardly developed. If you're looking for a winter walk which is a strenuous stride to see stunning scenery, this walk will disappoint, but if you're looking for a walk which is a mellow meander to quiet corners, look no further. Plus, we'll have the last pub lunch of the season at a reasonably-priced inn in Okewood.
Vann Lake: Probably built to power the Wealden iron industry or a linen mill, the water drops from a dam down a 10m tiered spillway. An attractive location. Vann Lake reserve is home to dormice, crested newts and several rare species of bat, and is a site of special scientific interest.
Ockley: On the Roman Road of Stane Street, subsequently a stretch of the A29. The long village green is 'sometimes fifty yards wide, sometimes two hundred, sometimes bounded firmly by trees and cottages, sometimes penetrating into the countryside beyond...westward views always have Leith Hill as a backdrop' (Ian Nairn, The Buildings of England: Surrey). Jayes Park: elegant brick front of 1913. Many pleasant tile-hung houses in the village and pretty cottages ornés ('decorated cottages') such as Tanyard Cottage with carved bargeboards and intricate leaded windows.
Oakwood/Okewood: No village; just a collection of hamlets scattered through the woods. The church of St John the Baptist is C13 but over-restored. It is however in an 'unforgettable situation. It is completely surrounded by thick woods...the churchyard is just a rough clearing, and looking out from it can still give the impression of frontier uneasiness, a refreshing thing to find in Surrey' (Nairn). The Revd. Thomas Malthus became rector of the church in 1798 the year he wrote An Essay on the Principle of Population. In it, he observed that an increase in a nation's food production improved the well-being of the population, but the improvement was temporary because it led to population growth, which in turn restored the original population level due to starvation. His idea of 'surplus population' was adopted by those who were later parodied as Dickens's Ebenezer Scrooge.
I love having dogs on the walks I run, and this walk is quite suitable for them. There will be no stiles and few fields with livestock but lots of country lanes to walk along which might be tedious for them. A dog off the lead must be obedient.
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We'll go south along Weare Street, then west along Vann Lake Road. Having walked through some woods, we'll head west along Friday Street to Ockley. We'll head east along Stane Street (the A29 - there's a pavement) and turn west along Cathill Lane befire turning north along Mole Street. We'll then turn west along Pisley lane to Mayes Green, then south down Green Lane to Hutchings Copse, where we'll find Church Lane. A footpath will take us to Okewood Hill where the pub is. After lunch we'll follow Ruckman's Lane and Weare Street all the way back to Ockley except for a small detour along a loop following the Sussex Border Path.
(Image credits: Sussex Border Path: Photo © Chris Thomas-Atkin (cc-by-sa/2.0); View up Ruckman's Lane: Photo © Shazz (cc-by-sa/2.0); Church of St John the Baptist, Okewood: Photo © Stefan Czapski (cc-by-sa/2.0); Cottages at Ockley: a glimpse of Surrey as it once was?: Photo © Stefan Czapski (cc-by-sa/2.0); The Green, Ockley: Photo © N Chadwick (cc-by-sa/2.0); Ockley Village and Green: Photo © N Chadwick (cc-by-sa/2.0); SE on Vann Lane: Photo © Dave Spicer (cc-by-sa/2.0). These images are copyrighted but are here credited to their copyright holders and are licensed for reuse under either Creative Commons CC-BY-SA/2.0. Other photos were taken by the leader in January 2024.)
What to bring
Well-fitting, waterproof walking boots are essential as thre will be some mud despite the tarmac trails we'll mostly follow.
If rain is forecast wear a coat, and if serious rain is, waterproof trousers. Consider wearing gaiters too. Avoid wearing jeans as they become heavy and chafing when wet.
If the weather is cold, bring a hat, scarf and gloves as appropriate and employ layering with a base layer, secondary layer, fleece and coat, perhaps insulated.
Food & drink
We're booked to have a pub lunch at The Punchbowl Inn in Okewood. Please have a look at the menu and tell me what you'd like to eat so that I can get a pre-order together to save time at lunchtime. If you'd like to bring a packed lunch, that's fine too.
Otherwise, bring snacks and drinks.