Hiking the Heights and Heaths from Hambledon to Hascombe
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Needless to write, both the panoramas provided and the exertion entailed will be pretty prodigious. As we cover the crest of the Cretaceous greensand, we'll see its classic cover (Scots pine, birch, holly and oak) and the vintage vernacular that nestles among it (sandstone and tile-hanging). Here is Surrey supreme, where Edwin Lutyens hid magnates' mansions amid Gertrude Jekyll's gardens and where the money from mechanised industrial methods funded elaborate evocations of medieval piety. One such is the dazzlingly decorated Church of St Peter at Hascombe. If your spiritual tastes run to the pagan, this walk also offers a druidic stone circle (circa 1995 AD, alas), and if you'd rather just be in the pub, lunch at The White Horse in Hascombe and a drink at The Merry Harriers in Hambledon.
Hambledon: A scattered village with church and farmhouse by themselves looking very pretty. In the churchyard of St Peter are two old yew trees, one with a 9.1 m girth.
Hydon's Ball: Heathland and a hill of 179m in the care of the National Trust. At its highest point is a large stone seat which was placed there in 1915 as a memorial to Octavia Hill, one of the Trust's founders. On its slopes grow pine, rowan, ash and birch and two non-native shrubs (Amelanchier and Gaultheria) planted by gardener Gertrude Jekyll who lived nearby at Munstead Wood.
Hascombe: A picturesque location in a wooded valley and one of the prettiest villages in the county. All stone and tile-hanging and feeling isolated and timeless. The White Horse, in which we'll have lunch, is 16th-17th century with later additions.
Hascombe Hill: The 14th highest hill in Surrey at 192m. Hascombe Hill Camp is Iron Age, a promontory type hill fort with steep drops on most sides but a rampart and fosse 120m long on the flat north side. The Modern Order of Druids built the adjacent stone circle in the 1990s.
St Peter's Church, Hascombe: Henry Woodyer's church of 1864 is 'a Tractarian work of art' (Betjeman). The plain exterior hides a richly decorated interior with gilding and painting. A medieval rood screen made of Jerusalem olive wood has been incorporated. The church gets three stars in Simon Jenkins's England's Thousand Best Churches.
Our progress in the muddy conditions will be eased by a number of tarmac tracks.
Before lunch: The Greensand Way will lead us over the A283 to Hambledon and its Common. Then, just after the church, we'll leave the Greensand Way and head northeast to ascend Hydon's Ball. A bridleway leading off Hydon's Heath will take us to Mare Lane which will take us to Hascombe. The pub and church will be nearby but we'll skirt these to complete a loop of Hascombe Hill on bridleways and footpaths. Then, after descending the hill, we'll have lunch at The White Horse at 13:30 and see the ornate church.
After lunch: This stretch is slightly less hilly. Leaving the pub we'll ascend Breakneck Hill and cross The Hurtwood on the Greensand Way. Crossing Burgate Hanger will take us to Vann Hill. We'll soon be back in Hambledon where we'll cross the outward bound route and have a drink at The Merry Harriers an 45 minutes before we finish. A bridleway across Buss's Common and over Stone Hill will lead us back to the A283 which we'll cross to return to Witley Station.
(Photo credits: Hascombe stone circle: James Mason-Hudson; Hascombe Hill in spring: Martin Thomas; House in the woods, Hambledon: Humphrey Bolton; Hambledon Heath: Humphrey Bolton; St Peter's Churchyard: Peter Bolton; Bridleway east towards the Tolt: Dave Spicer; Parson's Hanger: Dave Spicer; Trig Point on Hydon's Ball: Shazz; Coppiced woodland: Shazz; Spire of St Peter's Church, Hascombe: Shazz; Park Hatch in the snow: Ben Gamble; The White Horse, Hascombe: Peter Trimming; Church of St Peter, Hascombe: N Chadwick; Chancel of the Church of St Peter, Hascombe: Colin Smith; The Merry Harriers in the snow: Colin Beasley. All photos labelled 'Free to use and share' under the Creative Commons License.)
What to bring
Walking boots and thick socks are essential on this tough February hike to support the ankles, give traction and keep the feet dry. If mud is severe then gaiters are useful, and if the weather is wet, a waterproof coat and trousers. Consider layering for cold conditions: base layer, fleece (or two), insulated coat. Gloves and hats are also advised.
Food & drink
We are booked to have a pub lunch at The White Horse in Hascombe at 13:30. Their menu changes, so I'll send it to you for you to choose when they send it to me, two weeks before the walk. If you want to bring a packed lunch, that's fine. The nearby village green or churchyard have benches you can sit on.
Near the end of the walk we can have a drink in the warmth at The Merry Harriers at Hambledon. There is no other pub near Witley Railway Station.