From: A circular walk from Farnham up through the park and back again.
Length: 2.6 miles.
Average Walk Time: An hour.
Terrain: Hilly. It's a stiff pull all the way up (especially at the beginning) and then downhill all the way back. Great exercise! Total climb is around 100m in height.
Suitable for dogs: Yes.
Look out for: Some great views of Farnham, especially on the way back.
Do you know about the most prominent public green space in Farnham? Yes, it's our park. Before we trot off, I'd like to offer a little history for you. Bishop Wykeham created the New or Little Park at Farnham in 1376. Like the Old or Great Park to the west, it was a deer park owned by the bishops of Winchester.
Despite Bishop Morley (Bishop 1662-84) having had a Keeper's Lodge built on a rise in the centre of the park, poaching was common and resulted, by the late 18th century, in the loss of most of the deer. Bishop Brownlow North (Bishop 1781-1820) reported that he found the park very neglected. By the beginning of the 19th century, North had begun to embellish the New Park, improving the surface, laying out roads and walks, planting young trees, and protecting the old trees. He also made improvements to the Keeper's Lodge. When the 19th-century English gardener and garden writer William Keane visited the castle in 1849, researching for his book, 'The Beauties of Surrey', he described the park as beautiful, being adorned with deer and a noble avenue of elm trees. He also remarked that the inhabitants of Farnham enjoyed the park as a healthy promenade. By the late 1800s, the tree cover had become well established.
After nearly 700 years in the ownership of the bishops of Winchester, Farnham Park was sold to the town of Farnham in 1930. Although part of it became a golf course, with the Ranger's House as the clubhouse, the tradition of animal grazing continued. During the Second World War, pill boxes and anti-glider posts were erected throughout the park, and the Ranger's House became the headquarters of the local air-raid wardens. Also, much of the park was ploughed up and crops, including potatoes and wheat, were grown in the fields. The Castle itself has a fascinating history, but we're not going there today, so I'll gloss over that for now.
Farnham Park remains in public ownership today and open to the public. Roe deer and cattle continue to graze the parkland. The Ranger's House at the centre of the site, and the surrounding pleasure grounds, are now in private ownership – but I've covered the Ranger's House before, and this isn't time for another explanation. Maybe next time! So, luxuriate in your park and let's get going.
I've assumed for this walk, that you're starting from the traffic lights at the end of The Borough/West Street/South Street, but you can start anywhere in Farnham. Head north from these lights, up Bear Lane and enter the park by the Deer Steps. I know you know this – the steps are supposed to be named after the times when the entire park was fenced, and the steps stopped the deer getting out. However, it's thought this is merely a myth. They have no such function now, and I'm pretty sure a fit deer could have leapt them anyway. Walk around the steps and set off diagonally right up the path up the hill. This is one of the steepest pulls on the entire walk and will get you puffing. HOWEVER, before you go on, pause at the strange concrete structure set in the ground to your left. During the 1990s, Waverley District Council were forever damaging their mowers on the steel post you can see. Eventually, the archaeologists dug it up.
So what is it? The answer is another of the weird World War 2 defence line positions. It is what's called a spigot mortar. The weapon itself (see photo) sat on top of the steel 'spigot' and could rotate. The mortar was dropped into the cylindrical tube, which could be elevated and rotated to choose a target. The weapon was fired by a converted bicycle brake cable. It had a range of up to 400m and an accurate range of 100m. That means that if you were a herd of marauding invaders, you could be mortared down as you came out of Bear Lane Alley and passed the steps. (Poor deers – venison anyone?) The four concrete blocks spaced around the mortar spigot were lids to ammunition boxes. At least now the Waverley mowers are safe.
So, education over and time to go exercise. Pass up the hill and keep going. This beautiful path goes without deviation the whole diagonal length of the park. Many footpaths turn off left and right, and you're welcome to explore all and any of them, but watch your time out. Today, we're maximising the exercise and going to the top of the park. You will pass several mature 'ancient' trees and the modern equivalent – pylons. I can't resist quoting Stephen Spender here:
Now over these small hills, they have built the concrete That trails black wire Pylons, those pillars Bare like nude giant girls that have no secret.
OK, our pylons are steel and not concrete, but you get the idea. I love the concept of "nude giant girls", and I smile every time I pass the line of them.
When, eventually, you reach the barrier gate and notice board, turn left, staying on the paved path into the trees. The route continues west. The trail only forks twice, at the first paved fork, take the left turn by the litter bin. The second turn is really a straight on, but the paved path turns right, and you continue up the hill straight, crossing a small footbridge. Again, this is by a litter bin. Keep walking straight on. Yes, this is up another hill, but it's the last one of any consequence. When you're at the top, look for the "cross" bench with four arms and turn left down the hill. Follow a distinct path in the grass for 100m until you cross a small ditch on a bridge. After the bridge, take the right-hand way and up the ridge. (OK I lied, this is a little uphill, but it's of no consequence!)
Keep going, passing the pylon's left (it will be on your right) and slightly bear right. You're heading to a gap to the right of the trees ahead of you. When you reach a small tarmacked track, cross straight over and go through the kissing gate into the golf course. The nice golf course people have marked the public footpath with thick wooden posts with orange stickers on them, as well as plenty of footpath signs. I have no doubt this is to save you getting lost. The cynic would say it's to stop you trampling all over the course, but I'm not a cynic. When you come out the bottom, you will be at the cricket club. Take the left side of the green and go down the hill. Note, I did not have you walk up this way as it's even steeper than the path I chose. Nice Guy.
And that's it. Shortly you're back at the Deer Steps and back where you started. I hope you enjoyed your exercise and some of it at least got your heart racing a little. See you next week.