From: A circular walk from Normandy to Pirbright and back. Start in the car park by the war memorial, GU3 2DB.
Length: 9 miles.
Average Walk Time: Around 5 hours.
Terrain: Just about flat!
Suitable for dogs: Yes.
Look out for: The Chinese bridge in Henley Park and Stanley's grave.
We left from the car park in the middle of Normandy. Now, before you think we've gone to France and are walking the beaches, think again. There's a Normandy in Surrey. It has been suggested that the monks of Waverley Abbey named the area after their homeland because the countryside reminded them of it, but there is doubt because the Abbey's lands did not stretch this far. Anyway, whyever it's named, this is where we start. Leave the car park and walk to the crossroads. Cross the main road (you can use the bollards which briefly divide the A323 into two carriageways if you want) and start walking down Glazier's Lane. After 100m, look on the left side for a public footpath sign and turn left in front of number 36. It seems that you are walking through their front garden (you probably are!) but it is signed public footpath. Continue down the side of the fields until you come back to the main road. When you do, turn 90 degrees right down Elmgrove Lane.
After 200m, the path turns left, over a plank footbridge and through a squeeze stile. Continue along the path until you reach a minor road (Bailes Lane). Turn left here and walk back to the main road (again). Now walk along the main road for 50m and turn left over a low stile and down a footpath into the start of the Henley Park Estate. After 800m you cross over a curious bridge. This is sometimes called the 'Sheep Bridge' because it was assumed the shepherd could straddle the low parapet walls and count the sheep as they walked single file between his legs, but more properly is called the 'Chinese Bridge'. If you think of the 'willow pattern' on blue and white traditional Chinese plates, you can see the similarity. No one is quite sure when or why it was built, but it is likely to be from the late 1800s and built as a 'gentleman's folly' in the grounds of Henley Park, owned by Lord Pirbright.
After the bridge, you soon come to a T-junction where you turn right. Wiggle your way through the Estate until you come to Cobbett Hill Road, which you cross. After 100m, the path (small track) splits – take the right hand one. After 400m, the track appears to enter the front yard of another house with an open gate on your left side (with a plaque, Cobbett Hill Cottage). Turn left here up a small footpath instead of following the track any further. This path winds through to the B380, which you cross. Now, after 300m, you come out on the A324. Cross the main road to the pavement on the far side and turn right. Sorry, there's no alternative but to walk along the main road for 600m. Just before a mini roundabout, escape the main road down a broad track on the left and immediately on a footpath on the right. At the small road, turn right into Normandy. Two pubs, beckon and a lovely village green with a duck pond. Pause, breathe, time for lunch!
Having fed, and given the crusts to the ducks and Canada geese, return back to the White Hart and set off along the side of the green, farthest away from the pond. This is roughly Northwest and if you remember passing the White Hart (which was on the right), take the left fork at the first crossroads. Shortly you will see Pirbright Church (St Michael and All Angels') on your right. Enter the graveyard by the first gate, and a ginormous stone monument looms in front of you. This is the grave of Henry Morton Stanley of "Doctor Livingstone, I presume" fame. Born John Rowlands, son of a poor Welsh grocer, he emigrated to the USA at the age of 18. There he 'hooked up with' a rich American called Henry Hope Stanley, who he persuaded to adopt him. John took his adoptive father's name (bar adding the Morton) and the rest as they say, is history. Among Stanley's other claims to fame were the discovery of the source of the Nile (he was wrong, he discovered the source of the Congo River) and the claiming of the country of The Congo for the Belgian King Leopold II. He died in London and was buried at Pirbright.
Enough history. Leave the church back onto Church Lane. Continue for 250m until a well-signed footpath turns off left. Follow this until a kissing gate with a three-pronged signpost sign where you turn the sharper right (the rightest of the rights). Go up the hill to the crest until another kissing gate and a signed left takes you back down again. Turn right at the road and walk 200m, and continue straight on when you reach Pirbright ranges managed access for 1/2km. Keep walking until two very obvious signs warn you that your dog could be shot (after another 1/2 km)! Turn left here. Now walk straight for the third 1/2km, until you get to Henley Park Lake. One of the walkers said she had never seen fishermen here, despite the obvious fishing platforms. What did we see? Just like buses, three came along at once.
Walk down the left side of the lake and follow the path as it curves right around the bottom edge of the lake. Soon it turns right and heads to the A324. Walk alongside the road until an opening in the roadside copses, with a massive radio tower on the opposite side of the road. Cross the A324 here and pass the left of the tower. At a T-junction in the path, turn right. Home straight now. Follow the footpath (rather than the track to Henley Park Farm), and eventually, you will be disgorged onto Hunts Hill Road. Turn left and almost immediately you're back at the car park.
I hope you enjoyed this walk and I would like to thanks Rosemary of the Farnham Ramblers for leading us around this interesting route. Although squelchy when we did it, if you do it in the Summer, it will be glorious and dry.