This Victorian country house dates back to 1872 and is set in 40 acres of grounds with stunning…
Nearly everything about this walk is surprising. The map shows a small triangle of countryside, gripped between the fingers of London’s suburban sprawl and cut short by the M25 motorway. Yet, as you leave the wide horizons of Farthing Downs and amble through the peaceful hay meadows of the Happy Valley and then along the North Downs Way towards Chaldon, you could be a hundred miles from the capital. If the countryside was lucky to escape development, your destination is even more remarkable. Inside Chaldon’s church, the earliest known English wall painting was rediscovered on the west wall under a layer of whitewash, some seven centuries after it was created.
The walk begins in a stunning area of chalk downland, right on the Surrey border. Ironically, it was the Corporation of London that saved Farthing Downs from the expansion of London itself. Long before the Green Belt, the Corporation began protecting open spaces around the capital, and has owned and managed Farthing Downs since 1883. The Celts grew crops on these downs, but they quickly exhausted the thin soil and, by Saxon times, the area was being used for burials. When the winter sun shines low over the grass, you can make out some of the low banks marking Celtic field boundaries, as well as circular mounds covering the Saxon graves.
Heaven and hell
The graves in Chaldon churchyard are more recent, but the building itself dates from Saxon times and was mentioned in the Charter of Frithwald in the year 727. So the church was already old by the close of the 12th century when a travelling artist monk created its greatest treasure – the terracotta and cream mural of the Last Judgement on the west wall. Heaven and hell are divided by a horizontal layer of cloud. A ladder links the two scenes, and fortunate souls climb towards eternal bliss, while the damned tumble off into the flames below. You can read the full story of this grotesque and complex vision in a leaflet in the church, but the wonder is that the painting survived at all. Sometime around the 17th century the mural was whitewashed over, and it was only discovered during redecoration of the church in 1869, thanks to a sharp-eyed parish priest, who noticed colour on the wall, stopped the work and made sure the mural was protected. The scene was carefully cleaned and conserved in 1987, following a thorough overhaul of the church itself.
Cross Ditches Lane from the car park. Head down towards the trees, with stumps on your right, to pass The Barn Office and reach a public footpath signed ‘Devilsden Wood/Happy Valley’. Turn right and follow the Downlands Circular Walk (DCW)/London Loop down through Devilsden Wood. At the fork, go left on the DCW. Beyond the woods, the Happy Valley opens up in front of you. Follow the woodland edge on your right until the path bears slightly left and begins to lose height. Now dodge right briefly into the woods, and follow the signposted path towards Chaldon Church (St Peter & St Paul). Soon you’ll be back in the open, and you follow the woodland edge as far as a wooden footpath sign to the Church. Turn right here, and walk through the thin finger of Figgs Wood before crossing a large field.
At the far side of the field, turn left onto Ditches Lane; then, after 40yds (37m), fork right at the triangle to visit St Peter & St Paul church and see its remarkable mural. Return to Church Lane to pass the church, then, as the road swings right to Court Farm, cross the stile and take the path through the field towards Alderstead Heath. Cross two fields and leave via a gate into Furzefield Wood. Fork left 20yds (18m) beyond the gate onto a concrete path.
Just before you reach Rook Lane, turn left at a T-junction of concrete paths and ahead into the field, following the field edge path running parallel with the road as far as the kissing gate on the right. Cross the road and then follow the waymarked DCW onto the concrete drive towards Tollsworth Manor Farm. Continue ahead to pass the farmhouse. Stay with the blue signs of the Downlands Circular Walk as it dodges left and right off the concrete road, and follow it, with the hedge to your right. At the end of the field, the M23/M25 junction is visible below. Turn left here and join the North Downs Way National Trail. Cross Hilltop Lane and, after some 750yds (686m), reach a footpath signed towards Rook Lane, DCW.
Turn left off the North Downs Way and walk alongside fields on a fenced path and continue ahead to reach Rook Lane. Cross over and then keep straight on into Doctors Lane. Just past the postbox, fork right into Leazes Avenue; then, 120yds (110m) further on, fork left at the little green, signposted towards the Happy Valley.
Continue to follow the waymarked route of the DCW as it drops down through Piles Wood to a footpath crossroads in the valley bottom. Turn left, towards Farthing Downs, and continue for 700yds (640m) along the grassy track. Should you feel thirsty, you can take the route to The Fox that crosses the valley at this point: turn right up a flight of steps and, at the top, follow the path to the right on a tarmac track, pass the car park and the pub is on your right. The round trip to the pub will add a mile (1.6km) to your walk. Otherwise, continue ahead then fork left at a grassy cross tracks and climb gently up the side of the valley to rejoin your outward route at the corner of Devilsden Wood. Retrace your footsteps to return to the car park.
Well-maintained and signposted paths, 1 stile
Downland and flower-rich grassland on Greater London's doorstep, some sections of woodland and working farmland
Some short sections where dogs must be on lead around livestock
OS Explorer 146 Dorking, Box Hill & Reigate
Farthing Downs car park on Ditches Lane; also at the Happy Valley Car Park near the Fox Public House
At the car park
WALKING IN SAFETY
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
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About the area
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Greater London is one of the world’s largest urban areas; 33 boroughs stretching north to Enfield, south to Croydon, east to Havering, west to Hillingdon and with central London at the heart of it all.
Greater London was officially created in 1965, but the boroughs themselves all have their own histories going back much further. Greenwich is home to the Prime Meridian, which all clocks on earth take their time from, while Hounslow contains Heathrow Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world. Greater London contains a multitude of parks and green spaces, from the six Royal Parks (including Richmond Park, Green Park, Hyde Park and Regent’s Park) and other huge open spaces like Hampstead Heath and Clapham Common; to smaller community spaces like Clissold Park in Stoke Newington and Burgess Park in Southwark.
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