Somewhere in the forgotten landscape of thickly wooded sandstone heaths around Abinger Common lies Friday Street, Surrey’s smallest, prettiest and most remote hamlet. Friday Street’s most famous son is an enigmatic figure who blends life and legend with effortless ease. Stephen Langton was born around 1150, and orphaned by the age of ten. His parents may have come from Lincolnshire, though legend has it that he was born in Friday Street.
It’s clear that Stephen was educated by monks, but although one source has him singing in the local choir, it seems that he also studied at the University of Paris. Here, it’s said, he established himself as a leading theologian – a plausible tale, since Stephen went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury. By the time he was 18, Stephen was living in Albury, a few miles from Friday Street. Here he fell in love with a girl called Alice, and legend has it that the couple were strolling in the nearby woods when they were set upon by King John and his followers. John kidnapped Alice and took her off to his hunting lodge at Tangley, near Guildford. Stephen followed the trail and set fire to the house in an attempt to rescue his sweetheart, but the girl fainted or was overcome by smoke. Thinking her dead, the grief-stricken Stephen went off to become a monk.
By the dawn of the 13th century, the idle and self-centred King John was deeply unpopular. He refused to accept Stephen Langton as the Pope’s choice of Archbishop of Canterbury, provoking six years of conflict with Rome and the threat of a French invasion. By 1214 the King had capitulated, but he now faced a baronial revolt. Langton stepped in as mediator – he was prominent in drafting the Magna Carta, and was among the signatories at Runnymede in 1215. Meanwhile, Alice went on to become Abbess of St Catherine’s in Guildford. Some years later, the couple were reunited after mass at St Martha’s Church, near Guildford – but tragically, the Abbess was so overcome with emotion that she died in Stephen’s arms.
From the car park’s top left-hand corner, go through a gate signed ‘Footpath to the Tower’ and then shortly turn left into woodland on a signed public bridleway. At a crossroads of four bridleways, turn left and descend to a road junction. Take the road towards Abinger Common and Wotton; then, 90yds (82m) further on, turn onto the narrow, signed bridleway on your right. Cross a tarmac drive, leading to Cherry Tree Cottage and continue as it widens into a woodland ride.
Leave the woods and continue briefly along Abinger Common Road. A few paces after a house called St John’s, fork right onto the bridleway and follow it, with a stream to your right, through to Friday Street. Pass the pub and the millpond, and drop down past the postbox at Pond Cottage on your right. Follow the rough track over a ford and towards Wotton, bear left past Yew Tree Cottage, and continue until you reach a gate and a stile, just beyond a stone bridge on the left.
Cross the stile and continue through the valley, past ornamental pools. The route narrows as you approach Wotton House, then swings to the right and drops down a few steps to a footpath crossroads. Keep straight on, then cross a stile and follow the field edge to a second stile. Cross the stile onto the drive to Wotton House, turn right, and climb steadily along the drive to the exit. Turn right along the grass verge of the A25 to The Wotton Hatch and Damphurst Lane.
Turn right and, after 285yds (260m), you’ll reach the entrance to Surrey Hills Business Park. Turn in to the left, and follow the waymarked footpath that runs alongside the road to emerge by Tillingbourne Lodge.
Walk up the cottage drive, and after 40yds (37m) fork left onto the waymarked Greensand Way (GSW). At a junction, bear right on the GSW and then continue along this well-marked route to pass a waterfall and briefly meet the road at Sariah Arabian Homestead. Turn left onto a gravel track and keep right at the National Trust’s Henman Bunkhouse, and right again to pass Warren Farm, where the forest road ends. Here the waymarked GSW forks right, along the narrow woodland track. Keep ahead at a broken bench and four-way signpost, climbing until you reach a barrier and five-way junction.
Turn right, still following the waymarked GSW to Leith Hill Tower and climb steeply as it pushes up towards the Tower. Pass the tower, and follow the signposted route back to Starveall Corner car park.
Easily walked woodland tracks, one steep ascent and descent, 5 stiles
Ancient landscape of thickly wooded sandstone heaths
Can mostly run free
OS Explorer 146 Dorking, Box Hill & Reigate
National Trust Starveall Corner car park on Leith Hill Road
None on route
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
Surrey may be better known for its suburbia than its scenery, but the image is unjust. Over a quarter of the county’s landscapes are official Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and along the downs and the greensand ridge you can gaze to distant horizons with hardly a building in sight. This is one of England’s most wooded counties, and has more village greens than any other shire. You’ll find sandy tracks and cottage gardens, folded hillsides and welcoming village inns. There’s variety, too, as the fields and meadows of the east give way to the wooded downs and valleys west of the River Mole.
Of course there are also large built-up areas, mainly within and around the M25; but even here you can still find appealing visits and days out. On the fringe of Greater London you can picnic in Chaldon’s hay meadows, explore the wide open downs at Epsom, or drift idly beside the broad reaches of the stately River Thames. Deep in the Surrey countryside you’ll discover the Romans at Farley Heath, and mingle with the monks at England’s first Cistercian monastery. You’ll see buildings by great architects like Edwin Lutyens and Sir George Gilbert Scott, and meet authors too, from John Donne to Agatha Christie.