Imagine an organisation so big that its magazine has more readers than The Times, Telegraph and Independent put together. Imagine a landowner whose properties cover an area 30 per cent bigger than the county of Surrey. And imagine a club so popular that its membership outstrips the population of Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow and Sheffield combined. That is the measure of the National Trust today. But this institution was founded by just three people – one a woman who died several years before women had the right to vote.
At the top of Hydon’s Ball, close to the start of this walk, you’ll come to a massive granite bench in memory of that very lady. Octavia Hill was a social reformer in the same league as her contemporary, Florence Nightingale. She was born in Cambridgeshire in 1838, and after her father was bankrupted a few years later, Octavia and her mother moved to North London, where they began philanthropic work with the Christian Socialists. Octavia witnessed the appalling realities of life in the backstreets, and these experiences inspired her great vocations: housing reform and countryside access.
Octavia’s lifelong friend, John Ruskin, helped launch the first of her many housing improvement schemes and suggested ways of raising capital. Octavia Hill also wanted to protect areas of countryside where working people could enjoy their leisure time. She was appalled to see green fields disappearing under housing, and she joined the Commons Preservation Society to help safeguard ‘open-air sitting rooms for the poor’. Later she became friends with the society’s solicitor, Sir Robert Hunter. Towards the end of the century, Octavia and Sir Robert joined Canon Rawnsley in his fight for a Lake District beauty spot. This campaign brought together the founding triumvirate of the National Trust; they launched the idea in 1894, and the new organisation was incorporated in 1895. Soon after Octavia’s death in 1912 the Trust bought 92 acres (37ha) at Hydon’s Ball as her permanent memorial.
From the car park, with the road at your back, take the track beside a wide metal barrier uphill. At the crest of the hill, turn right and continue climbing, past a large green container, for 180yds (165m), to Octavia Hill’s memorial seat. Continue ahead, and pass a low, green inspection cover for Hydon’s Ball Reservoir on your right, and take the right fork downhill to a T-junction.
Turn left here. After 95yds (88m), you’ll see the Robertson Obelisk on the right. Just beyond the memorial, turn right and descend to a forest crossroads close to a brick water-pumping station. Turn left; then, after 250yds (230m), fork right and continue to a junction 270yds (245m) further on. Turn right here, passing between two fields, then climb the old sunken way to a public bridleway marker post.
Turn left onto a wide sandy track and continue to Markwick Lane at Little Burgate Farm. Turn right; then, as the lane levels out, turn left to follow the Greensand Way signs. Follow this waymarked route as it climbs through the woods and then levels out through an area of managed woodland. Before the path starts to descend, turn right for a few paces and take the second path on the left. Drop steeply alongside a handrail, through a gate and alongside a field to another gate then straight ahead to The White Horse pub in Hascombe.
Turn right and follow the Godalming Road past Hascombe Grange. On the brow of the hill, opposite Long Vere House, cross the stile on your right. Follow the path and turn right towards the wood and follow the wood’s perimeter to drop down left, with a post-and-wire fence, down the hill towards the red clay roofs of Markwick Farm.
Turn right on Markwick Lane and climb the hill to a bridleway signposting the Greensand Way. Turn left here, ignore the public footpath 170yds (155m) along on your left, and contour around the edge of Burgate Hangar until the bridleway drops left to join Upper Vann Lane. Follow the lane up the hill to reach Maple Bungalow, hidden in the trees.
Bear left at the fingerpost to follow the Greensand Way alongside a field on a level path to St Peter’s Church, Hambledon. Just beyond the church, fork right and follow the public footpath to reach Hambledon Road opposite The Merry Harriers pub.
Turn right along Hambledon Road. Pass Feathercombe Lane, and, after 240yds (220m), turn right onto a bridleway between fields. The track enters the woods, and you climb steeply beside deer fencing, initially on both sides and then just on your right. Keep straight on at the end of the fencing, and after 95yds (88m), take the middle track ahead (purple arrow) at the three-way junction for the last 400yds (366m) to the car park.
Woodland paths, farm tracks and some minor roads, 1 stile
Wooded slopes and farmland of Wealden greensand ridge
Lead required through farmyards, near livestock and along roads
OS Explorer OL34 Crawley & Horsham
National Trust Hydon's Ball car park on Salt Lane, near Hydestile
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.