The Greensand Ridge at Farley Heath




5.1 miles (8.2kms)

610ft (186m)
2hrs 15min

About the walk

High on windswept Farley Heath, you're standing close to the remains of a Romano-Celtic temple, one of the few Roman sites to have been found in Surrey. In Roman times you'd have got here along the branch road that led northwest from Stane Street – the busy London–Chichester highway – at present day Rowhook, on the outskirts of Horsham. You'll cross the line of the road near Winterfold Cottage, and again on Ride Lane, just after the junction with Pithouse Lane.

Pick 'n' mix religion

The Romans had a plethora of religious beliefs. They venerated Rome and the Emperor, as well as Jupiter and other Graeco-Roman gods; in far flung outposts like Britain they also embraced the local and pagan religions. By the 3rd and 4th centuries Christianity was gaining ground, and there was increasing interest in mystical religions like the cult of Mithras, the ancient Persian light god. Both Roman and native gods were worshipped together in Britain, and distinctive Romano-Celtic temples evolved to accommodate the various different religions. These designs consisted of a square or rectangular tower surrounded by a lean-to verandah, and they were quite unlike other buildings in the Roman landscape.

Uncovering the past

Farley's temple was typical, and you can see the outline of its foundations just a few paces north of the car park at the start of your walk. The two concentric masonry squares are a modern reconstruction, built to show the ground plan that was discovered by Martin Tupper in 1848, and confirmed by subsequent excavations in 1939 and 1995. The temple itself was built before the end of the 1st century ad. It was enclosed within a precinct wall, or temenos, which was also located during the excavations but has since been re-buried. Tupper's finds, which included several decorated bronze strips from a priest's sceptre, are now in the British Museum.

The temple was fairly isolated, although there was a Roman villa just south of Pitch Hill, some 3 miles (5km) back down the road towards Stane Street. No other permanent buildings have been found inside the temple precincts, but the site would have been the focus of regular religious rites, and possibly occasional markets or fairs as well. The temple remained in use until the end of the Roman occupation early in the 5th century, and it seems that the building burnt down some time before the year 450.

Walk directions

Stand in the car park facing the road and walk to the entrance on your right-hand side. Cross the road and follow the signposted public bridleway across Farley Heath. Keep to the right at the first fork. When you reach a cross-track beneath telephone lines, take a couple of paces to your left then continue straight across on the bridleway. Keep straight on again at the five-way junction, and take the fork to the right a few paces further on. As the main track swings round hard to the left, continue down the woodland bridleway straight ahead. You'll wind gently down to a waymarked post besides a stile; turn right here, and follow the public bridleway for a further 70yds (64m) to a T-junction with Pithouse Lane.

Turn right and follow this deeply rutted sunken lane, with a newly planted conifer wood to your right. Pass beneath a wooden footbridge and finally around a metal barrier across the track to meet a narrow tarmac road at Smarkham, a pretty tile-hung property.

Turn left, signed towards Winterfold, and climb through this delightful, sequestered valley past the rambling half-timbered Madgehole Farm up to Madgehole. Here you leave the tarmac and swing turn hard right just beyond the barn climbing steadily past a Christmas tree plantation on your left. Follow the waymarked bridleway as it winds right, then left through Great Copse. It crosses a sandy path and then joins the Greensand Way as it swings in from the right.

Turn left onto Row Lane, and after 150yds (137m) fork right towards Ewhurst and Shere. Follow the road until you come to car park 5 on your right. Turn left here, onto a signposted footpath into the woods. Follow the yellow arrows and keep right at the fork 90yds (82m) further on. Almost at once bear left off the main track, up a narrow footpath by the side of a wire fence. This leads you down beside the huge garden of Winterfold Cottage to another waymarker post. Fork left and follow the public bridleway along the rough cottage drive to reach Row Lane.

Cross over and continue along the bridleway. After 200yds (182m) it bears hard right downhill onto Ride Lane, which will carry you all the way to Farley Green. Keep right at the junction with Pithouse Lane and trudge steadily through this rutted, prehistoric landscape until gradually the banks roll back as you approach Farley Hall.

Pass the half-timbered farmhouse on your right, and keep bearing left until you come to the top of the green. Bear left again, and follow Farley Heath Road back to the car park.

Additional information

Forest tracks and rutted lanes, running in water after rain

Remote wooded hillsides, occasional farms and cottages

Can mainly run free, lead required for roadside section

AA Walker's Map 23 Guildford, Farnham & The Downs

The Hurtwood Car Park 8 (Roman Temple), on Farley Heath Road

None on route

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About the area

Discover Surrey

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.