At the risk of sounding like a raving hippie, I’m a firm believer in the health benefits of being ‘at one’ with nature for a while. There’s nothing quite like the peace and calm of the countryside to reorder your thoughts and help you relax – plus a long walk can be equally beneficial fitness-wise as an intense session in the gym.
So I was pleased, but not surprised, to see on the news this morning that doctors are being encouraged to prescribe ‘green space’ to help patients with everything from heart disease to depression. The report featured a clip of some troubled teens who are being helped by The Wilderness Trust, which basically uses the great outdoors as medicine for everything from mental health problems to anger issues.
For me, a trip out of London is the ultimate stress reliever. I love the city – after eight years living here, I’m still one of those people who gets a bit excited when I hear Big Ben chime or find a coffee shop that’s open at 9pm – but sometimes I just need to get out.
Most Londoners I know are like this – occasionally they’ll wake up desperate to be somewhere green and spacious, without hundreds of other people trying to do exactly the same activity as them. If that sounds familiar, then you need to find your most sensible footwear, embrace your inner 55-year-olds and set off for the Surrey Hills. Here is a route I love:
WANBOROUGH TO GODALMING WALK
The 7.5 mile route talks you from Wanborough to Godalming (both have stations that take around an hour from London), and can be found online here, although we followed a Country Walks guide that I managed to get my grubby mitts on while working at Time Out.
The book states it is toughness level 2 out of 10, which I think we can all agree is ideal.You start off at Wanborough station. When I got there it was basking in 26 degree sunshine and the sound of birdsong (obvs I started Googling house prices immediately).
After a few minutes strolling through the village, you turn into a field and the real ~countryside~ experience begins (luckily it’s the dandelions and butterflies version of the countryside, not the horse shit and crazy bulls chasing you round fields version).
Here is me trying to blow a dandelion adorably, but failing badly because seasonal asthma, plus the fact they are actually tough little bastards, do not equal dream Instagram moments.
However, I did manage to point at some flowers knowingly and say what they were – “BLUEBELLS” etc – and represented the sisterhood by doing some good orienteering (aka, reading the instructions in the book correctly).
So why should you bother with this route?
Well, for starters, there was a VINEYARD…
We just walked through it, but you could probably stop off and sample the wares should the mood take you.
Plus, as well as covering lots of gorgeous countryside it includes the Watts Gallery (below) and Chapel. I’m going to level with you, we didn’t go in the former because we were too worried about getting to the pub on time to grab a lunch table (full belly over cultural enlightenment, AMIRIGHT?) but we did go the chapel.
At the risk of sounding weird, Watts Chapel is surrounded by the most idyllic cemetery I have ever seen. As in, I actually had the thought “this would be a nice place to be buried”. It’s set on a hillside, surrounded by beautiful green countryside, and incredibly calm and peaceful. Just what you need to feel zen-like after months stuck in London.
The chapel is worth seeing too: a quirky little building that you can have a snoop around for free, covered inside with ‘glorified wallpaper’ depicting angels. It’s tiny, you could probably only fit a handful of people in there at a time (which is why my boyfriend suggested if we ever got married we should do it there – oh how we laughed).
After you’ve read a few of the gravestones and had a little cry (does anyone else do that?) then it’s time to skedaddle off to The Withies Inn in nearby Compton for lunch, which is just DELICIOUS, even for difficult veggies like me.Be warned, if you’re in a big group you might want to book ahead for this bit, because otherwise you might not get a table and we all know hangry walking is seriously not the one.
The pub is around 4 miles into the walk, so try not to have too many ciders if you want to make it to Godalming in one piece. Also, you need to have your wits about you to do some serious property perving – the houses you walk past in between Compton and your final stop are amazing. We’re talking swimming pools, tennis courts and manor houses that look like this:
Yes I leaned over a wall and took a picture of someone’s house, I’m not proud.
The final stage of the route sees you walking alongside the River Wey before you arrive in Godalming, a lovely market town (I have to say that because my mum used to live there), although by the time we got there we realised we had four minutes to get the next train back to London or we’d have to wait an hour, hence we ended up doing that weird jog-walking.
The route says the entire trip will take over 8 hours, which I assume includes being proper adults and visiting the gallery and afternoon tea shop. In total, it took us about 5, meaning we were back in London by 4pm where I rewarded myself for my exertion as sensible person does: with tea and a Netflix marathon.