12.9 km (8 miles), 3 hours 30 minutes. For the whole outing, including trains, sights and meals, allow at least 8 hours 40 minutes. In winter, it's best to be on your way from Watts Chapel by 3pm, so as to reach Godalming before dark.
This short but lovely walk crosses open fields, passing Wanborough Manor and its tiny church. It soon goes over the Hoggs Back (the North Downs ridge) to descend into remote woodland, passing Watts Gallery, tea room, and Chapel. The Chapel (free) is worth the slight detour. A little further is The Withies Inn, an excellent country pub. Later, after more woodland, the walk is along the River Wey, followed by tea, or a pint in the ancient town of Godalming.
The original walk author was enchanted by this walk, above all, by Watts Gallery and Chapel, the monuments left by Mary Fraser-Tytler to honour her husband George Frederick Watts, a Victorian painter and sculptor, 'England's Michelangelo' ('though that's a bit rich,' a visitor was overheard to comment). Since then, the Gallery had a Lottery makeover, and is no longer free. Its enchanting tea room has also been upgraded.
The paths shortly after the start of the walk, and above the River Wey towards the end, are often waterlogged or very muddy in winter, so don appropriate footwear.
On top of the Hoggs Back, you have to cross the A31 dual carriageway, but there is a safe place to wait in the middle.
Wanborough ('bump-barrow') may be named after a Bronze Age burial site on the Hog's Back. A Wanborough manor and chapel are said to have belonged to King Harold's brothers and to have been ransacked by William the Conqueror's army marching up the Hog's Back. The present manor house was built in the eighteenth century. During the war it was a training centre for 'the members of the European Resistance Movement who served behind enemy lines in special operations, facing loneliness and unknown dangers in the cause of humanity'.
Wanborough Church, one of the smallest in Surrey, was rebuilt by the Cistercian monks of Waverley Abbey in 1130, and was visited by pilgrims passing along the Pilgrim's Way.
Railway bridge with crosses. Brian Beaumont-Nesbitt writes: "When Surrey C.C. wanted to build a by-pass through the Watts property, Mary Watts refused, then finally agreed - if the bridge was designed by Lutyens. It dates from 1931; the Vic Soc says it is 'an excellent example in miniature of Lutyens' interest in geometry. The tunnel surrounds, created with a sequence of stepped arches, are skilful exercises in perspectival adjustment - the vertical walls are battered, the centres of the arches are not the same, and the horizontal planes also taper." The original railings of oak cantilevered out had to be replaced by metal safety rails, but the two crosses over the Pilgrims Way have been renewed."
Watts Gallery, Down Lane, Compton (wattsgallery.org.uk/en-gb/visit 01483 810235) Open Monday to Sunday between 10.30am and 5pm. Admission (2020): £12.70 incl. gift aid (1/2 price Bank Holiday Mondays and all times for Art Fund Members). If you visit, look out for a vast sculpture of Watts' lifelong friend Tennyson (with his wolfhound), allegorical paintings of Time, Death and Judgement, political paintings of hunger and some coy nudes. Watts' most famous painting is the Rossetti-like portrait of the actress Ellen Terry, called 'Choosing' (would she give up the stage for him?). Their marriage, in 1864, is said never to have been consummated; he was 46 and she just 16.
Watts Chapel was the project of his second wife, the artist and potter Mary Fraser Tytler, who designed this art nouveau masterpiece without previous architectural or building experience, inspired by the Home Arts and Industries Association, and with the help of local villagers. Every interior surface is covered with what Mrs Watts called 'glorified wallpaper' - angels and seraphs made out of gesso, a material which her husband used when rheumatism meant he could no longer handle wet clay. He is buried in the cloister behind the chapel. Admission is free, and it's open 9am (10am weekends) to 5pm daily.
Godalming is thought to mean 'field (-ing) of Godhelm' (the putative first Saxon to claim the land). It was a coaching town between London and Portsmouth, and a centre of trade in wool, stone-quarrying, timber, leather, paper, corn and brewing. The High Street has many half-timbered and projecting buildings.
On the north side of the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul in Godalming there is the Phillips Memorial Cloister designed by Thackeray Turner in 1913 with a garden by Gertrude Jekyll. Phillips was the chief wireless operator of the Titanic, who went down at his post on the ship.
Take the train nearest to 9.40am from Waterloo Station to Wanborough, changing at Guildford. Journey time around 50 minutes. There are trains back from Godalming every half hour (hourly on Sundays). Journey time 45 minutes.
Buy a day return to Wanborough and on the return journey also buy a single from Godalming to Guildford.
If driving, there is free parking by Wanborough station, just off the A34 road.
For those who like a pub lunch, the suggested lunch stop is the Withies Inn (thewithiesinn.com, 01483 421158) in the village of Compton, a 16th century freehouse, some 7 km into the walk. Post Covid lockdown , summer 2020, the pub is open for breakfast (pre-booking only) and afternoon tea (pre-booking only) and lunch at the following times: Monday to Friday 12 noon to 2.30 pm in restaurant and bar area; Saturday 12 noon to 2.30 pm in restaurant and to 3 pm in bar area; Sunday 12 noon to 2 pm in restaurant and to 3 pm in bar area. This is a very popular pub, and calling ahead to book is essential, both on weekdays and at weekends. The pub's management like you to register before arrival by scanning their QR code from their website, although you can register on arrival. Comprehensive Covid management measures are in place to protect staff and customers alike.
The upmarket Watts Gallery Tea Shop (wattsgallery.org.uk/en-gb/visit/tea-shop 01483 811 030) is the alternative suggestion for lunch, open Monday to Sunday between 10-30am and 5pm.
The suggested tea stop in Godalming is the Cafe Mila (tel 01483 808569) in Angel Court, just off the High Street, which is open until 5pm Monday to Saturday and 4pm on Sunday. The ground floor is the family area and upstairs reserved for adults. Other tea options include the usual suspects such as Caffè Nero at 69 High Street and Costa Coffee at 74 High Street.
Another good tea stop is Changing Perceptions Community Cafe and Workshop (tel 01483 420436) at 133A High Street. Open until 5pm Monday to Friday, to 4.30pm Saturday, closed Sundays. This community project offers training and employment opportunities for those with disabilities. Its cakes in the cafe section are reported to be delicious.
For a pub, choose between the traditional Red Lion (1 Mill Ln, Godalming GU7 1HF, redlionpub.co.uk, on a pedestrian lane at the top of the High Street, and one of the better Wetherspoons, the Jack Phillip, lower down on High Street.
If you continue your walk to Guildford, your suggested tea stops are Yvonne Arnauld Theatre (tel 01483 569 334), open Monday to Saturday (closed Sundays) and The Britannia pub (tel 01483 572 160), which serves food all afternoon.
No major changes to the route description, although an alternative start (drier under foot) is provided. This edition January 2018. Additional tea stop added May 2018.
The Watts Gallery reopened in 2015 after a Lottery funded rebuild and is no longer free of charge. However, paying the entry charge is well worth it for those with time to spare - the art on regular display, plus the exhibitions when on, are usually of the highest quality. Entry to the old Watts Gallery tea room, now a cafeteria, is free of charge. Entry to Watts Chapel is still free.