Discover England / England / Surrey / United Kingdom

Discover the Surrey Hills: My Photographic Journal During Lockdown

The English Countryside is on my doorstep. You see, I am fortunate to live in an area of England called the Surrey Hills, acknowledged as an Area of Outstanding Beauty. With its green and lush countryside, this area is not only charming but also holds a rich history. My little village only has 1800 inhabitants at the last count. The demographic consists of older residents, and we have one pub, one church, and one school. Oh, and a golf course! So as you can imagine we are a small community in the middle of the swathes of the beautiful British countryside.

Over the years, I have walked many footpaths that encircle my village, but during the lockdown, I have discovered public footpaths that I had never known existed. Walking in the English countryside has been an absolute saviour during these turbulent times. Being able to be at one with nature, watching new plants appearing, and listening to intoxicating birdsong is lovely.

When only one hour of exercise was allowed (in early 2020), every moment was precious. Walks that I previously took for granted have now become something to rejoice about. The hedgerow weeds looked beautiful. The barren field only signified new growth was waiting to make an appearance and the magical bluebell woods were an assault on sight and smell as their flowers swayed in the sunlight, and their scent filled the air.

I have been genuinely grateful to be able to spend each day in the beautiful English countryside, unlike many others. I have captured images as a photographic journal through a chapter in my life that was simply known as ” lockdown”.

This article may contain affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase after clicking on a link, I may receive a small commission. Read the full disclaimer here.

Pilgrims Way 

Pilgrims Way is a historical route taken by pilgrims from Winchester in Hampshire to the shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury in Kent. Thomas Becket was Archbishop of Canterbury until his murder in 1170. He is recognised as a saint and martyr by both the Catholic and Anglican Church.

The historical and religious route is part of the North Downs Way National Trail, which cuts across the South East of England, and gives walkers 153 miles of spectacular scenery. Pilgrims Way runs near to my house, so I can walk in the footsteps of ancient pilgrims whenever I fancy. This section of the walk passes hedgerows, farms and fields, where horses and sheep reside. It is a peaceful section of the trail, and I seldom meet anyone else.

a lane flanked by hedgerow
Directional sign post
white and brown horse
a field with sheep
Pilgrims way sign post

Fields of Gold

If I was feeling overcome by the current situation, the sight of yellow flower fields filled me with positivity. Wandering through the flower pathways can’t help but raise the spirits and remind you that the good times will be back soon.

The fields of gold are a crop called rapeseed which is sown in autumn and generally flowers in late spring. It ripens between 6–8 weeks until it is ready to be harvested for animal feed, vegetable oil and biodiesel. Crops are cultivated in 3-4 year cycles and luckily this year was when the fields nearest to my house came alive.

Pathway of rapeseed oil plants
a yellow rapeseed oil field with two trees
rapeseed oil fields with a house in a distance
a woman sitting on a tree trunk in a field of yellow flowers

Rapeseed fields offer a great viewpoint. If Gatwick Airport were operational, there would have been flights taking off and landing in the far distance, but during the lockdown, most airline fleets are on the tarmac. This has got to be a plus for the carbon footprint giving the natural world a chance to heal. Notice the rambling hills behind me that go on for miles – all the way to the seaside town of Brighton in East Sussex to be exact.

Brighton is a great tourist spot to visit if you are staying locally in the Surrey Hills. From this point, the journey takes approx 40 minutes, so I have the best of both worlds: the English Countryside and the English Coastline.

Tollsworth Manor

Tollsworth Manor is a medieval building, listed Grade II, dating back to the early 14th century with additions having been made to the house over the centuries. This charming manor house is in a setting of a farmyard with barns and buildings, a pond, a couple of farm cottages and surrounded by the English countryside.

Tollsworth Manor is open on certain days during the Open Garden Scheme when homeowners open their outdoor spaces to the public to raise money for various charities. I haven’t visited the garden yet but hope to next year. In the meantime, I am enjoying some virtual garden visits courtesy of National Garden Scheme.

a Manor House located near to a flowering tree
Side of a Manor House with a grassy area
rapeseed field oil

Crop Fields

It might seem an odd thing to say, but during my lockdown walks, I found that I enjoyed photographing the large crop fields. Even though in Spring they appeared barren there were signs of new growth and with that comes a new cycle in the neverending changing seasons. While lockdown has forced us to stay in our homes and everyday life for many has been turned upside down, the simplicity of the renewal of crops made me realise that life goes on and we must be grateful for what we have in our lives.

Barren Maize Fields
a brown field
a crop field with new growth
a green field with new growth
Crops in the field

Ancient Bluebell Woods

I discovered this hidden woodland area during lockdown – with the shards of sunlight breaking through the canopy and the swathes of fragrant bluebells carpeting the woodland floor it was a magical setting and so near to my house – I can’t believe I haven’t stumbled upon it before.

Interesting facts about wild bluebells:

English bluebell woods hold half of the world’s bluebell population, and, in April the woodlands are in full bloom.

The English Wildlife and Countryside Act protect bluebells by law. It is an offence to pick a wild bluebell, and any trade of wild seeds or bulbs carries a hefty £5000 fine per bulb.

Ancient woodland dating back to the Middle Ages can be identified by the presence of bluebells.

Bluebells are also called harebells in Scotland because it was believed that witches would turn into hares (rabbits) and hide among the flowers.

Whitebells exist – a mutation of the bluebell having lost its pigment. I think they are equally as beautiful.

Bluebell woods with fallen tree
An ancient woodland floor covered with wild bluebells
close up of bluebells and whitebells

a floor of bluebells

Surrey National Golf Course

Remember I said there was a golf course in my village, well here it is. I don’t play golf so have never explored the championship 200-acre course before now.

During the lockdown, it became my local open space to walk, to sit and to contemplate if or how life was ever going to return to “normal”. I did regular video blogs from here for my Instagram Stories, and my followers commented on how lucky I was to have this beautiful green space on my doorstep. I have to agree with them, and I was aware that at some point I would no longer be able to walk across this course and the golfers would return. Unfortunately for me, that happened in mid-May when the lockdown rules were lifted for golf courses and outdoor recreation areas to reopen.

I am still allowed to walk around the circumference of the Surrey National Golf Course in keeping with to the public footpaths, and so I will continue my daily exercise over there.

A road with wooden fencing either side
Surrey National Golf Course
trees and bushes on a gold course

trees and bunkers on a golf course

A copse of trees on the golf course

Happy Valley

Happy Valley is an area of open countryside consisting of just over 250 acres of ancient woodlands. It leads on directly from the end of the golf course, and so my walks usually continue here.

Pathways lead off from all points so every turning leads to somewhere new and exciting. One day I stumbled across a wooded area and climbed a steep hill that led me to Farthing Downs. Another time I found an old burial ground in trees in the middle of the golf course! You see there is always something new to discover on a walk.

a grassy area with trees on either side
A view of trees
A view of a grass pathway
A pathway leading down a steep hill
A pond with plants
a red butterfly on a yellow flower

 Farthing Downs

Leading on from Happy Valley is the open area known as Farthing Downs. Archaeological finds and features dating from the Neolithic, Iron Age and Roman periods have been discovered around the site. Nowadays this area is used for walkers, cyclists and day-trippers to enjoy views of the surrounding English countryside. On a clear day, you can even see the skyline of London in the distance.

Farthing Downs is the only place detailed in this blog that has public toilets so be aware! It also has a car park for those that fancy driving to this point rather than walking – but remember, when you are in a car you miss so much!

From Farthing Downs, you can loop back on yourself and return to Happy Valley or like me continue walking to Chaldon Church and discover the history of this tiny parish church.

Signpost pointing towards Chaldon

Distant views across fields

Two Trees on top of a grass hill

St Peter and St Paul’s Church

Do you remember I mentioned that there is only one church in my village? Chaldon Church is tiny but with over 1000 years of history is worth a visit.

Chaldon church is mentioned in the Doomsday Book and is renowned for the twelfth-century “doom mural” on its back wall. The mural depicts heaven and hell. Or to give it the proper title “Ladder of Salvation of the Human Soul” together with “Purgatory and Hell”. It is said to have been painted by a travelling monk.

The mural was only re-discovered in the 18th century during renovations and is the earliest known English wall painting. Paintings of this kind were used as a visual aid to religious studies and for the illiterate. Unfortunately, due to lockdown, the church was shut, so I couldn’t get a photograph of the painting. I am fortunate to have seen it many times myself.

The mural is the oldest of its kind in Europe, and here it is right in the middle of my village. The visitor book shows the varied nationalities that have frequented Chaldon church and enjoyed its history.

Chaldon Church
Gravestones in the church garden

Rear view of Chaldon Church

Church Graveyard next to Oak tree

Fields surrounding Chaldon Church

Gates and Entrances

On looking back at my photographs, it became apparent that I have a thing for gates and entrances! It makes sense because, of course, each one leads to something new. There is nothing more exciting than going through a portal and finding yourself in another environment. I passed through one gateway and found my beloved bluebell woods, so you see, gates and entrances can be interesting. For me, I always wonder how many different people have passed through them during the centuries and how the landscape may have looked then.

Foraging in the English Countryside

I really love the ethos of earth-to-mouth eating because if food is coming from a garden, the countryside or a local farmers market then it is fresh. In the English countryside, there will be all manner of plants and berries that you can collect to eat. Of course, you need to know that they are edible and you are not going to end up poisoning yourself, but there are foraging guides which can help with identification.

One plant that is in abundance at the moment is Wild Garlic from which you can make a pesto dip. With its long leaves and delicate white flowers, it covers the woodland floor and the roadside verges. It is better to pick your plants away from the roadside, so they aren’t contaminated with exhaust fumes.

Rules for foraging:

Only pick from areas that have a plentiful supply and never leave a completely bare strip as this could damage the species.

Leave enough for wildlife and avoid damaging habitats.

Never pick protected species or cause permanent damage. Britain’s wild plants are all protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). The Act states that it is illegal to dig up or remove a plant – Remember the fine for bluebells!

Check the law before you forage or if in doubt, take part in a beginners class and learn the etiquettes of foraging from an expert.

Wild Garlic Plant

Home Sweet Home

As I reflect back I realise that the beauty all around me has definitely kept my spirits up.

I hope that you have enjoyed my photographic journal and that my photos have brought a smile to your face.

I now look forward to discovering even more new walks now I am allowed to travel even further afield.

Watch this space!

a road lined with red and green trees

Useful Information

English Countryside Code

Download version available.

What to take with you on a walk

  • Water bottle
  • Snack or sandwich (there are no shops or cafes anywhere near here)
  • Good walking shoes – certain areas are undulating, and so you need supportive footwear.
  • Anti-bacterial handwash (during lockdown if you touch a gate, fence etc. you will need to cleanse your hands)
  • Hat/Cap
  • Camera/Phone/Portable Charger, so you are always ready to capture photographs of the English countryside.
  • A She-Wee for ladies that will need a convenience stop (remember in the countryside there aren’t any toilets!)

Walking Guides

Happy Valley and Farthing Downs 5km Circular Walk

Map of Footpaths and Bridleways in Chaldon

Interactive Aerial View of the Areas I Explored

Read Next:

How to Stay Positive in Uncertain Times
Mayfield Lavender: The Most Photographed Lavender Field in the UK
About Author

Angela Price

Angie is a full-time travel writer with over 30 years of travel experience. She has always had a passion for travel, and after a 3-month world trip with her 18-year-old son, she created her popular travel blog to share her adventures with a wider audience. When Angie is at home in the UK, she enjoys exploring the English countryside, visiting castles and gardens and planning her next big adventure. Her motto is "Live Life Wandering not Wondering".

5 1 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Chloe Prince
Chloe Prince
2 years ago

Love this post!!! You’ve definitely got me in the mood to go for a long walk now 😋 I love the section on the wild garlic pesto! I’ll be hunting around to see if I can find some in my local woods 😊 Love the content you write keep it up 😁 x

Reply to  Chloe Prince
2 years ago

Thank you Chloe. I think there is nothing better than a long walk to clear the mind and body. Hope you find some garlic near to where you live 😃

Travel Realizations
2 years ago

You are indeed lucky to live in this beautiful area. Loved reading the vivid description of this place. Your post greeted me with a dash of green and yellow and reminded me of Lausanne in Switzerland, where I lived for six beautiful years.

Reply to  Travel Realizations
2 years ago

I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I have been to Lausanne, a glorious part of the world to live.

Jay Artale
2 years ago

All that yellow and green looks like Norfolk at the moment. It’s been a wonderful spring so far, and so grateful to be doing lock down in the countryside, with walks and a large garden at my disposal.

Reply to  Jay Artale
2 years ago

I totally agree 😃

2 years ago

What a beautiful walk 🙂
And that Shire hourse is nother other than stunning, I mean just take a look at the hoves, their amazing!

Reply to  Ann
2 years ago

I’m so lucky that there are lots of horses all around me. He is magnificent isn’t he 😀

Wendy Lee
2 years ago

I absolutely love the English countryside! My brother and I enjoyed walking through the Cotswolds last year and had an amazing time. I would love to see the all the flowers in bloom in the spring. But we also enjoyed all the gates–it seemed everyone had a different latch.

Reply to  Wendy Lee
2 years ago

There’s just something about those gates! You chose a beautiful area. I have done some of the walk along the Cotswold Way – truly stunning.

Marguerite Cleveland
2 years ago

I have only visited London. What a contrast the English countryside is. Your photos are just lovely and I just love an old church and cemetery.

Reply to  Marguerite Cleveland
2 years ago

I’m glad I have shown you another side to England 😃 I love churches and cemeteries as well, I find them truly fascinating.

2 years ago

I love English countrysides especially in spring when it is full of this golden crop (Canola fields or rapeseed fields?) ! You are so lucky to live in this lovely one pub, one street village. Your pictures are simply beautiful! 🙂

Reply to  Jan
2 years ago

Thank you Jan. I’m glad you enjoyed my photo journal.

2 years ago

This post has made me a bit homesick. I always say I never want to return to the UK, but when I see photos like this of sunny days and walks that I did as a child, I feel rather nostalgic. Many Sundays were spent on Farthing Downs and Happy Valley. And I think I know where the Ancient Blubell Woods are too 🙂

Reply to  Sarah
2 years ago

It’s so nice that I have written a local blog and you can actually relate to all the places I have mentioned. What’s the odds of that happening. I do feel blessed to live in such a beautiful area. The bluebells were at Alderstead Heath 😃

John -Carpediemeire
John -Carpediemeire
2 years ago

I’ve been thinking about doing a similar blog but about Dublin. I’ve walked so much and taken around 2000 photos. You’ve inspired me.

Your home area is beautiful. I didn’t realise the Uk had such a monopoly on bluebells. It’s fantastic They are protected. Fabulous photos.

Reply to  John -Carpediemeire
2 years ago

I’m glad you enjoyed reading about my little corner of the world. I think you should do a blog on Dublin with the many photos you have taken. I think it’s a great way to look back at this time in our lives and remember what kept us going.

Riana Ang-Canning
2 years ago

The English countryside looks so beautiful! I’ve always dreamed of living in a little cottage in the countryside one day. And that church is super cool too – awesome that the old mural is right in your area!

Reply to  Riana Ang-Canning
2 years ago

I do feel so lucky to have this right on my doorstep. The church is super cute.

2 years ago

Lovely photos & fascinating area you are fortunate to live in/near! Local places have new found interest and unexpected treasures. This is an area of England we have not been to but definitely want to see now, especially the very old church mural! This looks like a wonderful area for active teens. My kids are fascinated by all your walks shown here. Thank you so much for sharing your journeys!

Reply to  Cindi
2 years ago

I’m so glad you enjoyed finding out about my area and I’m glad your children found the walks interesting. I love to hear it when children are interested in nature and the outdoors.

2 years ago

Just loved this blog! Everything about it makes me yearn to get back to England and explore more of the countryside! The footpaths they have are the best…mind you I did get a bit lost on one from Bath haha. Your photos are postcard perfect! Thanks for sharing your wonderful walks.

Reply to  Linda
2 years ago

Glad you enjoyed my post. I am hooked on walking and exploring and will be ready to go further afield and find even more walks once the current situation improves. I got lost in some woods recently and then realised I had walked back on myself!!

Retirestyle Travel
2 years ago

There are so many things to do near you (and such beauty)

lannie travels
2 years ago

what a beautiful place to have on your doorstep. loved the bluebell woods and the fields of gold. those would be my favorites. 🙂

Reply to  lannie travels
2 years ago

Yes it is all so pretty and like you the bluebells are my favourite 😃

2 years ago

Hi Angie.
Loved reading you blog. Some beautiful walks in your area and I found the information on the church very interesting.

PS. I won’t be picking any bluebells anytime soon.

Look forward to your next post

Reply to  Donny
2 years ago

The church really does have a long and illustrious history and I am glad you enjoyed finding out about it.

2 years ago

I never went to Surrey but my parents come from England so I spent a lot of time there growing up, Staffordshire in the spring was so beautiful!

Reply to  Holly
2 years ago

Yes, Staffordshire is another beautiful part of England.

2 years ago

Wow, this area is absolutely gorgeous! Your photography really brings each area to life. I felt like I was visiting all these spots along with you. The old buildings are great to see. My favorite photo though it the one with the Gypsy Vanner in it, because I absolutely love horses.

Reply to  Sarah
2 years ago

Hi Sarah, I’m glad you enjoyed reading about my little part of the countryside. There are so many horses around here I love wandering around often with a bag of carrots or apples to feed them. 😃

2 years ago

I love this! We are so lucky to live in such a beautiful country which you have captured so perfectly with your words & photos. It’s interesting how the restrictions of lockdown have also made me enjoy & notice more in my local area than ever before. Things I have walked past hundreds of times have suddenly become a thing of beauty, fascination & photographic obsession. I hope we can retain this wonder when we get back to ‘normal’…whenever that may be. And I love a gate too 😉

Reply to  Sue
2 years ago

Hi Sue, I am glad I am not the only one with a gate obsession!! I am going to make a conscious effort to continue appreciating and photographing my local area as there is so much beauty here. I am now watching the changing season from Spring to Summer to see how the landscape changes. Might even do another post about it!!

2 years ago

How blessed you are to live amongst such natural beauty. When I think about what the English Countryside must look like, that’s what I imagine. I love the old homes and directional posts, they are so fun. Thank you for sharing your world with us across the pond. It inspires me to want to get out and explore more now that things are a little more relaxed here in our area.

Reply to  Lynnette
2 years ago

I am so glad you enjoyed it. I definitely have found a new love for my neighbourhood since not being able to go further afield. The English countryside is very beautiful with so many stunning places to explore.

2 years ago

This looks so lovely and peaceful! I would enjoy visiting during the countryside during spring, seeing all the flowers bloom and come to life again. Thanks for sharing!

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x