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 swathes of 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 (this changed on 10th May to unlimited), every moment was precious. Walks that I previously took for granted have now become something to rejoice. 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”.
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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, and so I can walk in the footsteps of ancient pilgrims whenever I fancy. This section of the walk passes hedgerow, farms and fields, where horses and sheep reside. It is a peaceful section of the trail, and I seldom meet anyone else.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 on 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.
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, and 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.
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.
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!
English Countryside Code
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)
- 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!)