In November 2016, the Society had a very enjoyable and interesting visit to Godstone. Gathering at Godstone Vineyard for lunch we had a very relaxed social start to our event. Several of our group arrived early so that they could have a wander around the vineyard and/or settle in the snug little café attached to the vineyard. A good number of those present took the opportunity to sample the local produce!
After lunch, we left our cars at the vineyard and using the kind services of a supporter with a mini-bus, transferred to the Highways England (formerly Highways Agency) Regional Control Centre just a short distance from the M25 at Godstone.
We were made very welcome and spent about 45 minutes learning more about the role of the Godstone unit, the issues they face and some of the stranger calls and incidents with which they have to get involved. It was amazing how often they have to deal with drivers going in the wrong direction on motorways and dual carriageways! We also came to understand why the matrix signs show some of the messages or restrictions that one sees but do not immediately make sense – for example an “Incident” is just some undesirable situation until they have formal confirmation of what it is and can then change the sign to be more descriptive.
It was also explained to us why it is important to use the roadside emergency phones in the event of a problem rather than just trying to use a mobile phone to sort things for oneself. Once Highways England are contacted, they can target the incident with cameras, despatch support units to cone off areas, contact and chase your recovery service for you and generally try to keep you safe until the situation is resolved. Until they get that phone message – you are on your own! Since the average time that a vehicle is on the hard shoulder before it is hit by a passing vehicle is only 11 minutes, it is obvious why their assistance is key.
Having learned a lot about the work of the unit, we then went upstairs to the control room to see their work for ourselves. There were lots of screens covering not only motorways but major routes all across south-east England. At the time of our visit the team were monitoring a major incident on the anticlockwise carriageway of the M25 between Reigate and the M23 (which had actually caused travel delays to a couple of our group). We were able to see this and various other traffic situations and chat to a few of those working there.
This was an absolutely fascinating visit – and one where you can’t just walk in off the street to have a look. We all came away better informed and having had a brilliant day out. I’d certainly give this event a very high score!
As part of our support to Gatton in Capability Brown’s tercentenary year, we invited the Gatton Trust to provide an article setting the scene. This is shown below. During 2016 you will also see various Gatton activities being promoted and, hopefully, get involved in our initiatives to raise funds and support their project.
The Gatton Trust is delighted that the Surrey Hills Society has offered to support Gatton in 2016, to help us celebrate the tercentenary of Capability Brown.
Gatton Park is a special place, most famous for the work that was carried out between 1762 and 1766 by the famous English landscape designer Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Brown was enlisted to work on the park by Sir James Colebrooke who purchased Gatton in 1751. Brown swept away the formal landscape that had been there and replaced it with informal naturalistic plantings which accentuated the rolling landscape of the park. In the area around the mansion a number of shrub borders and walks were planted and the southern terrace was levelled to create an area from which the parkland could be viewed. The main lake was greatly expanded and the tributary lakes reshaped to include one of his trademark serpentine canals. During this period Brown was at the height of his notoriety and was paid in excess of £3000 for his services at Gatton Park, this commission was within the top 25% of Brown’s commissions in terms of value.
Today management of the park is split between the Gatton Trust and the National Trust but it is managed as a whole by the two Trusts to restore Brown’s vision of Gatton. As part of the celebration of 300 years since Brown’s birth the two trusts are planning a project to make continue this restoration and provide lots of opportunities for visitors to find out more about his work at Gatton. Partnership with other organisations like the Surrey Hills Society and the Surrey Gardens Trust will greatly increase the chances of attracting external funding for this important work.
The society has visited Gatton twice in the last two years, once in the autumn to appreciate the glorious colours of the trees and woodlands, and again in springtime, when the bluebells paint the woodland floor blue. We would like to invite you back in February, another iconic time of year when the Edwardian gardens are carpeted with drifts of snowdrops. We will update you on our plans for further restoration of the park, and celebration of Capability Brown’s 300th birthday.
Nationally, the Capability Brown Festival 2016 will be the first ever celebration of Brown’s extensive works involving many of the 200 or so sites where his landscapes can still be enjoyed. It will bring together a huge range of events, openings and exhibitions. New research and a full listing of his sites will help build knowledge about Brown and fix him at the forefront of modern thinking on design and management of the natural environment.
Louise Miller, Education Manager, Gatton Park
This article was prompted by a chance remark at the start of a Surrey Hills Society January walk around Shamley Green with chairman Chris Howard where I acted as the tree specialist.
“How can you tell in winter what type of tree it is if there are no leaves?”
In fact leaves are only one aid to identification. In winter the outline can be very helpful, a good example being the Lombardy Poplar with its narrow upright habit.
Even the Beech is quite distinctive with its almost feathery outline or tracery of slender twigs.
If branches are low enough to allow one to examine the buds, then shape, colour, size and arrangement on the twigs enable distinctions to be made between tree species. Ash for example has black chunky buds in opposite pairs along the twigs but Sycamore also in pairs has green oval buds. The Beech and Hornbeam are easily distinguished despite both having their buds in alternate arrangements. Hornbeam buds are small and hug the twigs whereas Beech project almost at right angles from the twig and are long and slender tapering to a point. With their many overlapping scales the Beech buds resemble little cigars. Other bud features to look out for could be down or fur seen on Whitebeam buds or narrow whiskers/stipules which occur on the Turkey Oak buds. The common white flowered Horse Chestnut has large resinous buds but the pink flowered cultivar has non resinous buds.
The feel or texture of young twigs or stems is another helpful clue: smooth on Willow rough on Hazel owing to the presence of small bristles.
Young twigs of Elm, Spindle and Field Maple frequently exhibit corky ridges. Lenticels or breathing pores are responsible for the small raised circular markings on Elder twigs.
The tree trunk is another guide to the tree species: rough ridges on the Oak, smooth grey bark on Beech, ripples or grey streaking on Hornbeam, and Silver Birch well named with its smooth white bark. London Plane has a green/grey bark on mature trees which flakes off in plates to reveal a creamy under layer. The bark of White
Poplar is pale and pitted with small black diamonds. The Wild Cherry has a distinctive series of horizontal ridges on its red brown bark.
Remains of fruit or seeds can reveal a tree`s identity in winter, either still attached or on the ground beneath the tree: acorns for Oak, the prickly cases of Sweet Chestnut, conkers for Horse Chestnut and small brown nuts, husks or mast for Beech. Various berries may remain such as Rowan and Hawthorn and the distinctive red fruit or aril on Yew with its exposed black poisonous seed. Cones are usually associated with pine trees which have their needles arranged in clusters of 2, 3, and 5. The native Scots Pine is a 2 needled tree with small pointed cones. The introduced Christmas tree or Norway Spruce is a fir so has short needles arranged all around the twigs with long pendulous cones reminiscent of the pendulum on a cuckoo clock. A tree frequently seen by water which also has cones but is not a conifer is the Alder.
We visited Coverwood Farm on the 8th August 2015, not really knowing what to expect, other than seeing some live-stock and a beautiful garden. Yes, that’s what we did see but it turned out to be so much more than that.
We were greeted by the family (who own and run the farm), with a warm welcome and an above average coffee (not instant) with biscuits. After that we toured the farm on the back of a hay-wagon towed by a tractor that stopped occasionally for Tim and his father to narrate the history of the farm, and did so very eloquently and with some humour. The first stop being in a field full of sheep, where we received a short overview on rearing sheep and a few anecdotes of significant events. One of the accounts being the history of a very large house, which was once part of the farm but was sold off due to the need for funds to keep the farm going. The house subsequently had a number of residents, one of which made the international news channels by getting himself murdered whilst on a trip to New York.
We moved on to another field and were educated on the virtues of the Hereford breed of cows that reside on the farm and appear to be very friendly indeed (although they did try, with some success, to get at the bales of hay on which we were seated), even the Bull was a big softie. We were then taken to see some heifers that were ready to calf and some that already had calved. One of the calves was rejected by its mother and had to be hand reared. In fact it was the calves feeding time, so we were treated to the event, drawing Ooohs and Aaahs from the crowd and this also provided an excellent photo opportunity.
At this point we were all feeling a bit peckish and were pleased to smell the aroma of farm made lamb-burgers, being served from a fantastic American trailer (I think it is known as a silver bullet) suitably converted for the job. The burgers were delicious, as were the home-made cakes that followed. The lunch break gave us the opportunity to chat with the other day-trippers, some of which were local and were able to treat us to some funny anecdotes and interesting facts about local characters.
Our final visit (this time on foot) was to the incredibly beautiful gardens and lakes, made more interesting by the inclusion of a quiz that doubled as a treasure hunt, as we tried to hunt down the answers to the questions. This also gave us the opportunity to capture some photographs of the stunning features of the garden. From here we made our way back to the Silver Bullet for more coffee and those homemade cakes, before heading home.
The day was made all the more enjoyable due to the perfect weather; it was as if it was booked especially for the occasion.
Joyce and Bob Clarke
GATTON PARK …
… where nature seamlessly meets the man-made.
The afternoon began, as it so often does on Surrey Hill Society visits, with greeting familiar faces and getting acquainted with some new members. All from the shelter of my waterproof hood as the clouds decided to sprinkle us with rain. Hey Ho: Spring Time in Surrey. No matter; within minutes of starting to walk, the sun broke through and we found ourselves bathed in the sight and sound of the bluebells of Nut Wood. A mile or so later, breaking out of the wood, the Capability Brown landscape opened out before us. However, it was only seeing it through the eyes of our expert guide, Glyn Sherratt, I realised just how much contrived the whole scene is. Was it just co-incidence that we passed by the lakes at exactly the time when the sunlight turned the ripples into gold and silver sparkles? Or was it that Glyn was guiding us according to Capability Brown’s design of when best to view it? Something to contemplate as I stood in the tranquillity of Japanese Garden. And yet nothing quite matched the privilege of seeing the view from Gatton House itself across the Mole Valley, usually only visible to the staff and students of the Royal Alexandra & Albert School. Tea, cakes and one final mystery before the end of the afternoon: just how did those earlier gardeners produce the Bundled Ash? I think it is rather nice that our predecessors can still baffle Modern Science!
Surrey Hills Society visit 9 May 2015
I joined #DiscoverGuildford at the Compton Circular walk a few weeks ago as a plan of #GetFit2015 and decided to come on The Surrey Hills Society trek along The Devils Punchbowl which Pete also lead.
Pete is a really knowledgeable and fun guide to be with. He does not rush new trekkers like me. Instead he always takes good care of us with well-planned routes and good cultural and historical stories behind every corner we have been to. I thoroughly enjoy his treks.
We meet new people every single time; good fun, good laughs and good people. I strongly recommend these to all my friends and just cannot wait for a weekend to join a new trek as a mini getaway from the busy daily life.
Well done Pete, and good luck for your plan to climb the Kilimanjaro.
Thanh Hà Dương (who regularly participates to the 20-30s walks)
What a day! One recent Saturday I felt as if I had been transported back in time and I was once again reminded why I fell in love with the Surrey Hills in the first place. I had the great pleasure of spending a day in Blackheath village and visiting a few of its magnificent Arts and Crafts houses. This hidden gem in the heart of the Hills really is worth the visit.
I was a bit worried in the morning of the visit as it was pouring with rain when I left home and I was taking a friend with me promising her a day she wouldn’t regret. Luckily the sun came out again as we entered the Cricket Pavilion where the other members of the group were gathered. The sun stayed with us for the whole day and my friend enjoyed herself so much that at the end of the day she decided to join the Surrey Hills Society.
Thanks to the excellent organisation of the Society, we had Sarah Sullivan – an architect and member of the Arts & Crafts Movement in Surrey – as our leader for the day. We were able to hear all about the history of the village and especially its Arts and Craft identity through the work of architects like Charles Harrison Townsend. We also learned about influential women having sojourned in Blackheath – people like Anna Lea Merritt whose work can still be admired on the walls of the village church.
A wonderful lunch and delightful cream tea were served in the Arts and Crafts style Cricket Pavilion. Even a Victoria sponge cake, freshly made by the daughter of one of the home-owners of a house we visited, made its way to our table! Delicious as it was, it disappeared in a flash.
What a lovely village and such marvellous and friendly inhabitants! They say that once you settle down in Blackheath, you never move away. You might swap houses with your neighbours, but not go further than that. And now having seen it for myself, I truly understand why.
Many are the woes of a keen rambler who doesn’t know how to use a compass. Whether it is the reluctance to explore the path less taken in a no-mobile-network area or being the group simpleton in a team of full of veteran ramblers, it is not fun being ‘that’ person. ‘That’ person could be the one getting ‘simplified’ instructions at de-briefing dinners or he/she could be the one that the Mountain Marshall distrusts! Don’t believe me? Let me narrate an incident.
Around mid-summer I took on the 3-peak challenge – climb 3 of the highest peak in the UK within 24 hours. Two of the ‘must-brings’ in the equipment list was a compass and a map. I argued that those items will only add to the weight in my bag without serving any other purpose. The Mountain Marshall decided that I was an enemy! He did remember, though, at the de-briefing dinner to keep instructions simple. “In case you separate from the group and get lost, keep going northwest and you are bound to hit the right trail”. Then, catching the Garfield-look from me, he goes ‘walk compass needle pointing top left!’ See what I mean?
So no points for guessing my reaction when I saw the Surrey Hills Navigation Walk advertised in the Newsletter. It was a sign – the universe was telling me to overcome my navigation disability.
After waiting for, what to me seemed like forever, D-day, July 2, dawned bright and sunny. A small group of friendly people under Pete’s leadership met at the Chilworth station. Starting from the Station, the group was paired up and it was decided that each of the pair take turns to lead. Each team of two was assigned the co-ordinates and it was their responsibility to figure out the path and get from Point A to Point B. Although this was a follow-up walk to a theoretical meet-up last February, absolute newbies like me (I only became a member at the end of June 2014) were given due guidance in understanding some of the map’s features and legends. Needless to say, it was one of the most interesting of walks I had done recently. The comradeship that comes out of knowledge sharing and information consulting can be quite stimulating. It keeps you encouraged, energised but mostly involved.
To me, as someone, who is keen on improving directional abilities, the best part of the walk was when we stopped on Blackheath to get our bearings. Standing there in a heath, setting the map with the compass so that it matches what you see in the distance and trying to point it in the right direction was quite interesting. We had the St Martha’s Church (yes the one at St Martha’s Hill, what an incredible sight) in the distance which we used to identify our position with, adjust the Magnetic North and Map Grid North and then decided on the direction of the path that would take us to our pre-designated spot.
At the end of the walk, I was, as they say ‘well chuffed’!
As a new member, I am keen to see unique and interesting Walks like these.
Can’t wait for Pete to organise another such walk. Come rain or shine I will sign up!
Editors Note: The author of this article – Supriya – is a young Indian lady who is working in Surrey at the moment. She comes from a family background where walking in the country is not regarded as “safe” so the concept of walks in the Surrey Hills is inspirational for her. She has recently joined the Society, and taken part in a number of our 20’s to 30’s events and others from our mainstream programme. Supriya is an excellent ambassador for the Society and shows the way that we can help people to explore and appreciate our special Surrey Hills.
I first became interested in English wines in the mid-1970’s when a couple of very warm summers helped producers to show what could be achieved. I remember examples from Hampshire, Sussex, Kent and even Essex but have no recollection of Surrey being represented. How things have changed! Surrey now has at least seven vineyards producing wine grapes and several more have been planted but are not yet in production. Denbies was probably the first and is certainly the largest. Others are Godstone, Greyfriars (Hogs Back), High Clandon (just entering production), Iron Railway (Merstham), Painshill (Cobham) and Wisley. Amongst the vineyards which have not yet started producing is Albury Organic Vineyard (by Silent Pool).
Developing a vineyard in Surrey requires a lot of faith and dedication. This is not because of the climate or geology – both of which can be checked out beforehand – but because of the capital investment and long lead time before a product is available to sell.
Having bought, leased or otherwise obtained the land, the soil needs to be prepared and planted with young vines. These days, this can be a high tech project. I recently watched a 4-5 hectare plot at Greyfriars vineyard being planted. A GPS beacon was set upon the corner of the plot – if the rows are too narrow or wiggly, then a tractor cannot get up and down them to work the vineyard and if they are too far apart, valuable land is wasted. A specialist vehicle, hired with it’s crew from Germany, was being driven up and down the slope using the GPS for exact positioning. On the rear of it, two people were feeding the young vines into equipment which dug the hole, planted the vine and backfilled as it went along. The expectation was that all of the 13,000 vines required for the plot would be planted within about a day! This is an enormous step forward from the traditional hand-planting approach which was so time consuming and labour intensive.
Posts and wires need to be erected along all the rows of vines to allow them to be trained and supported. Tying in of shoots, pruning, spraying, weeding and various other tasks keep the vineyard staff busy throughout the year. Then comes the winter. The vines need to be pruned back during their dormant season and are relatively hardy at this point. But once the sap begins to rise and shoots have started to show, frost becomes a major risk. Frost damage in the spring can knock back the new growth and decimate the potential crop. There are many techniques used to minimise frost damage but vineyard owners tend to have disturbed nights whenever there is a frost warning. Many vineyards can also suffer from animal and bird invasions which would destroy shoots, buds and grapes, so deterrents such as fencing, netting and bird scarers may all be needed to protect the crop.
The growing, pruning and vine management cycle continues for three years before the vines are old enough to produce grapes for a little bit of wine. This first crop is likely to be small but very eagerly awaited. The grapes will be picked and vinified and it is only the following spring that the vineyard owner gets a first taste of the still wine that has taken so much commitment to produce. Many of Surrey’s producers are aiming to make sparkling wine and these patient folks have to wait several years more to taste their first product since the process takes so much longer.
Some owners will have taken the major step of building their own vinification and bottling units whilst for others, third party contracts will be more cost effective. Either way, this is another significant overhead. Then there is labelling, storage, marketing and the inevitable vat on the product.
English wines are now winning significant numbers of awards and the best are winning internationally. Surrey is a natural home of sparkling wine due to the local geology and it is definitely true that the quality, complexity and finesse of these wines is comparable with many premium products from elsewhere. So when you buy your next bottle of Surrey wine, don’t consider that it is expensive compared to the mass produced products from some other parts of the world. What you are buying is a high quality local product with a flavour that encapsulates the Surrey land, climate and dedication of its producers. Go out and buy some today if you want to confirm this for yourself!