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A Pilgrimage to Waverley

By the enchanting ruins of Waverley Abbey in the Wey Valley.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 1hr

Ascent/gradient 164ft (50m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Sandy and easy to follow, two sections on minor roads

Landscape Gently rolling, well-wooded countryside

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 145 Guildford & Farnham

Start/finish SU 870455

Dog friendliness Generally good, but dogs must be on lead along roads

Parking Waverley Lane between Farnham and Elstead

Public toilets None on route

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1 Turn right out of the car park, taking care to watch out for traffic, and follow Waverley Lane (B3001) as it zig-zags left and right over Waverleymill Bridge. Continue for 200yds (183m) until the road bears to the left. Turn right here, onto the public byway, and follow it through to a metal gate and public byway signpost.

2 Keep straight ahead and follow the path past Friars Way Cottage until you come to Sheephatch Lane. Turn left briefly, then right at the junction with Tilford Street; there's no pavement for the first 400yds (366m), so go carefully. Now follow the road past the school, over the River Wey bridge and onto Tilford village green, where you'll find the Tilford Oak and welcome refreshment at the Barley Mow.

3 To continue your walk, retrace your steps across the river bridge. Almost at once, turn left at the public bridleway sign just before the Post Office. The path climbs gently for 500yds (457m) and brings you to a tarmac lane. Turn left, pass Tilhill House, and continue up the narrow sandy track straight ahead. At the top of the short slope, fork right at the public bridleway waymark for the 400yds (366m) climb to Sheephatch Farm. Cross Sheephatch Lane, where a public byway sign points your way up the gravelled track directly opposite. The track leads you confidently through Sheephatch Copse, and soon you'll be dropping down through an ancient sunken way to rejoin your outward track at a metal gate and public byway signpost.

4 Turn left here for the easy walk back to Waverley Lane (B3001). Watch out for the traffic as you turn left, then retrace your outward route over Waverleymill Bridge and back to the car park.

The glory of this walk lies right at the start, just a stone's throw across the fields from the car park. For over 400 years Waverley Abbey stood in this peaceful loop of the northern River Wey and, from here, its abbots wielded enormous religious and political influence. It all began in 1128 when William Gifford, the Bishop of Winchester, founded Waverley on 60 acres (24ha) of farmland. This was the first Cistercian abbey in England, and the original community of 12 monks came with Abbot John from L'Aumone in France. They lived an austere life, devoted to hard manual labour and unceasing prayer.

Construction started at once, although it was another 150 years before the abbey church was finally completed. Meanwhile the Cistercians expanded rapidly throughout Britain, and by 1132 there were great abbeys at Tintern, Fountains and Rievaulx. Waverley itself was the springboard for 13 new monasteries; in each case, an abbot and 12 monks, representing Christ and his 12 disciples, went forward as the nucleus of the new community.

At Waverley, as elsewhere, the monks had a significant impact on the local economy as they converted the surrounding forests into grazing and arable fields. They began Surrey's wool industry, and extended their hospitality from the humblest to the greatest.The lavish scale of monastic entertaining seems positively decadent, but these were exceptions to the harsh, everyday routine. Monks rose at 2am for Matins, spending their time in meditation, study, and manual work before retiring as early as 5:30pm in winter. The day was punctuated by eight services, and by the midday meal of vegetables, bread and beer.

The monks ate in silence in the refectory, accompanied by readings from scripture. You'll see the remains of this building with its 13th-century vaulting during your visit; look, too, for the walls of the Chapter House, where the Abbot presided over the daily business meeting. Of the church itself, only the ground plan and some sections of the chancel walls remain to give you an idea of the scale of the building. The monastic community continued until it was suppressed by Henry VIII in 1536. The estate subsequently changed hands many times; over the years, the buildings were quarried for stone, and many wagon loads found their way into the construction of nearby Loseley House.

Where to eat and drink

Half way round your walk, relax in the whitewashed Barley Mow, delightfully situated overlooking Tilford's village green. There's cricket here in the summer - but you'll find a good choice of bar snacks and restaurant meals (except Sunday and Monday evenings).

While you're there

Spread out over 10 acres (3.7ha) of field and woodland, Tilford's Rural Life Centre presents a vivid recreation of local country life over the last century and a half. You'll see realistic settings including everything from agriculture and hop growing to the rural post office and wheelwright's workshop. There's also a shop, café, picnic area and children's playground, and you can ride the Old Kiln Light Railway on Sundays and bank holidays. Open Wednesday to Sunday (and bank holidays), April to September.

What to look for

Beside the green at Tilford, close to the Farnham road bridge, the Tilford Oak is said to be at least 800 years old. William Cobbett thought it the finest tree that he ever saw in his life, but now its branches have been lopped and the trunk is patched with iron sheets. In 1822, Cobbett claims that the tree was a full 30ft (10m) round, but his legendary enthusiasm may have run away with him. When the writer Eric Parker measured it in July 1907, its circumference was 24ft 9in (7.5m); he returned in 1934, and found it exactly 1ft (30cm) more. Just opposite this mighty specimen stands a mere sapling, planted in 1902 to commemorate Edward VII's coronation. At the opposite end of the green, its neighbour dates from Queen Victoria's Jubilee in 1897.

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