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Compton's Michelangelo

The charming countryside bordering Loseley Park has some surprises in store.

Distance 3.7 miles (6km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 262ft (80m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Sandy tracks and field paths, can be muddy

Landscape Farmed and wooded countryside

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 145 Guildford & Farnham

Start/finish SU 963470

Dog friendliness On lead through Coneycroft Farm and near livestock. Not allowed in Watts Gallery

Parking Lay-by in Polsted Lane, close to junction with Withies Lane

Public toilets None on route

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© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 Take the signposted public footpath from the lay-by, a few paces from the junction of Withies Lane and Polsted Lane. Head through Bummoor Copse, and leave the woods at a stile. Now follow the woodland edge, zig-zagging right and left over another stile until you clear the woods altogether and come to a waymarked stile at the end of a concrete road. Nip across, and turn left; then, just as you come to the large buildings at Coneycroft Farm, dodge up to your right and over a waymarked stile. Follow the narrow path over another stile, and out onto Down Lane.

2 Turn right for a few paces along the road. Just before the Watts Gallery, turn right again onto the signposted North Downs Way National Trail; this is fast, easy walking, on a good track with sand under your feet. The track narrows as you pass a few farm buildings and begin the climb towards West Warren. Stay with the North Downs Way across a bridleway and into the woods. As you approach East Warren, the National Trail zig-zags left and right, and joins a farm road. Follow it for another 700yds (640m) until the outskirts of Guildford heave into view and the trail swings left at a waymark post.

3 Turn right here; then, after 50yds (46m) fork right onto Littleton Lane. Follow it to the public telephone near Littleton Youth House, and turn right onto the signposted public footpath. The path leads you through a succession of open fields, separated by stiles. There's a lake in the fourth field and, beyond the next stile, you'll get some great views of Loseley House on your left.

4 Cross the track to Loseley House at a stile and four-way signpost, and follow the field edge round to the left. Then, after 50yds (46m), look out for a stile and yellow waymark on your left. Nip across here, and continue in the same direction, but now with the fence on your right. There's a three-way signpost at the next stile; nip across, turn right, and follow the track down a tree-lined avenue all the way through to Little Polsted at the top of Polsted Lane.

5 Turn left, and follow the lane back to the junction where you started your walk.

During the early 1880s, residents around London's Holland Park might have spotted one of their neighbours hauling an immense statue into his garden on a short length of railway track. The artist and sculptor George Frederic Watts began work on Physical Energy, possibly his greatest masterpiece, whilst living at his house in Melbury Road.

Watts created this larger-than-life statue of a horse and rider purely for himself. He'd already worked out the idea as a plaster miniature and he built the full size version in a mixture of chalk, fibre and glue, supported on a wooden framework. You can see both models at the Watts Gallery in Compton, though the finished bronze statue is now in Kensington Gardens, London.

Born in 1817, Watts was a sickly child and was educated at home. He studied briefly at the Royal Academy, but dropped out after only a few weeks because he thought that the teaching was 'unfit'. Despite this, he mastered the wide range of styles and techniques that you'll see at the gallery; social paintings, landscapes, allegorical works and sculptures. But, although Watts has been described as the finest portrait painter of his generation, his own gallery has remarkably few of them.

For more than half a century Watts gathered his best works into a 'Hall of Fame' that included artists, authors, scientists and people in public life. He had little interest in money, and saw this collection as his gift to the nation; a public record of the great and the good at a time when photography was still regarded as a passing fashion. As a result, the majority of these paintings are now in the National Portrait Gallery.

In his personal life, too, Watts was a difficult person to classify. He married the charismatic actress Ellen Terry in 1864, when he was 47 and his bride was just 17; the consequences were predictable, and the couple separated after only a year. It was more than 20 years before Watts re-married. His new bride, Mary Fraser-Tytler, was a year younger than Ellen, though by now the enormous age difference was rather less significant. In 1891 George and Mary Watts moved to Limnerslease, a new house at Compton designed for them by the architect Ernest George. Here, Mary produced the spectacular Mediterranean-style mortuary chapel (PWhat To Look For), and the couple commissioned the Watts Gallery, the lovely Arts and Crafts building which opened just a few months before George's death in July, 1904. Limnerslease is now split into three private houses, but you can see the exterior from the back drive to the gallery.

What to look for

Take a short diversion along Down Lane, to the Watts mortuary chapel in the graveyard at Compton. It was designed by George Watts' wife Mary, who was an artist in her own right. The little terracotta building is shaped like a Celtic cross. George and Mary's grave, with its moulded terracotta kerbstones, lies close to the cloister at the top of the hill.

Where to eat and drink

You'll see the Harrow Inn on the main road as you drop down from the Hog's Back or the A3. There are main meals in the bar, but you can also get a snack or a sandwich. It's closed on Sunday evenings. The Withies Inn is tucked away on Withies Lane. This 16th-century whitewashed free house serves bar snacks and a full restaurant menu.

While you're here

Visit the Watts Gallery, an engaging exhibition of George Watts' work, from tiny sketchbooks to towering statues. The museum is open on afternoons throughout the year, but closed on Thursdays. Admission is free, though donations towards the museum's upkeep are appreciated.

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