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Friday Street; Fact, or Fiction?

Through woodland to the highest point in south east England.

Distance 5.2 miles (8.4km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 640ft (195m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Easily walked woodland tracks, but poor waymarking

Landscape Ancient landscape of thickly wooded sandstone heaths

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 146 Dorking, Box Hill & Reigate

Start/finish TQ 130432

Dog friendliness Can mostly run free

Parking Woodland parking at Starveall Corner

Public toilets None on route

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

1 Leave the car park at the gate near the top left-hand corner. After 45yds (41m), turn left onto a woodland path and follow it to a crossroads. Turn left and drop down to a road junction. Take the road towards Abinger Common and Wotton; then, 90yds (82m) further on, turn onto the narrow, unsignposted path on your right. Cross a tarmac drive, and continue as it widens into a woodland ride.

2 Leave the woods and continue briefly along Abinger Common Road. When you reach a house called St John's, fork right onto the bridleway and follow it through to Friday Street. Pass the pub and the millpond, and drop down past the letter box at Pond Cottage. Follow the rough track towards Wotton, bear left past Yew Tree Cottage, and continue until you reach a gate.

3 Turn right over the stile, and climb the sandy track into the woods. Soon it levels off, bears left past a young plantation, then veers right at the far end. Two stiles carry you across Sheephouse Lane, and soon you're dropping to another stile. Nip over, and follow the fence across the Tilling Bourne until you reach two steps up to a stile.

4 Cross the stile, and turn right onto the Greensand Way. It brushes the road at the Triple Bar Riding Centre then turns left onto a public bridleway. Keep right at the National Trust's Henman Base Camp, and right again at Warren Farm, where the forest road ends.
Here the waymarked Greensand Way forks right again, along the narrow woodland track. Keep ahead when you come to the bench and three-way signpost at Whiteberry Gate, climbing steadily at first, then more steeply, until you come to a barrier and five-way junction.

5 The way ahead dives steeply down; turn right, still following the waymarked Greensand Way as it pushes up towards Leith Hill Tower. Pass the tower, taking the left-hand fork towards Starveall Corner. Follow the broad track back to the barrier at Leith Hill Road, then swing right onto the signposted bridleway. After 140yds (128m), turn left for the last little stretch back to the car park.

Somewhere in the forgotten landscape of thickly wooded sandstone heaths around Abinger Common lies Friday Street, Surrey's smallest, prettiest, and most remote hamlet. Friday Street's most famous son is an enigmatic figure who blends life and legend with the effortless ease of King Arthur. There's no denying Stephan Langton's place in the history books. He was born around 1150, and orphaned by the age of ten. His parents may have come from Lincolnshire, though legend has it that he was born in Friday Street.

It's clear that Stephan was educated by monks, but although one source has him singing in the local choir, it seems that he also studied at the University of Paris. Here, it's said, he established himself as a leading theologian; a plausible theory, since Stephan went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury. By the time he was 18, Stephan was living in Albury, just a few miles down the road from Friday Street. Here he fell in love with Alice, and legend has it that the couple were strolling in the nearby woods when they were set upon by King John and his followers. There's a problem with the story here, since John was by now about 12 months old, and didn't come to the throne for another 30 years. But it's a good story?

John kidnapped Alice, and took her off to his hunting lodge at Tangley, near Guildford. Stephan followed the trail and set fire to the house in an attempt to rescue his sweetheart but, in the confusion, the girl fainted or was overcome by smoke. Thinking her dead, Stephan wandered off to become a monk. By the dawn of the 13th century, we're back on firmer ground. Not without reason, the idle and self-centred King John was deeply unpopular. He refused to accept Stephan Langton as the Pope's choice of Archbishop of Canterbury, provoking six years of conflict with Rome and the threat of a French invasion. By 1214 the King had capitulated, but he now faced a baronial revolt. Langton stepped in as mediator; he was prominent in drafting the Magna Carta, and was amongst the signatories at Runnymede in 1215. Meanwhile, Alice recovered from her ordeal and went on to become Abbess of St Catherine's in Guildford. Some years later, the couple were unexpectedly reunited after Mass at St Martha's Chapel near Guildford. But don't expect a happy ending - the Abbess was so overcome with emotion that she died in Stephan's arms.

While you're there

In return for climbing the 75 spiral steps of Leith Hill Tower you'll get a view that stretches from the London Eye to the coast. Built in 1766 by Richard Hull of Leith Hill Place it's popularly believed he wanted to raise the 967ft (295m) hill to exactly 1,000ft (305m). After his death in 1772, he was buried beneath its floor. During the next hundred years the tower was raised to its present height of 1,029ft (329m), and the staircase and battlements were added. The National Trust has owned it since 1923, and has an information room on the first floor.

What to look for

Shortly after you join the Greensand Way you'll see an impressive waterfall on your left, cascading 65ft (20m) into a pool. It's fed by a leat from Brookmill Pond and was built around 1738 as part of an ambitious landscaping project.

Where to eat and drink

The Stephan Langton in Friday Street is a great walkers' pub serving filled croissants, pies and children's meals - and fabulous burgers. There's a refreshment kiosk in Leith Hill Tower where you'll find hot and cold drinks, as well as cakes and sandwiches.

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