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Pirbright, I Presume

A flexible figure-of-eight walk, starting from Pirbright's vast village green.

Distance 4.8 miles (7.7km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 114ft (35m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Country roads, woodland tracks and paths, boggy in places, patchy waymarking

Landscape Wooded farmland conceals several massive houses on edge of Pirbright army ranges

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 145 Guildford & Farnham

Start/finish SU 946560

Dog friendliness On lead on road and in woods south of Admiral's Walk

Parking On village green in Pirbright

Public toilets None on route


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1 Turn right out of the car park, and bear right across the green. Cross the main road, follow the lane towards the church, and turn into the churchyard at the little gate on your right. Just inside, you'll see Stanley's massive, roughly-hewn memorial, bearing his African name 'Bula Matari' and the single word 'AFRICA'. His wife, Dorothy, lies in the same little plot, edged with miniature standing stones and neatly clipped yew hedging. Don't miss the lovely interior of this beautifully kept Georgian church - and look, too, for Stanley's other memorial, an inlaid brass plaque on the wall opposite the entrance.
Leave the churchyard by the lychgate, and turn right along the lane. Pass the Old School House and West Heath, and continue for 200yds (183m).

2 Turn left down the signposted bridleway towards West Hall Farm. Follow the track as it winds through the farmyard and joins a gated green lane. Continue past Vines Farm to the edge of a small birchwood and turn left along the muddy woodland track. Bear right just beyond the power lines and continue to the junction of tracks near a letter box in the wall at Pirbright Lodge.

3 Double back hard right, and follow the broad track past Long Houses. Keep left at the fork, and pass Rails Farm and Kiln Cottage, where the track narrows briefly before bearing left onto the Pirbright ranges perimeter track. As you approach the military barrier at Henley Gate, bear left onto a broad woodland track and follow it through to a T-junction. Turn right; then, 40yds (37m) further on, turn left onto a waymarked bridleway and continue until you cross a small stream.

4 Turn left onto a signposted bridleway, pass Stream House, then follow the green lane just to the right of Bourne House. Continue for 300yds (274m), until a waymark post points your way into the woods on your left. Continue over a stile and up the side of a small field, then cross the plank bridge into a boggy area of rough woodland. Keep straight on until you reach the second waymark post, then bear right onto a forest road and follow it back to Pirbright Lodge.

5 Turn right, and follow the lane out to the A324. Cross over, and turn left onto the roadside pavement that leads you back to the green where your walk began.

Whether or not Stanley actually delivered the famous one-liner 'Dr Livingstone, I presume?', when he tracked down the ailing missionary-explorer at Ujiji on Lake Tanganyika, the expression has passed into legend. So you can be forgiven for experiencing a profound sense of disbelief when your own expedition into deepest Surrey uncovers Stanley's grave in a quiet corner of a village churchyard. You might expect to find it in Highgate Cemetery, perhaps; or, as Stanley himself had wished, next to the great Dr Livingstone in Westminster Abbey. But St Michael and All Angels, Pirbright? Well, sometimes fact can be stranger than fiction and, a few minutes into your walk, you'll come face to face with Stanley's powerfully simple memorial.

But we've run a bit ahead of the walk and the story here, so it's worth going back to the beginning. In January 1841, Elisabeth Parry gave birth to an illegitimate child at Denbigh, in North Wales. The boy was baptised after his father - John Rowlands - who died just a couple of years later. Young John spent most of his childhood in the poverty-stricken surroundings of St Asaph's workhouse, until he ran away to sea and worked a passage to New Orleans in the USA. There, he took the name of his adoptive father, an American merchant called Henry Morton Stanley.

With his new identity, Stanley served in the Confederate army during the American civil war and went on to become a special correspondent for the New York Herald. At that time David Livingstone, who was in Africa searching for the source of the River Nile, had been out of touch for some five years. Most people believed that he was dead but, in 1869, Stanley accepted his editor's commission to find him.

It was March 1871 before Stanley led a company of around 2,000 men from Zanzibar into the uncharted African interior. Inevitably, there were problems; people deserted, disease was rife, and there were tribal conflicts along the way. Nevertheless, 700 miles (1,134km) and 236 days later, Stanley finally caught up with the ailing Livingstone and nursed him back to health. The two men went on to explore the northern end of Lake Tanganyika together before Stanley returned to Europe in 1872.

Stanley's subsequent expeditions opened up the centre of the continent, and led to the foundation of the Belgian dominated Congo Free State (which later became Zaire and is now called the Democratic Republic of Congo). His career in Africa ended with a successful three year mission to rescue Mehmed Emin Pasha, a German explorer and provincial governor, pinned down by a native uprising. In the closing years of the 19th century Stanley returned to England, married, and moved to Furze Hill, near Pirbright. He spent five years as the Liberal Unionist MP for North Lambeth, and was knighted in 1899. He died in May, 1904.

While you're there

Only the finest malt, hops, yeast and water find their way into the range of traditional cask conditioned and bottled beers produced at the Hog's Back Brewery. The brewery shop and free viewing gallery are open seven days a week; you'll see the brewers at work on any weekday, and there are beer tastings too. The brewery is based in converted 18th-century barns at Manor Farm, Tongham, just off the Hog's Back on the outskirts of Farnham.

Where to eat and drink

Choose from two pubs on Pirbright's village green. Locals head for the Cricketers, where there's a good range of snacks and bar meals, plus daily specials. A few doors away, the Moorhen follows the Vintage Inns formula with its flagstone floors, beamed ceilings and roaring log fires in winter. You'll find something to eat here all day, every day.

What to look for

In the woods between Stream House and Admiral's Walk, you'll walk between clumps of rhododendron bushes with their sprawling branches and dark, evergreen leaves. Introduced from the Himalayas to provide cover for pheasants on sporting estates, these huge shrubs thrive on acid soils. They're much admired for their displays of springtime colour, but foresters have little love for the species; they can run out of control, choking the native woodland flora.


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