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Pyrford's Romantic Runaways

A charming circuit that follows the peaceful River Wey for much of the route.

Distance 3.5 miles (5.7km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Riverside tow path, some field paths and roadside

Landscape Flat river valley with extensive water-meadows

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 145 Guildford & Farnham

Start/finish TQ 039573

Dog friendliness Mostly run free but on lead for roadside and golf course

Parking Unsurfaced car park at start

Public toilets None on route

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1 Walk through the car park, cross the bridge at the traffic lights, and follow the roadside pavement towards Pyrford village. The pavement begins on the right-hand side and crosses the water-meadows on several small bridges. There are good views of Newark Priory here and, in wet weather, the flooded fields attract swans and other water fowl. Now the pavement switches to the left hand side, and you cross the Bourne stream bridge; then, as the road swings hard right at Church Hill, keep straight on up the steep woodland path to St Nicholas Church.

2 Bear right past the church, cross the road, and take the stone-flagged path through the churchyard. Nip over the two stiles at the far side and follow the signposted path past Lady Place. Bear left under the first set of power lines, following the field edge on your right. Carry straight on past the footpath turnings, right and left, as you approach a second set of power lines; cross two stiles, and continue for 60yds (55m) to a public footpath signpost directly under the wires. Turn right and head towards the corner of a garden that juts out into the field. Bear slightly left here, keeping the fence on your left hand side. Continue over a stile at Pyrford Green House and down the gravelled drive to Warren Lane.

3 Zig-zag right and left across the road, then take the signposted public footpath up the side of an open field. Carry on over the small footbridge straight ahead and follow the waymarked route across Pyrford Golf Course. This is an attractive place, but don't let that distract you from the golfers and the threat presented by their flying golf balls. You'll come out onto Lock Lane, just by Pyrford Lock. Turn right here and walk across the bridge by the Anchor pub.

4 Turn right again, to join the easy-to-follow River Wey tow path. Just past Walsham Lock, the tow path zig-zags left and right across the weir, and you continue walking with the river on your right. Cross the little footbridge at Newark Lock, where you'll get the best views of the remains of Newark Priory. From here continue along the tow path; you're now on the north side of the river. Beyond the lock, you'll come to Newark Lane; take a left turn here, and cross over Newark Bridge to return to the car park where your walk began.

You could hardly imagine a more romantic hideaway than Queen Elizabeth's summerhouse. This mellow, red brick building stands two storeys high, with a first floor entrance and a curious, ogee-pitched roof to keep off the rain. At just fourteen feet square you wouldn't hold a party here, but it's a cosy enough little spot for two; you'll see it on the riverbank in the grounds of Pyrford Place, half a mile south of Pyrford Lock. A blue plaque on the wall records that the poet and clergyman John Donne lived here in the early years of the 17th century - but that isn't the half of it?

John Donne was born into a wealthy London family in 1572. He was educated at Oxford and Cambridge, and went on to study law and theology at the Inns of Court in London. It's clear that Donne was a deeply religious young man, yet he was also passionate by nature; he had inherited a considerable fortune and he spent his money on womanising, on books, and on all the pleasures that London could offer.

After his studies, Donne passed a couple of years with naval adventures to Spain and the Azores, before returning to London in 1598 to begin a promising career as secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, Keeper of the Great Seal. In the same year he met the love of his life, Egerton's 14 year-old niece, Anne More. The couple married secretly in 1601, when Anne was just 17. John was in trouble, big time. Anne's father, Sir George More, had him thrown into the Fleet Prison, together with two friends who had helped to conceal the affair. Although Sir George later relented and allowed the marriage to stand, the episode had cost John his job; his own money had gone and, with a growing family to support, things were looking bleak.

Luckily for the two lovers, not all of Anne's family were so prickly. Her cousin offered them shelter at Pyrford Place, where they spent the early years of their married life. John began to earn a small income from legal work; Anne's father was reconciled and paid his daughter's dowry; and John entered the church, becoming royal chaplain in 1615. But then, just as things were starting to improve, tragedy struck. In 1617, Anne died after giving birth to the couple's twelfth child, which was stillborn. She was only 33. John was devastated. He continued to write poetry, but sermons now took the place of love songs. In 1621 James I appointed him Dean of St Paul's, and he held the post until his death ten years later.

Where to eat and drink

The riverside conservatory and patio at the Anchor are popular spots to sit and watch the boats moving up and down through Pyrford lock. You might not fall in love with the architecture of this large, 1930s building, but so what? It's a handy halfway stop, there's a friendly welcome, and you can get something to eat here at any time of day. Choose from a nice selection of sensibly priced bar snacks and meals, plus a traditional roast on Sundays.

While you're there

Whatever the season, you're sure to enjoy the colourful displays at the Royal Horticultural Society's world famous Wisley gardens. As well as the collections of flowers, alpines, fruit and vegetables, you'll see a variety of demonstration gardens packed with practical ideas that will keep you busy long after you get home. With its restaurant, gift shop and plant centre, Wisley has something for everyone. The gardens are open all year round, but you won't get in on Sundays unless you're an RHS member.

What to look for

This walk abounds in romance, and the forlorn remains of Newark Priory are as romantic as any Victorian watercolour. The Priory was probably founded by Augustinian Canons late in the 12th century. It would have been abandoned at the Dissolution in 1536, so the buildings were almost certainly falling into ruins by the time that John Donne knew them. The flint walls of the presbytery and the south transept still stand almost to their original height - but take your binoculars for a closer look, as the ruins are on private land.

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