An easy-to-follow circuit of Chobham's surprisingly wild and open heathland.
Distance 3 miles (4.8km)
Minimum time 1hr
Ascent/gradient 147ft (45m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Broad bridleway tracks, can be boggy in places
Landscape Rolling heathland with some wooded areas
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 160 Windsor, Weybridge & Bracknell
Start/finish SU 973648
Dog friendliness Keep dogs under control, especially near grazing animals
Parking Staple Hill car park, between Chobham and Longcross
Public toilets Chobham village car park
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1 Cross the road from the car park, and turn right onto the sandy track running parallel with the road on your right.
2 In little more than 200yds (183m) you'll rejoin the road at a locked barrier; turn hard left here, onto the waymarked horse ride that will carry you straight across the middle of the common. There are several crossroads and turnings, but simply keep walking straight ahead until you reach Gracious Pond Road.
3 Turn left onto the road, pass the attractive thatched buildings of Gracious Pond Farm, and continue to the sharp right hand bend. Keep straight on here, up the signposted footpath. A few paces further on the track bends to the right; keep straight on again, plunging into the woods at a wooden barrier gate and keeping left at the fork 50yds (46m) further on.
4 Follow the path as it climbs gently through a conifer plantation until, just beyond the power lines, another path merges from your right and you arrive at a waymarker post. Follow the bridleway around to the left, cross a small brook, and fork right at the next waymarker post. Now simply follow the bridleway, ignoring all side turnings, until you come to a waymarker post at a distorted crossroads junction. Bear right here until, a few paces beyond a wooden sleeper causeway on your right, you reach another waymarker post.
5 Swing hard left here, and follow the track as it bears around to the left before getting into its stride and heading, straight as an arrow, in an obvious line across the open heath. After about 300yds (274m) take the first waymarked footpath on your right, and follow the narrow path up through the gorse and over a wooden sleeper causeway. At the top of the hill, you'll recognise the wooden barrier just a few paces from the road. Cross over the road, back to the car park where your walk began.
Consider this. There are only around 60 species of butterflies in the British Isles - and you can see 29 of them on the sweeping expanses of Chobham Common. The litany of flora and fauna goes on; for instance, rather more than 200 species of birds live in this country or visit regularly, and over a hundred of them have been recorded on Chobham's lowland heaths. It all helps to explain why Chobham Common isn't just the largest National Nature Reserve in South East England, it's also one of Europe's best protected wildlife sites.
As any estate agent will tell you, the three most important things to consider when looking for somewhere to live are location, location and location. That's true for wildlife too and, for many species, heathland is the ideal home. But lowland heaths themselves can only survive in certain specific places. They won't develop across most of continental Europe, with its hot summers and harsh winters; they need a more temperate climate, found around the western seaboard and on offshore islands like Britain. The geology is also an important factor, and heaths just love the acid conditions of Surrey's gravels, sands and clays.
With all this going for it, you'd guess that heathland has a pretty secure future. Unfortunately not; this artificial habitat is the product of thousands of years of clearance, cultivation and grazing. As agriculture has intensified, traditional methods have all but died out. Many acres of heathland have reverted to scrub or dense 'secondary' woodland which, unlike the ancient woods, has relatively little wildlife value. So, as at Headley, conservation of the common is mainly about preserving the open heathland vegetation. At Chobham, you're likely to see grazing with traditional breeds of cattle, and you may encounter more modern methods of management; heather cutting, tree clearance and turf stripping, replicating the traditional harvesting of building materials and fuel.
But the real reason for coming to Chobham is to revel in the wide horizons, the fresh air, and the astonishing variety of wildlife. Above the tracts of ling and bell heather you may be lucky enough to see a hobby, the miniature falcon which, at a distance, looks like a huge swift. Closer to the ground, look out for sand lizards and harmless smooth snakes, as well as for orchids and insectivorous sundews. Pack your binoculars, and a decent field guide!
The whitewashed Four Horseshoes is set back on the green at Burrowhill and serves a variety of snacks and daily specials. In Chobham, you'll find the Saddlers Halt Restaurant & Tea Rooms with its open air courtyard, popular with walkers. The Sun Inn offers a good choice of bar meals and snacks.
A short drive from Chobham will bring you to the gentle landscapes of the Savill Gardens, on the southern outskirts of Windsor Great Park. Sir Eric Savill created his woodland gardens to show the best of every season, from springtime daffodils and azaleas right through to winter evergreens and the indoor displays in the Queen Elizabeth Temperate House. The gardens are open daily all year, and feature a nice summerhouse-style restaurant.
Amongst the many different fungi that emerge on the common in autumn, you're sure to recognise the fly agaric (Amanita muscaria). The dome-shaped cap is the colour of tomato soup, flecked with little creamy-white scales, and the fungus is so familiar from children's books that you almost expect to see a fairy sitting on top. This poisonous species gets its name from the north European habit of crumbling the cap in milk and using the mixture to kill flies.