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Trust on Hydon Heath

A circular walk through the varied countryside south of Godalming.

Distance 3.7 miles (6km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 344ft (105m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Woodland paths, farm tracks and some minor roads

Landscape Wooded slopes and farmland of Wealden greensand ridge

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorers 133 Haslemere & Petersfield,145 Guildford & Farnham

Start/finish SU 979402

Dog friendliness On lead through farmyards, near livestock and along roads

Parking National Trust car park on Salt Lane, near Hydestile

Public toilets None on route

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1 Turn left along the straight forest track a few paces behind the National Trust notice board in the car park. At the crest of the hill, turn right at the eight rustic wooden posts and continue climbing for 180yds (165m) to Octavia Hill's memorial bench. Continue straight ahead, leaving the bench on your left. Fork right between three large green inspection covers that give access to the underground reservoirs on the summit of the hill, and drop down the narrow path to a chain link fence on the edge of the National Trust estate.

2 Turn left here. After 60yds (55m) you'll see the Robertson obelisk on your right. Just beyond this lonely memorial, a maze of little paths will try to lead you astray. Keep as right as you can here, and descend the rutted path to the forest crossroads close to a small water pumping station. Turn left; then, after 200yds (183m), fork right and continue to the parting of the ways 180m (165m) further on. Turn right here, and climb the old sunken way as far as the public bridleway marker post at the top.

3 Turn right here onto the aptly named Greensand Way, and continue to Maple Bungalow.

4 Pass Maple Bungalow, and follow the Greensand Way through the valley to St Peter's Church, Hambledon. 55yds (50m) beyond the church, fork right at Court Farm Cottage and follow the public footpath as it swings, first right, then left, and drops down through a sunken lane to the Hambledon Road opposite the Merry Harriers.

5 Turn right, along the Hambledon Road. Pass Feathercombe Lane then, after 200yds (183m), turn right onto a bridleway between open fields back towards Hydon Heath. The track enters the woods, and you climb steeply beside the deer fencing on your right. Keep straight on at the end of the fencing and, after 100yds (91m), take the middle track at the three-way junction for the last 350yds (320m) to the car park.

Imagine an organisation so big that its magazine has more readers than The Times, Telegraph and Independent put together. Imagine a landowner whose properties cover an area 30 per cent bigger than the county of Surrey. And imagine a club so popular that its membership outstrips the population of Greater Manchester. That is the measure of the National Trust today. But could you imagine that this vast institution was founded by just three people, one a spinster who died several years before women even had the right to vote?

At the top of Hydon's Ball, close to the start of this walk, you'll come to a massive granite bench in memory of that very lady. Octavia Hill was a social reformer in the same league as her contemporary, Florence Nightingale. Born in Cambridgeshire in 1838, her father was bankrupted a few years later and her family split up. Octavia and her mother moved to north London, where they began philanthropic work with the Christian Socialists. Octavia witnessed the appalling realities of life in the Dickensian backstreets, and these early experiences inspired the great vocations of her later life; housing reform, and countryside access. During this time, Octavia met her lifelong friend, John Ruskin. He helped launch the first of her many housing improvement schemes and suggested ways of raising capital.

Besides working to improve the conditions in London's slums, Octavia Hill wanted to protect areas of countryside where working people could enjoy their leisure time. She was appalled to see so many green fields disappearing under Victorian suburbs, and she joined the Commons Preservation Society to help safeguard 'open-air sitting rooms for the poor'. Later, she became friends with the society's solicitor, Sir Robert Hunter.

Towards the end of the century, Octavia and Sir Robert joined Canon Rawnsley in his fight for a threatened Lake District beauty spot. This was the campaign that brought together the founding triumvirate of the National Trust; they launched the idea in 1894, and the new organisation was incorporated the following year. Octavia Hill went on to lead many successful appeals and served on the Trust's Council. Soon after her death in 1912, the Trust bought 92 acres (37ha) at Hydon's Ball as her permanent memorial.

While you're here

You'll find some dazzling displays of spring and autumn colours just up the road at Winkworth Arboretum. This wooded hillside with its two ornamental lakes was laid out during the late 1930s by Dr Wilfrid Fox, and is now cared for by the National Trust. The arboretum includes over 1,000 species of exotic shrubs and trees, including maples, cherries, azaleas and magnolias. As well as exploring the woods themselves, allow time to enjoy the contrasting seasonal views in the area around the lakes.

Where to eat and drink

The Merry Harriers keeps real ales and a cask-conditioned cider, and you can eat for under £5. You'll pass this whitewashed stone and tile hung free house on the Hambledon Road.

What to look for

As you drop down from the summit of Hydon's Ball, take a moment to pay your respects to the Robertson family. Just off the path, a small obelisk records how WA Robertson left the money for the National Trust to buy this area in memory of his two brothers, who were killed in the Great War. Second Lieutenant Laurance Robertson was killed in action during the Battle of the Somme in July 1916, and his brother, Captain Norman Robertson lost his life at Hanover in June the following year.

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