Is a quintessential English village in the heart of the Surrey Hills. Whenever I go there, I always imagine a Miss Marple type character coming out of one of the cottages! Holmbury St Mary is also said to be one of Surrey’s prettiest villages but as there are several to choose from, especially in the Surrey Hills, it’s difficult to decide.
I was in Holmbury, with a friend, to continue our series of Surrey Hills walks. So far, we have covered Leith Hill and Box Hill, so it seemed only natural to continue with Holmbury Hill.
Having carried out some research into the history of Holmbury St Mary, I discovered that the name was first recorded as ‘Homebery’, in the reign of Henry V (1413-1422). It was Henry who won the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. This Holmbury refers to the nearby iron Age hill-fort , which is marked as ‘Holmbery’ on Speed’s map of Surrey published in 1610.
The area once had a much darker side, as one of Surrey’s remotest and wildest places, it was supposedly the haunt of smugglers bringing contraband from the coast. Sheep-stealers and poachers also found shelter here.
This all changed in Victorian times. The growing middle classes realised that this would be a great location for a secluded country home. Several large houses were built in the area with wonderful views south across the Weald.
We parked in the village, first thing in the morning (after the school run!) before setting off for the summit of Holmbury Hill.
We walked past several stunning houses and the church which was built in 1879. You might just be able to spot it through the Lych Gate.
We wandered past the very attractive village green and more interesting (and, doubtless, very expensive!) houses.
Below is the first sign we came across before starting our ascent. The Hurtwood is over 2,000 acres of privately owned Common land. I’ve always been aware of the Hurtwood but hadn’t really delved deeply into its history – until now. The geology of the area is shallow, acidic, sandy soil on top of sandstone bedrock. This has resulted in a mix of deciduous and pine woodland and lowland heath. The heath is covered in gorse, bracken and heather. In 1086 (the Domesday Survey) the woodland was probably oak, birch and ash. In the late 1700s, the hardy Scots pine was introduced for commercial purposes. The soil was ideal for these trees. The Hurtwood was one of the first estates in England to give the public a ‘right to roam’ with ‘open access for air and exercise’.
For this walk, we were following a published trail with detailed instructions. We had to look out for this metal bench, at one point. It seemed incongruous, at first, but did blend (somehow) into the surroundings – maybe not evident from my photo!
We were looking forward to enjoying the panoramic views from the top. On a clear day you can see the sea in one direction (The Shoreham Gap) and in the other the tall buildings of Canary Wharf.
I was surprised by how much honeysuckle we saw but I don’t know why!
Through funding from the Mittal Foundation, Surrey Hills Arts commissioned five artists to create artworks inspired by the views across the Greensand Way long-distance footpath. The beautifully crafted benches pictured above are one of these artworks. When furniture maker Matthew Burt visited Holmbury Hill, he was inspired by the view to create ‘Converse’. We didn’t sit down as we were eager to reach the viewpoint.
We arrived at the viewpoint, the fourth highest in Surrey, only to see nothing! Any potential views were completely obliterated by low clouds and mist. Never mind! We had both seen the views before and, hopefully, will repeat the walk on a clear day.
On the way back to our cars, I couldn’t resist taking a picture of this rather lovely garden door/gate.
Although we didn’t get to see the views, we still enjoyed our Holmbury Hill walk and I hope you did, too!