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Gatton Park, North Downs and Banstead Heath

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Gatton Park, North Downs and Banstead Heath
Author: Ecoworrier, Published: 06 Nov 2018 Walk Rating:star0 Gatton Park, North Downs and Banstead Heathstar0 Gatton Park, North Downs and Banstead Heathstar0 Gatton Park, North Downs and Banstead Heathstar0 Gatton Park, North Downs and Banstead Heathstar0 Gatton Park, North Downs and Banstead Heath
Surrey, North Downs
Walk Type: Footpaths and byways
Gatton Park, North Downs and Banstead Heath
Length: 11 miles,  Difficulty: boot Gatton Park, North Downs and Banstead Heath boot Gatton Park, North Downs and Banstead Heath boot Gatton Park, North Downs and Banstead Heath boot Gatton Park, North Downs and Banstead Heath
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This 11 mile circular walk in Surrey combines historic parkland, hill-side woods, grassy commons, and far-reaching views. If you don't know this area you will be amazed by the amount and variety of green space this close to London. Sections of this walk will be muddy after wet weather, and a couple of the climbs can get slippy. There is one busy road to cross, and a couple of other road crossings where care is needed. There is one steep climb (up Colley Hill). You will probably encounter horse riders and mountain bikers, but our route does not go through any farm fields containing livestock. Surrey Wildlife Trust sometimes grazes Belted Galloway conservation cattle on the final stretch, but this is the busy North Downs Way so the cattle are normally accustomed to walkers and dogs. You will need to negotiate steps and gates but there are no stiles on route. Allow 5 hours.

This walk is adapted from a walk originally published in Raymond Hugh’s “More Adventurous Walks in the Surrey”, and is covered by OS Landranger Map 187. It is worth buying the original books if you ever see one because of the unique combination of his sense of humour, local history, interesting path choices, hand-drawn maps and his clear love of (some of) the local pubs.

There is a very nice cafe at the start (outside seating only), the Junction 8 cafe, where I have always had a cheery welcome and tasty food. The car park also has toilets. The other opportunities to get food and drink on the route are The Yew Tree (Reigate Hill – just off the route), The Blue Ball, Spaghetti Tree and the Sportsman. I recommend stocking up at the Junction 8 cafe before you set off and on a cold morning their toasted banana bread with honey will set you up perfectly.

Our walk starts from the free countryside car park at Wray Lane, just to the south of Junction 8 of the M25. Take the A217 south from the M25 and take the left-hand lane signed to Merstham. Immediately after this lane leaves the A217, turn right following the car park signs and turn right again into the car park. The nearest post code is RH2 0HX, but as the majority of Wray Lane is a one-way street please check your route rather than relying on Sat Nav. This car park can fill up on sunny weekends. There are some parking spaces on the left hand side of Wray Lane either side of the car park entrance, and there are a small number of spaces at the bottom of the hill where our route crosses Wray Lane (just before the first buildings on the left hand side of the lane). You could also park at the National Trust car park at Margery Wood (Waypoint 8).

Walk Sections

Start to Climb 1
Start to Climb 1

Start point: 51.2564 lat, -0.1911 long
End point: 51.2538 lat, -0.1807 long

Once you have enjoyed the view from the car park and checked out the information boards, walk to the car park entrance and cross Wray Lane to the National Trust Gatton Park information board. Ignore the track straight ahead and follow the Discover Gatton Trail and North Downs Way downhill as shown by arrows on the black pillars. A short distance later the path forks. Take the left fork which curves left and goes gently downhill, to eventually rejoin the track you ignored. Watch out for the breaks in the trees on your right that give you glimpses of Lancelot “Capability” Brown’s landscaping of Gatton Park. The National Trust has been working hard to recreate these viewpoints.

Eventually the track meets a tarmac drive just after a cottage on the left. Turn right to follow the tarmac drive downhill, still following the North Downs Way, towards Gatton Hall. You leave the trees and enter the open parkland around Gatton Hall. Ahead you can see some of the buildings of Royal Alexandra and Albert School. Gatton Hall, and the grounds around it, belong to the school but are occasionally opened to visitors. As you approach the school buildings you pass a set of standing stones, and our route turns right immediately after along a track between railings. The standing stones are worth a closer look.

The track leads through more parkland, climbing gently. To your left are some of the lakes that were built as part of Capability Brown’s design and it is worth stopping to enjoy some of the views that the landscaping has created to the south and east. Eventually the track reaches some buildings on the left and the track forks.

Climb 1 to Wray Lane
Climb 1 to Wray Lane

Start point: 51.2538 lat, -0.1807 long
End point: 51.2516 lat, -0.1872 long

Take the right fork, passing through a gateway and still following the Discover Gatton Trail. Ten paces later turn right again. It might feel like you are going back on yourself, but as the path climbs it turns back to head west, and grants you one last view of the park. You now enter mature woodland and continue climbing to reach a gate. Pass through this to reach a clearing with a bench to your right.

Go straight across, leaving the Discover Gatton Trail, to pass through a gap between wooden rails. Follow this smaller path downhill, ignoring a path to the left, to cross another track, passing through wooden rails. The path goes downhill and slightly to the right to reach and pass to the right of a wooden fence. The path continues downhill to emerge on Wray Lane at a small parking area with a National Trust Gatton Park sign.

Wray Lane to Hearthstone Mine
Wray Lane to Hearthstone Mine

Start point: 51.2516 lat, -0.1872 long
End point: 51.253 lat, -0.2167 long

Carefully cross Wray Lane to join a bridleway slightly to your left. The bridleway sign also has a North Downs Ridge Circular Walk sign (an orange arrow with the outline of a wayfarer within it). This is one of six circular walks that accompany the Millennium Trail, an 18-mile walk from Banstead Downs to Horley, created by Reigate and Banstead Borough Council to mark the new century. Some of these circular walks have been published on iFootpath as part of the Explore Surrey Collection. We will encounter the Millennium Trail later in our walk.

Follow the bridleway, which skirts the lower slopes of Reigate Hill taking you past some rather nice properties. There are also occasional views from this bridleway over Reigate and towards Leith Hill. The bridleway joins a tarmac drive which you should follow to the left. Where the tarmac ends, pass to the left of the ornate entrance to Wray Lane House on to a gravel path immediately passing another ornate gate. At the end of the gardens the path continues through natural woodland to eventually reach another tarmac drive that leads you out onto the A217, Reigate Hill Road, by Reigate Hill Cottage.

Turn left to follow the road downhill for about a hundred metres to where the road bends left. Our route follows the bridleway opposite (to your right) that passes through a parking area in front of some attractive red brick buildings (including Pilgrims Cottage). It can be tricky to cross the road here when it is busy and it is easier to cross another hundred metres downhill at the garage and The Yew Tree pub.

After the tarmac parking area take the left, lower fork passing to the right of some white cottages. Follow this bridleway between walls and fences along the lower slope of the hill. When you reach a tarmac crossing lane, go straight across ignoring a footpath to the right (this is our first encounter with the Millennium Trail). A few steps further on you reach a larger lane and should turn right to follow it. Eventually you will reach a gate and a National Trust sign for the Pilgrims Way. Continue ahead to follow the Pilgrims Way as it skirts the lower slopes of Colley Hill. After about 250m the track forks. Take the left fork to cross another path, which the OS map shows as the Greensand Way, descend a bank and enter a hill-side meadow. Go straight on along the lower edge of the field to leave the field through a small wooden gate. Shortly after this, turn right to climb a narrow path that widens to reach a 4-way junction opposite a sign about the Hearthstone Mine. It is worth stopping to read the National Trust information sign and reflect on how busy this quiet spot must have been up to 50 years ago.

Hearthstone Mine to M25
Hearthstone Mine to M25

Start point: 51.253 lat, -0.2167 long
End point: 51.2592 lat, -0.2265 long

Once you have had your fill of mining history take the first (lower) path to the left. This is marked with a yellow arrow and a North Downs Ridge Circular Walk sign. The path descends and skirts to the left of a crater before climbing wooden steps. Continue to follow this path as it winds its way through a narrow strip of wood along the bottom of Colley Hill until you reach a broad crossing track, the North Downs Way. Turn right to climb the North Downs Way, still following the North Downs Ridge Circular Walk arrows. Raymond Hugh warns his readers to take care on this section to watch out for fast-descending mountain bikers, but I have yet to meet any here.

When this bridleway turns sharply left take a narrow path straight ahead to climb wooden steps, leaving the North Downs Way. These steps wind their way to a wooden gate that leads to the open ground at the top of the hill. Turn left and follow the fence and woodland edge to reach the main track along the top of the hill. This section of the North Downs Way is very popular with dog walkers and families and can be busy on sunny weekends. Turn left along this and look out for a white metal post on your right hand side. This is a coal-tax post and marks the area around London where anyone bringing coal into London was expected to pay a tax. If you have a lump of coal in your rucksack, don’t worry as this tax has been repealed. This metal post is one of 280 placed during the early 1860s to mark an extended area to which the tax applied. We will pass several more of these posts over the next section of our journey.

Ignore the narrow path to the right just after the coal-tax post, but take the next right fork, which will lead to a crossing track where you should turn right, briefly re-joining the North Downs Ridge Circular Walk. This track becomes a tarmac lane, and you should go straight across a junction of lanes to go over a bridge over the M25.

M25 to The Blue Ball
M25 to The Blue Ball

Start point: 51.2592 lat, -0.2265 long
End point: 51.2837 lat, -0.2411 long

Immediately after the bridge turn left onto a bridleway which briefly follows the motorway before turning north through woodland to skirt the Walton Heath golf course. Continue in the same direction (just west of north) keeping the golf course on your left and ignoring all crossing paths for just over two kilometres. You will pass several more coal-tax posts as we are following the coal-tax boundary. As long as you keep the golf course close on your left, you should not get confused by the proliferation of alternative paths. During this time you will leave the initial area of woodland, follow the hedge-lined bridleway between the golf course and the open grassland of Banstead Heath, and then pass along the left edge of another area of woodland.

Stay on bridleway along the left edge of the wood to eventually reach the B2032. Cross the road carefully and join the drive on the other side between the signs for “Walton House” and “Heathside Lodge”. Take the footpath on the right of the drive, and then fork left to follow the prominent track ahead passing to the right of a house. Follow this path straight ahead, ignoring turnings to the left and right to eventually reach an open area with The Blue Ball Inn ahead of you. Apparently, a blue ball was held up to show the end of a horse race and this pub probably got its name because of its proximity to Epsom racecourse. If you fancy stopping at The Blue Ball, this is the half-way point of the walk and there are amusing illustrations on many of the walls.

The Blue Ball to Banstead Heath
The Blue Ball to Banstead Heath

Start point: 51.2837 lat, -0.2411 long
End point: 51.2757 lat, -0.2259 long

Whether or not you visit The Blue Ball continue to the north-west corner of the green space outside the pub. The village pond is over a road in front of you and the Spaghetti Tree restaurant is to your left. Turn your back on the restaurant and follow the prominent gravel path going due east across the open area and back into the woods. Keep following this bridleway straight on ignoring crossing paths to emerge on the B2032. At one point you cross another bridleway where, at the time of writing, the arm marking our route appears to have broken off the signpost, but our bridleway is obvious and well used.

Cross the B2032 carefully to join a bridleway through the woods passing to the left of a property. Just before you emerge from this wood you will pass the base of an old windmill on your left. This local landmark is becoming increasingly hidden by the trees that surround it. You will emerge from the wood onto open grassland criss-crossed by mown paths. On a clear day you should be able to see the radio masts on top of Colley Hill and slightly to their right, the square top of the water tower that we will pass later. Our route now runs due south for a couple of kilometres in the direction of the water tower.

Ignore the first crossing path immediately after you emerge from the woods, and then turn right on to a second crossing path by a set of footpath signs. When this path forks, take the left fork, a bridleway, to pass towards and through a copse. After the copse, continue downhill following a woodland edge on your left passing a collection of path and bridleway signs. At the bottom of the valley follow the prominent gravel track (bridleway) slightly right to maintain your southward direction. You will now start to climb gently, to reach a fork. Take the right fork to reach a t-junction with another track (shown on some maps as "The Gallops"). Turn right again but note the direction of the yellow arrow on the post to the right of the junction. This indicates Raymon Hugh's original route, turning left off the gravel track onto a faint footpath that winds through the wood.

This path can be hard to find and even harder to follow when the bracken and brambles are overgrown. If you can find it, it can feel like a real adventure to follow. Eventually, after much wiggling, you will emerge into the open on the corner of Banstead Heath, with another footpath sign pointing back the way you have just come. This sign also shows the route of a "Permissive Ride", which is still part of "The Gallops". At the time of writing the sign is decorated with a small plastic pirate!

If you can't find the path, or don't fancy fighting the vegetation, continue a short way along the track until a ride opens up through the trees on your left. Turn left to follow this. When the trees open up continue straight ahead until you reach a prominent crossing path just before the last set of trees before the heath. Turn left here to find your way to the footpath sign mentioned in the previous paragraph.

With your back to the adventurous footpath, you can see the open portion of Banstead Heath in front of you.

Banstead Heath to The Sportsman
Banstead Heath to The Sportsman

Start point: 51.2757 lat, -0.2259 long
End point: 51.2642 lat, -0.2245 long

Follow the prominent path south onto the open heath, skirting an area of woods on your left. Follow the path through this strip of woodland and then turn right to skirt the woods once more, now on your right. Note that there are a couple of paths through this strip of woods, they all work. Continue straight on, ignoring paths entering the strip of woods to eventually leave these trees behind and meet a junction of paths. Ignore the exit from the heath and notice board to your left, cross a prominent path and keep straight on to follow the path leading south along the right edge of a new set of trees. This path climbs and turns gradually left. It is worth stopping at the high point to have a look around and take in some of the countryside that you have travelled through.

The path eventually passes a low rail and a notice board to join a tarmac lane opposite The Sportsman. This pub is popular with walkers, cyclists, and horse-riders (although note the sign on the door saying strictly no walking boots and shoes inside). Raymond Hugh really liked this pub and wrote that it was originally built as a royal hunting lodge in the 16th century.

The Sportsman to Margery Wood
The Sportsman to Margery Wood

Start point: 51.2642 lat, -0.2245 long
End point: 51.2597 lat, -0.2163 long

Follow the lane past The Sportsman which bends left to meet a T-junction of lanes. Turn right at this junction. A short distance up this lane you will pass a bridleway sign on the right. Shortly after this, turn left onto a bridleway, rejoining the North Downs Ridge Circular Walk.

This bridleway crosses a lane and then continues between fences. Shortly the view opens up to the left across farmland and what Raymond Hugh tells us was once an apple orchard. After crossing a shallow valley the bridleway climbs gently to reach the National Trust’s Margery Wood car park on your right.

Margery Wood to Finish
Margery Wood to Finish

Start point: 51.2597 lat, -0.2163 long
End point: 0 lat, 0 long

Go across the car park and leave it in the south west corner to follow a prominent path through the woods. This wood has multiple designations for its conservation and historical importance and is a good site for spring bluebells. The path leads to a narrow footbridge over the M25, and then shortly meets the North Downs Way (and the Millenium Trail). Turn left to follow this major, and popular, track which will eventually lead us back to the Wray Lane car park.

Shortly after joining the main track, you will pass, on your left, the water tower that you might have seen earlier. As you progress along the top of the hill the views will open up to your right over The Weald. On a clear day you can see the South Downs in the far distance. As you approach the end of this first open area you can look down on our earlier route and look west to follow the line of the North Downs and see Leith Hill.

Just before the track re-enters the trees you pass a small “temple” on the right. This was built in 1909 to house a drinking fountain and was a gift to the public from Lieutenant Colonel Robert William Inglis. It is worth stepping inside to look at the mosaic ceiling and the direction finder that has replaced the fountain.

Back on the track, we enter woods that were badly damaged by the “hurricane” of 1987. The National Trust worked hard to replant the damaged sections and it is now hard to spot where the old trees are missing. You soon reach a glade in the wood which is kept clear of trees and contains two low wooden structures popular with small children. These represent the wing tips of a US Army Air Force Flying Fortress that crashed on this spot on 19th March 1945 as it was returning from a bombing raid in Germany. Unfortunately, all the crew died in the crash and the clearing that the plane made has been kept open as a memorial ever since.

Returning to our route, the next time the woods open up on the right you will see Reigate Fort, which was built in 1898 when there was a fear of attacks by the French. This “mobilisation centre” was built to store weapons and ammunition to support the quick deployment of troops, and was one of a ring of fortifications built to protect London. You can have a look round the fort.

The track now passes the aerials that we mentioned earlier, on the left. If it is a clear day, it is worth looking north-east when you have a clear line of sight to see London’s landmarks.

Our track joins a lane which passes some houses before bending left. Re-join the gravel track leading straight ahead and downhill, ignoring further turnings, to cross the A217 via an ornate bridge. This bridge was built in 1910, and was used by British and Canadian troops to access various facilities on the hilltop, and to connect them with the tea hut which was on the site now occupied by the Junction 8 cafe that marks the end of our walk.

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Text and images for this walk are Copyright © 2018 by iFootpath and the author mikecoker and may not be reproduced without permission.

The information in this guide has been provided in good faith and is intended only as a guide, not a statement of fact. You are advised to check the accuracy of the information provided and should not use this guide for navigational directions nor should you rely on the accuracy of the weather forecast. You are advised to take appropriate clothing, footwear, equipment and navigational materials with you according to the current and possible weather and nature of the terrain. Always follow the country code and follow any additional warnings or instructions that may be available. Some walks may be very strenuous and you are advised to seek medical advice if you have any doubts as to your capability to complete the walk.

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