Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Primrose Paths - a walk on the Surrey - West Sussex border

It was, said one of my walking companions lyrically, as though someone had strewn them in the path of a wedding couple. Never, in many years of walking in Britain, have I seen so many primroses.

So many were there close to the Surrey-Sussex border last weekend that you could almost overlook the little diggings which suggested some throughtless strollers - not serious walkers, surely - had helped themselves to enhance their gardens.

Less unexpected among the trees was a miasma of bluebells, floating before the eyes, and a sprinkling of wood anemones, like spring snow.

And in the boggy places, of which there were many, were clouds of lady's smock, sometimes called cuckoo flower, though there was no sound of the bird with whose first annual call gave it that name. Lady's smock was once used as a guard against scurvy. It contains some 15 times as much vitamin C as the average lemon.

We walked along soggy bridle paths flanked by low Anglo-Saxon dykes, raised as territory boundaries, indicating the historic importance of timber and game. Unseen woodpeckers drilled nests. A yellowhammer flitted briefly between branches.

The Alfold village pub we were aiming for, though shown on a relatively recent OS map, was boarded up and wire fenced off - a reminder that this British institution is under as much threat as the cuckoo. But there was another, a short walk further, and we blessed the advent of all day opening over long anticipated pints in its quiet, sun filled garden.

Before finishing out route across damp meadows, we looked in at the church of St Nicholas, its 11th century font carved with long shafted Maltese crosses. The staple that fastened its lid  reflected a 14th century edict that fonts should be locked to prevent holy water being stolen for magical purposes.


In the churchyard is the grave of a French glassmaker. Glassmaking hereabouts was brought by the Huguenots and died out in the early 17th century. They say that you can still find shards in nearby Sydney Wood, and traces of a small factory. We couldn't, but the mere thought such industry, half a millennium ago, intensified the delight of the day and reminded us, if we needed reminding, that when it comes to country walking there are few finer or more interesting countries than England.

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