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Nightjars and Bluebells - a Surrey Walk


On the North Downs Way


Nightjars come to Hurtwood in spring. They should be there between April and mid-May. You can hear their strange churring call at dusk – and maybe spot them in ghostly flight. We were almost late enough to lie quietly in wait for them – not by design – for we had miscalculated the time it would take to complete a walk and made our way back to the car park much later than expected. We had, however, heard our first cuckoo. Hurtwood is an area of forest and heath in Surrey so criss-crossed with paths that you’re more likely than not to get lost. It lies south of the A25 between Guildford and Dorking. Reginald Bray, (no relative of mine) lord of the manor of Shere granted the public the right to roam there more than 90 ago. Hurt is a name for the bilberry that grow in profusion there. Red deer also browse among the trees. Spring is a delightful time to go hiking in the English countryside. Beech trees were in vivid light green leaf, in the woods were great armies of English bluebells, arrayed as if to repel the Spanish invader, crab apple was in pink and white blossom. Primroses covered a grassy bank. Dark violets were in bloom. We left the car a short drive from the village Shere and struck out to the north. St, Martha’s Church, on the North Downs Way, came into distant view. Martha was believed to be a corruption of Martyr, said one of my walking companions. The martyr concerned was said to be Thomas Becket. We ate a picnic lunch by the Victorian parish church in Albury, a village mostly built in the early 19th century to house locals evicted from the Albury Park Estate. Henry Drummond, who had bought the estate, employed the architect August Pugin, who assisted with the design of the Houses of Parliament, and who was obsessed with decorative chimneys. We could see some of them, brick zig zag patterned, from where we sat. There were riots here against he Corn Laws in 1830, the mill was burned down and a 19 year old man was hanged for arson. We drank Adnams and Doom Bar bitter at the Drummond Arms, in the garden by the swift running Tillingbourne and set out on what turned out to be a long and weary trek back to the car.

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