So post uni, like so many recently graduated 20-somethings, I have made the move back to my childhood home to live, once again, with my parents and my cats. I grew up in Surrey and have had countless hysterical adventures here with numerous hilarious people. This post is about a favourite 'adventure' of mine. A favourite because it feels like one of Guildford’s best kept secrets and is beautiful any time of year.
But let’s start at the beginning.
Despite being named ‘Uk’s Tourist Destination of the Year’ in 2014 (?!?! Baffling), it is fairly likely that many of you may not have heard much about Guildford other than as a stop on the train between London and Portsmouth or Gatwick Airport. I actually had to google search to see if Guildford has its own football team (turns out they do. Guildford City FC play in the Combined Counties League, Premier Division) and though you might have heard of the University of Surrey, you might not have known that Guildford is its home. However, Guildford has quietly got a lot going for it and is a perfect escape from the city should you be looking for one.
Only 27 miles from London (which is like, half an hour on the train), Guildford has been established as a town since Saxon times and its castle (YES! Guildford has a castle) was built by William the Conquerer and had Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry III as two of its more famous guests. Other famous Guildford dwellers include Lewis Carol (who moved his family here in 1868) and PG Wodehouse (who was born here in 1881).
It has a wide, cobbled High Street, sloping steeply down to the River Wey and this, along with its quaint side streets and medieval buildings (e.g. Abbot’s Hospital and The Guildhall) make Guildford a picturesque spot in the North Down - Just maybe don’t come on a Monday evening… Or do. It’s Student Night in town, or ‘MNG’ (Monday Night Guildford) so expect towering heels, rowdy football chants and expensive drinks. Popular haunts are the Weatherspoons (admitedly the most ‘happening’ spoons I have ever been to, with two storeys and a dance floor), Pop World and Casino. Good luck.
One of my favourite sights in Guildford, however, is just a mile south from the centre of town and you can spot it from your car window on journeys into town along the Old Portsmouth Road (the A3100). Look up and to the right and on the top of the sandstone hill, just visible through the trees, you'll see the Chapel of St. Catherine, a romantic, roofless ruin with crumbling sandstone walls and evocative gaping windows.
The Hill, known as St. Catherine's Hill (and also sometimes Drake Hill) rises to 217 ft (over 65m) and looks over the River Wey to the East. First mentioned during Henry III's reign, a chapel has existed on this spot since 1229. However, the current chapel replaced an earlier one in 1317. It was constructed as a chapel of ease, providing a more conveniently accessible place of worship for those within the Parish of St. Nicholas.
Funnily enough, once the chapel fell into disrepair it was further 'enhanced' (slash ruined) in 1793 by Robert Austen of Shalford. He could see the chapel from Shalford House and Park and decided to add some extra romantic 'details' to make it look like a more fairytale-esque landscape feature. Take a look at the North Door and above window. You might notice that they don't quite fit with the style of the rest of the building. They're some of these later additions which made the chapel a more 'attractive' ruined monument.
Grab some friends, grab some beers and don't forget your wellies (it gets a little puddly down by the riverside) and head on up to St. Catherine's chapel. You are guaranteed beautiful views of Guildford, all the way to the Castle and right over to St. Martha's Hill. Head over at dusk for beautiful sunsets, or go in the daytime and bring a picnic.
THE ROUTE I LIKE TO TAKE
Head out of the Centre of Guildford and head South, down the Old Portsmouth Road, to Ye Olde Ship Inn. Stop for an optional beer here and then continue south for a minute or two until you reach Ferry Lane. There you will see the footpath heading up to St Catherine's Hill.
Follow the footpath et VOILA. La MONUMENT. Enjoy the spot. Take the photos. Feel like you're in another place entirely.
Then, once you've had your fill, stumble down the (admittedly rather steep) sandbank onto the footpath which goes along the riverside. BE CAREFUL GUYS. Please don't hold me accountable if anyone falls into the river or slips down the slope or ruins their brand new white Nike Airs.
Side note: the colour of the golden sand here at the ford in the River Wey is supposedly how Guildford got its name. Apparently Guilde-Forde (or something sounding like that) means Golden Ford in Saxon??
Follow the footpath to the left, with the river flowing on your right. Enjoy the views of Shalford Park and keep an eye out for wildlife (I saw an enormous frog last time I was there). Keep going until you make it to the Weyside, another pub, and grab a (this time less optional) beer on the terrace overlooking the River. Toast to another cultural adventure complete.
The Deets (Actually only one 'deet')
St. Catherine's Chapel,
St. Catherine's Hill,