Flora Thompson Trail (Part A)

Waggoners Wells © John Owen Smith
Highland Cattle © Shazz
Ludshott Common © Ben Gamble

The trail follows in the footsteps of Flora Thompson. The walk starts at Grayshott, visiting Waggoners Wells, Bramshott and Griggs Green. The return route via Liphook, Bramshott, Ludshott Common and Superior Camp completes the figure of 8. If 10 miles in one go is too much then the figure of 8 allows the walk to be broken into two stages.

Grayshott to Griggs Green, distance approximately 5 miles/8km

Much of the outward route, starting at the Fox and Pelican in Grayshott, and ending at the Deers Hut in Griggs Green, is little changed from the time Flora herself might have walked it, and both these hostelries are ones which she would have known.

1. From the Fox and Pelican, turn right for about 50 yards to the 'Fiveways' crossroads.

To visit the site of Flora's post office, cross over and walk along the right of Crossways Road for about a hundred yards, past the present post office to the property called Pendarvis House. The original building here was demolished in 1986.

From 'Fiveways,' take the unsurfaced Hill Road, said to be named after broomsquire William 'Body' Hill who lived here in Flora's time. The garden behind the hedge on the right belongs to Apley House, built for Edgar Leuchars in 1880. He was the man who pressed for a telegraph service to be installed at Grayshott post office in 1890. At the end, turn right down Stoney Bottom.

This is the nearest of the 'escape routes' which Flora could have used when leaving the post office for a walk in the surrounding countryside.

In May 1900, a Dr Coleclough was caught and prosecuted for trying to poison the dog of James Belton, who lived down here, an incident which Flora recalls at some length in Heatherley.

2. Turn right at the bottom and proceed down the valley track, which leads towards Waggoners Wells. In a while, note the houses up on the hill to the right. One of these used to be called Mount Cottage, and in the late 1870s was a small village shop run by Henry Robinson. It was bought by Mr I'Anson (see below), and Mr Robinson moved to Crossways Road to build a shop there which became the first post office in 1887.

After passing a track which comes steeply down from the right, the land at the top of the hill on the right is the site the first house in Grayshott, built by Edward I'Anson on enclosed common land in 1862 and originally named Heather Lodge. [It later became the Cenacle convent which was demolished for a housing development in 1999.] Family tradition says that I'Anson rode on horseback from Clapham to view the plot prior to the purchase.

In those days, Grayshott was noted as a lawless area in which gangs of robbers roamed freely, and I'Anson was warned that they would never allow a stranger to settle among them. But he persevered, and he and his family not only lived peaceably, but also began exercise a 'benevolent aristocracy' over the other inhabitants of the growing village, his daughter Catherine becoming particularly active on the parish council and other local organising bodies.

Up on the opposite side of the valley, invisible among the trees, is a house now called Hunter's Moon, but originally named Kingswood Firs. It was built in 1887 by James Mowatt who was, in a way, instrumental in Flora leaving Grayshott, since it was he who pressed for a rival telegraph service to be established in Hindhead.

3. Keep to the valley path, past a pumping station and through the wooden barrier. In a while the track moves from the valley floor where this becomes overgrown and boggy, and you pass a series of small ponds before arriving at the top lake of Waggoners Wells.

Before the days of the motor car, the road which crosses the stream here was used as a route for traffic between Haslemere and Frensham.

4. Cross the ford by the footbridge and then turn left to follow the path along the right-hand bank of the lake.

Note shortly the stone dedicated to Sir Robert Hunter, a founder of The National Trust in 1895, who lived in Haslemere and was also employed by the post office, though in a somewhat more senior position than Flora, he was legal advisor at Head Office. Flora would have been aware of a well-reported battle taking place during her time in Grayshott, to protect Hindhead Common (see Walk 6). Sir Robert was involved in this, and a few years later initiated a local 'buy-out' to transfer it to the Trust. After his death, Waggoners Wells was also acquired by the Trust, and was dedicated to his memory in 1919. [Note the unusual spelling of 'Waggeners' on it, originally the ponds were called 'Wakeners Wells']

Flora says she 'did not often linger by the lakes' on her Sunday walks, but 'climbed at once by a little sandy track to the heath beyond.' To your right there are several tracks leading uphill to Ludshott Common, and perhaps she met old 'Bob Pikesley' up there or on one of the other local commons, herding his three or four cows.

Also in that direction is Grayshott Hall, site of the old Grayshott Farm rented for several months in 1867 by Alfred Tennyson and his family while building a house of their own near Haslemere (see Walk 8). It is said that he wrote his short ode Flower in the crannied wall while he was here, some thirty years before Flora trod the same paths.

5. Cross the dam of the top pond, and continue down the left-hand bank of the second pond. Here in autumn, the colour of the trees opposite reflected in the water still brings photographers to the site, as it did in Flora's time.

The ponds are not natural, having been built in the first half of the 17th century by Henry Hooke, lord of the manor of Bramshott and a local ironmaster. He already had ironworks in the neighbouring Hammer Vale (see Walk 9), and presumably wanted to add to his capacity by building another works here. But he seems not to have done so, or at least no evidence of an ironworks has ever been found, and we are left instead to enjoy these quiet pools as his legacy. Flora's husband John used to come fishing here when they lived at Liphook.

The walk may be continued down either side of the third pond, although the path on the left bank is easier. Note the small quarry in the north bank by each dam, it was from here that material was taken to build them, some 400 years ago.

At the dam to the third (and last) pond, take the right-hand side again, and follow the path passing to the left of Summerden down to the wishing well.

When Flora first saw this in 1898 she described it as 'a deep sandy basin fed by a spring of crystal clear water which gushed from the bank above' and said that it had dozens of pins at the bottom which had been dropped in it for luck, some by her. However when she returned in the 1920s, Summerden had been built and the water then 'fell in a thin trickle from a lead pipe, the sandy basin having been filled in.' People, she said, seemed to have forgotten its existence.

She might be happier today to see that it has not quite been forgotten. Although there is no longer a sandy basin, a new well now invites the passer-by to throw in a coin for the benefit of The National Trust, and, of course, to make a wish.

6. Carry on down the path, turn left to cross the stream by the footbridge, and follow the bridle path to the right and up a sunken track. (If muddy, you may wish to take the alternative but steeper route on higher ground). At the crest of the hill keep following this track down and then steeply up the other side of a valley with the fence of Downlands Estate to your right. In about half a mile, after passing an area used as a car park, the track becomes a paved road.

To your left is Bramshott Common and the site of Ontario Camp, one of several encampments built in the district by Canadian soldiers during the Second World War. The common had been used extensively by Canadians in the First World War also, and Flora mentions in one of her Peverel Papers how 'row upon row of wooden huts, churches, shops and theatres sprang up in a week or two. The whole place became a populous town.' That site is now commemorated by a double row of maple trees along the sides of the A3 Portsmouth road.

To your right is Downlands, which attracted riders such as Princess Anne to the Horse Trials held here annually from 1963 until 1982.

7. After about half a mile, turn right down another paved road (Rectory Lane) and past the main entrance to Downlands. The road soon becomes one of the typical 'sunken lanes' of the region before emerging in Bramshott village.

8. Where the paved road bears left, continue through some railings and down the sunken path ahead. Here you can imagine more easily how many of the local lanes would have looked in earlier times.

9. At the bottom, turn left onto a road. Go past the terraces of houses on the right. Note on your left the house aptly named Roundabout, wedged between the forks of the road coming down from Bramshott church. This was once the home of actor Boris Karloff. Continue along the road ahead for a few yards, then turn right at the gate to Bramshott Vale.

10. Walk up the drive and cross the southern River Wey. Shortly afterwards, go left through a kissing-gate, cut across a field and over two stiles towards an avenue of lime trees.

Don't be alarmed at this point to find yourself in the company of some very docile highland cattle. These and other animals are used in season as part of a natural heathland management scheme for local commons, cropping vegetation such as birch, gorse and grass, and allowing the heather to flourish. One feels that Flora would have approved.

11. Follow footpath signs diagonally across the avenue, through a small metal gate, across a farmyard, and straight ahead along the right-hand side of a field. Turn left at a T-junction of paths and over a stile to meet the B3004 Liphook to Bordon road.

12. Cross carefully and turn right, going along the pavement for about a hundred yards to where the road bends sharp right.

13. Follow the bridleway sign straight ahead down an unsurfaced service road.

14. After slightly more than half a mile, bear left at a grass triangle and go up the drive towards Conford Park House (see photo above), cross a bridge by a weir, and pass through some iron gates. Take the footpath to the right, immediately after the gatehouse garden, following behind the line of a hedge.

Pass through a smaller iron gate, cross a clearing in front of an old cottage and take the footpath signposted straight ahead. This soon joins a bridleway and winds generally uphill through a beech wood. It can be rather muddy in places.

15. Bear left just before a gate to an Army firing range and follow Bridleway signs across a bridge over the Liphook by-pass, and eventually down to meet a road (Longmoor Road).

The house called Woolmer Gate, to which Flora and her family moved when it was new in 1926, is just along the road to the right.

16. Cross the road and go up the drive almost opposite towards the Deers Hut pub and a small cluster of cottages, the original hamlet of Griggs Green.

In her 1925 Guide to Liphook, Flora says 'it was one of the old forest ale-houses, nor has its function altered much, for neighbours from the scattered houses upon the heath still meet there upon summer evenings to take a glass and discuss things, just as their forbears must have done for centuries.'

Tracks, once more frequently used, lead from Griggs Green southwards to Forest Mere and beyond, and upwards onto Weaver's Down. This is Flora's Peverel, 'a land of warm sands, of pine and heather and low-lying boglands.' She urges you to 'take one of the multitudinous pathways at pleasure; each one leads sooner or later to the summit from which, on a clear day, magnificent views reward the climber. Forest Mere lake lies like a mirror in the woods directly beneath; to the south is the blue ridge of the South Downs; to the north the heathery heights of Hindhead.'

At the end of this section of the guide, Flora adds enigmatically: 'It does not come within the scope of the present work to dwell upon the beauty and interest of this spot more fully; the present writer hopes to deal more fully with it in a future book.' As far as we know, that book never materialised.

This walk was first published in 'On the Trail of Flora Thompson'.

To read the return trail please click here.