Posts Tagged ‘Surrey’

I went to Woking recently. It’s not far by car and I’d read that there was a Henry Moore exhibition showing there. Now, Woking isn’t a place one immediately associates with culture – it has a mediocre shopping mall, expensive parking and a horribly stressful one-way system currently exacerbated  by complicated roadworks. There is, however, a decent theatre and cinema complex but you have to wade through a phalanx of overly large folk eating their way through super-sized meals in a ‘food court’ full of fast food outlets. It always strikes me as odd that these bulky types, noshing their way through zillions of calories, tend to favour sports clothing: tracksuits, leggings and t-shirts that must surely contain a Lycra percentage, so tight are they stretched across their ample stomachs. Why is that? I’m fairly certain that the sportswear isn’t fulfilling its intended function.

Sorry, I’m straying off topic.

I was headed for the Lightbox. This is Woking’s arts venue and it occurred to me that I’d been there once before, years ago, when I took Son (aged about twelve) to an exhibition about Surrey during WW2. Why I haven’t been back since is a mystery…the place is a light and lively proactive three story area stuffed full of ever changing exhibitions and workshops for school parties with a very acceptable looking cafe area in the foyer where any suggestion of chips with Lycra is thankfully absent.


I was amazed that entry to the Henry Moore cost me just £3 – which also allows me entry into any exhibitions at the Lightbox FOR A WHOLE YEAR. While I couldn’t believe this my gob was even more smacked when the young lady behind the till mentioned apologetically that if I lost the entry card she had just given me, I’d have to pay £5 to replace it. This must be the best value exhibition centre IN THE WORLD.

The Henry Moore show ‘Sculpting from Nature’ concentrated on inspiration he drew from his surroundings– studies of shells, feathers and bones. The collection included drawings, maquettes, studio materials and working models plus three or four of his monumental sculptures, all loaned by the Henry Moore Foundation.


From a very young age, Henry Moore was an avid collector of natural things and at the Lightbox show there is a central cabinet filled with some of his precious finds. It’s easy to spot how these organic shapes – from driftwood and shells to shards of flint – were transformed into his iconic work that is so distinguishable today.


An informative archive black and white film, playing on a loop looks into the work of one of Britain’s most famous contemporary sculptors and there are shots of Henry walking around his garden at Perry Green – a place I visited several years ago with WF1 and which I think now requires a return.

But my tour of Woking’s Lightbox was far from over, for on the third floor was another fascinating exhibition. The Ingram Collection of Modern British Art was commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of the artist John Minton (a new name to me) who was inspired by the British Neo-Romanticism movement of which John Piper and Graham Sutherland were major figureheads. Alongside Minton’s works were those of his contemporaries, John Craxton, Julian Trevelyan and Alan Reynolds, none of which I was familiar. I love discovering new things.

img_2172 Two Fishermen, 1949 by John Minton (1917-1957)
img_2167 Thames Houseboats, The Weir 1963, by Julian Trevelyan (1910-1988)
img_2162 I am With Child, 2008, by John Craxton (1922-2009)

According to Art Fund’s director, Stephen Deuchar, Chris Ingram is one of the most active and thoughtful collectors of modern British art today. Well, I’ll agree with that – I had a bonus hour wandering around a virtually empty gallery, enjoying the work of many painters I’d never heard of. Thanks to Chris Ingram, I say.

And thank you, Lightbox. As I left, I snapped this statue outside the main entrance. It shows author HG Wells, who moved to Woking in 1895 and wrote his most famous novel ‘War of the Worlds’ while living in a house on Maybury Road.


On the journey home I cogitated over other famous Woking residents and it came to me that the Modfather, Paul Weller, hails from here. If you’re in the dark as to who I’m talking about – remember The Jam from the early eighties? Remember one of their hit singles,  Town Called Malice? Paul Weller wrote that song about Woking, his childhood home.

Just how diverse can one town be?


Henry Moore Sculpting from Nature runs until 7 May

Ingram Collection runs until 26 March

Lightbox, Woking.




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My week started off badly when, on Monday, I ‘mislaid’ my credit card. In a state of abject panic I phoned the provider and cancelled it straight away only to find the wretched thing a day later. So while I wait for the replacement to arrive I’m without funds. It’s half term – I’ve got a week off – what to do?

Be a tourist in my own town, that’s what. Come and join me for a wander around as I take notice of places we normally rush past.

Guildford is my home town and it just happens to be the county town of Surrey. With a plethora of high street and individual shops, cafés and bars it is usually the ideal place for a spot of retail therapy but there’s more, much more here than just shopping.


From the car park I favour near the Castle, let’s take this path through the churchyard of the Holy Trinity Church. I love this little square of houses. Through the trees you can just see one of Guildford’s many old pubs – The Royal Oak. The path brings us out at the top of Guildford High Street which is a good place to start. We’ll work our way down the cobbled street towards the river Wey.

First though, I want to show you the Royal Grammar School in the Upper High Street. Dating back to 1509, when one Robert Beckingham, a wealthy local grocer left provision in his will to provide a free school in the town of Guildford, the RGS is now a selective independent (fee paying) school for boys.


There has been a school on this site since the 1600’s, its status and fortunes changing over the centuries. During the 19th century this beautiful building fell into disrepair whereupon a local committee was established and raised funds to rescue it. In 1962 a fire swept through the building causing widespread damage which took over two years to restore. During this time lessons were continued in the newly built extension, on the site of old Allen House situated behind me on the Upper High Street.

Several years ago now, having applied for a place at RGS, the eleven year old son of a friend of mine was duly called for interview. When asked what luxury item he would take with him to a desert island he replied that he’d like a solar powered games console. He didn’t get in which I always thought was rather short sighted. They obviously thought they were dealing with a lazy little toad and not one of life’s natural problem solvers.

From the grammar school we’ll retrace our steps back to the Holy Trinity Church and gaze from its steps at the building across the cobbled High Street.


The Hospital of the Blessed Trinity or Abbot’s Hospital as it is better known today was founded in 1619 by George Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury. It was never intended as a hospital as such, but as a place of shelter for needy folk in the town. A Jacobean Grade 1  listed building, Abbot’s Hospital continues to provide homes for local elderly people who are able to live independently within a supported environment.


The twenty flats are situated overlooking this courtyard – a stone’s throw from the lively centre of town. There is a waiting list for those over sixties who can prove they are of limited means.

Continuing our stroll westwards down the High Street, we pass Guildford House Gallery.


This is now home to the local tourist board where you can pick up lots of brightly coloured leaflets which, if you’re anything like me, get left in the car and forgotten about. However, if you carry on through past the information desk, there is a basement café, a gift shop selling jewellery and ceramics as well as the best range of unusual greetings cards in town while upstairs there is usually an exhibition (either art or local crafts) to have a browse around.


The High Street is linked to parallel North Street by a series of narrow pathways, like this one. North Street houses Guildford’s public library, more shops and is also the site of the 1974 Guildford pub bombings.


 The name of this particular alleyway has elicited many a schoolboy snigger over the years.

Here’s a view down the High Street, looking towards the Surrey hills. The old clock, projecting out over the road is 17th century and is fixed to the front of the Guildhall.


The Guildhall is Elizabethan but stands on a site thought to date back to the 1300’s. Used as a court of law it was where the Mayor would regulate the borough’s commerce. In honour of a visit by Elizabeth I, a stained glass window bearing her coat of arms was inserted above the judge’s bench.


Both the courtroom and council chamber are open to the public and available to hire for meetings and receptions.


Well, the clock says it’s time for coffee, so I’m heading down to the Angel Hotel. This old building also dates back to the 1300’s: the stone vaulted under croft and part of a spiral staircase can still be seen today. It’s thought that there were originally two buildings which were amalgamated in the 15th century. Apparently it has always been some sort of hostelry – the Posting House was added in the 19th century to indicate that fresh horses were available for hire.


The restaurant is on the first floor but I’m slipping down through Angel Gate under the archway to Bill’s coffee shop in the courtyard. I’ll sit here a while with an Americano and try to make sense of my scribbled notes. Let’s take a break here – call this Part One. Once I’m caffeined up we can commence Part Two where we’ll have a look at the oldest building yet as well as one of the newest. See you soon.

* From Disobedience by A A Milne

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One of my preferred places to walk is down by our local river – the Wey. The section nearest to us is navigable and provides a scenic route along its tow path. Access is easy, as there are plenty of places to leave a car – the only downside to this is you have to retrace your steps. (Much better, if possible, to be dropped off, hike along for a couple of miles and then meet up at a pub nearby).

 However, with my new brisk walking regime in place, and mindful of the rainfall and potential flooding in our area, I set off during one of the intermittent bright days we are experiencing at present to check out one of our regular stretches, around three miles from home.

The River Wey is in there somewhere

The River Wey is in there somewhere

The river had disappeared and in its place, a lake. The road to the bridges was closed and diversions in place. I abandoned my car in a high spot down one of the adjacent lanes and walked waded as far as I could before the water became too high for my wellies.



Nothing for it but to turn back and be thankful that our house is situated far enough away from the river for it not to be a problem. Over two thousand homes in Britain are flooded at the moment and that figure is set to rise over the next few days as the Thames reaches dangerous levels through Berkshire and Surrey.

To illustrate  why  the Wey is one of my favourite rambles, here are some snaps of past river walks, taken at various times during spring and summer – and you’ll see why this stretch is reckoned to be one of the most picturesque navigable rivers in England.

Stoke Lock - the earliest Lock in Surrey - built in 1653

Stoke Lock – the earliest Lock in Surrey – built in 1653

Barge boats are a colourful addition - some are homes, some are for holiday lets

Barge boats are a colourful addition – some are homes, some are for holiday lets

Part of the tow path near Guildford

Part of the tow path near Guildford

Bower's Lock

Bower’s Lock

The path running by Bower's Mill, now a private residence. See - we do have sunshine...

The path running by Bower’s Mill, now a private residence. See – we do have sunshine…

So, having picked the worst possible time to start my brisk walking regime given that we’ve just had the wettest January since records began, I must be content with the heath land that is just five minutes’ walk from my front door. I’ve been out almost every afternoon after work, only missing once or twice due to severe down pours and gales of up to seventy mph.

The nearest part of the heath is on top of a hill and consists mainly of sand, so once through the woodland where the water run-off is accumulating, it’s fairly dry.


Brisk walking in wellies is not easy or comfortable but I reckon they are causing me to have twice the exercise as I huff and puff up the hill in them. I’m looking forward to doing the same walk in a pair of comfortable shoes.

My trusty fleece lined wellingtons

My trusty fleece lined wellingtons

Our water-logged woodland

Our water-logged woodland

It’s peaceful up here in the afternoon after a day of noisy classrooms. The only folk I see are those carrying an empty lead and a few plastic bags; occasionally their dogs bound up to say hello. Once at the top, there is a view point of sorts, where on a clear day you can see the Surrey Hills and Hog’s Back in the distance.

Views north, towards the Hog's Back

Views north, towards the Hog’s Back

The heathland is a bit sparse of vegetation at this time of the year, amplified by the National Trust’s on going woodland management programme which involves huge swathes of our common land having old trees chopped down to make way for new shoots.

Growing in abundance on the common - do you know what it is?

Growing in abundance on the common – do you know what it is?

Prickly gorse seems to survive untouched – I’d never bothered to consider it closely before, but its little yellow blooms are actually quite intricate and  cheerfully punctuate my daily circuit.

So that’s a glimpse of my immediate countryside. You can read more about the Wey Valley and its history here.

Next time I’ll take you on a tour of the local town …

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Sitting outside a cafe the other day, enjoying the sunshine, my husband and I watched a chap attempting to parallel park his rather smart car. He made a total hash of it, managing to scrape both wheels along the kerb in the process. He leapt from his vehicle in a state of abject panic, crawled along the pavement, handkerchief in hand and frantically rubbed at the scuffs now apparent on his now not so gleaming alloys. Husband, who also drives a rather smart car, smirked and proceeded to tell me that on meeting a colleague in their office car park recently, the colleague remarked, on noticing husband’s scratched wheel trims:

“I see your wife has been driving the car, then.”

My response to this was not one of outrage, as you may expect. I calmly asked if he had put his colleague straight on this minor detail. Husband shrugged nonchalantly and continued smirking because he knows that I know that he concedes that I am a much better parallel parker than he is. He just won’t admit it. And if it helps him to save face with his co-worker, then who am I to care? – I’m never likely to meet the idiot. The fact that my parallel parking skills were honed because of the demolition of a low ornamental wall while parking nose-in-first during my early driving days is neither here nor there: we all have our flaws.

Husband also knows that I will get him back for this in some shape or form eventually: it’s part of our ongoing battle of wits – the trick is not to get reeled in.

Nevertheless, this got me wondering if I have ever been truly outraged by anything, and of course the answer is yes. Frequently, as it happens, but there is one episode which for some reason, sticks in my head. I’m not usually one to bear a grudge, especially one that lasts for over twenty years but I think you might agree that this one takes the biscuit. Picture if you will, the following scenario:

I was on maternity leave from the way I then earned my living with my louder-than-any one-else’s-wailing-infant in tow.  Son and I had been invited to one of those new mother-baby coffee mornings where you all sit round discussing horrendous birth details, comparing your off-spring’s developmental rate and competing over how much you paid for the Osh Kosh dungarees you squeezed your child into that morning. (Well, we do live in Surrey).

I was taken aback when asked by an immaculately turned out new mother (no sick stains anywhere in sight, brushed hair, clothes that matched – that sort of thing), what my husband did for a living.

I don’t think my out has ever been more raged. In that moment I understood what had compelled Jane Austen to write all those dreary books.

I had never met this woman before and after her opening gambit I rather hoped I’d never meet her again. Annoyingly, due to a severe lack of sleep (which carried on for at least five years), I was unable to come up instantly with a suitably crushing reply, mumbled something about him being in building, and left it at that. Unfortunately for me he works in an area of building where to know one end of a screwdriver from another isn’t a requirement; neither is the ability to put up a set of shelves unless accompanied by a lot of unnecessary swearing and several trips to the DIY store. (With reference to my first paragraph, I think that’s one-all).

However, there is a sequel to that ghastly coffee morning. I did meet four other Mums with whom I hit an instant rapport and who, like me, vowed to never attend another morning like the one we had just suffered. We set up our own independent, exclusive group and met up regularly while our boys and one girl were small, planning outings to the park, picnics in our gardens, celebrating the birthdays as they rolled by. Our infants, now in their early twenties, have all gone their separate and very different ways but still meet up once or twice a year to catch up with each other.  And as for their mothers – well, we all met up recently, as we have done for years – and do you know what? I still only have a vague idea about what any of their husbands do for a living.

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We went en famille to see Skyfall last weekend. (What a culturally diverse life she leads, I hear you cry).  I don’t usually join the other two for a Bond film but this was different.  From the beginning of this year, odd things were happening on our local common land, an area we often walk and know pretty well. Juggernauts, Portacabins and marquees moved in along with set builders, a tower crane and security. Over the space of a few weeks, our stamping ground was transformed into the latest James Bond movie set. The chapel, the mansion and barn were created with the most intricate attention to detail. I was able to get up close to the “stone” wall surrounding the chapel to discover it had been constructed from plastic blocks, overlain with painted sand to mimic lichen. It was fascinating and rather than spoil the magic of the film for me, knowing how all this had been achieved enhanced the experience. In another life, I’m going to be a set designer.

     Over the weeks we became obsessed, dashing up to the common at every opportunity to watch the progress and hope for a glimpse of the action. We were not disappointed. One Saturday we were able to watch the rehearsal of the helicopter flying in.  We also spied the Aston Martin DB5.  The security guys were really helpful as long as we were not filming with mega long lenses, as in the case of one over enthusiastic fan, who was escorted away pronto when he set up his camera, proportions of which the paparazzi would be proud.

     We did take a few pictures but promised we wouldn’t do anything with them until the film was out. So here they are, to prove that Skyfall is actually in Surrey, not Scotland.  And just for the record, I did enjoy the film.

The timber frame goes up


The Chapel

Had to have the car – excuse the poor quality!

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