For the last 20 or so years Mel, a friend from school days, and I have completed an annual ‘pub to pub’ walking week on various long distance trails. We walked a stretch of The Thames Path last year and had hoped to continue this year but he has been in ill health so we didn’t make it. Instead to keep in touch I arranged to travel down to Woking for a weekend in Surrey, it turned out to be quite a busy few days.
First we walked a pleasant flat mile along the canal into Woking centre, rehabilitation exercise for him. This is the Basingstoke Canal which originally linked Basingstoke with the River Wey navigation and hence the Thames and London. Agriculture, coal and timber were transported from the end of the 18th until the early 20th century. Now a few pleasure boats use it but the towpath provides a pedestrian and cycle route between communities. The wildlife is reputed to be outstanding, we saw a couple of ducks. Linking the Living Planet centre, UK office for the WWF, to the town centre is the pedestrian Bedser Bridge built to commemorate the famous local cricketing twins, Surrey regulars in the 50’s. On either side of the bridge are statues of the pair, Alec bowling to Eric, but where’s the ball – lots of people were keen to point it out high on the wall of the nearby Civic Offices.
Our reason for crossing the bridge was to get to the Lightbox a gallery and museum centre. After paying our respects to H. G. Wells the author of The War of the Worlds, the Martians had landed on nearby Horsell Common, we enjoyed a coffee in their cafe. Short of time we omitted the main galleries with still life and sculptures in favour of the history of Woking. This fascinating exhibition highlighted Woking Palace, The Shah Jahan Mosque – the first purpose built mosque in the UK, Brookwood Cemetery – famous for being the London overflow cemetery during the 19th Century, Brookwood Mental Hospital, the importance of the railway to Woking, local heroes and commerce eg. Kenwood Mixers. All brilliantly laid out and explained – a worthwhile hour.
It is unusual for an arcade to be so alive. the afternoon drifted on but the evening was spoiled by a poor quality Indian Restaurant.
A sunny start next day and we were pottering on his allotment, The whole site was colourful and productive with plenty of keen gardeners doing their thing. I did some token weeding whilst Mel sprayed his heavy crop of tomatoes and as a bonus I came away with some nice fresh vegetables.
Another place where Mel could do some gentle flat walking was in Savill Gardens and that’s where, after a coffee in their extensive and crowded cafe, we found ourselves. We were almost the only ones wandering in the garden itself, don’t know where the other thousand people from the car park and cafe/shop ventured. The main event here is the spring Rhododendrons but I found plenty to enthrall me today. They have a splendid wild flower display for starters and the summer bedding was a blaze of colour. On the way were infinite colours of Hydrangea macrophyllia.
Next stop was the Air Forces Memorial, a memorial dedicated to some 20,456 men and women from air forces who were lost during WWII. Those recorded have no known grave anywhere in the world, and many were lost without trace. The name of each of these airmen and airwomen is engraved into the stone walls of the memorial, according to country and squadron. There is a complementary register with more individual details. This solemn and thought provoking site was opened in 1953 by Queen Elizabeth II and has an outstanding position above the Thames and Runnymede. Today there was scaffolding around the building and the upper terrace was blocked off but we still had views of Windsor Castle, the river Thames, a busy Heathrow and Wembley Stadium. An absorbing experience.
A late Buffet lunch was taken in the Runnymede Hotel on the river and what a buffet – everything you could think of was on offer, all first class quality – at a price. A lovely restaurant to relax in and watch the world go by on the Thames, the closest we got to walking the Thames Path this year.
It was in this vicinity that in June 1215 King John signed the Magna Carta giving political reform that has more or less survived the last 800 years. Hence a lot of tourists mingling along the riverside.
Home for a rest.