Godalming is a well-set, little Surrey town, in the south-west of the county, on the River Wey south of the county town, Guildford. It was once a place of great wealth, drawn from the hills where flocks grazed, and the woolsacks portrayed on the town’s shield testify to that. If the little town is in any manner forgotten today, it is all the better for escaping the avaricious attention of men with bulldozers and concrete-pourers. Our destination in contrast is Downing Street, which is certainly not forgotten, even is many of us wish it were.
The distance on our route is 42 miles, so it should take about 2 to 3 days. It passes substantially through just one county, Surrey, and into the edge of Middlesex as the goal is approached. The way is long but with few challenges: it follows a river which cuts through the hills. This is one of a growing series of “Downing Street Walks” on WildþingUK.
The walk is entirely by the water, which is not to accuse anyone going this way of being wet – far from it. It is simply that the River Wey, which is one of Surrey’s great blessings, provides a route through all the busy clamour of this county to its northern edge, at the Thames, and the immemorial path of the Thames leads the way to the heart of power.
The scenery on this first stretch is in places something which still fills my dreams. Do not miss Shalford and its mill across the river and an ancient chapel by the old crossing on the Pilgrims' Way (a modern inventition, by the way, not a mediaeval path, whatever the guidebooks pretend) . Soon though you will reach the first town heading north is Surrey’s county town, Guildford, and the in the town centre you can see the remarkable geography of the place: Guildford is built at a gap in a high ridge of the North Downs where the River Wey breaks through, and the modern town climbs the hills either side, steeply. Our course though is along the river. The cathedral stands on a hill to the west.
Then the river and its canal (which separates for a time north of the town) brings you to Old Woking, Send, past the romantic ruin of Newark Abbey – the shattered ruination of a project once held in religious devotion, then discarded as worthless or worse. Then on until the river is closed in on both sides by Byfleet. Soon the river emerges untidily at the Thames in Weybridge.
From Weybridge we follow the Thames Path along the Surrey bank of the river as far as Hampton Court. At this point we can cut a loop of the river off: cross into Middlesex, find Bushy Park, and cut through the park to Hampton Wick. Here, cross back into Surrey, in Kingston-upon-Thames, where seven kings were crowned and the throne is still to be seen. Cut through Kingston (Acre Road, Kings Road, Queens Road) to Richmond Park.
I can never have enough praise for Richmond Park, a huge green lung amidst so much brick and concrete, protected under the shade of the Crown. Anyway, a diagonal route through this park should bring you to Barnes Common, and thence to the river again having cut out another great loop.
Downstream a short while is Putney Bridge, built as we know by Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister and a resident of Downing Street, using his political power to spite a ferryman who had refused to row him across the Thames here. (Walpole frequently walked here from Hampton Court Palace, so you have been following in the very steps of the first Prime Minister.)
Having crossed Putney Bridge, you are in Middlesex. The Thames Path (with a couple of diversions from the riverside) will bring you to Parliament Square and Whitehall. Then step up Whitehall and you are facing the gates of Downing Street. I will leave to your own ingenuity how you get into Downing Street.
- Ordnance Survey Explorer (1:25 000) series:
- Ordnance Survey Landranger (1:50 000) series:
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