The Surrey heath country is a world away from the jumbled suburb and urban sprawl for the rest of the north of the county. It is affected by it of course: the prettier an area the more incomers it will attract getting away from the heaving sprawl, and the railway craves through too, with townscape clinging to it like barnacles. There is a way to explore all these aspects, so as an addition to WildþingUK‘s Downing Street walks series is a walk from Chobham to Downing Street.
The walk is a two-day walk. There may be denizens of the district who would do it in one, but that tells you more about who dwells hereabouts than of the walk: this is army country. Chobham is world-famous for the tank armour developed here, and close by and using the heaths all around are the Bisley ranges, the Deepcut Barracks and just to the north is Sandhurst.
Chobham sits amidst the heathland. It does not have a station, so the map adds a section from the station at Camberley.
The route from Camberley Station cuts through the town then east across the heath. The footpath runs between live firing ranges, so for anyone contemplating going from the Surrey heath to Downing Street – try not to get shot.
From the church at Chobham, the path tracks east away from the heathland through farms, with a little road walking, to Horsell Common, a place of furze, bracken and woodland, then south to meet a canal, the River Wey Navigation. From there, the route runs along the canal towpath all the way to Weybridge and the River Thames.
At the Thames, join the Thames Path, all along the Surrey bank as far as Hampton Court, and at this Tudor seat of power, cross the river into Middlesex.
Hampton Court Palace was built by the King’s first minister, Wolsey, and is a monument to the abuse of power that ultimately led to his fall. Wolsey cheated the headsman’s axe by a convenient fatal illness, but the shadow of that axe hangs over all seekers of highest political office.
Passing by the gates of the palace, adorned with lions, armour and fasces (it used to be a respectable symbol of authority), enter Bushy Park and cross beneath the shadow of Diana the Huntress to emerge at Hampton Wick and the bridge back in to Surrey, at Kingston, where seven kings were crowned.
It is a short crossing of the town (onto Acre Road, north-eastwards, Kings Road and Queens Road) and into Richmond Park, playground of kings and of Londoners. Such a precious green lung this is, surviving the avaricious eye of the developer under the wing of the Queen herself, and so it remains as it should be, and not so full of people that you cannot conceal yourself behind a tree and be lost in your own thoughts. Deer roam free in the park, blithely uncaring of the rushing world about them; great red deer of the sort whose cousins stand majestic over the glens of Aberdeenshire, and it is a picture of freedom, but frustration that we can never run with the deer. Beware in rutting season though.
I have plotted a route across the park – plotting is important if you wish to get to Downing Street – and you should emerge at another footpath leading you to Barnes Common. You are walking it should be said, in great footsteps: Robert Walpole himself, the first Prime Minister, walked from Richmond Palace to Putney on his way to Downing Street, as we shall see, and you may be following in his very footsteps.
Across Barnes Common and the playing fields, and you arrive at the bank of the Thames again, then walk down to Putney Bridge. Another route would have been further north, across Hammersmith Bridge, which is what I recommended if another were plotting their way from Uxbridge to Downing Street, but we have another approach this time. When Walpole arrived here from Richmond he was unable to rouse a ferryman to carry him across the river, so he had bridge built – I like to think it was out of spite rather than the public good. Like Walpole we will not cross here but carry on along the Surrey bank of the river.
The riverbank can be followed (with minor diversions) all the way to Rotherhithe, at the end of Surrey. Let us take it to Chelsea Bridge, then vaulting ambition takes us one last time across the river. Along the riverside past Pimlico (where there are no passport checks, whatever the film said), and up to Westminster itself, looking out at Lambeth Palace across the water, and soon we are at the Palace of Westminster.
Around Parliament Square are ranged the church, in the form of Westminster Abbey, Parliament, the Supreme Court (in the old Middlesex Guildhall) and Whitehall. Up Whitehall then and you are at last at the gates of Downing Street.
How you get into Downing Street – well, that is for you to puzzle out.
- Ordnance Survey Explorer 145: Guildford and Farnham; and
- Ordnance Survey Explorer 161: London South;
- Ordnance Survey Landranger 186: Aldershot & Guildford
- Ordnance Survey Landranger 176: West London