Walking to Wintershall.
Walking to Wintershall.
We walked to Wintershall on 23rd August 2017. Exactly two years since we lost Diddley. It is one of those places that we can talk about, but none of those involved over the years are here to talk about it now. The memories are Bobby’s alone.
The National Garden Scheme (NGS). To many the “Yellow Book”. 100s of gardens open all over England. Wintershall has opened its estate to the public for one day a year for a very long time. Here are the details for last 14th May.
But first we must go back a long time, to when Bobby was still at school. He and his girlfriend loved walking in the Surrey Hills. A shared love of the countryside led later to marriage and many more walks. Living in Cheam and later Carshalton, a green rover ticket and 470 bus took them to the Surrey Hills. The day ending at the fish and chip shop in Dorking and the 470 home. Moving to live in Dorking was inevitable. In 1972 they did just that and carried on walking without the 470. Two books then changed everything. Here they are:
A whole new world opened out before them. The first book went miles in pockets, rucksacks. No cover now. Mud stained pages. It is still treasured. But the second book led them back to this estate.
In the meantime, the couple had developed a love of garden open days from the NGS Yellow Book. One such garden was Wintershall. An enclosed garden surrounded by a beautiful hilly estate. A number of lakes, at the foot of which a chapel had been built, consecrated by the Bishop of Guildford. Dedicated to St Francis. A pietà in the lake. Bobby never forgot that peaceful little building. Built for a daughter to be married in. The gardens still open for the NGS. See this year’s details at the start of this story.
Come 1979, the first walk in the second book took them back. From Shamley Green to Hascombe via Wintershall. A really lovely walk. Beautiful countryside. Disused railway lines and canal. A pub. And the chapel by the lake. In the years that followed, they did that walk many times. Sometimes with friends. More often just the two of them. Quite often to the Chapel to sign the visitor book.
But then, as so often happens, they went their separate ways. Bobby carried on walking, soon discovering that he much preferred walking on his own, listening to the birds; the wind in his hair; the soft rain on his face; no distractions; walking mindfulness. But never revisiting this walk.
And then he met Diddley. “Will you marry me” Came soon after. Now, Diddley being different had a great idea. “Lets marry on 19/9/99”. All the 9s. But others were not cooperating. Bobby was still married. “I know. Marry me at Wintershall”. And so that’s what happened. They walked the walk from Shamley Green and married themselves.
It’s now 23 August 2017. The second anniversary of her demise. We are at Shamley Green.
“Afoot in Surrey” in hand, we set off down that familiar walk. But soon the old saying of not going back was evident. Twenty eight years is a long time for a guide book . Ten too since we last walked it. Paths disappeared. Stiles had rotted away. Stinging nettles had won.
Fighting our way through, scratched and stung, but determined we crossed the old Cranleigh to Guildford Railway. Now the Downs Link cycle way.
To Lea Farm (see the map). Now known as the Oast House. Joining the Greensand Way National Trail at Gate Street Farm, we entered the Wintershall estate.
Still just the same. The big house. The owners just walking down the drive. Bobby, with me poking out of his rucksack. “Are you the man with the teddy bear who wrote to us?” (Bobby would love to see the visitors book for 19/9/99 if it still exists.) “I’ll make sure you get an answer to your email. The chapel is always open. It’s a lovely story”. Passed the two lakes downhill and there was the chapel. Just as it had been 18 years before and 20 years before that. The sun shone on the lake and the pietà (statue).
Inside, Bobby had forgotten the matches. So it’s a virtual candle. Lots of them. I could see him thinking…
“Will you, Diddley, marry me, Bobby?”
“Will you, Bobby, marry me, Diddley?”
“We declare ourselves man and wife!”
Sign the visitor book.
If you would like to know more about this pietà, here is the obituary of the sculptor:
In 2017, we sat by the lake and contemplated peace and the passage of time. A gardener had been patiently waiting to catch our eye and asked if we minded him quickly tidying up the little garden.
Would you like to see the newer chapel on top of the hill? I’ll give you a lift” said Alan.
Up there, we sat in another much larger chapel. The estate is now a famous setting for religious plays. “Stations of the Cross” are dotted around the hillside. Go to www.wintershall-estate.com for more information.
The Estate is only half way on that walk and not even that if you carry on over Hascombe Hill to the White Horse pub.
Back in 1999 we did just that to celebrate. In 2017, it was clear that the way back from the pub to Shamley Green was far from assured. An extra hour in the pub would have been approved of by Diddley. As would the bus back to Cranleigh R. “What’s the R stand for.”
“Request only. Otherwise I turn back here.”
It was a relief to get back unscathed, satisfied in the knowledge that “Afoot in Surrey” and that special walk to Wintershall is now consigned to memories of years gone by.
Apart, that is, from the fish and chip restaurant shop in Dorking that is not only still there, but has a special relationship with Bobby where the dinner turns up by telepathy.
ps… When we get that answer to the email from Wintershall, you will be the first to know.
Lighting a Candle to Diddley.
They were all virtual candles, for the want of a box of matches. It was a very emotional occasion for us sitting in that little chapel. We will go back, but maybe full circle in 2018 when the garden is
open once again for the NGS.