Alford is a small, roadside hamlet; a handful of attractive, well cared for homes, several of which are themselves, or have features of historical interest. They nestle around a central church with a sizeable graveyard. Joining the numbers of those sadly deceased is The Crown, Alfold’s former pub.
This little cluster of chocolate box homes is easy to miss on the way to Cranleigh or, further afield, Guildford. But it’s well worth stopping by the triangular island of grass outside St Nicholas, the village church – parts of which date back to 1080. The houses lining the narrow ‘main’ road vary in age and therefore style, but each one is clearly loved, being well maintained and with their own very distinct personality.
This is a wonderful walk – passing through open countryside which affords views of the South Downs on clear days, and through ancient woodlands. In late spring, these are carpeted with blue, but beautiful at any time of the year, being traversed, as they are, by the ancient Arun and Wey canal.
The neat row of tile hung cottages that line the path to the church are marked with a plaque, confirming them as being of historical interest. The central door of these tiny abodes is marked church rooms – the congregation must be as neat as the village itself, if they can fit into the tiny door and Lilliputian church meeting room that must be squeezed in beyond it!
Alfold is admirably tidy and the well tended planting in the quirky front gardens very well behaved. Perhaps the explanation for this is shown in the final image, above: the 2 person village stocks have recently been renovated, and are classified by English Heritage as one of the oldest stocks in the country. An unusual sight – and surprising find for such a tiny hamlet; social responsibility appears to have been a long held expectation for the locals!
Alfold’s name is drawn from the old English for ‘old fold’. A fold being a safe pen for sheep – surrounded, as it still is, by huge forests and gently undulating fields, this must have been a useful central point for shepherds. It is said that Alfold attracted smugglers in Norman times, when farmers allowed their barns to be used for the storage of contraband in exchange for a bottle of brandy. Perhaps the stocks were installed in response to this illicit business diversification!
For modern day drinkers, the ‘Sir Roger Tichborne’ is a popular, nearby family run hostilery with good food, local ales, plenty of outside space & and a warm welcome.
Part of the walk follows the Sussex Border Path, which stretches 137 miles from Emsworth, Hampshire and meanders via Horsham & Crawley to Rye in East Sussex.
Part also shoulders the tranquil Wey & Arun Canal, with its many locks; the original water way for visitors & cargo travelling from London to Brighton.
Emerging from Forestry Commission land, you will pass an extraordinary, huge private house – recently built, featuring glass windowed ‘Hoff House’ style walls. But on a long thin plot – the multitude of quasi corporate of windows that make up the back of the house affording views to a disappointingly horticultural suburban looking garden.
Plain, overshadowed grass, a lonely phone box near the end perimeter, a clutch of full size cow statues half way down, and a gaggle of Japanese cloud trees, Niwaki style sited right outside the house itself. A triumph of online shopping, delivery, & installation, perhaps, over horticultural interest or relevance.
As well as modern oddities, the route passes by some traditional wooden framed homes and artful barn conversions, with much more reassuringly natural settings.
Gustav Mahler, composer“Flowers don’t worry about how they’re going to bloom.
They just open up and turn toward the light and that makes them beautiful.”
Back to the peaceful Churchyard at Alfold, where you will enjoy many interesting grave stones and tombs, as well as the beautiful church building itself. Then return past the village stocks and the tiny ‘church rooms’ to the roadside triangular green and another heritage phone box – this one, still in it’s village setting.
For the route, follow this link – pick up the walk at leg 3:
Laura Ingalls Wilder, writer“Some old-fashioned things like fresh air and sunshine are hard to beat.”