Fringe Box



Guildford Rambles: Thor, War and James Bond. Seven Uncommon Commons

Published on: 12 May, 2015
Updated on: 12 May, 2015

Word and pictures by Kay Hiatt

Arriving at the Moat car park on the outskirts of Elstead on another wet Wednesday, I had no idea that we were about to walk or touch upon the largest area of heathland in the Weald: Elstead, Thursley, Ockley, Royal, Bagmoor, Hankley and Frensham commons!

A little bit of research revealed most interesting historical and wildlife information! Our walk leader, Carol, introduced the walk with a ‘fund’ of information:  Elstead, Ockley, Royal and Hankley Commons are owned by the Ministry of Defence and managed by the Surrey Wildlife Trust.

These were used for training during the Second World War, and Hankley Common has the ‘Atlantic Wall’ built by Canadian troops to rehearse for Operation Overlord, the invasion of northern France by Allied forces in 1944.

It was also used in the filming of the James Bond films The World Is Not Enough, Die Another Day and Skyfall. The Ministry of Defence is still active here and there is a military training camp in the area. You may see signs warning about the perils of playing with strange objects.

All of the commons are also part of sites of special scientific interest, special protection area and special area of conservation.

Bright yellow gorse in flower.

Bright yellow gorse in flower.

We started off walking through banks of bright yellow gorse along the very rich-yellow, wide sandy paths of Elstead common, and with the sun shining by now it was a spectacular golden panorama.

We continued along narrower paths through shady woods of birch, beech and young oak with their almost luminous bright green leaves – a storm the day before presented ramblers with carpets of young oak leaves – one of our group quoted the folklore rhyme: “Oak before ash, then we’ll only have a splash, ash before the oak, then we’ll surely have a soak,”  – so let’s hope for a dryish summer in 2015.

Greater stitchwort.

Greater stitchwort.

Several banks of small, white starry flowers called greater stitchwort presented themselves, also known as wedding cakes, star-of-Bethlehem, and daddy’s-shirt-buttons.

Bluebells flowering in the woods.

Bluebells flowering in the woods.

And of course, as it was early May, we spotted large collections of bluebells.

One of the lakes.

One of the lakes.

We then continued through parts of Thursley Common and were presented with lovely views of large lakes, Scots pine forests – and lots of muddy ditches and patches of bog land.

One of the bogs on the common.

One of the bogs on the common.

Thursley shares a Saxon and Norse heritage, celebrated on the village sign with a depiction of the pagan god Thor, and the ancient name for the hamlet, Thor’s Lee, either side of him. According to Norse mythology, Thor fought many fierce battles!

It was too early for us to spot any of the 26 species of dragonflies found on this common, or to spot the rare sand lizards, butterflies and birds such as the Dartford warbler, but we did see and hear an ‘alarming’ female stonechat making characteristic ‘stone clacking’ noises (probably had a nest close by), brief snatches of a woodlark perched on the electric power lines; we disturbed a kestrel which flew out from a tree close to the path we walked past, and heard lots of very ‘shouty’ goldcrests in several places all along the walk.

Somewhere near the middle of the common in a large wood, Carol pointed out the famous Upper Hammer Pond’ or at least the boggy remains of it. The collapse of the spillway at the upper Hammer Pond due to torrential rain and flooding last winter had resulted in the sudden draining of the pond. This pond and others worked the iron forges and furnaces a long time ago – and Carol showed us some pieces of ironstone that littered our path nearby.

We continued our walk by skirting or walking through parts of the other commons, and spotted several bogs that were cordoned off, presumably to protect species like the rare sundew, bog asphodel and marsh orchid. Then back to the Moat car park and off to the Woolsack pub for a delicious lunch.

Anyone in Guildford interested in joining the Guildford Ramblers should visit their website at

Kay Hiatt is the publicity officer for the Guildford Ramblers

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