A brief history of the Surrey Group*

Even as the LDWA was being formed, a number of challenge walks like the Tanners Marathon, were already taking place in Surrey. The first two LDWA walks – across Surrey - were both in the County. Interestingly, at the first official get-together of LDWA members in January 1973 at Tanners Hatch YH, most members present felt that though local Groups might be worthwhile in other areas of Britain, there was no need for them in the Southeast as there were already many YHA and other local groups in existence! 

Later, however, members changed their minds & at a meeting on 12 March 1974, a Surrey Group was formed, but then called the “West Surrey” Group. Keith Chesterton became the first (provisional) secretary & the first program of walks agreed – 4 in 2 months. The first walk was an 18 mile ramble in the Surrey hills led by Arthur Radley. Only 8 people took part but they emptied 4 pots of tea at Arthur’s home at the end of the walk! By December, the “West” had been dropped as had “provisional” for the secretary. Some of the earlier “Social” walks were distinctly long with two 50 mile+ route checking walks for sections of the London Countryway & a 60 mile walkout of the Surrey Summits.

New events were started – the first Surrey Inns Kanter in 1975, & in 1976 both the Winter Tanners as a group walk-out & the Surrey Summits. Also Alan Blatchford who organized the Punchbowl Marathon & the Guildford Boundary Walk, for the Guildford & Godalming Athletic Club moved them to the LDWA from 1976 & 1977 respectively. They also moved to becoming annual instead of biennial events. The Group normally had at least 1 other Kanter a year in different locations. Thus the Group organised & ran about 6 events every year.

The first Group newsletter was published in Feb 1976. This reported the group finding a café which supplied poached egg, 2 slices of toast & a cup of tea all for 19 pence. Our tastes remain as sophisticated today! The second newsletter told of our first Hot Lunch Ramble, which proved popular, but in future years became the Christmas Dinner.

In those years, when fewer people had cars, coach trips were popular & we had one to walk the Wansdyke & another to go from Old Sarum to Wincanton (Salisbury to Winchester). Joint trips were organized with Kent & Essex to do the Lyke Wake Walk, Six Shropshire Summits & the Welsh 3,000s. The Welsh 3,000s was notable for the appalling weather which put off all but Ann Sayer & Mark Pickard from completing the route.

We also had talks at our regular meetings. One by Chris Steer was on diet for walkers. He recommended raw vegetables & not red meat, fish but no chips. The new Secretary, Tony Youngs, sardonically wrote that “The Lamb and Cauliflower” was not the right venue. At a subsequent meeting Jeff Ellingham led a discussion on breathing. This was generally agreed to be a good thing for walkers to do - & to think consciously about.

Alan Blatchford led the first Midsummer evening walk in 1976 & Barbara walked & organised the supper at the end. Barbara continued organising these after Alan’s death till she left Guildford. Tony & Louise Cartwright then carried on the tradition from 1998.

Tony Youngs led the first of 9 South Downs Walks – Chalk to Chalk – each walk with an annotated route description, in Tony’s beautiful script, just like Wainwright’s. In recent years, these were all repeated in walks led by Dave Challenger. Tony’s original sketch of Tanners Hatch YH is now repeated on the current Winter Tanners certificate. With Reg & Janet Chapman’s appearance checkpoint food took a turn for the better. They also ensured that the Group often ran a checkpoint on the annual LDWA 100.

The Surrey Group continues to offer 4 challenge walks per year, the Surrey Inns Kanter (dating from 1973), the increasingly popular Winter Tanners & the Punchbowl Marathon first organised in 1976 & 1967** respectively. In 2002, the 100Km Surrey Summits was discontinued due to dwindling numbers to be replaced, in 2005, by the 50 mile Surrey Tops. The Surrey Summits had been one of only a few LDWA events to enforce a “walking only” rule which led to marshals hiding behind trees to catch out transgressors! Now all Surrey group challenge events welcome both walkers & runners. In 2010 Surrey joined with Kent & Sussex to offer the KSS (Kent, Surrey, Sussex) Triple Challenge which produced a healthy increase in entrants for all 3 events.

On a less strenuous note, our annual Christmas walk & dinner is often described as the only walk in the calendar in which participants put on weight! We have a mid-morning coffee stop, a long pub lunch, an afternoon tea stop on route, then dinner. Over the years, the venue has moved around but our favourite is the Hurtwood Inn in Peaslake, directly opposite the one-time Post Office & birthplace of the LDWA.

During the year, Surrey offers about 25 social walks. It has become a tradition that on each occasion, walkers are photographed on a bridge at some point during the walk, & recorded on our website. Each year, the group organizes a long weekend outside Surrey to sample the delights on offer elsewhere in the British countryside. Like most local groups, Surrey’s own challenge lies in attracting new & younger members. We remain a strong & active group and all continue to be welcome.

*Adapted from an original Strider article in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the LDWA in 2012.

** The Punchbowl Marathon was initially organised by the Guildford & Godalming Athletics Club being taken over by the LDWA in 1972.

If you would like to see details on these early events together with other more recent ones then feel free to browse our archives.