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 and this corner of Surrey has a strong war connection. During the Second World War, Allied troops trained for D-Day on the commons. 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.
Here be dragons
Thursley Common is a peaceful place now. In spring you’ll find it full of dragons – but none spoiling for a fight. The marshy nature reserve, punctuated by ponds and criss-crossed by trails, is famous for dragonflies, damselflies and mayflies. Some 26 species of dragonfly are found
among the bog asphodel and marsh orchids. They emerge in a kaleidoscope of colour after winter. Butterflies also thrive on the common, with elusive species including purple emperors and silver-studded blues.
An abundance of insects means that the heath is rich in reptiles and birdlife. Common lizards, sand lizards, grass snakes, smooth snakes and adders all patrol here. Look and listen for nightjars, woodlarks, redstarts, woodpeckers, terns, dabchicks, Dartford warblers and great grey shrikes. Curlews breed here and, if you’re lucky, you might spy peregrines, merlins, short-eared owls or even a soprano pipistrelle bat.
Start your walk at Thursley churchyard, which contains the grave of the Unknown Sailor, a mysterious soul who, in 1786, was mugged and murdered by three assailants. The offending trio were subsequently caught and hanged in chains on nearby Gibbet Hill. Leave the church and walk north to the T-junction, where you’ll see the village sign. Cross the road and, by the telephone box and playground, take the path into the nature reserve.
After a brief woodland wander, you’ll emerge into open terrain, carpeted in heather. There is such a sense of wilderness here that it’s easy to imagine yourself in Scotland rather than just an hour from London.
Dissected by footpaths, bridleways, boardwalks, officially marked trails and unofficial tracks, the commons can be complex to navigate, so a compass is useful.
Head north towards the heart of the heath. You will encounter a line of telegraph poles (unmarked on the map), with a bridleway running beneath. Follow this track east to Warre Mere. Split left before the farm buildings and continue north through the trees, keeping the lovely Forked Pond to your right. The path winds repeatedly, but keep going north towards Royal Common, with Ockley Common to your left. After passing under large pylons (marked on the map), you’ll reach another pond.
Turn left and walk through Guinea Common, past a beautiful old farm building, until you meet a residential road, Hookley Lane, which takes you into Elstead. Here there is a shop and two pubs serving lunch (the Woolpack, on your left as you approach the village, or the Golden Fleece, just past the village triangle). Head south out of the village, cross Pot Common and take the wide track west along the top of Elstead Common. At the boundary, head south to a pond called the Moat.
Along the boardwalk
In 2012, a raised wooden boardwalk was built across the
marshland from the Moat towards Pudmore Pond. This is where you’ll enjoy the best dragonfly action, and an information board helps with identification. When the boardwalk forks, head south towards the hills. Follow the path back through the nature reserve into Thursley village and celebrate the completion of your loop in the excellent Three Horseshoes pub.
HOW TO GET THERE
Thursley is just off the A3, five miles southwest of Godalming. There is parking at The Moat and limited parking in the village. Trains run from Guildford to Godalming, from where buses serve Elstead.
FIND OUT MORE
Natural England’s Thursley National Nature Reserve
01428 685675 (site staff)
Lower Eashing Farmhouse
Lower Eashing, Godalming, Surrey GU7 2QF
Welcoming hosts and delightful accomodation in a 16th-century, Grade II listed building.
Three Horseshoes Pub
Dye House Road, Thursley, Surrey GU8 6QD
A walker-friendly country pub with local cask ales and great food.
At nearby Hankley Common, Allied forces practised for D-Day on a replica 100-metre section of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall, a huge sea defence in Europe. It is visible in a part of the common called the Lion’s Mouth. Hankley featured in three Bond films, including Skyfall. It is in the government’s Longmoor military training area and access can be restricted – obey warning signs and check for updates on the website.
OS Landranger 186
Grid Reference: SU 90081 39754