What a surprise we had when extending our morning walk a few weeks back in Windlesham. Which required us to head over the motorway via a bridge, instead of doing the “circuit”. It still needed us to go through the public pathways and through a paddock. At first, it looked like any other public footpath [dirt path] through a woodland area.
As we meandered around, we felt like we were walking around private land. This became apparent when we started to see a burst of colour from rhododendrons and other not so common woodland trees. It became even more apparent that we were when gates with a combination lock and signs saying only members of SCT were allowed to enter.
As we were not, we moved on until we smiled at a jogger passing us by. Who must have overheard us muttering which way should we go when we came to a crossroad. He turned around, asking us, “Do you want to go in?”. Silence. I profoundly state, “We aren’t members“. With a quick reply, “I can let you in, oh on second thoughts the family are here for the weekend“, with another deep breath and a smile, “Maybe, next time I see you, I shall let you in, when they aren’t around“. Before we could answer with “Thanks“. He was off.
Not knowing what SCT referred to, we shrugged our shoulders and carried on walking. My mind was working overtime with questions as to who, what, where were involved with this vast Arboretum and a few large houses that were scattered around the property.
Two hours later, after lunch, I was doing some research. It is not a hardship as I love doing research about the areas we housesit. Especially with this walk as I had a feeling that it could have an intriguing past and maybe a splattering of gossip.
I was not wrong.
Windlesham Arboretum is remarkably well hidden for a place that is spread over 180 acres. Which makes me wonder how many people actually know of its existence? It is protected rather well behind high trees which shelter it from the M3 and A322. Though the noise is still deafening if you take the path beside the main roads.
As we meandered around past the derelict farmhouse, it was evident that the wishes of Major Spowers were undoubtedly not being carried out as it did not feel user-friendly and very much, “Buggar off it’s my land”. Though in reality, it is private land and run by a trust. Originally to be used for the use of the general public in education in all aspects of tree and wildlife welfare. Perhaps the Major was very wise to have put the land into a trust. Let’s hope that the family and Trust get the property up to the standard it once was when the Major had a dream for local people to be more involved. Instead of locals passing comments such as, “A concentration camp for trees”. Which is referring to the barbed wire and security guards.
Points of Interest:
In the 1980s an archaeological survey of the Arboretum showed there to be signs of previous Iron Age enclosure ditches and Romano-British agricultural buildings on the site.
During the excavations, pieces of pottery, gold plated half stater coin (one of a few surviving coins from the reign of the Celtic king Addedomaros), and large quantities of slag (a by-product of iron smelting) were discovered.
You may even get to do a bit of A-list celebrity spotting while you are here. Both Brian Blessed, who is local, and Kenneth Branagh, have been seen exercising dogs here, and ex-Queen guitarist Brian May lives around the corner.
Surprisingly it was all created by an Australian who apparently was more English than the English. Major Spowers was born in Melbourne.
The Arboretum was initially two pieces of land. Once owned by Frommow Nursery of which South Farm was the principal dwelling. Major Spowers bought and then merged the properties; he continued to develop the area with lakes and magnificent vistas while creating a Trust to stop the land falling into the clutches of developers.
The Arboretum is thus a large triangle, bounded by the M3 to the northeast, the A322 to the west and Broadway Rd (Lightwater to Windlesham) in the south.
It also contains a strange mixture of follies, monuments, bridges and lakes! Bisected by the Windle Brook, which feeds the lakes and ponds. Which we could only view from the public walkways.
It was a pleasant few hours wandering around and discovering yet another piece of English life and woodlands.
Linked to Jo’s Monday Walk – today she’s loitering around the Hillside Cottages which are in the quintessentially English village of Low Etherley, a few miles from Bishop Auckland, in County Durham.