Sunday, October 30, 2011

Following the Wey, and the Way, to the Watts

The weather forecast for Saturday looked promising -- upper 50's and sunny with little chance of rain -- so Josh thought it would be a good day to take his new hiking shoes for a test drive (or walk).  Since we were getting a rather late start, we didn't want to venture too far afield, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to visit the Watts Gallery, just outside of Guildford.  Someone had recommended it to me after I mentioned that I was a fan of the Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau movements, and after tracking it down online, I discovered that they had a handy set of directions for a scenic circular walk to the gallery from the Guildford train station.  What could be more perfect?!

We packed some water, snacks, and rain gear (just in case) and took the train from Wimbledon station down to Guildford, which is about 25 miles southwest of London.  The walking route took us through the city along the River Wey.
The way along the Wey
Canal boats on the Wey
Just a hint of Fall color
We stayed along the river until we reached Ferry Lane, where there is now a footbridge.
Ferry lane
At this point, we turned away from the Wey, and intersected with the North Downs Way, a 153-mile walking trail across southeast England.
The way to the North Downs Way
The weather cooperated, and we were treated to some lovely scenic views along the way -- or, should I say, along the Way?

(those are horses)
It took us about an hour and a half to reach our destination, the Watts Gallery.   The gallery was built by British artist G F Watts and his wife, Mary, (also an artist) in 1903 to showcase Watts' paintings.
The Watts Gallery
Since we had not eaten anything since breakfast, the first order of business was to visit the Tea Room in the adjacent building, where we had a tasty lunch (soup, sandwich) immediately followed by tea with cake and scones, all served on handmade pottery and antique mismatched china. That really hit the spot!  Then we were ready to visit the gallery.

We were not allowed to take photos inside, but if you are interested in seeing Watts' work, you can browse through the gallery's collections online.  There was a special exhibition dedicated to Watts' most famous painting, Hope, which was iconic enough to have been copied and parodied by other artists. It was one of several paintings that I really liked.  They reminded me of artwork by some of his contemporaries (Whistler, Sargent, Thayer) in the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery, where I used to work.

After working our way through the gallery, we headed up the road to the most eagerly anticipated part of our walk, Watts Chapel, which sits on a hilltop in a small cemetery just down the road.
Entrance to Watts Chapel cemetery
Josh in the cleavage of giant evergreens.
The chapel was designed and built by Mary Watts, who started a clay modelling workshop in order to teach local residents how to make the tiles needed for its construction.  The results of this community project are amazing.  The chapel is small, but incredibly ornate, both inside and out.
Watts Chapel (with Naina for scale)
The exterior terra-cotta tiles have a sort of Celtic/Art Nouveau look, although the official description says that Mary also incorporated Egyptian and Romanesque influences, as well as her own original style, into the design of the chapel.
The front door
Exterior detail
The interior was a bit dark, even after we found the light switch, but we were amazed by the vibrant colors and detailed ornamentation that covered nearly every surface.
Interior ceiling
Interior wall detail
Even the surrounding cemetery was quite lovely, and many of the grave markers and other structures reflected the style of the chapel.


The sun was starting to descend towards the horizon, and since we knew it would take us another hour and a half to walk back to the train station, we couldn't linger too long.  The suggested route took us back a different way, so we were treated to a whole new set of scenery.
Sunset over grazing cattle
Sunset over mistletoe-laden trees
We walked past the grounds of Loseley Park, a 500-year-old estate that is still owned by the same family and has been used as a film location for TV adaptations of Jane Austen's Emma and Sense & Sensibility.  The house and grounds are open to the public during the summer, and their dairy farm is said to produce delicious ice cream and yogurt.  Sadly, we were not able to sample any of those things, but we made a mental note to do this walk again next summer when we have visitors, since it's easy to get to, and combines a reasonable amount of walking with some lovely attractions -- not to mention a tea room AND ice cream!
Loseley Park
We made it back to Guildford just as it was getting truly dark, and managed to find our way back to the train station without falling into the Wey.  It was a good way to spend the last day of "British Summer Time" before having to set our clocks back an hour later that night.  Now it's pitch dark by 5 pm, and the days are still getting shorter.  Great for the upcoming trick-or-treating and fireworks, but not so great for day-to-day life beyond that...

1 comment:

  1. 1. DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMN. (this is in regards to the chapel)
    2. For the love of Benji, save your excursion to Loseley Park for when I'm visiting. I love those Jane Austen-y old mega-homes.


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