I felt like singing because it was 2.30pm on Saturday afternoon and I was in the Parrot Inn in Shalford playing Dobble with Tommy and surrounded by twelve of my favourite people in the world with a pint of Shere Drop from the Surrey Hills brewery on the go. The only thing I would've changed is to have even more friends there. It's a rare moment in life when you feel so contented and it was one I intended to savour as fully as my ale. Ale is physic for me.
The winter had not been kind. We'd been visited by the beast from the East, politically extreme views from both ends had left the centre struggling to hold, my romantic life had seen me, like Icarus, fly too close to the sun and burn my wings, and many of the things that had brought me comfort, the BBC, the Guardian, Facebook, had been attacked as amoral and corrupt. The way things were going I wouldn't have been surprised if they'd discovered that alcohol is bad for you.
What had seen me through the dark and cold nights was the thought that come March me and my friends would resume TADS. TADS was forged in the white hot furnace of emotionally troubling times and though the champagne that cracked against the side of the good ship TADS at its launch had regained its fizz and sparkle it was worth reminding myself that maintenance work at the emotional boatyard, and vineyard, of life is always an ongoing process. Life, like the walk itself, was about the journey more than the destination and, as such, could not always be pretty.
Nautical metaphors tossed aside into the salty brine briefly, I woke with an anticipation not far south of pure joy on Saturday morning. The weather forecast wasn't as good as I'd hoped but it was better than I'd feared. Grey, overcast, slight chance of drizzle, but no full on downpour, no snow. Pub gardens would not be as inviting as I'd hoped but the Weyside banks would be muddy rather than impassable. It was the first TADS walk I'd mapped, planned, and annotated myself and I was apprehensive that it be a success.
Walking boots were donned and I took the train to Clapham Junction. If the emotional boats of life were finally getting a service the same could not be said for Britain's ailing and overpriced rail network. South Western Trains, or whoever it is that runs them (it's so fragmented now it's near impossible to ascertain who is responsible for anything), were taking a free jazz approach to their scheduling. Several different boards suggested several different trains and several different options, none of which tallied with the available, but wrong, information on their website.
An angry traveller vented at a hapless staff member. It was understandable, the service is shit and you're expected to fund the increasing shitness of it, but it wasn't her fault. I can say from personal experience that working for incompetent unpleasant bullies is even worse than being their customer.
After an unscheduled half-hour wait in Woking we finally arrived in Godalming. Ten of us. Myself, Pam, Teresa, Adam, Shep, Kathy, Rachael, Neil, Belinda, and Eamon. I'd not seen some of them since our last TADS walk, others I'd seen often. Each and everyone I was pleased to see.
We set off up The Mint, crossing a small tributary of the Wey, before cutting down an alley to the pink building, known as The Pepperpot, that sits at the end of Godalming's bustling High Street. The Pepperpot was erected in 1814 when the previous market house fell into disrepair and it's been used, variously, as a shop, a museum, a toilet, and a prison cage! It's near the spot where, in 1881, the world's first ever public electricity supply appeared.
Along the High Street of the busy little market town we went and upon reaching a bifurcation we swung left into Bridge Street and eventually on to the Phillips Memorial Park. It's named, as is the local branch of Wetherspoons, for the chief wireless telegraphist of the Titanic, Jack Phillips. A man whose perseverance to duty in the face of impending disaster almost certainly cost him his life.
The parish church of St Peter and St Paul that backs on to the park is Godalming's oldest building. It was built in the twelfth century of sandstone and Bargate stone from the nearby Greensand Ridge and its silhouette, like that of the park's trees, looked confident and assured on this reflective March day.
The river Wey, which we'd now joined, is a Thames tributary that runs for 87 miles from the village of Farringdon near Alton to Tilford where it joins the Thames. It's been simultaneously managed and left to fend for itself. Canal boats idle along its navigable banks yet the muddy paths and reeds that flank the river suggest it would be very easy to slide into. At one point we saw a couple of people using magnets to fish its depths. They spoke of finding coins and Roman treasure but their magnets revealed only unfortunate gastropods.
Godalming's a well-to-do commuter town that's been judged to have a high standard of living. It's existed at least since Saxon times and probably earlier. In 899 Alfred the Great left Godalming (as well as Guildford) to his nephew Aethelwold in his will. Roughly halfway between Portsmouth and London it grew in size due to its location and, as with many nearby towns, inns were built to house those travelling from coast to capital.
Key industries were woollen cloth, stockings, leatherwork, and paper marking and famous sons of the town include James Oglethorpe (founder of the colony of Georgia), ex-Ipswich and England footballer Mick Mills, Julius Caesar (not that one, some cricketer apparently), and Brave New World author Aldous Huxley.
They were all born in Godalming. Unconventional and scandalous composer Peter Warlock is buried here and those who've made it their home include Terry Scott, Terry Thomas, Christopher Timothy, Billy Dainty, and Alvin Stardust. Euros Childs of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci recorded a song called 'Godalming' for his 2016 LP 'Refresh!' and the town has featured in Dracula, For Your Eyes Only, and often in The Return of Reginald Perrin.
The most astonishing story, though, is that of Mary Toft, a local maidservant who, in 1726, had hoaxed the town into believing she could give birth to rabbits. She became something of a cause celebre and the responses of the men of the time speak volumes about how unenlightened those times were. Toft finally confessed to inserting sixteen rabbits into her vagina.
Across the Wey stands Farncombe and the famous Charterhouse school in front of it. Charterhouse was founded on the site of an old Carthusian monastery in Smithfields, London in 1611 and lays claim to the invention of Association Football and to being the place where the band Genesis met. Old Carthusians include John Wesley, the Earl of Liverpool (PM from 1812-1827), Robert Baden-Powell, Field Marshall Montgomery, both David and Jonathan Dimbleby, Jeremy Hunt and Douglas Carswell. Right pair of cunts at the end there.
We curved tight to the banks of the Wey along a track known as the Lammas Lands (amazingly not the best path name of the day), through the park, across a bridge, where we picked up a path on the left side of the river that led us peacefully away from Godalming. After one kilometre the Wey was joined by Hell's Brook and a bit further is Peasmarsh where I read that Paul McCartney lives.
It was a pleasant stretch with nothing to admire but the river, the trees, and the company. After six and half kilometres we reached Shalford and turned off the river. We'd earned a drink.
Darren, Cheryl, and Tommy ('the car lot') joined us, Shep put Teresa's coat on, we wiped the mud off our boots and we enjoyed ale, coffee, and wine. The pub didn't look much from the outside but was friendly and accommodating within. Neil ate his sandwiches in the car park.
Phil Collins wrote his debut album of dreary divorce ballads, Face Value, in his home, Old Croft, in Shalford and it's said, too, that Pilgrim's Progress author John Bunyan lived in hiding there.
We didn't see much of the place. After the inevitable 'two pint mistake' we were soon back on the Wey, our more elderly members regularly emptying their now full bladders in the bushes, for a rather stunning expanse of baked earth, water so still it was barely flowing, and the odd ancient ruin of which we knew, and could find out, nothing.
Eventually we arrived in Guildford. Entering a city via its waterways is often a gradual process and this was no different. The path took us through a park and, near the Yvonne Arnaud theatre, we left the river and headed up Porridge Pot Alley.
We passed what must surely be Britain's thinnest house (is there even room for a bed?) and after a few busy roads and a deceptively steep climb we reached Guildford Cathedral. Cue Jerry Goldsmith's score to The Omen.
We had a look inside, even Shep came in, and it smelt of fresh paint. The cathedral, a mix of Art Deco and neo-gothic, was designed by Edward Maufe and built between 1936 and 1961, the year in which it was consecrated into the Anglican tradition. Maufe's next most noteworthy commission is the Air Forces, or Runnymede, Memorial near Egham.
Stag motifs on the cathedral floor tell us we're atop Stag Hill where the kings of England used to hunt. It's also the location of the University of Surrey where in November 1986 I went to see The Mission. I'd just turned eighteen and it was one of the first times I'd ever drunk alcohol at a gig. The Mission were rubbish though.
I'd not known that Teresa, a few years after I'd joined the moshpit for Serpent's Kiss, had been a student at said university. She regaled us with anecdotes as we descended Stag Hill, crossed the railway tracks, and followed the path of Walnut Tree Close to Woodbridge Meadows and, once more, the banks of the Wey.
Less than half a mile from Guildford city centre sits a scene of almost rural idyll. Passing boatyards and barges we eventually reached a footbridge and crossed the Wey itself into Guildford proper.
Primark, River Island, Zara:- we weren't in Shalford anymore. An ascent of North Street took us to the top of Guildford's High Street and a pint of Lancaster Bomber in The Three Pigeons pub. Guildford girls took selfies, local drinkers finished off afternoon sessions, and we all enjoyed the pub's spiral staircase. Not one you'd want to walk down after too many Lancashire Bombers.
Historians attribute Guildford's existence to a gap in the North Downs where the Wey was forded by The Harrow Way, an ancient neolithic track. By AD 978 it was home to the Royal Mint (now based in Llantrisant, Glamorgan), and its castle, a motte and bailey affair obvs, was believed to have been built shortly after the 1066 invasion of William the Conqueror.
We didn't have time to look at the castle, nor the 14c Guildhall, but there was time for me to read a list of notable Guildford residents:- PG Wodehouse (born there), Kazuo Ishiguro (the Remains of the Day author was born in Nagasaki but lived there), Mike Rutherford of Genesis (born there), sprinter Alan Wells (born Edinburgh, and Michael Buerk (born Solihull).
None of The (Guildford) Stranglers were born in Guildford. Hugh Cornwell was born in Tufnell Park, Dave Greenfield in Brighton, and JJ Burnel in Notting Hill. Jet Black who was 36 (ancient!) when the band formed and is now 79 was born in Ilford but he ran an off-license, and even a fleet of ice cream vans, in the city. Go buddy, go!
We ate in Guildford Spice. A fine, if not spectacular, Indian restaurant that served a huge pile of poppadums but no Bangla. I had tarka daal, pulao rice (shared with Rachael), and a chapatti. It filled me up but not as much as the laughter and company of good friends. A few of us had another pint in the local 'Spoons (I know) before heading back. It was very lively but even the young girls dancing around in their bra tops couldn't compete with what had been a really beautiful day out in the Surrey countryside.
The good ship TADS has set sail once again and as we, the sailors that ride aboard it, wave our hankies from the deck we can't know if the seas ahead will be choppy or calm. We can only say we hope to see you next month when we lay anchor in Wendover for a Chiltern challenge that will take us to beautiful Berkhamsted for tea with Graham Greene.