On Sunday my Lovely Young Wife and I went for a walk on the North Downs.
We started and finished at the Percy Arms in Chilworth. It's a bit of a chain pub and doesn't have much to recommend it. Least of all the terrifying price of their ale (£3 a pint!). What was interesting was the fact that they seemed to have more staff than punters and they (the staff) all sounded South African. Very strange.
We headed off through some pleasant woodland and crossed the river Tillingbourne before heading uphill and across open fields for about 1.5 miles. As this was the hottest day of the year so far, we were glad when we came to a shady tree.
After the farmland the path headed past Chantry Woods.
[What is a Chantry? There's a shopping centre of that name in Andover, near my office.]
The path headed inexorably up the downs - you've got to love the English language. Where else would high ground be called 'downs' - and we followed the North Downs Way to its high point at St. Martha's church.
There's been a church on this site for around 1,000 years, but this building dates back to the 18th Century. It's a bit remote and one wonders if they have much of a congregation on Sunday mornings, but the church's primary function was originally as a stop-off for the devout walking the Pilgrims Way from Winchester to Canterbury.
A very steep path then leads down from the church, for around a mile through more farmland, to the derelict and overgrown Chilworth Gunpowder Mills.
The mills are a fascinating place. Gunpowder was manufactured here for over 300 years until the workings closed in the 1920s. For most of that time they were one the most important industrial chemical works in the country. It's odd seeing them now, around 80 years later. Where once explosives were made, hikers now walk. And the canals, rather than carrying barges of saltpetre and charcoal are now full of laughing, splashing children and fathers building dams from discarded stonework, their trousers rolled up to their knees.
One scary indication of the size of the mill is that one accidental explosion caused the demolition of the tower of St. Martha's Church. A mile away and a couple of hundred feet higher up the downs!
Nowadays all that remains are some derelict buildings, some watercourses (some in use, some dry) and many large, heavy millstones. The ones in the picture were about 4 or 5 feet in diameter.
I took a few pictures, as you can see here, but there are far more and far better to be found on Flickr.