The hop that swings so lightly
The hop that shines so brightly
Shall still be cherished rightly
By all good men and true.
Hop picking poem – anonymous
The day got off to a slightly disappointing start when I awoke to find that my washing had failed to dry overnight! Thankfully I have brought a sufficient quantity of safety pins to attach them to my rucksack. I must just that I remember to hide them away before I meet the Revd Julian Hubbard at Compton this afternoon. It is what I believe is called, airing one’s dirty laundry in public!
Today there are just 56 farms in England which produce hops, but 150 years ago the countryside between Alton and Compton was festooned with hop fields.
As a university undergraduate I used to spend the last month of the long vac working on a hop farm in Kent near Cranbrook. It was back breaking work for the month of September from dawn to dusk with a group of fellow students and a family from Croydon who came hopping every year with their grandfather – originally from the East End of London he could remember the time when a Messerschmitt 109 fighter had strafed the hop pickers in the fields during the Battle Of Britain in 1940 before the German fighter plane had been shot down by a Spitfire. Talking to him about his experiences ‘hopping’ was like reliving history. So hops and hop farming hold a special place in my heart and I was on the look out for vestiges of hop farming on my route from Alton to Compton.
In 1867 Alton was the scene of a gruesome crime ( yes another one!) which involved a murder on a local hop farm and provides the origin of the expression ‘ Sweet Fanny Adams’.
Fanny Adams was an eight-year-old English girl who was murdered by solicitor’s clerk Frederick Baker on 24 August 1867 in Alton. The murder itself was extraordinarily brutal and caused a national outcry in the United Kingdom. Fanny was abducted by Baker and taken into a hop garden near her home. She was then brutally murdered and her body cut into several pieces; some parts were never found.
I searched high and low for vestiges of the regions hop farming heritage and did eventually manage to identify a converted hop kiln near Farnham.
However, for most of the day’s walk there were precious little evidence that hops were currently being grown in the area. In fact I saw more solar farms than hop fields on my walk today!
Finally, however, as I reached the village of Puttenham outside Guidford, I found some hops being grown, reintroduced to the area in 2018 in response to demand for the ‘Fuggle’ variety of hop from the UK craft brewing industry.
Highlights of the day included seeing an isolated oak tree on a ridge near Bentley. As I stood transfixed by its beauty, a lissom blonde jogger in an orange top and leotards appeared from nowhere and exclaimed “Beautiful isn’t it. I love that tree” as she sped past.
At the village of Froyle I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of opulent houses in the village. There was a definite whiff of stockbroker belt money emanating from the village.
At the church in Bentley I came across a 350 year old yew tree propped up in the church yard that must have alive when Jane Austen’s brother Henry became the church’s curate in 1824.
So far the flora en route has been a tad disappointing. The odd toadflax, wild mallow and field scabious in field margins. The lime trees shedding their leaves in front of Winchester Cathedral reminded me that Autumn is on the way! Maybe that is the reason.
I managed to acquire a pilgrim stamp at Puttenham church. It was humbling to think that the 12th century Norman archway above the entrance would have been standing when Becket was murdered in 1170.
Passing Farnham Castle brought back memories of attending an induction course there with HSBC before going out to work in Dubai in 1986. It seems like a lifetime ago! I believe it is a wedding venue nowadays.
The best bit of the day was saved for last. Prior to embarking on my walk, I had contacted several churches on my route to see whether they would be willing to accommodate me on my walk. One of the first to reply and offer me a bed for the night was the Revd Julian Hubbard, the rector of Compton near Guildford. So, late in the afternoon, we met outside his magnificent Grade 1 star Church of St Nicholas and he proudly gave me a tour of the stunning church which is undoubtedly one of the finest Norman churches in the south of England.
Its Saxon tower alone would make the church special, but what makes it both unique and mysterious is its two storey sanctuary, possibly unique in the UK.
The nave is adorned with early medieval wall paintings in the shape of lozenges. The carvings on the arches in the nave are intricate and incredibly well preserved. Carved from clunch limestone they almost look as though they were made yesterday. Another beautiful feature Julian pointed out is a stained glass window commemorating the death of a parishioner aged 26 in Italy during WW2. Golden Orioles ( nowadays hardly seen in the UK), a hare and a fox are all beautifully depicted. All in all the church is in immaculate condition and its almost impossible to believe that it dates back nearly 900 years.
It was a huge treat being welcomed in to Julian’s home and to meet his family. Upon arrival I took my boots off, slumped into a sofa and spent an enjoyable hour watching the cricket on Sky TV as well as chatting about Julian’s time as Rector of Jesus College Oxford and Canon of Christ Church Oxford, his time in Israel and his experiences of walking the Sentier de Saint Jacques from Le Puy as well as the Spanish Camino. Julian rounded off the evening by cooking up a delicious curry for supper.
I couldn’t have asked for a warmer welcome and a better end to the day.