Elstead Village Magazine - Hankley Common articles 2013


Elstead Village News articles about Hankley Common.   Click on a title to view.


A Winter Evening Walk - Elstead Village News January 2014

More Hankley Walks - Elstead Village News - September 2013

Hankley Walks  -  Elstead Village News   September  2013

Access for Walkers on Hankley Common -  Elstead Village News  August 2013

Conflict on the Common -   Elstead Village News July 2013

Hankley Common Access – Where are we now?   Elstead Village News   June 2013

Hankley Common – a short history.     Elstead Village News   May 2013

Hankley Common Access    Elstead Village News   April 2013

Closure of Hankley Common Central Car Park    Elstead Village News    Feb 2013



A winter evening walk.

Back on Hankley Common for an evening walk, I went northwest this time along Bridleway 101 past Sheep Dean Hill, down into the valley and up to the Lions Mouth. One of the interesting findings in recent research into the history of the Common has been the re-discovery of old forgotten place names, such as Longdon Hill, Jockey’s Hill, Sheep Dean Bottom and Tad Moor. They are much more interesting than “the ridge west of the DZ” or “the Dropping Zone”.

Down at the bottom near the DZ Huts I met three squads of soldiers jogging along in loose formation, all with heavy packs, encouraged along by two NCOs in a friendly Sergeant-Instructor manner. They might have been about to set up camp or just on a run but either way I did not envy them.

At the Lions Mouth I turned left along Bridleway 101a. The first part of this is deep soft sand, not easy going, so I cut left into the woods for a while to avoid it. It became firmer after a while through the heather along the southern edge of the Golf Course, towards Rushmoor.

Near Grange Road I turned off B101a, aiming to pick up B108a to the south. In fact I struck another track running in the same direction, interesting because it ran straight for a long stretch. It had been levelled and hardened with packed gravel at some time in the distant past. It was deeply ditched and banked on either side and in one place it ran along an embankment over the stream that feeds Abbots Pond. The 1816 Ordnance Survey map shows a track along this line, running south across the Common and round Kettlebury Hill to Pitch Place. At that time Kettlebury Hill was the name given to the hill above Kettlebury Farm in the south. Since then it has migrated north on the maps to the ridge west of the DZ, previously called Longdon Hill.

It was now becoming twilight and I turned east up over Longdon Hill and down into Sheep Dean Bottom, then up onto Sheep Dean Hill. Looking back to the south west the view was something I will remember for a long time. The setting sunlight was reflected pink from strips of small fluffy clouds and the bowl below me was full of silver mist that seemed to flow into it from the grey hills to the south. 



Michael Organe

I tried out a couple of the MOD recommended walks between Houndown Lane and the ridge on the eastern edge of the DZ recently. The track leading up from the new car park towards the ridge is not easy to get onto from Houndown Lane because of the pole gate across the entrance to the Common. The track itself is fairly steep and sandy in places, definitely not for pushchairs or the less agile walker.

There are two paths running North to South parallel with the ridge, one dead straight along the power line, which is very sandy in places, the other near the top of the ridge, which winds through heather and young trees to a steep descent into the gap between the hills. That path then goes up a fairly steep sandy rise to a viewpoint where it joins Bridleway 108, with great views back over the Dropping Zone to Puttenham Common and the hills beyond. From there 108 leads South past the Ordnance Survey triangulation point with its superb views over the Surrey Hills to the South, down to the Pitch Place car park, or turning right it leads back to the North along the Kettlebury Hill ridge West of the DZ to the Lions Mouth and the Atlantic Wall, a favourate place for Army ambushes.

At the Lions Mouth there is a choice between four other bridleway branches, West to Rushmoor, North West across the golf course towards Tilford, North past Yagden Hill to the River Wey or East along Bridleway 101, past the car park and back onto one of the red trails or down to the Houndown Lane crossroads.

Marker posts have been erected at various points on the recommended paths and bridleways. These will be marked with colour coded signs to show the suggested routes. In theory use of these routes by walkers is supposed to minimise interference with Army training, but ironically when I was walking along the paths between Houndown Lane and the ridge I was warned off the red trails by a sentry as they wanted to have a fire fight there!

The best start points for these walks are still the central DZ car park, the Lane leading up to it, or the Pitch Place car park at the southern end of the Common. Parking at the crossroads or on Houndown Lane is possible, but the verges where the ditches and banks were dug are still soft.

It is worth noting that Houndown Lane and the Lane leading to the car park are not included in the 1978 Surrey Commons Military Lands Byelaws, so Landmarc wardens have no authority there. Both of the lanes are ancient highways but they are currently not officially permitted for vehicle use as they are designated as bridleways. At the least this means that horse riders, cyclists and walkers take precedence over cars when using the lanes.

As Annabel says in her article, as far as the Army is concerned there appears to be no real problem about the public sharing Hankley Common with them. However The MOD owns and controls the majority of the Common and the job of DIO Ops and Landmarc is made easier if we use it responsibly and bear in mind its primary purpose, which is military training.

We not being told that we are restricted to using the suggested routes and walkers are still entitled to go on the unmarked tracks on the Common. Hopefully this will not change, although the MOD is currently reviewing the Byelaws and we do not know what their long term intention is.

One of the best things about Hankley Common is that most of the time it appears to be completely empty of people and could easily be mistaken for the wilds of Scotland, without the help of James Bond!




Annabel Jones    

 There has been a marked increase in military activity over the last four weeks, to the point that I can only pin point a couple of days where the army haven't been there.   The activity has been particularly concentrated at the Lions Mouth (Atlantic Wall area), mainly with engagements from the point where the many paths meet, with the soldiers advancing up 'golden hill' (as the military told me they call it).  

All instances with the military have been very friendly and the soldiers have always been happy to tell me what's going on so I can pick an appropriate route, but they also stress that they are very happy to share and will stop and wait if they are interrupted by accident.  

The only change to this was late last week when the Royal Marines were there, they decided to do their warm up activities in the central car park and blocked it off with a vehicle whilst a group of around 25 marines ran round in circles;  another motorist and I (who were already in the car park) had to wait until an appropriate point to be able to leave, in fairness it was five minutes max but they gave the impression that they weren't going to be rushed and this was their space and I was encroaching. 

I walk lots of different paths and quite often go 'off piste' to avoid the sand and find some shade.   So far no-one has stopped me or told me to take a particular route and I have been walking in this way in front of Landmarc vehicles with occupants (I'm not sure who from the Landmarc team) without being stopped. The soldiers too have not questioned the routes I take, unless I've asked them which paths/places to avoid.   I'm walking very early in the morning at the moment to avoid the heat.





An article in the Thursley Parish Magazine last month about access to Hankley Common has raised some concerns about the rules for walkers on the Common. We need to know whether we can still walk on all the paths that we have used in the past, or will we be restricted to the bridleways and the red trails marked on the MoD visitors’ map.

The rule for walkers, from the MoD access website, is: open access on foot is available in those areas delineated by the managed access symbol on Ordnance Survey Explorer maps.” (OS Explorer Sheet 145).

This includes the whole of the MoD training area on the Common.


General withdrawal of access by walkers would be a major decision, affecting the Managed Access status of the Common.

The 1978 Surrey Commons Military Lands Byelaws say:


2. Subject To the provisions of these Byelaws, the public are permitted to use all parts of the Military Lands not specially enclosed or the entry to which is not shown by notice as being prohibited or restricted, for the purpose of open-air recreation at all times providing such access does not inhibit the military use of such lands for which they have been appropriated.

 I interpret this to mean that as before we can walk anywhere as long as we keep clear of the Army during training operations, which is what most of us have always done.

Cyclists and horse riders are currently restricted to bridleways, the previously permitted use of other tracks by cyclists has changed.

 The future of the previous permit scheme for horse riders is uncertain.

 We have been told by the MoD that if we use the red marked trails on the Houndown Lane side of the Common it will minimise our impact on their training exercises. It is reasonable to do this if they are active in other areas, but I am sure that they do not intend to ban us from walking or running on the other tracks and paths when the Army are not there. 

 It makes sense to me for us to continue as if nothing has changed, unless they change their policy and tell us otherwise.

 It is unfortunate that the new "recommended" red-marked trails cannot easily be accessed, as the entry point opposite the small car park in Houndown Lane is obstructed by a locked bar gate and the only official way to the two red trails is up a rough sandy track. These trails are in places steep and sandy and unsuitable for elderly or disabled walkers or parents with young children. This is in complete contrast to the firm level track which runs along the ridge from the central car park on the East side of the Dropping Zone and which is so popular with visitors.

 The MoD policy of closing the central car park would have the effect of excluding from the most popular part of Hankley Common many of the least able in our community, without any obvious benefit to Army training operations.

 Last year 572 people from as far away as Plymouth and Aberdeen signed a petition against the closing of the central car park and there is no reason to believe that they have changed their minds.




CONFLICT ON THE COMMON      Elstead Village News July 2013

 Conflict of interests, not actual!

 Early in June I met some young people on Houndown Lane. One lad was happily doing wheelies on a very noisy motor bike and trying his luck over the banks round the new car park. He ended up stalled in the mud on Houndown Bottom – hilarious!

 Horse riders, cyclists, walkers, athletes, bikers and the Army all want to use Hankley Common but their interests are not the same. Some want peace and quiet, others the challenges of sport. Horse riders want the bridleways to be soft for their horses, cyclists and people on foot want them firm. Mountain and motor bikers are happiest with anything steep and lumpy. Dog walkers want their dogs to run free, many other people would prefer them not to.

The MoD owns half of Hankley Common and has leased the northern part since WW2, an area originally dedicated by the owners in the 1920s for access by the public for recreation, at a time when the Army was taking over large areas of common land in Surrey. The MoD would prefer us not to be there at all but cycle and horse riders are legally entitled to use the bridleways and people on foot are allowed to use other tracks by the MoD Managed Access policy, provided that they do not interfere with training operations. To add to the problems there are two historic public highways, one of which almost cuts the main training area in two. There is also the central car park, built over forty years ago to encourage visitors to keep off the rest of the Common. The MoD regards it as a problem for training operations and would like to close it, a move opposed by many users of Hankley Common.

To reconcile all the divergent interests to everybody's satisfaction is probably impossible but it should be feasible to achieve a balance, provided that no one interest is allowed to drive out other equally legitimate users of the Common.



Hankley Common Access – Where are we now?   Elstead Village News   June 2013

In 2012 the MoD announced their intended closure of the central car park because of dog fouling, fly tipping and unauthorised vehicle access to the Common, which were interfering with training operations. The worst of the dog fouling was dealt with by installing waste bins in the car parks. Incidents of fly tipping and unauthorised vehicle access do not seem to have been a major problem in this area, apart from motor cycles, which are almost impossible to control. Another consideration appears to be the safety of the public during exercises involving blank firing but closing the car park would not prevent the possibility of incidents on the bridleways crossing the Common.

The announcement caused great concern among local residents and visitors from a wide area. An opinion survey and a public meeting revealed strong opposition to the closure and a petition raised 572 responses. The results can be seen on the ELSTEAD NEWS website at: www.elstead.info/hankley-common/who-uses-the-common/

The MoD responded by improving the car park near Pitch Place and building a new car park on Houndown Lane, which in no way was an adequate replacement for the central car park in size or ease of access.

During the past 2-3 years Landmarc Support Services Ltd, the company that manages the Defence Estates for the MoD, has started to apply a strict interpretation of the Military Byelaws that govern public access to Hankley Common, in a manner that has offended or upset many people using the area. Some of their employees give the impression that the public should be discouraged from visiting the Common. This has affected some of the many dog walkers, cyclists and horse riders who have been accustomed to using the permissive paths and bridleways for many years, under the less restrictive policies that were followed by The MoD in the past. 

Apart from the rough bridleways on Hankley Common there are two roads that cross the Common, one follows the line of Bridleway 101 from Truxford to the Lions Mouth, the other is Houndown Lane, which Bridleway 99 runs along. Until 2012 neither of these was owned by the MoD, according to the 1978 Byelaws. During 2012 the MoD sought to gain control of these two roads. In the case of BW101 this was done by registering the land on which it runs by adverse possession, something that is illegal on highway land. On Houndown Lane the MoD registered the Houndown area with the Land Registry, with boundaries that differ considerably from those marked on previous maps and plans. On the land gained Landmarc have dug ditches and built banks on the verge, which restrict the width of the highway.

Currently various legal aspects of the situation are being investigated and the central car park remains open for the time being, until some of these have been resolved. Thursley and Elstead Parish Councillors have asked to meet the MoD for discussions about some of the issues involved. 

There is no question that Hankley Common is an excellent area for basic infantry training, with varied open and wooded landscape and small hills that provide perfect spots for ambushes and careful patrol work. In the past training operations and public access have co-existed without causing any major problems for either party and it is a great pity that the MoD feels that a more restrictive policy is now needed. 

What are we allowed to do?

Cyclists are only allowed to ride on the bridleways.

Horse riders with permits may ride anywhere.

Other horse riders can only use the bridleways.

Walkers and runners are allowed anywhere.

Electric mobility vehicles can also go anywhere.

Organised events or groups must obtain permission.

Unlicensed professional dog walkers are not allowed.

Motor vehicles are not allowed.

Anybody using Hankley Common must avoid interfering with military training operations. We may be asked to wait or go another way if necessary.

A map is posted on noticeboards at the main entrances to Hankley Common, together with the Military Byelaws governing public access.



Hankley Common – a short history.     Elstead Village News   May 2013

Originally Hankley Common was “Manorial Waste” or common land used by local people for grazing and as a source of materials for everyday use. An 1841 Tithe Map shows it as entirely open, with two roads running across it, one a public carriage road from Farnham to Thursley via Tilford and Truxford, the other where Houndown and Woolfords Lanes are now.

In 1857 the Elstead Inclosures Act divided the Common into two parts, the northwest remained common land as part of the Beale estate, while the south eastern part was allotted to private owners, with provision for “Driftways” 30ft wide to secure highway land for the two roads and for driving livestock to market.

After the First World War the Army needed land to develop techniques of mechanised warfare and bought large areas of common land in Surrey, convenient for exercises based on Aldershot. This was resisted by local landowners and the Footpath Preservation Society and was the subject of lobbying and debates in Parliament by eminent politicians, who feared that Army ownership would reduce access by the public. One result was the public-spirited dedication of the northwest area of the Common by the Lord of the Manor, Richard Coombe, for public recreation under the 1925 Law of Property Act.

In the period 1927 to 1931 The Army bought most of the south eastern area that had been allotted to private owners in 1857. The two public highways remained separate and were excluded from military ownership. The north western area was bought from the Coombe estate at auction in 1940 by a Major Alnett who sold it in 1942 to the Hankley Golf Club.

During World War 2 the Army commandeered the northwest area and used the whole of the Common for the training of Canadian troops, including the building of the “Atlantic Wall”, which gave troops practice in blowing up obstacles, for the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

The MoD later leased part of the Golf Course land from the Golf Club. The southern part of the Common includes a low area of land known as the Dropping Zone, as it was used for parachute jumps from a tethered balloon, near the Army huts.

In 1960 The MoD purchased the southern part of Hankley Common east of the Tilford Road and in 1984 a small area just west of the Houndown Lane /Woolfords Lane crossroads, which at one time was a smallpox hospital and later an Army clinic.

The public have rights of access on all the bridleways on Hankley Common at all times, for horse and cycle riders, walkers and riders of mobility vehicles. In addition open access on foot is available in those areas delineated by the managed access symbol on Ordnance Survey Explorer maps. When walking in the training area you are requested not to interrupt military training and to observe the Byelaws posted at access points on the Common. Horse riders need permits to leave the bridleways. Cyclists have until recently had permission to use some other tracks but this has now been withdrawn, following confusion over which tracks could be used..

The Byelaws and regulations are enforced by wardens employed by Landmarc, the company that has a management contract for MoD estates. Until recently this has worked well but in the past three years they have become much stricter and this has led to resentment on the part of many people who have become used to free access on Hankley Common.

The land legally under MoD control is shown by the map attached to the 1978 Surrey Commons Military Byelaws, posted at the main access points on the Common. This land includes the car park used by the public for the past 40 years but not the Truxford to Lions Mouth lane which leads to it, nor Houndown Lane. In 2012 The MoD sought to gain control of the two highways on the Common and to reduce the number of visitors by closing the central car park. This has caused dismay among local residents and visitors from a wide area and is the subject of discussions between the MoD and local Councils.

Hankley Common is a popular area for filming, including Bond films  The World is Not Enough in 1999 and Die Another Day in 2002 and Skyfall in 2012. It was also used for filming TenkoDoctor Who and the Silurians and Blackadder Back and Forth.

Sporting events are often held on the Common, including major cross country running, cycling and orienteering events and occasional drag hunts. On these occasions military training is suspended and the area around the Dropping Zone huts is opened for parking. The Common is also popular for individual training by runners, cyclists and horse riders.

I hope that the Army and the public will continue to be able to share this lovely area of woods and open heathland in the future. It contains some of the best views of the surrounding hills in this part of Surrey and it is a general principle of access to the countryside that no one interest should dominate to the exclusion of other legitimate users.



Hankley Common Access    Elstead Village News   April 2013

Bryn Morgan reported last month on problems of access to Hankley Common by members of the public. The Army intends to close the central car park near the Dropping Zone huts. Army training is very important but in over forty years of public use there has been no major interference with training, even when it was more intensive in earlier years. The public are much less likely to interfere with training operations now as a large part of them are done by night.

The car park was built partly for Army convenience, partly to discourage the public from driving cars down the hill to the Dropping Zone huts in the centre of the Common. It has been marked as a public car park on Ordnance Survey maps since 1998 and at no time until recently has the Army indicated disapproval of its use by the public. It is normally big enough for both the Army and the public, with a capacity of around 50 vehicles.

The MoD owns the land in the south and east of the Common and leases other land in the north and west from Hankley Common Golf Club. The leased area is mainly Registered Common Land and it is also dedicated for the use of the public for recreation, under Section 193 of the 1925 Law of Property Act, thanks to the generosity and foresight of landowners and the Footpath Preservation Society at that time, who were concerned about widespread Army purchases of Common Land in the area for training based on Aldershot. This means that the public can walk or ride horses on any part of that area by right, not by permission of the MoD. Landmarc wardens seem to be ignorant of this fact and enforce a restrictive access policy, often accosting walkers, cyclists and horse riders in a very aggressive manner.

On the MoD owned land the public has statutory rights of access on the registered bridleways for horse and cycle riders and walkers; on the remainder of the tracks and paths only by MoD permission, which can be interrupted or withdrawn for operational reasons. Even on the bridleways the Army often suggests another route or asks people to wait, if they are likely to interrupt a training exercise or if there is any immediate risk to them.

Apart from the Golf Course itself most of Hankley Common is governed by the 1978 Surrey Commons Military Lands Byelaws, posted at access points to the Common. These byelaws exclude from military ownership and control the highway which the public uses to drive to the central car park. The reason for this is that in the 1857 Elstead Inclosure Awards it was allotted separately from adjoining landholdings as part of an old Public Carriage Road running from Farnham to Thursley.

When the MoD announced their plans in early 2012 a group known as PATH (Protect Access To Hankley) was formed to oppose them. A public meeting was held in Elstead with an attendance of 98 people and an opinion survey was run. A petition raised 572 signatures and the results of the survey can be found, with much other information, on the ELSTEAD NEWS website: www.elstead.info.

Subsequently local Councillors accepted a proposal by the MoD for a much smaller and less convenient car park off Houndown Lane. This has now been built but there is no direct access to Hankley Common, making it much more difficult for many people to visit the Common, especially the elderly and disabled and parents with young children. Horse riders who use trailers or horse boxes to avoid riding on busy roads will also be affected.

MoD registered possession of the public highway leading to the central car park in 2012, using what most of us would call “squatters’ rights”. Their application was full of errors and omissions, including forgetting to tell the Highway Authority and the Land Registry that there is a registered public bridleway on the land, as well as the statutory Public Carriage Road, which was allotted land in the 1857 Elstead Inclosure Awards.

Landmarc Support Services Ltd, the company that has a lucrative contract to manage all MoD land, recently installed a gate at the Pitch Place car park on the southern edge of the Common, including an illegal horse stile that prevented pushchair and wheelchair users from going onto Bridleway 108 to visit the very popular viewpoints on the hill above. They also started work on a similar gate and horse stile at the crossroads where the public highway leading to the central car park crosses Houndown and Woolfords Lanes. These illegal obstructions of the bridleways have now been removed at the request of Surrey County Council and the central car park remains open for the time being. The MoD claims that the gates and the new ditches along Houndown Lane are to prevent unauthorised vehicle access to the Common, especially motor cycles; something that no gate can prevent on its own.

Why are we so upset about this; surely there are plenty of other places to go for recreation and fresh air? In fact these are becoming fewer and more crowded, as the MoD and other landowners are adopting policies in many places of fencing and gating their land for conservation grazing so as to tap Common Agricultural Policy funds.   Open areas where the public can go freely and without restriction are all under threat.

MoD and Landmarc actions show that we are no longer welcome on Hankley Common, although theMoD claims that it does not want to restrict public access. We have walked and ridden on this land for generations alongside the Army, by custom or statutory right, in line with the MoD published public access policy. We have apparently now become an administrative nuisance to the Army, rather than welcome friends and allies.

Army re-deployment from Germany to Aldershot and the expansion of the Territorial Army will mean more training here, although it is unlikely to match the amount of training done on the Common a few decades ago. Ironically it will also mean more families with young children looking for fresh air and recreation on our local Commons! We will be happy to welcome them.