Memories of Hankley Common

This page is for any registered member who has any memories of Hankley Comon that they would like to share with us.

 What closing down access to Hankley  Common means to me.

 We came to live in Woolfords Lane, which borders Hankley Common, in January 1972. It was a joy to have  open common land on our doorstep. We didn’t need to use the car but could walk from the door with dogs, friends, and children.  We were free to walk or cycle on any of the miles of path, some official bridleways but most unofficial tracks. Our sons developed their mountain biking skills on Hankley.  If areas were out of bounds for conservation or safety reasons, we like others, respected that. The army was out there, but you could always avoid their exercises because of the freedom to roam.  Sometimes we’d help soldiers work out where they were – and surely engaging with the locals and learning to work with them is a valuable skill for soldiers.  Hankley gave us freedom without friction - freedom to walk, ride or cycle where we wished, as compensation for the noisy days and nights when training was in progress.

In the past year all that has changed.  Now we can’t leave home without feeling like trespassers, that we are part of a “problem” for Landmarc and that every walk or ride is a potential confrontation. 

We are retired but lead busy Big Society lives, putting a lot of work into helping the community.  We, and our super-friendly border collie, need lots of exercise.  I am a keen cyclist and with an hour or less to spare I can jump on my bike and take the dog for a really good run. What better way for both of us to blow the cobwebs away, and give the dog her necessary exercise.  She gets maximum exercise in the time available and no time or money is wasted in driving to the start.  (Cycling on roads with a dog is not to be recommended.)  The range of circuits I can do is vastly greater – I can travel three times as far by bike as on foot.  This is key:  there are 230 hectares of land on Hankley and the freedom of cycling gives variety and challenge to us both. If we had to drive out of the immediate area regularly it would add cost, a heavier carbon footprint and affect our ability to undertake our voluntary community activities. 

 Landmarc have given no legal basis for their claim that we can only use public bridleways and this is oppressive.  The local byelaws say we can go anywhere where we are not prohibited by notices or enclosures and in the past the MoD actually created the steps which lead from the DZ car park to a network of tracks, none of which are public bridleways.  We have been told that in previous years we “got away with it” in terms of access, which is an insult to us and our local knowledge. Never has it been suggested that access was so constrained, nor are there any notices to that effect. MoD policy says that subject to their duty of care to the general public,  safety and security considerations “...we will seek to increase the overall amount, quality and certainty of access to the estate”. 

The maps show about  50 miles of tracks on Hankley of which barely a quarter are public bridleways..  There are actually many more tracks than shown on the map.  There has never been segregation whereby the army keeps off the rights of way and the public keep off the other tracks.  Most of us avoid  army exercises and stopping the public using the full range of tracks would make it much more difficult for us to keep out of the army’s way. 

A particular problem for cyclists is that some of the public bridleways are in any case unrideable due to deep sand churned up by horses and army vehicles.  So are some of the other tracks, but at least with lots of options it doesn’t matter.  The bridleways are of course old routes across the common  and do not provide the circular walks and rides which are the priority for the majority of visitors.

I also take part in GO50 mountain bike rides, organised by Age UK and supported by the Government to keep older people fit and well, which sometimes cross Hankley.   The Hankley tracks provide essential links to paths on adjacent commons to provide first class rides which have become extremely popular.

 I also use Hankley for getting around - making fuller use of offroad trails is part of transport policy.  My father ended his days at Tilford Park Nursing Home.  I used to cycle a mile and a half straight over the common to visit him in preference to driving three times as far.  This was both ‘green’ and therapeutic.  Hankley Common provides part of my cycle route to places like Churt,  Hindhead, Farnham and  Frensham – much more fun than using the increasingly busy roads.  I would be surprised if it had ever crossed Landmarc’s mind that the tracks on Hankley are still sometimes used for shopping trips or visiting relations.   I may be unusual, but with all the emphasis on getting people to take more exercise and burn less fuel it should be made easier not harder for us do so.

We are rooted in Woolfords Lane.  After 35 years we knocked our decrepit house down and built our dream house for our retirement and we’re not leaving it while we can still draw breath.  We had even naively thought that with the army shrinking and bases moving to cheaper parts of the country we might have fewer helicopters shaking the house as they fly overhead, less gunfire, less army traffic.  Instead, we are promised more of all these things while the long-enjoyed compensation of walking or cycling in freedom  with our dog across our common is removed. 

We are also told we need to keep our dog on a lead on open common land.  We readily accept that dogs sometimes have to be on leads – we had ours on a lead for half of a 200 mile walk last summer to protect sheep and grouse.  But we’ve rarely needed to have the dog on a lead on Hankley, and we can see no reason for it on 230 hectares of open space.

It seems inevitable that there will be an impact on the economy of  Elstead and other villages.  Elstead in particular has a wonderful selection of pubs but these depend in large part on the walkers, cyclists, birdwatchers, model aircraft flyers, riders etc drawn to our local commons.  Nor is Hankley likely to be the end of the story.  Already we hear of threats to other local Commons.



The discussion seems to address public access as if it didn’t affect people’s individual lives.  The proposed changes will create significant restrictions and will reduce the quality of life for those of us who have always been good neighbours to the army.  The approach is oppressive and authoritarian. It is the way ordinary people are treated under the kinds of regime from which the army exists to protect us.

David Moxon

January 2012