A town guide to Godalming
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On the banks of the River Wey, Godalming is a watercolour pretty town surrounded by pristine countryside and in-demand rural villages
With lush meadows, picturesque riverbanks and historic buildings, Godalming is a town that balances the rural idyll with modern Surrey life rather well.
The River Wey provides so much of the town’s vibrancy, cutting through the Lammas Lands flood meadows and offering walking opportunities that are good for the soul.
The Lammas Lands are the remains of a mediaeval field system and separate the main town centre from the world-famous Charterhouse School across the river.
While Charterhouse was founded in 1611, it was originally based in a Carthusian Monastery in London before moving out to its sprawling Hogwarts-esque country home in Godalming in 1872.
Famous alumni, known as Old Carthusians, include the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, the founder of the Scout movement, Robert-Baden Powell, and most of the members of the band, Genesis.
Back at the riverbank, you will discover the picturesque memorial cloister to Jack Philips, a telegraphist on the infamous Titanic, who continued to send SOS messages until the ship met its doom.
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The cloister was designed by architect Hugh Thackeray Turner with original plantings by the go-to garden designer of her time, Gertrude Jekyll.
It is a wonderful destination for a moment of quiet contemplation but, in normal times, the nearby bandstand is also a place for the local community to congregate for relaxed weekends of live music and picnics.
The parish church of St Peter and St Paul looms over the surrounding riverside park, with its 14th century spire rising to 147 feet and providing the focal point for a watercolour pretty scene.
The town itself is packed full of architectural interest. There is The Pepperpot, a Georgian pepper pot shaped building erected by public subscription in 1814; many deliciously eye-catching timber framed buildings; elaborate Dutch influenced brick and stone facades dating back to the restoration; and winding streets.
Visit the excellent Godalming Museum (booking required) to discover more about the town’s links to the Titanic, the US state of Georgia, Sir Winston Churchill and how Godalming was the first place in the world to have public electricity, among other highlights.
Godalming is an exciting place for great local food and drink, even without dipping into restaurants, coffee shops and options for dining out.
A few minutes down the road, Secretts of Milford is undoubtedly one of the powerhouses of the Surrey food and drink scene. They have been producing fresh fruit and veg for pubs, restaurants and markets since 1938, but they are also home to an excellent farm shop, butchers and English wine store (Hawkins Bros).
In the town centre itself, you will find the Godalming Food Company deli, Godalming Fish, Loaf Bakery and Amy Lou’s Greengrocer, meaning you are never far from some prized ingredients if you have a passion for cooking.
They are well set restaurant-wise too, with the exceptional Acorn offering Spanish fusion (think fresh catch of the day fish cooked in a wood-fired oven etc) and Bada producing delicious Asian flavours. Both make quality dining accessible and unpretentious.
For something completely different, look out for The Conversational Dinner collective, a collaboration between Surrey chef Sally Iddles and interiors stylist Clare Watson. During lockdown they produced spectacular set-menus for homes, but they have also been known to throw swanky supper clubs when the situation allows.
Tea, coffee, cake and more can be enjoyed at the likes of Thyme for Tea (takeaway afternoon teas and picnics have become a speciality), Café Mila (coffee and a yoga workshop), Changing Perceptions (a social enterprise workshop and café supporting the local Meath Epilepsy Charity) and Primal Roost (a clean-eating café).
The Star on Church Street, meanwhile, is something of a local institution having won CAMRA Regional Cider Pub of the Year too many times to mention. The present building dates back to the 1700s and enjoys an Olde Worlde charm.
Elsewhere in town, there are some really interesting independent shopping options. The Yard Market, for instance, which is hidden behind the High Street welcomes independent makers, creatives and also has an adjoining zero waste shop.
The town is stuffed with arts and crafts options too, whether you are looking for a new masterpiece of the wall or materials for a new hobby.
The Wey Gallery on Bridge Street, Godalming, Lingwood Samuel on Church Street and Arthouse Unlimited and McAllister Thomas Fine Art on the High Street all provide endless inspiration, while The Godalming Art Shop is a place for professionals and hobbyists to collect their materials. Wattle & Daub on Church Street is one of Surrey’s go-to home and lifestyle stores, meanwhile. For ladies looking for the latest seasonal designs, try Catwalk boutique and Hello Lovely fashion.
And you can really make the most of this time of year’s autumnal scenery while you’re exploring the area with a stop at Winkworth Arboretum, less than 10 minutes’ drive from the town centre. A local and national treasure, this woodland wonderland was created in the early 20th Century by Dr Wilfred Fox, a local doctor with a passion for preserving the wooded hillside near his home.
Suffice to say, Godalming is gorgeous and, surrounded by alluring south west Surrey villages such as Bramley, Hambledon, Hascombe, Witley, Thursley, Elstead, Compton and Chiddingfold, it is a perfect place to explore our county’s beautiful countryside.