Saturday, October 15, 2011

A grand day out

The most amazing thing happened yesterday as Maggie and I were getting off the train in Guildford. We were standing in the aisle, waiting for the carriage doors to open, when Maggie whispered, "Look who that is." I looked at the backs of men's heads ahead of us and wasn't sure who she meant until she pointed discretely at the bowler hat in the hand of the gentleman right in front of her. It was Maxwell Hutchinson! My American readers won't appreciate the magnitude of this occasion, but my Brit mates will know him as the architect who comes on the Robert Elms Show on BBC London every week to talk about buildings and history and all sorts of interesting things about London. When we found ourselves on the platform, walking right next to him and the other man he was with, I did something I never do -- I turned to him and said, "Excuse me, Mr. Hutchinson. I listen to you every Tuesday on the radio on my computer in Massachusetts" and I stuck out my hand to shake his. At first he looked a bit taken aback, but then he replied, "My goodness! What are you doing here in Guildford all the way from Massachusetts?" We told him we'd come to see the George Frederic Watts Gallery and the Watts Chapel. He then said, "As long as you've come all this way, you must see the Cathedral." Although we knew this wasn't in our plan, we told him that, on his recommendation, we would try to do. I then said how lovely it was to meet him and we went our separate ways. I, of course, was grinning ear to ear.

The rest of the day just got better and better. Blue skies, bright sunshine, warm air -- the best weather of my visit. Maggie and I waited a few minutes for Ray to arrive by bus from his home in nearby Woking. We then took the local bus to the small village of Compton. Actually, we never saw Compton itself, getting off the bus at the Watts Gallery on a little lane, I assume just outside the village. I didn't know much about G.F. Watts other than that he was responsible for the creation of the Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice in Postman's Park in London, a place I visit often and really love. There is a wall of plaques in the back of the park, each made of Doulton ceramic, that commemorates in just a few words an ordinary person who died in the act of saving another. I wasn't aware that Watts is considered one of Britain's greatest painters. Apparently, many Brits don't know of him either, I imagine somewhat because his allegorical or heroic subjects seem old fashioned to our modern eyes.

After seeing the gallery and having lunch in the tea room, we set out on foot for the chapel designed by Watts's wife Mary. This small funeral chapel is said to be one of the best examples of British Arts and Crafts architecture, and Maggie and I had been wanting to see it for ages. We walked all around it, inside and out, gazing at (and photographing) the amazing details. The cemetery there is also lovely and peaceful, on a hillside looking out over fields below. Then a guided tour group of old dears arrived and the spell was broken.

Ray had suggested we take the bus to Compton, uphill all the way, and walk back downhill to Guildford along the footpaths. We couldn't have asked for a better day to do this. Much of our walk was along Sandy Lane, a well-named sandy, one-lane road, which made for some interesting maneuvers when trucks came from both directions, with the three of us sandwiched between them. Eventually we reached the towpath along the River Wey and followed that back into Guildford just as the sun was sinking low.

£13.90 cheap day return ticket for Guildford
£2.20 bus to Compton
£7.50 for Watts Gallery
£5.00 for egg mayonnaise sandwich on granary bread in the tea room
£1.45 for late afternoon beverage

20,966 steps
8.27 miles

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