East Horsley, The Lovelace Bridges

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Lord Lovelace was an enthusiastic forester. In order to facilitate riding through the woods and extracting the timber, he embarked on a programme of bridge building. Altogether he built fifteen horseshoe-shaped bridges, ranging in size from about six feet wide at Meadow Platt to eighteen feet at Dorking Arch, which crosses the road leading to Ranmore Common.

 Stony Dene in course of conservation Image: HCPS


Stony Dene in course of conservation
Image: HCPS

The style of the bridges is unmistakable with their flint and red brick, but only three have retained their name and date plaques Oldlands, Stony Dene and Robin Hood. Over the years many of the bridges have become unsafe and even derelict, and some have been pulled down.

Ten remain: Stony Dene, Dorking Arch, Briary Hill East, Briary Hill West and Raven, all owned by Forest Enterprises, and Outdowns, Meadow Platt, Hermitage, Troy and Robin Hood, all in private ownership.

Troy Image: HCPS

Troy
Image: HCPS

Dorking Arch Image: HCPS

Dorking Arch
Image: HCPS

Meadow Platt Image: HCPS

Meadow Platt
Image: HCPS

Part of another remains at Oldlands and of the remaining four only slight traces survive. The Horsley Countryside Preservation Society, with the aid of some grant money, has embarked on a conservation programme, beginning with Stony Dene.

22 thoughts on “East Horsley, The Lovelace Bridges”

  1. Peter Hendry says:

    I arrived at Green Dene car park and saw the board showing walks, including the one for Lovelace Bridges which I decided to take. I crossed the road as per direction disc and found the narrow path nearly impassable due to being overgrown, certainly not family friendly. At the end of the path is a wide track but no signage as to whether to go left or right. I went left and went downwards and came to a house where there was a sign as there was when reaching the rough road. I came off the road as per next disc sign and some found myself on a path that was very poached by horses and at the start of August, after dry weather, very wet and muddy. I went up the path, which had a tree across it. That was it as far as signage was concerned. No marking at junctions and after a while I retraced my steps. A very disappointing outing. Surely if you advertise walks they should be adequately marked and passable with ease. When was this walk last checked by one of your staff/volunteers?

    1. ESP Admin says:

      Dear Mr Hendry
      Many thanks for bringing this to our attention.

      We are sorry to hear that you had a disappointing outing.

      Your comments have been forwarded to the Surrey County Council team responsible for footpath management.

  2. Basil Watkins says:

    I live fairly near to the trail and know what to expect as regards walking conditions, but I think those unfamiliar with them need to be warned. There are many ground seeps in the woods, especially in winter, and so the paths can be boggy and slippery. Also, the bridle-paths are very heavily used and so not too pedestrian-friendly. I think that the Trail is a very worthwhile asset, but I don’t think that it’s suitable for younger children or the elderly who may be unsteady on their feet, and I think that its publicity should reflect this. Further, there have been problems with dogs and their walkers coming into conflict with horse-riders, and a comment warning dog-walkers would be helpful.

  3. Kevin Williams says:

    Sunday 19th Feb 2017 we parked on Green Dene car park, crossed the road and followed the directions along a step not very well defined or maintained path up to a track. There were no signs as to the direction to take. We turned right and after 10 minuets stopped to ask a dog walker who kindly pointed us in the approximate direction. This took us down an extremly steep incline to a road / track junction adjacent to a saw mill. Again no signs or directions. After an hour plus of wondering through the wood along various tracks we came across Hermitage bridge. We followed this track an came to Troy Bridge. A few hundred meters beyond we fond ourselves back at the junction next to the sawmill. Lovelace estate, a lovely walk but how about sone signs/directions. All of the tracks we found were poorly maintained and at times we were unsure if we had strayed onto private land. We missed so much. You are missing a real chance. But now we know we will return when it is a lot warmer and drier to seek out the remainder of the Lovelace Bridge Trail.

    1. ESP Admin says:

      Many thanks for your comment. Issues relating to the condition of public rights of way in Surrey can be reported to the Surrey County Council Countryside team responsible for footpath management via their web site:
      http://www.surreycc.gov.uk/environment-housing-and-planning/countryside/footpaths-byways-and-bridleways/contact-us-about-rights-of-way

  4. Dominic says:

    This is the most amazing trail – muddy in parts yes, narrow paths yes, steep climbs and descents yes, even loads of nettles sometimes, and you may go the wrong way on occasions – but all of this helps explain why the Earl of Lovelace built the tracks and bridges in the first place. Quite an incredible engineering feet over 150 years ago !

  5. Rex Butcher says:

    To all those who have negative comments:

    If you want an easy walk on well defined, clear paths, use an A-Z and walk around London. When you hit the countryside, it is not so clear-cut. It is a bit of an adventure.

    Rather than criticize, why not come out and assist the volunteers who try to keep the trails in good order. I am sure your help would be welcomed.

  6. Rory Macpherson says:

    I agree with Rex. Perhaps try being a little more positive and see it as an adventure. Take a picture of the map in greendene car park. Relate it to a 25,0000 OS map, mark the locations on the map and hey presto you have an architectural treasure map! Let the hunt adventure begin! Been out there this afternoon with my 9mth old daughter. Yes it rained, yes we got a little damp and i got muddy. But we found 4 bridges deep in the woods. We will be back to find the others that are still up.

    1. Fiona Pollitt says:

      Hi I have walked the trail often and found the most informative site was Fancy Free Walks. A rough map and explanation is provided. I dont bother about the inaccessable ones on private land obviously and neither do Fancy Free Walks. Other than Stoney Dene Bridge all the others are in a sorry state of delapidation now, far worse than when I first walked the trail back in 2013. Many paths are now damaged by horses and the felling of Ash Trees.

  7. Surrey Alan says:

    Sitting on the settee at home with an OS map couldn’t fathom out all the route but on the ground it’s very easy to follow. Very muddy so good footwear essential and apart from a few steeper stretches not too hard a walk. Very enjoyable and interesting and highly recommended, about five and a half miles in total. I have the OS maps app on my phone which is really useful as you always know where you are.

  8. Thomas Knight says:

    As a semi-regular walker in the area, I’ve passed over or under many of these bridges. I feel very grateful that HCPS has taken the trouble to carry out much needed conservation work on the bridges, otherwise there is a real risk that they could fall irreversibly into disrepair and ultimately we could lose this architectural heritage.

    I do however wonder if the conservation project is still progressing? Last time I passed under Troy bridge (back in Autumn 2019) I noticed that there was a little bit of forestry work going on very close to the bridge, which is itself clearly still in need of conservation work. It was raining heavily at the time and sheltering under the bridge I had ample opportunity to observe the old and gradually failing brickwork above. There were many large cracks. I’m not an engineer but I thought one in particular looked quite serious, and I felt unsure whether it was even a safe place to shelter! I also noticed how the surrounding tree roots had worked their way into the sidewalls and I wondered how the nearby forestry work might affect these roots in the very near future, as either their renewed vigour or their decay and subsequent decomposition might seriously affect the structural integrity of the sidewalls!

    In summary, I hope the project hasn’t stalled completely or we might lose Troy bridge altogether! (Storm Ciara rages outside as I write this!) I feel that certainly somebody ought to keep a watchful eye on its structural integrity following the recent forestry work on the trees around the structure. (or it may well be that the foresty work was linked to the conservation project?)

    1. Fiona R Pollitt says:

      They are not wonderfully preserved. Meadow Plat is dilapidated and is in private ownership, as are Troy and Hemitage and Robinhood equally dilapidated and in private ownership.
      I know trail well and Briary hill West and East are in a sorry state far worse than in 2013 when I first discovered entire trail. I have not visited 15 as you claim to have done but 10 (some are on private land and not part of any trail – you would be trespassing). A number are just marked with plaques and there are no bridges to see anymore eg Falcon Arch.
      Dorking Arch and Stoney Dene are the only ones you can truthfully say are in good state.

  9. Some conservation work was carried out on Troy to stabilise the arch. The top was with pins inserted in the original bridge structure. Efforts were also made to stabilise the abutment walls, particularly after a series of 4x4s had driven up the bank.
    It was planned to use apprentices from Guildford College to rebuild the brick abutments and a site meeting was held with two of the lecturers and a retired master builder with a positive result. However, the administrative and health and safety requirements prevented the project going ahead.
    The only work that has been undertaken since then is cleaning the information boards and vegetation clearance.
    Some of the boards were not installed and were not part of the actual Lovelace Trail. A number of initiatives have been taken but unfortunately installation of the boards for Hermitage, Outdown and Oldlands has not proceeded.
    As far as I am aware nothing more is being undertaken on this project.

    1. Fiona R Pollitt says:

      Very sad to hear it. You have done your best clearly. It’s rather a mammoth task. I did wonder how long Hermitage and Troy would bear up, given the laurel etc well rooted into the structure of both. I’ve been on the trail in the past and had quad bikes roaring past on that section. We had to stand on the bank when we saw and heard them coming. I did wonder whether the lads would have been tempted to try going up the banks by these bridges, but it didn’t look possible.

  10. Phil Palmer says:

    Even after the driest April on record, parts of this trail are still muddy so yes, sturdy boots or shoes are recommended. Not sure why Troye and Hermitage bridges are missed from the Lovelace Bridges Trail as they are well worth seeing. Signposting is minimal but the bridges and countryside are great and the information boards informative.
    Take a proper map unless, like me, you know the area well (and I still managed to miss a few paths) and you will have a nice adventure finding the bridges.

  11. Sally-Anne Eade says:

    We have just enjoyed finding all of the Lovelace Bridges over the past 3 weeks, cycling there from home as part of our lockdown daily exercise and so worthwhile as hardly anyone about in the Greendene. What beautiful countryside we have on our doorstep, bluebells in bloom and a trail map that was very accurate. We loved the challenge of trying to locate all 15 bridges. Loved even more the adventure of finding Outdowns and Oldlands which we did, but took us some while. Clue: To locate Oldlands you need to be on the golf course. Outdowns has disappeared but we did find the site which again was a great challenge as these two bridges haven’t been awarded with plaques. I was led to discover this trail again because about 40 years ago i remember riding under Meadow Platt as a child and also vowed I would try and find that bridge again. At that time I never knew there were 14!more bridges. COngratulations to the HCPS, the bridges are stunning and nicely preserved (10 of them) and the whole area is of natural outstanding beauty, a true gem nestling in the Surrey Hills.

    1. Fiona R Pollitt says:

      They are not wonderfully preserved. Meadow Plat is dilapidated and is in private ownership, as are Troy and Hemitage and Robinhood equally dilapidated and in private ownership.
      I know trail well and Briary hill West and East are in a sorry state far worse than in 2013 when I first discovered entire trail. I have not visited 15 as you claim to have done but 10 (some are on private land and not part of any trail – you would be trespassing). A number are just marked with plaques and there are no bridges to see anymore eg Falcon Arch.
      Dorking Arch and Stoney Dene are the only ones you can truthfully say are in good state.

      1. James says:

        The ones on private land should be in even better repair, the owners have a strong and clear duty of care for our historic monuments. If they can’t look after them they should call in help.

  12. Nigel B says:

    Came across the trail almost by accident whilst out cycling local bridleways during lockdown. The dry, warm weather means the paths are in excellent condition (ie firm surfaces, very little mud), though I can imagine more usually the reverse is true. It was bliss to cycle in the shade of the trees on a blazing hot day. The various info signs are very informative, and the bridges themselves are intriguing structures. Thanks, HCPS, for your efforts.

  13. Aileen says:

    Thought it would be useful to add a note from family of 4 having completed this route. This is our second time round, but first time was as 2 and on an adventure to find a great walk for our dog. Then was wet and muddy, we lost our way once or twice but made it round and enjoyed it immensely. This time with a 6 and 4 year old joining us on their bikes, on a dry sunny day. No problems following the route and the children loved it. They were on bikes so involved a little pulling up hill and the occasional carry of bikes. But we found 9 bridges and it took us 2 hours 30. Husband navigated from his phone and we didn’t miss any of the very clearly described paths. Great fun, thank you to all who help maintain these routes from 2 tired parents and a dog…. the children still have energy although they did sleep well.

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