Like many of us (of a certain generation) I grew up with Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds. I loved this album (still do) and can well remember when it first came out listening to it at night and being too scared to get out of bed to turn the record over! Despite this it is still one of my top 3 albums of all time. Anyway, this is the background of why I had wanted to visit Woking (home of HG Wells) and Horsell common (where the Martians land) for so long.
After seeing the Martian ‘street art’ in Woking town centre it was only a short drive out to the common. A convenient car park is situated next to Brittania Wharf office complex. In the car park is a detailed map showing where the 3 barrows are and information on the objects found during excavations.
The first barrow is next to the sign / adjacent to Brittania Wharf. Despite this the barrow isn’t obvious as it is covered by ferns, brambles and trees of various kinds including oak and holly. Once to get to the top you can make out the barrow a bit better. It is quite large and stands approximately 1.5m high. As I rummaged around in the undergrowth I became aware of several people looking at me from the offices, no doubt wondering what I was up to?!
I then crossed the road and followed the ‘path’ through the trees. The first area you come to is (unfortunately) very litter strewn with cans, bottles, plastic bags etc and evidence of fires. No doubt this is where the local youth spend their summer evenings! The ‘path’ then disappears as the area behind this is very overgrown. Going by the map in the car park this should be the location of a disc barrow but I couldn’t see any trace of it. It must be very low and hidden by the vegetation. I probably waked right past without realizing it although I did have a good look.
I skirted around the ‘wall of vegetation’ and re-joined up with the path the other side. The path was now obvious and was bordered by horizontal wooden posts. The common also opened up with open heath surrounded by trees on all sides. The main barrow soon came into view and is easily seen to the right of the main path. A smaller path crosses the top of it. The barrow has clearly been dug into but otherwise is in pretty good condition. Despite not being overly big you get a surprisingly good elevated view over the common from the top of it.
The sun was shining, the air was still. Not much in the way of bird song but a lovely autumnal day to be out and about. It was a 300 miles round trip to visit Horsell Common. Most people think I am mad (I probably am!) but it felt so good to finally this place which holds a lot of associated memories for me. Horsell common and the barrows are worth visiting if you happen to be in the area but perhaps not worth driving 300 miles for!
No sign of any Martians. I have been told the chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one. But still, they come………......
If you are approaching this from the south, drive slowly over the charming canal bridge (with bright white pillars and jet black railings) just after the railway bridge because the only car park in the area is immediately on your right after the canal bridge and is not signposted (it’s just opposite ‘Britannia Wharf’). I missed it and had to drive up to the large roundabout and return – there was no parking off the road elsewhere.
I think the easterly barrow is just to the right of the car park entrance. I parked, looked ahead and there was this large mound complete with classic hollowed top, trees and litter! It’s hard to tell the size of it due to the trees and brambles, but I’d guess about 20 m diameter and 1- 1.5m high.
The westerly barrow is reached by crossing the road and following a path for about 200 metres through woodland until you come to a clearing and the enormous bowl barrow is slap bang in front of you (the path actually goes up and over it). It’s a pretty dramatic setting, in this clearing surrounded by pine and birch trees.
I reckon it’s about 35-40 m in diameter and 1.5-2 m high. It is an excellent example of a bowl barrow, especially so close to London; the outer ditch and bank can clearly be seen all the way around, rising to a maximum of about 60cm high for the bank and about 30cm deep for the ditch. When I visited the bracken had been totally burnt off. I’d guess it wasn’t deliberate environmental management because the trees to the west (mainly young silver birch’s) were also burnt, as were some of the trees to the east (i.e. back towards the main road)
The directions given were spot on, and the presence of the mounds shows an interesting dicotomy, what with prehistoric mounds at one end of the common and the other end being dominated by brand new test fasility for maclaren race team