Headley Heath Second World War walking trail
If you were to step back in time to the 1940s, visitors to Headley Heath would hardly recognise the site. Almost devoid of the thick shrubs and oak trees now flourishing, the heath would have been pockmarked with training trenches, bomb craters and fox holes. Nor would visitors be able to casually stroll past Bellasis House where secrets and espionage were whispered and enacted on a daily basis. Take this fascinating walk over the heath to learn more about its military past and how it has shaped the landscape today.
This walk is in parts challenging with steep climbs and descents. Please ensure you wear stout footwear. After heavy rain stretches of the walk can be muddy. Dogs welcome, but please keep on a lead when cattle are close by.
Headley Heath main car park KT18 6NN
Leave the car park heading away from the road and across the open area. In front of you will be a gate, turn right as you reach this gate and pass through the next gate ahead on your left, with a yellow post. Continue along the Lizard Trail (marked yellow) until you reach post number two (‘2’ on post itself), with a bench to your left. Take the path between the bench and the post, heading straight on. After approximately 30 metres turn left off of the trail, after a few metres you will see several depressions in the landscape - the remains of a zigzag trench.
Zig Zag Trench
During the Second World War, Headley Heath was used by the Canadian forces as a training area ahead of D-Day, 6 June 1944 and the headquarters of the 1st Canadian Army were at nearby Headley Court. Read more about the Canadian forces on Headley Heath, here. This zigzag trench is evidence of their activities during this time and is one of a number of physical traces of the training that took place on the Heath. Although nature has reclaimed this trench, it would have originally been at least two metres deep in order to protect and conceal its occupants.
Return to the path and continue in the direction you were travelling. Follow this path down a short slope and up again, reaching a bridleway. Turn right before taking a left turn onto a path immediately in front of the second large, standalone oak tree. After you cross a larger path, and to your front right you will see two large depressions in the landscape – followed by a raised section of earth. These are the remains of a trench system. Nearby is the area referred to as the Pyramids, you can read about these here.
The raised section of earth alongside the first two trenches is an example of a parapet, which would be located on the enemy facing side of the trench and would provide additional protection and concealment for those in the trenches.
Continue past the Trench System joining the path ahead of you, turn right and follow this to a convergence of several paths, continue along the bridleway to your front (marked by blue post). As the bridleway descends, look to your left after approximately 50 metres. In the mid-distance you will see two medium craters to the right of a large tree. These are believed to have either been caused by the impact of mortar rounds, or have been dug as weapons pits and are tangible evidence of the live-firing training conducted on Headley Heath during the Second World War. Live munitions have been located on the Heath in recent years, so in the unlikely event that you encounter any suspected munitions during your visit, please contact the emergency services, who will arrange for expert personnel to attend.
Ahead on the trail there is a steep ascent to High Ashurst, so visitors not wishing to attempt this, may use the small car park near to Bellasis House (location six) to visit this section of the trail. Continue your descent along the bridleway and pause as you reach the wooded area on the left side of the trail. This area has been terraced and is believed to be further evidence of the training activities conducted on the Heath.
Continue to follow the bridleway, passing the steps on your left and round the corner ahead of you. Continue to follow this path as it ascends, taking the path on your right hand side and towards the top of the ascent. This will emerge by the Coach House building of High Ashurst. Please keep to the footpath in order to ensure the safety & security of the young people and other users of High Ashurst. Today High Ashurst is home to Surrey Outdoor Learning & Development, however the site has seen several uses within its history.
Find out more about High Ashurst
During the Second World War the house would be for accommodating British troops initially, before the Canadians took up residency. Sited on the boundary of Headley Heath, it formed an ideal base for troops. Following the departure of the Canadians, a fire would devastate the house. The grounds were used during the 1948 London Olympics as a training facility, which following the demolition of the house around 1950, paved the way for its use as a youth club camping site. We thank Rob Fidgett and team at Surrey Outdoor Learning & Development for their support of this trail.
Continue to the left, and away from the Coach House building. As you follow this route you will pass the main entrance to High Ashurst and a smaller lodge house, before reaching Bellasis House on your right. The site of Bellasis House initially contained the staff quarters for High Ashurst, before being developed as a separate property, originally named simply ‘Bellasis’. Requisitioned by the War Office in early 1941, Bellasis was one of six initial Special Training Schools (STS) for secret agents of the Special Operations Executive (SOE).
Continue to the car park and go through the gate here to follow the bridleway. After a short incline, you will be presented with several paths – continue along the bridleway to your right. Continue on this large path, ignoring the bridleway as it veers to the right of this path, until you reach a convergence of six paths. Follow the bridleway to your right. You will then reach a crossroads, turn left and continue until you reach the next junction. The path to the left is formed on a section of Military Road, constructed during the Second World War.
Continue to follow the bridleway until reaching Brimmer Pond on your left. In the early hours of 3 September 1941 Headley would see two aircraft crashes, within 30 minutes of each other and tragically resulting in one fatality. These two aircraft and their crews shared more than the vicinity of their crashes, find out more here. Continue along this route until returning to the main car park.
Aircraft Crashes on Headley Heath
Handley Page Hampden I AD913 of 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron crashed near to the Canadian Army Headquarters at Headley Court, while Vickers Wellington IC Z8851 of 150 Squadron crash landed not far from where you are now standing.
Headley Heath main car park KT18 6NN
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