St Catherines Chapel


268_7 St Catherines Chapel

Site Plan St Catherines

St Martha’s Hill in the distance looking east from St Catherine’s Chapel

: There is an old folk tale that the two chapels, St Martha’s and St Catherine’s, were built by two giant sisters to expiate some sin.  But having only one hammer between them they tossed it from one to the other across the two mile gap in the river valley until the chapels were built.  A strange similarity to the belief of some new-agers that these lines are paths of some power.

St Martha’s Hill seen through St Catherine’s Chapel

St Catherine’s Chapel from the top of the Mesolithic site.

The present chapel ruin date from the early 14th century and is possibly on the site of an earlier building but has never been excavated. The chapel is now roofless and all decoration has long since gone. The existing walls are substantial and suggest tall pinnacles, perhaps to create a landmark for pilgrims. Thankfully it is well protected by an iron paling fence. The hill upon which Saint Catherine’s Chapel stands was recorded in 1318 as being called Drakehull, which the English Place Name Society translates from the old English as Dragon Hill.  Ley hunters often claim that references to dragons indicate the presence of an alignment with the dragon representing the hidden power associated with ley lines which is supposedly detectable by dowsing. Although I don’t give any credence to this supposition, it may be interesting to note that St Catherine’s is to the centre of the wheel-like pattern.

Telephoto looking west across the River Wey gap

Telephoto picture looking west across the River Wey gap

The Pilgrims Way, although the name is largely a romantic Victorian invention, is certainly a collection of ancient trackways that may have been used since prehistory and by pilgrims travelling between the great cathedrals of south-east England and it has been suggested that it is the old route from the Straits of Dover to Stonehenge.  The chalk downs provide a high and dry trackway and It is thought that after the inauguration of the shrine to Thomas a Becket in Canterbury Cathedral pilgrims used the existing terrace way along the south edge of the downs. In the east the trackway passes over the hill at St Martha’s Chapel, passes over a ridge known as The Chantries and descends into the valley of the River Wey. At the river there was a ferry which operated in living memory at the foot of St Catherines Hill but has been replaced by a modern footbridge. At this point there is a Mesolithic site where a rare assemblage of nearly 3400 worked flints of generally excellent quality have been collected, now in possession of the British Museum.

At my visit in August I spotted an excellent little flint blade.  The edge of this was evidently recently exposed in undisturbed sand only a few yards from the chapel suggesting that the Mesolithic site extended from the river bank up the hill to the chapel site.

Mesolithic flint tool from St Catherines

At the foot of the hill and a short distance from the river bank is a spring issuing and flowing into the river; this is known as Chaucer’s Spring, surely a romantic 19th-century name given to promote legends of the Pilgrims Way.

The sacred spring issues from the dark patch on the right.

The River Wey looking south with the Mesolithic site on right climbing uphill to the chapel.

Farley Hill looking south from St Catherine’s Hill


St Martha’s Hill from the top of the Mesolithic site with the fence to the railway tunnel entrance on the right.



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