Puttenham Common is a large public open space (235 hectares) between Guildford and Farnham, preserved as a nature reserve with areas of heathland, grassland, woodland and scenic ponds. 

It is managed by Surrey Wildlife Trust.

The common has many footpaths leading from four car parks: the “Top” and “Middle” car parks are on Suffield Lane, GU10 1JJ, while the Britty Wood and Puttenham Tarn car parks are on Littleworth Road, GU10 1JH. Parking is free.

There’s lots of wildlife, flora, fauna and pond life to discover as well as wide expansive views from the Top car park, which occupies part of a plateau, from which paths lead downhill towards the west and north-west. 

For reasons I’ll explain later, the Top car park is one of my favourite places for a picnic! 

The soil within and around the Top car park is red because it is on the top of the Greensand Ridge which runs parallel to the North Downs (which are of chalk). 

Puttenham Common includes parts of Puttenham and Crooksbury Commons SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and Lower Puttenham Common and Halesmoor Wood SNCI (Site of Nature Conservation Importance).

It’s a nationally important nature hot spot, but with areas where open heathland has been lost because of tree growth. This growth was traditionally kept in check by animal grazing on the heathland, and so the “open” habitat was preserved. 

Records show that 150 years ago, Puttenham Common was a much more open mosaic of wet and dry habitats that contained many more rare and important species than it does today. 

There is a wide-ranging long-term plan which aims to restore those vital habitats.

Today, Puttenham Common comprises lowland heath (ling and bell heather dominate the open areas), woodland (mainly oak and scots pine) and a string of narrow mill ponds with associated wetland areas which contain a range of aquatic plants and invertebrates, including great crested newts.

Many birds visit the reserve, including great crested grebes, green woodpeckers, herons and heathland specialists such as the nightjar. 

Adders can be seen basking in the sun on the southern facing slopes and many species of fungi are present during early autumn.

The site is also a great reserve to see butterflies and dragonflies, which patrol the sandy paths.

A wide range of fungi species can be seen during the early autumn, as well as moss and lichen flora.

Parts are also of high archaeological interest, the main feature being the hill fort at Hillbury (at the northern end of the Common), a Scheduled Ancient Monument, which probably dates from the Iron Age but has revealed occupation during Roman times.

The reserve was used extensively by the military during the Second World War with evidence including slit trenches and rifle range butts.

If you’re looking for a grassy picnic spot with glorious views, the slope alongside the Top car park fits the bill! 

The view southwards from the hilltop edge, next to the parking area, is over an area of 25 square miles of woods, parklands and commons – and unlike the viewpoint at Newlands Corner, you won’t be sharing the space with hundreds of others! 

There’s a designated picnic area to the north of the Top car park (one of three serving the common) but this doesn’t offer the spectacular views.

The Top car park is accessed from Suffield Lane. To get there, turn off the A31 (Hog’s Back) on to the B3000, heading towards Compton. Very shortly, turn right into Puttenham village, then take the first left (after the church) towards Elstead on Suffield Lane. The entrance to the Top car park is on the right, a little over 1km (0.7 mile) from the village. 

The Middle car park is a 700m further along Suffield Lane, also on your right. 

The Tarn car park, overlooking  a picturesque pond, is 400m further: turn right at the next junction (Littleworth Road) then the car park is immediately on your right. The Britty Wood car park is 250m further along the same road, on the left.

Puttenham Common is owned by the Hampton Estate. It is managed by the estate in conjunction with Surrey County Council and Surrey Wildlife Trust. 

For lots of information about the common, including details of the habitat restoration programme, visit www.hamptonestate.co.uk/puttenham-common-restoration