Guildford....the ultimate commuter town

Guildford is the town where I was born, although I have never lived there.  I probably never will, unless I won the lottery and if I did, I’d more likely be found in Guildford Western Australia than the namesake in Surrey. 

It is a nice town, do not get me wrong.  It is a big town of almost 80,000 people and that doubles if you incudes its’ Borough.  It is not a city, do not get confused by the large modern (well, 1960’s) Cathedral that dominates the town on Stag Hill, so named because the Kings of England from times of yore hunted there.  It has tried to become a city but those who advise QEII told her to say no.  Thus it remains a town, the largest in Surrey, where it also serves as the county town, having taken over from Kingston-on-Thames when that was swallowed up by “Greater” London and is also the seat of the University of Surrey, and has been since 1966 when its predessor was moved from Battersea in London.  And no it was not called the University of Surrey then, it was called something else.   The fact that London has sprawled and sprawled and taken former parts of Surrey such as Kingston with it has effected Guildford, and it is now the most significant place to the southwest of London.  Catch a train from Waterloo and if you get the right one you can be there in under half an hour, having only stopped at Woking, which is a concrete jungle five miles up the road best missed if you can.  A sort of what Shenzhen is to Hong Kong with Guildford obviously being the Hong Kong.  Maybe I am the first person ever to have compared Guildford to the former British colony on the South China Sea?!  Certainly in rush hour it feels like you are in Hong Kong.  I’m not the first to compare it to an Asian metropolis, Jeremy Clarkson once said that Guildford appeared to have the working population of Tokyo.  And if you ever find yourself on the one way system at 5.01pm on any given week day you will see why….  And that is without the masses that then follow from the trains having burst out of London.  They live ‘out here’ because it is not ‘up there’.  But all they have done is bring the prices from ‘up there’ to ‘out here’ and by that I mean the houses.  Regarded to be the most expensive place for property outside of London, a modest three bedroom semi-detached house will be around the £400,000 mark and that is if you are lucky.  If you have to rent, well, a three bedroom house will be £1,500 a month but if you want a driveway and a postage stamp garden then look more towards £2,000 a month.  And despite what you may think, those who work in and around Guildford do not earn any more pennies than those in other parts of the country.  And I won’t even get started on the council tax prices.  So, yes, you can see what I mean; I will never live in Guildford.  Me and many others. 

Walking around the town it is not all English twee.  Yes, plenty of clearly well healed people, English gents with patches on their elbows having just squeezed the Range Rover into a parking space somewhere, shopping in the shops for the well healed on the cobbled High Street, which is said to be the steepest in England – and probably the world, as they don’t have many cobbled High Streets in Yemen and such places I’m sure.  But, you will now hear a lot of Russian voices.  Not to be confused with the Polish voices, who as Nigel Farage will be on your TV telling you sometime soon are everywhere in the country, and yes there are plenty in Guildford but the Russian are there big time.  The Oligarch's with money clearly to burn, I mean spend.  I grew up thinking the Russians were poor people living in tower blocks in some frozen wasteland.  Not these ones!  They, their wives with real animal skin and offspring are easily spotted in and around Guildford.   It is also the University town too, so plenty of students from all over the world can be seen and found tackling Tesco. How on earth they afford any sort of student accommodation I really don’t know.

It is a nice town to while away an afternoon though, a variety of shops with lanes between the two main streets, good for burning a few calories too as the High Street is indeed steep.  Two very large department stores in House of Fraser for those with the coin and Debenhams for those who do not.  There is even a Primark and TK Maxx.  Yes, in Guildford.  Even a Poundland.  Surely there for the students?  Aside from the shops, there is the Castle grounds, the River which is not quite Oxford but even so, it is there with boats for hire a little further along to the south of the town.  There is Stoke Park, which has is used for many things, although Guilfest, the music festival succumbed to the rubbish summer weather in 2012 and a whole host of countryside around with the North Downs.  And just a short train ride away from London, and that is where we came in…

Guildford Cathedral which sits on Stag Hill and at least some of it can be seen from many parts of the town. Hardly the most attractive of Cathedrals, but equally one of the most modern in Britain. But, still looks a bit out of place in a town that dates to Roman times.
The River Wey
Guildford's steep "cobbled" High Street
Guildford Castle which is thought to be 12th century. Nobody is totally sure but it was not mentioned in the Doomsday Book. Unless they forgot to look on their visit.
Guildford High Street on a grey afternoon. It is said that the town receives 200 days of sunshine a year. This was not one of them.
This was Guildford's Victorian Fire Station. It is now a public toilet, but at least the building still stands...
The Westfield Friary Shopping Centre, recently revamped. So called because it was built on what was once a Dominican Friary, founded by Eleanor of Provence in the 13th century, wife of King Henry III. She was French, the English people didn't like her. The Friary was latterly turned into a Brewery before the building lay empty ahead of being knocked flat and turned into one of the country's first USA style 'malls' in the 1980's.
Guildford's most popular nightclub. It has had many different names over the years and once upon a time hit the news as Cheryl Cole/Tweedie of 'Girls Aloud' "fame" decided to take exception to a toilet attendant. Took most of the security staff to hold her down apparently. Often trouble around here late on a Friday or Saturday but remember this is Guildford, so even the thugs are of a better class than, say, 10 miles down the road at Aldershot.
Now a Weatherspoons pub and a music studio, but this was the first home to the Dennis Brothers vehicle factory. Who you might say? Take a look at the next Fire engine you might see and check the name. The business is still very much based in Guildford and one of the town's largest single employers. (Check the traffic light. Clearly someone was not looking where they were driving)