The Surrey Hills have some of the finest views available in south east England and are definitely worth a visit during National Walking Month!
The Surrey Hills cover some 422km2 of the North Downs and Greensand Ridge. They were designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1958 and remain a major attraction for serious walkers, wildlife lovers and drop-in tourists to this day. There’s something for everyone, especially on a sunny day.
Perhaps most famous for Box Hill and the Hog’s Back – both spectacular in their own right – they also contains some less well-sung highlights including Gibbet Hill at the edge of the Devils’ Punch Bowl, Colley Hill and Leith Hill.
All are worth a climb for their views but they also contain hidden treasures and secret wonders. So put on your walking boots and prepare to ramble.
Water your horse
We’ll start atop Colley Hill, part of the North Downs escarpment and home to the Inglis Memorial, which was built in 1909 as a drinking fountain for horses.
The road up from Reigate was the principal route between London and the south coast at that time, so having a watering hole for horses was more of a necessity than anything else. It’s a steep climb that would have taxed the legs of the most robust four-legged transport. Today it attracts dog walkers and cyclists.
Just along from the memorial is Reigate Fort, which was built to ward off any nasty French invaders that had decided to attempt an assault on London.
Unsurprisingly, it fell into disuse before the First World War but remains in good condition, a bricks and burrows monument to the poor sods who were barracked there. Back in 1890 it must have been a very dull spell of duty come sundown.
Box Hill or bust
For those with stout legs it’s an enjoyable and reasonably straightforward trek to Box Hill… famed for attracting bikers ready to test out their machines. This age-old ritual was immortalised in song by Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts – “Box Hill or Bust” – a slab of greasy biker rock completely at odds with the tranquil, if rather steep, incline up above Betchworth Station, a useful starting point for those with limited time.
The Box Hill Viewpoint, to the west of the famed biker drag, affords some truly amazing views south.
We’re now further west again, stepping onto the Deepdene Trail, a 15 minute walk from Dorking’s town centre and railway stations (the town has three!).
Once the home of Thomas Hope, a famed 19th century collector of paintings, sculpture and antiques (and Greek sailors), this historic landscape was thought lost following the collapse of the estate in the 20th century. Fortunately, some of its finer buildings have been saved, including Hope’s Mausoleum. There are also Bronze Age barrows, castle ruins and the revived Deepdene Gardens.
The best news is that the whole trail is free and there’s an app to help navigate your walk.
The art of a good walk
Any art lovers who’ve read this far might be feeling left out. Fret not… there’s art aplenty, too.
Surrey Hills Arts commissioned five artists to create artworks inspired by far reaching views across the Greensand Way. The five works are:
- Xylem by Walter Bailey on Gibbets Hill, Hindhead.
- Grains by Tom Nicholson Smith on Hascombe Hill.
- Perspectives by Giles Miller on Winterfold Hill
- Contour by Russell Jakubowski on Reynards Hill
- Converse by Matthew Burt on Holmbury Hill
Make sure to plan at least one of these works into your walk. You won’t be disappointed.
The Devil’s in the detail
Who could resist a visit to The Devil’s Punch Bowl in the South West of the Surrey Hills? Its name dates back to at least 1768, the year that the first detailed map of the area was published, and according to local legend Satan himself was involved in its excavation. His plan – to flood an area full of churches by digging a massive drainage ditch.
Old Nick was so involved with his work he forgot the time and was finally distracted at sunrise by a cock crowing. By that time he’d reached Poynings, known locally at the Devil’s Dyke.
Surrey Hills – assorted local attractions
You want a waterfall on your walk? Sorted; there are waterfalls on the Wotton Estate on the north slopes of Leith Hill. And for the film buff who’s joined your excursion there’s St Martha’s Church, a grade II listed building sat atop the North Downs Way National Trail. It is the only church in Surrey to be on the Pilgrims’ Way and featured briefly in the classic 1944 Powell and Pressburger film ‘A Canterbury Tale’ – a firm favourite in my DVD collection.
You could also stop and visit Betchworth Castle, Wanborough Great Barn, the oldest and most important wooden building in Surrey, the Chilworth Gunpowder Works, the Thursley National Nature Reserve, The Lovelace Bridges and Broadwood’s Folly. And you’d still not have seen all the Surrey Hills have to offer… not by a long yard.
You could easily spend a week traipsing across the hills, although your feet might be a little sore by the end of it. Not that it would matter – you’d have seen some of the finest views available in south east England, which is surely a reward in itself.
The best way to plan your day trips is to visit the official Surrey Hills website. And don’t forget to pack your good camera – the landscape rewards a good lens.
This is a guest post by Anthony Clark, journalist, copywriter and longtime friend of the Ladies What Travel team. He loves beer, cheese and travel and is a genius when it comes to making the most of his annual leave.