Walking in Surrey and the Surrey Hills
About Walking in Surrey and the Surrey Hills
THE SURREY Hills are often overlooked by walkers and hikers in favour of more rugged areas in northern England, Wales and Scotland. Sure, they’re more rolling agricultural land and heather-strewn commons than Himalayan foothills. But nonetheless the area offers some exquisite walking on a vast network of long distance paths and shorter trails.
Not to mention that the area throws up an intriguing and up-and-coming wine trail, with its plethora of vineyards nowadays competing with some of our continent’s best.
And although within easy travelling distance of some of southern England’s more populous cities and conurbations, with the train between London and Dorking for example taking less than an hour, it offers a glorious opportunity to escape the hordes in verdant countryside.
The Surrey Hills is a 422 km2 Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), designated as such in 1958 and encompassing a quarter of the county of Surrey. Adjoining the South Downs National Park to its south west and the Kent Downs AONB to its east, it covers a huge area of England’s finest rural scenery. Peppered with attractive market towns and villages, it is eminently suitable for a day’s hiking or a much more substantive walking holiday.
The area’s highest point is Leith Hill near Coldharbour at some 294m, part of the Greensand Ridge which traverses the county east to west and across Blackheath Common. It forms part of the 88 km long Greensand Way long distance path, which follows a well-waymarked route along public footpaths and bridleways.
A hilly but not too strenuous route, taking in the highland areas of Leith Hill, Hascombe, and Holmbury, it snakes between Haslemere and Reigate before slithering on over the county border into Kent. The Devil’s Punchbowl, east of Hindhead, is a fascinating 82.2-hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest, a huge natural amphitheatre of astounding natural beauty owned and maintained by the National Trust. With the A3 highway having dipped beneath the adjoining Hindhead Commons nearby on the opening of a new road tunnel in 2011, the commons itself joins the Devil’s Punchbowl as one of southern England’s more bountiful wildlife reserves.
North Downs Way
The best known long distance trail is probably the North Downs Way, all 251km of it. It follows the North Downs chalk ridge and along the famous White Cliffs right into the port town of Dover. A loop on the path allows a visit to the ancient city of Canterbury in Kent, an UNESCO World Heritage Site and spiritual capital of the world’s Anglican adherents.
The Pilgrims’ Way also wends its merry way to Canterbury, completing the Surrey Hills’ trinity of long distance paths. It follows an ancient route of some 214km running through Kent, Hampshire and of course Surrey, following in the trail of true believers making their way in medieval times to the shrine of the martyred St Thomas Becket at the city’s enchanting cathedral.
Walk The Chalk
A shorter but popular walk, using the railway network to access it at either end, is the 11km Walk The Chalk path along the scarp slope of the North Downs between Dorking West and Gomshall stations. It is a relatively easy and well waymarked path, although with some steepish ascents and descents, with both ends well served by pubs and restaurants. If you’d rather take the car, head for Deepdene – also served by train – just on the outskirts of Dorking. There you can also inspect the spectacular 17th century gardens that form part of the alternative Deepdene Trail.
The name Surrey derives from Sudergeona, from the Saxon for southern region, and was part of a large Saxon kingdom in these parts in the 7th century. But its history goes much further back to when the Celts ruled the roost, before being driven to the west and south in Cornwall, Wales and Brittany. The North Down Way passes through Guildford, which bristles with evidence of its Celtic past. The largest ever hoard of Celtic coins, some 10,000 of them, were discovered nearby on the slopes of the Hog’s Back near Wanborough during an archaeological dig at the site of an ancient temple in the 1980s.
But didn’t you mention wine and vineyards, I hear you drool greedily. Absolutely. The Surrey Hills produces some fine wines that are increasingly of international standard, with most vineyards glad to lay out the welcome mat for you. Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking is one of England’s biggest producers, Albury Organic Vineyard has 21,000 vines in – you’ve guessed it – Albury, Godstone Vineyard produces a signature sparking white, while you’ll find Greyfriars Vineyard on the slopes of the Hog’s Back in Puttenham.