The road through Bagshot was once the coaching route from London to Exeter; the town was a point where horses were changed. Bagshot Heath and Bisley Common were once notorious for highwaymen. Sandhurst, a few miles to the west, is most famous as the home of the Royal Military Academy, built by French prisoners of war during the Napoleonic Wars. The first cadets arrived in 1812, and the Museum has items relating especially to India, but also to America and Ireland.
Box Hill, 590ft high, takes its name from the box trees which once were so common here. Many were cut down in the 18th century to be used for engraving. There are beautiful views over the North Downs, and Box Hill has been designated an area of outstanding natural beauty. It has been popular picnic site since at least the century when the diarist John Evelyn sang it’s praises and Jane Austen in Emma chose Box Hill as a setting for an important outing.
Camberley is deep in the heart of Sir John Betjeman‘s Joan Hunter-Dunn country where, if the late Poet Laureate is to be believed, love-sick subalterns once played tennis with girls named Pam and Joan. The Staff College was originated by the underrated Duke of York in 1799, and the Royal Military College at nearby Sandhurst was also his brainchild. Sandhurst used to be known as ‘Hellover-the-Hill’ by the nearby public school at Wellington; and cadets were once a wild bunch. The National Army Museum is at Sandhurst.
This small market town was settled by Saxons and raided by Danes; the Roman road Stane Street runs through the town and forms a crossroads with the old Pilgrim Way, which ran along the Downs to Canterbury.
Dickens stayed at the White Horse Inn in Dorking, and it is thought that this was the model for the Marquis of Granby Inn of The Pickwick Papers. Disraeli wrote part of Coningsby (1844) at Deepdene, and dedicated it to the owner, Henry Hope. The house is no longer there, but the wooded terrace behind it is owned by the National Trust. The writers Gissing and Meredith, lived in Dorking, Meredith is buried in the town‘ cemetery.
One mile north the hotel at Burford Bridge is where Lord Nelson finallyseperated from Lady Nelson in 1800, following his affair with Lady Hamilton. Near the hotel stepping stones cross the River Mole to Box Hill
Horse-racing has been an established sport on Epsom Downs since the 18th century. It is here that the Derby is run, the most famous of English flat races, named after the Earl of Derby in 1780; the Oaks, named after his country seat, had been instituted in 1779. The town was, in the past, well known for medicinal springs; Epsom Salts can still be purchased.
In the heart of London’s commuter belt, Esher is surrounded by common and heathland and manages to preserve a village green and several 18th-century houses. A 15th century gateway known as Wolsey’s Tower is all that is left of the mansion to which Cardinal Wolsey retired when he fell from Henry Vlll’s favour. North of the town is Sandown Park racecourse.
A small country town of red brick, whose predominantly Georgian character has been preserved from the encroaching commuter country. A wide street of attractive shops and houses leads to Farnham Castle. The Norman keep is attached to a 15th to 17th-century building, formerly residence of the Bishops of Guildford.
J M Barriewrote Peter Pan while living in Farnham.
Frensham has an extensive common, famous for its wild life, and ancient prehistoric barrows line its crest; over 200 species of birds can be seen here. Frensham Ponds are ideal for fishing and sailing: Great Pond is at over 100 acres one of the biggest in southern England and Little Pond where water lilies flourish. The River Wey runs nearby and the three curious-looking hills are called the Devil’s Jumps: the largest is Stony Jump, Which gives a fine view over Surrey. Frensham’s church, although restored, still retains 14th and 15th-century characteristics. It has a Norman font and a medieval witch’scauldron, said to belong to Mother Ludlam, denizen of the local caves.
An old wool town on the River Wey, with narrow streets, half-timbered buildings and coaching inns, Godalming was an important staging point on the London to Portsmouth road. Peter the Great was a guest at the King’s Arms in 1698; in 1816 Tsar Alexander I and King William Frederick of Prussia dined there.
Great Bookham church is a building of particular interest. The nave walls are 11th century; the north wall shows the remains of contemporary frescoes. Monuments within the church are exceptional. Jane Austen was a frequent visitor to the village where her godfather was rector. A scene in Emma is set nearby at Box Hill. Fanny Burney wrote Camilla while at Fairford House in the High Street. Two miles south is Polesden Lacey where George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) spent part of their honeymoon. This 19th century house, containing the Greville collection of pictures, tapestries and furnishings, is set in 140 acres of beautiful grounds which include a superb rose garden
Guildford’s impressive modern Anglican cathedral, consecrated in 1961, looks down on the county town of Surrey from its hilltop setting on the outskirts. Close to the cathedral are the modern buildings of the University of Surrey, and the Yvonne Arnaud ‘ Theatre was opened in 1965 on the banks of the River Wey. Despite being a busy modern shopping centre the town retains many old buildings, and its steep High Street has an unchanging Georgian character, with a very ornate 17th-century Guildhall. All that remains of the castle is the 12th century keep; nearby is the house in which Lewis Carroll died in 1898. Other places of interest in the town are the 17th-century Guildford House Gallery, Guildford Museum and the Tudor Hospital of the Blessed Trinity. Loseley House is an Elizabethan manor built with stone from Waverley Abbey, lying two and a half miles south west of Guildford, and contains fine period furnishings. Other interesting houses are Elizabethan Sutton Place, two and a half miles north east, one of the first non-fortified mansions in Britain; Clandon Park with its Palladian house, and Hatchlands which has a Robert Adam interior.
From 100 acre Winkworth Arboretum, one mile north of Hascombe, there are fine views of the North Downs. This hillside arboretum with two lakes is especially worth visiting in May and October for seasonal colours.
Situated in hilly, wooded country, much of it designated an area of outstanding natural beauty and ideal for walking, this small town is well known for its Dolmetsch Musical Instrument Workshops where there is a museum of musical instruments. An annual festival held in July is devoted to early music. The town also boasts a unique Educational Museum, founded in 1888 by a Victorian surgeon, Sir Jonathan Hutchinson.
North Downs, The
This range of rolling chalk hills was the northern edge of a great dome that, 140 million years ago, covered all south-east England and joined it to France. It, and the South Downs, are all that remains, the highest point is near Woldingham (900ft) and has a large chalk pit at its base. Box Hill (nearly 600ft) is particularly beautiful. The Pilgrims’ Way, along which the devout travelled from Winchester to Canterbury, follows the Downs for part of its route. The North Downs reach an abrupt but impressive conclusion at the White Cliffs of Dover.
Situated on the edge of the North Downs, Reigate’s open spaces include the 130-acre Reigate Heath, where church services are held in a converted 220-year old windmill. The town retains some interesting old buildings. The priory, founded in 1235, was converted into a Tudor mansion and now houses a school and a museum. Reigate’s large parish church contains the grave of Lord Howard of Effingham, who commanded the English fleet which defeated the Armada. Only the mound remains of the Norman castle; beneath is a cave and medieval tunnels, used as air raid shelters in World War II.
Walton appears in the Domesday Book as ‘Waletona’, listed as having a church, two mills and a fishery; the same church still stands, though altered and restored over the centuries. The town has now merged with Weybridge a similarly ancient settlement with a Norman church which was the site of two royal residences in the Tudor period and the setting for Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine Howard. Weybridge is a town of ‘firsts’, having been the home of the world’s first racing track, the world’s first air travel booking office and Britain’s first aerodrome.
The 300-acre grounds and gardens of the Royal Horticultural Society are particularly striking when the azaleas and rhododendrons are in bloom, but at all times of the year there are pleasant walks among trees or beside rock gardens of heath and alpine plants; new varieties of fruit and vegetables are tried out here, and student gardeners are trained. Wisley Pond, surrounded by fir trees, is a well known beauty spot. A Norman church with a 17th-century timbered porch stands between the River Wey and the Wey Navigation Canal.
A residential and commuter town on the restored Basingstoke Canal, Woking developed as a direct result of the coming of the railway in the 1830’s. Its most distinctive feature is its large Mosque, built in 1889 and still the centre of Islamic observance in this country. Nearby is Brookwood Cemetery – one of the most extensive in the world.