Guide To Holidaying In Surrey
A guide by Julia Buckley
Surrey for many people is the 'stockbroker belt' of large suburban houses and upmarket towns. Wherever you stay in Surrey, there's a great deal to offer the holidaymaker. Book a holiday cottage in Surrey and enjoy exploring the county's market towns of Guildford of Dorking, walks at the Devil's Punchbowl or Box Hill or just enjoying sitting by the River Thames at Hampton Wick or a bit closer to London at Richmond.
Those who dismiss Surrey as mere commuter-land will be sorely disappointed. They'll also be surprised to learn that it's one of the most densely wooded counties in England - it's not for nothing that the logo of Surrey County Council is a pair of intertwined oak leaves. So if this doesn't fit with your mental image, perhaps it's time to pay a visit.
Surrey's proximity to London has, of course, ensured great swathes of urbanisation; but step off the M25, head south for the Surrey hills, and you'll be met by clusters of enchanting villages that look as if all that's changed in the last fifty years is the inhabitants' taste in curtains.
From the village ponds to the roadside speed restriction signs, everything is meticulously tended. The perfectly manicured villages of Leigh, Brockham and Norwood Hill sit on the banks of the River Mole near the Sussex border, and are perfect for a leisurely day of exploring.
Guildford - the county capital since pre-Norman times - boasts shopping aplenty, as well as a Henry II castle and keep for the more culturally-minded. Its freshly-built post-war cathedral was constructed from bricks made of the clay on which it sits; and its Tudor Guildhall has been standing since 1660.
The town museum contains over two thousand years' worth of finds, as well as a display of the childhood toys of Charles Dodgson - better known as Lewis Carroll. Dodgson is buried in Guildford cemetery, just behind the chapel.
Thanks to its proximity to London, Surrey bears witness to much of UK history. The Magna Carta was signed in 1215 at Runnymede near Egham. Several centuries later, Henry VIII made his mark on the county when he destroyed Farnham's Waverley Abbey as part of the Reformation and commandeered Hampton Court, one of the finest Tudor buildings in the country, from his erstwhile ally Cardinal Wolsey.
Henry turned the palace, complete with 280 rooms and a staff of 500, into a love nest to share with Anne Boleyn; and although their relationship may have been short-lived, Henry's love affair with Hampton Court continued till his death. Don't miss the tricky maze; Anne Boleyn's gateway, inscribed with the initials H&A; or the Great Hall, whose stained glass windows contain the crests of each of Henry's six wives.
If Hampton Court inspires you to visit more historic buildings, Surrey has plenty on offer. Over 1000 feet in the air, the eighteenth-century Leith Hill Tower crowns the highest point in the South-East, near Coldharbour; while Polesden Lacey is a beautiful Edwardian National Trust house, once frequented by the fabulously rich Mrs Grevel and her high society cronies.
The pretty village of Compton, meanwhile, houses a beautiful Art Nouveau cemetery chapel designed by the nineteenth-century husband-and-wife team George and Mary Watts. The walls are a riot of red, green and gold relief, which Mary called "glorified wallpaper", and if you're not averse to visiting a graveyard, it's an unmissable sight.
For a structured view of nature, head to the 100-acre Winkworth Arboretum near Godalming or any of the Gertrude Jekyll gardens scattered over Surrey; but if you prefer your landscapes untamed, make sure you take a trip along the A31 at Farnham on the Hog's Back, held to be one of the most scenic drives in the South-East.
The Devil's Punch Bowl, a natural sandstone amphitheatre, is as famous for its spectacular surrounding heathland as for its name; while Box Hill, near Dorking, has inspired generations of writers, from the seventeenth-century diarist John Evelyn to Robert Louis Stevenson via Jane Austen - the picnic scene in Emma is set here. Surrey is a county which truly defies expectations - lucky commuters.
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