Box Hill Circular walk
A fairly strenuous walk in a beautiful part of the North Downs
Main Walk: 16¼ km (10.1 miles). Four hours 40 minutes walking time. For the whole excursion including trains, sights and meals, allow at least 9 hours.
Two Short Walks, omitting Headley Heath: 13 and 13½ km (8.1 and 8.4 miles). Both around three hours 45 minutes walking time.
Explorer 146. Box Hill & Westhumble station is in Surrey, 2 km N of Dorking.
8 out of 10 (6 for the Short Walks).
Although they share the same station, this short but strenuous North Downs walk takes in a different area from the Westhumble Circular walk (2–14b). It traverses a series of hills in a clockwise loop north and east of Box Hill & Westhumble station: Norbury Park, Mickleham Downs, Headley Heath and finally Box Hill itself. There are many fine viewpoints and in several places you can see your earlier route from a new perspective. The area is deservedly popular and the famous sites are likely to be crowded on fine weekends, but there are quieter places in between.
Norbury Park Nature Reserve is described by Surrey Wildlife Trust as a ‘working landscape’ which includes a sawmill and three farms. The prominent house at its centre (in private ownership) was built in 1774 and has had several famous owners and tenants, including Leopold Salomons (who donated Box Hill to the National Trust) and Dr Marie Stopes, the family planning pioneer.
Box Hill (named for its abundant box trees) and Headley Heath are both owned by the National Trust, which has introduced special breeds of sheep and cattle to restore more of the downland to its original ‘unimproved’ condition. This unfertilized land is rich in wildflowers and supports many butterflies: 40 of the 58 British species have been found on Box Hill.
You may come across areas grazed by sheep and cattle in Norbury Park, Headley Heath or Box Hill. Access through all these enclosures should still be possible but there may be temporary fences and gates (not mentioned in the text) to control the livestock.
A slightly longer alternative ending is available from the Box Hill Visitor Centre. Instead of the gradual descent along the Burford Spur, this takes the route of the Box Hill to Leatherhead walk (1–49, in reverse) down long flights of steps to the famous Stepping Stones across the River Mole, followed by a new stretch through Burford Meadow.
Two Short Walks replace the afternoon loop through Headley Heath with more direct routes through Box Hill Country Park, cutting out one of the four hills. One has good views from Juniper Top (also on Walk 1–49) and the Burford Spur, the other takes in a folly tower and the stepping stones.
The directions mention several short cuts which cut out some of the other climbs, as well as detours to points of interest.
This walk originally had an option to finish in Dorking, but even though the town used to have a much better train service this option was hardly ever taken. As the service to Box Hill was significantly improved in 2019 (see below) it has been replaced with the alternative ending mentioned above.
A flaw in the original walk was that the lunch stop came too soon, so in 2019 the morning section in Norbury Park was extended with a 1½ km loop around Updown Wood on Fetcham Downs. The afternoon section of the Main Walk is still longer (and tougher) than the new morning route, but the lunch pub is now at the halfway point of the Short Walks.
Box Hill & Westhumble is served by trains to Dorking (Main) from both Waterloo and Victoria, taking around 50 minutes. In May 2019 the off-peak service improved from one train an hour to three: two from Waterloo and one from Victoria (but the other way round on Sundays).
The obvious ticket is a return to Box Hill & Westhumble, although oddly a return to Dorking Stations is actually slightly cheaper from London Terminals. The cheapest ticket from central London is a “Southern Only” return to either Dorking or Box Hill, although this would restrict you to the direct line from Victoria.
From Mickleham you could take London bus 465 to Dorking or Leatherhead if you want to finish the walk after lunch. There are no other public transport options in the afternoon until you descend from Box Hill, where you are close to the station.
If driving, there is a small free car park “for railway users” at Box Hill & Westhumble station. There is also a free car park at Ryka's Café near the Burford Bridge roundabout, which you pass on the main return route.
Take the train nearest to 10:00 from Waterloo or Victoria to Box Hill & Westhumble.
The suggested lunchtime pub is the King WilliamⅣ (01372-372590) in Mickleham, after 6¼ km. This free house – hidden away on a path leading up to Mickleham Downs – serves local beers and good home-cooked food (to 2pm Mon–Sat, all afternoon Sundays). It has an attractive terraced garden, but limited space inside. Just off the main route, the Running Horses (01372-372279) in Mickleham village is a good alternative. Both pubs are fairly expensive.
There is a popular café inside the National Trust Visitor Centre at the top of Box Hill, plus a servery offering hot and cold drinks, cakes and ice-creams. There is ample seating both inside and outdoors.
At the foot of Box Hill the sound of motorbikes will guide you to Ryka's Café (01306-884454; open to 5pm Mon–Fri, 6pm weekends), which serves a wide range of food and drink. In Westhumble Street the Stepping Stones (01306-889932) pub is usually open all day, and at the station itself the Old Booking Hall houses Pilgrim Cycles (01306-886958; open to 5pm Tue–Sat; 4pm Sun; closed Mon), a bicycle shop with a convenient café to serve people waiting for a train; it may stay open later than its posted times if called in advance.
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Out (not a train station)
Back (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline (bus times): 0871 200 22 33 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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The directions for this walk are also in a PDF (link above) which you can download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
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Walk Options ( Main | Short )
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- Main Walk (16¼ km)
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- Take the footpath heading north away from the station, then bear left across a large field to reach Norbury Park. In the woods, take a narrow path uphill signposted to Druids Grove. At the end of a long level stretch along the wooded hillside turn left onto a zig-zag path of steps going up to a viewpoint over the Mole Valley. Turn right onto a track behind the viewpoint to head north alongside the grounds of Norbury Park House to the sawmill.
- From the station car park, go up the concrete steps to the right of the footbridge between the platforms. These lead to a road where you turn left, crossing over the railway. On the other side of the bridge, immediately turn right onto a public footpath heading N, alongside the railway.
- Go through a gate into a large field and bear left (leaving the public footpath) onto a faint grassy path which runs near the left-hand edge of the field. At the end go through a gate and continue in the same direction through a wood.
After a climb, fork left in front of a gate leading into a field. The path goes up another short slope and comes to a T-junction. Turn right briefly onto a broad path, then in 60m turn left onto a narrow path winding gently uphill through the trees.
This path used to be signposted to Druids Grove, but the sign was missing when last checked.
For 200m the path stays fairly close to the broad path below, then veers left and climbs more steeply. In a further 175m there is a short flight of steps going up the slope on your left.
- For an easier route to the viewpoint and sawmill, climb the steps and turn right onto a track. You could simply follow this track for 1 km all the way to the sawmill (and continue the directions at §B), but it is worth forking right at a Viewpoint signpost after 500m and picking up the directions at [?].
- For the main route, follow the narrow and potentially slippery path for a further 650m as it contours along the wooded hillside. You go past clumps of box trees and several ancient yew trees, although nowhere along the path is actually identified as Druids Grove.
- The turning off this path is easy to miss. At the start of a straight stretch lined with box trees veer left onto a zig-zag path of steps climbing up the wooded hillside, which comes out at a viewpoint? looking eastwards across the Mole valley.
- With your back to the view, bear right onto a path alongside the boundary fence of Norbury Park House, soon meeting a broad track. Turn right and follow this track alongside the green chainlink fence, heading N. In 400m you pass the entrance to Norbury Park Sawmill on your left.
Unless you want to take a short cut by following a bridleway along the sawmill's access road, fork left to head west to the edge of Fetcham Downs. Take a path on the right through Walnut Tree Clump and continue with a clockwise loop around Updown Wood, eventually heading south-west back towards the sawmill. Fork left onto a path joining the bridleway where it leaves the access road. Head east on this bridleway, initially alongside Norbury Park House's boundary fence and then downhill to a lane. Turn right to cross the River Mole and then the A24 (Mickleham bypass).
After passing the sawmill entrance the track forks in front of a triangular area with some wooden benches and an information panel about the history of Norbury Park.
- If you want to cut out the loop around Updown Wood (saving 1½ km) keep right to continue on the sawmill's access road. After passing a security gate for Norbury Park house and descending for 175m, turn right onto a signposted public bridleway and resume the directions at [?].
- For the main route fork left in front of the triangular area onto a broad track heading W. In 125m keep ahead where the track splits and go up to a “Chalk Grassland” information panel in front of an open area, on the edge of Fetcham Downs.
- Turn right at the panel onto a broad grassy path leading to a belt of trees and take the left-hand of two paths into them, past a wooden barrier engraved “Walnut Tree Clump”. This leads into a semi-open area with scattered trees and shrubs (where there might be cattle grazing) with a clear grassy path ahead.
- In 300m keep ahead at a path crossing. The path curves right, then goes into a more wooded area with a fenced enclosure on the right. Follow the path past another “Walnut Tree Clump” barrier to a T-junction with a broad track.
- Turn left onto this track, heading NE and soon coming to a corner of the wood where there are views across the downland to Leatherhead in the Mole valley. Stay on the main track as it heads NE along the edge of the wood, passing a “Woodland Management” information panel.
- In 300m (with more views to the left, and a post marked 15 Z) follow the main track round to the right to head E, soon bending right again to head SE. After going in this direction for 200m the path bends right again to head SW and merges with another path coming up from the left.
- In a further 100m fork left by another marker post (4 M). In 150m this path veers left to go down and across a dip and emerges onto the tarmac lane from the sawmill. Go across this (slightly to the right) onto a signposted public bridleway.
Follow the bridleway up a slope, alongside the boundary fence of Norbury Park House again. In 200m you pass a security gate into the grounds and bear right, ignoring the (seemingly unused) driveway down to the left. At the next path junction there is a sign pointing right to Centenary Copse & Viewpoint.
- If you wish you could make a short out-and-back detour to this viewpoint, a small terrace with a wooden bench 100m away.
- For the main route fork left at the signpost and follow the bridleway downhill through the trees to an open area by a communications mast, with views across the valley to Cherkley Court.
- Carry on downhill, later on a broad grassy strip alongside the driveway you crossed earlier and then the tarmac lane from the sawmill, which both merge from the left. Where the lane swings off to the left keep right on a path between hedges.
Follow the path down to a lane and turn right. After crossing the River Mole the lane comes to the A24 (Mickleham bypass) opposite its junction with Old London Road. Cross this busy dual carriageway with great care, to the left of the junction.
The main walk route is along a footpath behind the houses alongside the A24, but to visit the Running Horses follow Old London Road to the pub and return via a footpath through the churchyard. At the end of the footpath parallel to the A24 continue along School Lane and Byttom Hill to the King WilliamⅣ. Take the path up past the pub and turn left onto a broad level path. At the end turn right onto a footpath climbing steadily up Mickleham Downs. At the top turn half-left onto a bridleway which leads to the middle of a long open area, The Gallops.
- On the other side of the A24, turn left along the pavement for a short distance. At the end of a high brick wall in front of the first house, turn right into a driveway (as indicated by a bridleway signpost on the other side of the carriageway).
- In 40m, where the drive swings round to the left at Old House Cottage, keep ahead along a path. 30m later, follow it round to the left at a path junction.
Alternative route (+500m)
- Go along Old London Road for 250m to reach the Running Horses? pub on your right, opposite the churchyard.
- To resume the walk, go through the churchyard and turn left onto a grassy path 40m behind St Michael's church?. Follow this footpath out of the churchyard, straight ahead across Dell Close, then turn right at a path T-junction.
- Head E along the path, between hedges. Ignore footpaths on either side of a recreation ground on the right and continue on a tarmac lane (School Lane). This curves round to the left, passes St Michael's School and comes to Byttom Hill. Turn right onto this unsurfaced lane, away from the A24, then in 40m turn right up a flight of steps to reach the entrance to the King WilliamⅣ pub.
- The walk continues up the the narrow path past the pub to a crosspaths, where you turn sharp left onto a broad level path flanked by low brick and flint walls, with views across the valley. In 200m, just before the path meets a lane, turn right through a gap to the right of a metal fieldgate onto a signposted footpath.
- Follow the path for 600m as it climbs steadily up the wooded Mickleham Downs, later with a wire fence on the left. At the top of the hill turn half-left to stay alongside the fence, now heading E on a bridleway.
- Continue in this direction for 450m, crossing a couple of chalky tracks along the way. Eventually the bridleway swings right and emerges onto the middle of The Gallops?, a 1 km long strip of open grassland.
If you are going to the alternative lunchtime pub (the Running Horses), or want to visit Mickleham church, follow the directions in [?].
If you are doing the Main Walk (via Headley Heath), go to §G.
- Head south-west along The Gallops. Near the far end fork left onto a narrow path into the trees, which leads to a footpath going steeply down White Hill. Cross Headley Lane and go through Whitehill car park, entering Box Hill Country Park.
- For the Short Walks turn right to head SW along The Gallops. In 300m pass to the left of a clump of trees, where there is an “Archaeology on Mickleham Downs” information panel. Just before the end of the open area, fork left onto a grassy path into the trees.
Follow this winding path for 250m, still heading roughly SW. 25m after passing a prominent beech tree, keep left at a little triangle of paths to end up on a broad path heading SE. This soon turns right and comes out into the open, with a fine view across the valley to Juniper Top, in the main part of Box Hill Country Park.
You are now following the route of Walk 1–49 (in reverse) down White Hill.
- Continue downhill on the path, heading SW again. In 150m the path bends left and goes steeply down a long flight of steps. At the bottom Headley Lane is popular with speedy cyclists so take care as you cross it. Go through Whitehill car park onto a track into Box Hill Country Park. In 30m there is a fieldgate on the left and a choice of routes.
If you are doing Short Walk 2 (via the Tower), go to §F.
Inside the Country Park fork left onto a path climbing steadily up Juniper Top. Continue along a woodland path heading south to Flint Hill, then fork right onto a path heading south-west
to Donkey Green. Go across this clearing to the famous viewpoint by Zig Zag Road and double back alongside the road to the Visitor Centre.
- Fork left off the main track, going through a wooden side gate. Go uphill on this path, which soon opens out into a broad grassy area with increasingly fine views behind you as you climb.
- Where the grassy path levels out at the top, keep right. In the top right-hand corner go through a wooden side gate next to a fieldgate onto a track. Follow the track S for 800m, ignoring several turnings to the left.
- Just before a major path junction up ahead, fork right by a small wooden post, finally leaving the Walk 1–49 route. Go straight across a bridleway at the junction, following a signpost to Car Parks/Cafe.
- The path curves round to the right, heading W. In 150m keep ahead (slightly to the left) at a path junction, now heading SW. In 200m a track merges from the right, the route via the Tower.
- Continue along the path until it bends right in front of a large clearing, Donkey Green. You could stay on the path and go through the NT car park directly to the Visitor Centre, but the suggested route is to go straight across the clearing. On the far side cross Zig Zag Road to come to the famous viewpoint at the Salomons Memorial?.
Inside the Country Park go along Juniper Bottom for 250m and then turn right onto a path climbing steeply up the wooded hillside to Broadwood's Folly. Continue along a woodland path heading south-east to Liquor Box, then south
- Ignore the path up to the left and continue on the main track, along Juniper Bottom. In 250m the track goes through a gate and comes to a more open area. Veer right onto a chalky path climbing steeply up the open hillside, with a flight of steps cut into the grassy bank for part of the way.
- At the top go through a gate into a more wooded area. After a short final climb turn right at a T-junction and follow the path round to the left. Immediately after a path joins from the right, fork right at a Y-junction. In 100m you come to a round flint tower, Broadwood's Folly?.
- Turn left at the tower to go gently uphill on a track, heading SE. Soon there are views on the right across a valley to the Burford Spur. Stay on this woodland track for 1 km, gradually curving to the right to head S. Eventually a path merges from the left, the route via Juniper Top.
- Head north-east along The Gallops. Near the far end veer right onto a path going down the side of White Hill to Cockshott Cottage. Cross Headley Lane and continue on a bridleway up the other side of the valley to Headley Heath.
For the Main Walk turn left to head NE along The Gallops. The next turning is easy to miss. For the best route down the steeply wooded hillside on your right, veer right onto an unmarked path into the trees right at the end of the open area, ignoring the NT “Box Hill Hike” waymarker pointing straight on.
- If you miss this path you could follow the waymarkers and turn right onto a signposted bridleway 60m ahead; this route is slightly shorter but drops down very steeply near the bottom of the hill.
On the suggested route the narrow path soon broadens as it winds its way down the side of White Hill, less precipitously than the bridleway. At the bottom turn left onto a well-defined path near the edge of the wood, heading SE. In 200m continue through Cockshott Wood car park, meeting the bridleway from The Gallops at the far end.
After this small variation the route now follows the waymarked “Box Hill Hike” all the way to Box Hill.
- Headley Lane is popular with speedy cyclists so take care as you cross it. Take the bridleway to the left of Cockshott Cottage, which bends left and goes uphill between trees and a wire fence.
- At the top the bridleway levels out and bears right to go alongside a brick buttress supporting a tarmac lane on the right, the access road for High Ashurst (Outdoor Education Centre). Ignore an awkward bridleway going steeply downhill to the left and continue parallel to the lane for 40m, then turn left through a wooden side gate into Headley Heath.
There are many possible routes across Headley Heath. The suggested route takes you up an open spur with fine views, then into a more wooded area. At a major path junction, turn half-right onto a narrow path which later joins a bridleway leading out of the heath in its south-western corner.
Go downhill on a broad stony track, which in 150m comes to a path junction.
- If you want to take a direct route through Headley Heath, fork right uphill and follow this woodland track near its western edge. In 900m (having ignored several turnings off to the lane), veer right where the path forks and keep right at the next junction to come to a small car park at a corner of the heath. If you take this short cut, continue the directions at §I.
- For the suggested route turn sharp left at the junction. Follow the track for 250m, at first downhill and then curving round to the right. Just before the path starts to climb a short way ahead, turn right to climb a flight of steps cut into the slope on your right.
- Continue on a broad grassy path up an open spur, with increasingly fine views of the heath and back across the valley. Follow the main path for nearly 1 km, later through a more wooded area, to a six-way path junction in a small clearing.
- Take the second path on the right, turning half-right from your previous direction to head SW. In 125m keep ahead at a path crossing, after which the path narrows and winds downhill. In 125m go past a wooden horse barrier and straight across a staggered path junction, joining a bridleway coming in from the left at a hairpin bend.
The stony track goes down across a small dip and curves to the right up the other side. A track merges from the left and you fork left at the next junction. In a further 150m you come to a small car park at the south-western corner of the heath.
Head south down Headley Heath Approach and cross Box Hill Road onto a bridleway which merges with the North Downs Way (NDW) above the old Brockham Lime Works. Follow this downhill for 200m and then go up a flight of steps on the right. At the top fork left off the NDW onto a track gradually descending along the side of the downs, with fine views to the south. After skirting a house “Boxhurst” turn sharp right onto a track leading into Box Hill Country Park. Take any of the grassy paths going steeply uphill to the famous viewpoint. Follow a path alongside Zig Zag Road to the Visitor Centre.
- To skip the final climb up Box Hill you could take a footpath along the bottom edge of the Country Park to the walk's alternative ending, rejoining the NDW near the bottom of its descent from the summit.
- Go through the car park and turn left onto a lane. Take the right fork (almost straight on) and follow this lane S past houses for 750m to Box Hill Road. Cross over and continue on the bridleway opposite, in a belt of trees.
In 200m the path starts to descend and shortly afterwards merges with the North Downs Way? (NDW) above a steeply wooded disused quarry, the site of the old Brockham Lime Works?. After going steeply downhill for 200m turn right up a flight of steps with a wooden handrail, staying on the NDW. At the top the path forks.
- If you want to take a shorter and easier route to the Box Hill viewpoint, fork right and follow the NDW signs for 1½ km, at first through woods and then on a path close to Zig Zag Road, to reach the viewpoint. If you take this short cut, continue the directions at [?].
- For the main route fork left (leaving the NDW) and follow this track gently downhill, with extensive views to the south (the village below is Brockham). In 300m you go over a stile by a gate and along the southern edge of Box Hill Country Park for the next 800m, eventually leaving it through a wooden gate.
- Just before the track comes to a metal fieldgate in front of a private property, veer left as indicated down a narrow fenced path alongside a large field. This leads into a driveway which you follow downhill for 50m, then turn sharp right onto a track to start going back uphill. In 100m keep left to go through a wooden gate, re-entering the Country Park.
- If you want to skip the final climb up Box Hill you can take a level route along the bottom edge of the Country Park to the walk's alternative ending: the narrow left-hand path goes through a belt of trees for 600m and then woodland for a further 200m, eventually swinging right to meet the NDW on its descent from the summit. If you do this, turn left onto the NDW and complete the directions at [?] in §K.
- For an easier climb you could carry straight on and eventually turn sharp right at a path junction (almost doubling back) to reach the viewpoint.
There is a Servery for light refreshments up ahead but the NT Café (in the first building on the left, with the Gift Shop) often has a shorter queue.
If you are doing the alternative ending (via Burford Meadow), go to §K.
- … Turn right onto the path and continue down the Burford Spur. At some point veer left to come out onto Old London Road and turn left, passing the Burford Bridge Hotel. Join the A24 and cross the River Mole on Burford Bridge. …
Turn right onto this path, heading N with views across the Mole Valley to Denbies Vineyard and the wooded Ranmore Common. As you go down the Burford Spur the downland opens out and the descent becomes steeper. The most direct route is to keep left, aiming to come out onto Old London Road not too far from the prominent roundabout on the A24.
- For a less precipitous descent you could carry straight on and then double back to meet the road a little further along.
- Unless you want to nip across Old London Road to Ryka's Café (next to the large car park) head S along the road, passing the up-market Burford Bridge Hotel just before the large roundabout. Keep ahead briefly on a footway alongside the A24, crossing the River Mole on Burford Bridge.
- Go past the old fort behind the Servery and through a belt of trees to the clifftop path above The Whites. Turn left onto the path and follow it round to the left. At Swiss Cottage turn sharp right onto the North Downs Way (NDW) and follow it all the way down the hillside. Cross the River Mole via the Stepping Stones or a footbridge off to the right, then leave the NDW by taking a grassy path through Burford Meadow to the A24 at Burford Bridge. Take the underpass beneath the main road and turn right into Westhumble Street, passing the Stepping Stones pub on the way to Box Hill & Westhumble station.
- Go around the right-hand side of the Servery and through a small car park to the old Box Hill Fort? behind it. Go past its right-hand side and then veer left through a gap in the stone wall. Go over the grass rampart and through a belt of trees to a T-junction with a chalky path at the top of a steep wooded cliff.
- Turn left onto this path, heading S. Shortly after passing a headstone for Major Peter Labellière?, ignore a fork to the left leading back past Swiss Cottage? to the Visitor Centre. The main path goes gently downhill and in 150m meets the North Downs Way?. Turn right onto the NDW to go all the way down the wooded hillside, on long flights of steps.
At the bottom of the hill the path levels out and a concrete footpath marker offers a choice of Stepping Stones (left) and Footbridge (right). The route continues from the other side of the footbridge so the right-hand fork is shorter, but the suggested route is to fork left to see the famous Stepping Stones? across the River Mole.
There are paths between the stones and footbridge on both banks so you can choose whether to attempt a crossing on the stones (which is not always possible).
- From the footbridge take the grassy path on the right all the way through Burford Meadow, leaving the NDW and following the course of the tree-lined river as it curves left below the steeply wooded hillside of The Whites. At Burford Bridge go up a small bank onto a footway in front of the A24.
- Go down the subway ramp and under this busy main road. On the other side go up the ramp on the left to a road junction and turn right into Westhumble Street, signposted to [Box Hill &] Westhumble station. You soon reach the Stepping Stones pub on the left.
- The station is a further 300m along this narrow street, but there is a path in the belt of trees on the right for most of the way. Before the road rises to cross the railway bridge, bear left into the station car park. Pilgrim Cycles (and its café) is in the old station building on the left. Cross the station footbridge to Platform 1 for trains to London.
» Last updated: October 4, 2020