Polesden Lacey and England's largest vineyard
Main walk: 15.2km (9.4 miles)
Pub lunch in Effingham: adds 1.7km (1.1 miles)
Ending in Dorking: adds 1.1km (0.7 miles)
Westhumble Circular: 13.3km (8.2 miles)
|Maps||OS Landranger Map No 187. OS Explorer Map No 146|
|Toughness||4 out of 10|
The idyllic estate of Polesden Lacey, a fine country house nestling just behind the North Downs escarpment, is the highlight of this walk - a landscape of hidden valleys, pretty woodland, and gentle pasture that seems lost in a golden yesterday. The walk has something to offer at almost any time of the year. In spring, it passes through a number of fine bluebell woods, in autumn there is plenty of fine golden colour in the woodlands, while in winter the bare branches open up new views and vistas. In summer, the walk offers several fine spots for a picnic, and despite being relatively close to London, a deep rural tranquility. The long evenings also make this the best time to come if you want to also make a detailed visit in the afternoon to the house and grounds at Polesden Lacey.
There are two minor variations possible for the main walk. If you want a pub lunch (rather than lunching at the National Trust self-service restaurant at Polesden Lacey), a diversion is provided in the walk directions to the Sir Douglas Haig in Effingham village, 4.3km (2.6 miles) into the walk and adding 1.7km (1.1 miles) to the walk length. You can also finish at Dorking station (which has more frequent trains than Box Hill & Westhumble station), adding 1.1km (0.7 miles) to the walk. Doing both of these variations lengthens the walk to 18km (11.2 miles).
The directions also contain a Westhumble Circular option, starting from Box Hill & Westhumble station and getting you to Polesden Lacey in just 5.5km (3.4 miles). This is ideal if you want to spend more time visiting the house and gardens, and introduces a quiet valley not traversed by the main walk. After Polesden Lacey you rejoin the main walk route to get back to Box Hill & Westhumble station, making a total circular walk of 13.3km (8.2 miles).
It is often assumed that England is a lot less wooded than it used to be. In fact, the last 150 years or so has seen many former farmed areas and commons revert to woodland as traditional methods of countryside management died out. A fine example is Great Ridings Wood early in the main walk. Though it looks like ancient English woodland (particularly in late April when the bluebells are out), it was all cultivated arable land as recently as the 1770s. The bridleway followed through the wood on this walk - Old London Road - was as its name suggests once the main road to London. The wood is now managed by The Woodland Trust.
Polesden Lacey (01372 458203 http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/) was originally a Regency House, built in 1821, but it was in the Edwardian period that it really came into its own. Between 1906 and 1909 it was taken over and extensively rebuilt by Mrs Ronald Greville, a society hostess, and was the scene of many glamorous house parties. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, mother of the present queen, also spent part of their honeymoon there in 1923. Now lovingly preserved by the National Trust, the real appeal of the house today is its stunning location on the crest of a hidden valley of the North Downs (there are fine views from the gardens), and the pastoral tranquility of the estate. The house and gardens are open to 5pm from February to October, and to 4pm November to January.
Denbies Wine Estate (01306 876616 http://www.denbies.co.uk/ ) is a remarkable sight, a huge vineyard that looks like a slice of France that has been airlifted the heart of England. Billing itself as the "largest wine estate England has ever seen", it produces 400,000 bottles of wine a year, or around 10 percent of total UK production. The estate has a large visitors centre, open to 5.30pm daily. There are also vineyard tours.
Two trains an hour run from London Waterloo to Effingham Junction daily (the fastest take about 38 minutes). Take the nearest train to 10am from London Waterloo to get to lunch at the right time, though if you are aiming for lunch at the Sir Douglas Haig a train an hour later would be fine.
For Westhumble circular walk, take the train nearest 10.30am from Victoria to Box Hill & Westhumble.
One train an hour (two on Sundays) returns from Box Hill & Westhumble to Victoria (journey time 56 minutes); otherwise, you can change at Epsom for Waterloo.
Granary Cafe, Polesden Lacey (01372 452048). 7.4km/4.6 miles into the main walk or 5.5km/3.4 miles into the circular walk from Westhumble, this self-service National Trust eatery is the most conveniently-situated lunch stop on the main walk and the only lunch option on the Westhumble Circular walk. It serves hot meals from 12-3pm and tea and cakes all day to 4pm November to February and 5pm at other times.
If you prefer a pub lunch, the Sir Douglas Haig (tel 01372 456886) in the village of Effingham, 4.2km (2.6 miles) into the main walk on a diversion (option a) that adds 1.7km (1.1 miles) to the walk length, is a modernised pub that has a reasonable meals menu and serves food from noon to 2.30pm daily.
There also are several good places for a picnic in the environs of Polesden Lacey, which are marked as such in the walk directions
If you are planning to visit its house and grounds or have had lunch at the Sir Douglas Haig, Polesden Lacey makes an excellent place for tea.
Otherwise, the recommended tea stop is the spectacular glass-roofed self service restaurant in the Denbies Wine Estate Visitor Centre (tel 01306 876616), which is open till 5pm daily from April to October, 4.30pm November to March.
Pilgrim Cycles (01306 886958 www.pilgrim-cycles.co.uk)on Box Hill station also has a cafe. It is open to 5pm Monday to Saturday and 4pm Sunday. It may stay open later for groups who phone in advance.
The Stepping Stones pub (01306 889932, http://www.steppingstonesdorking.com/) is a possible tea option near 400 metres beyond Box Hill station.
The escarpment on Ranmore Common is also a wonderful place to stop and have a picnic tea if you have brought a thermos flask with you
An earlier version of this walk was published in Time Out Country Walks near London volume 2. We now recommend using this online version as the book is now dated.
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Out: (not a train station)
Back: (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline SE (bus times): 0871 200 2233 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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Full directions for this walk are in a PDF file (link above) which you can print, or download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
This is just the introduction. This walk's detailed directions are in a PDF available from wwww.walkingclub.org.uk