Polesden Lacey and England's largest vineyard
Main walk: 14.3km (8.3 miles): 4 hours walking time. For the whole excursion, including trains and meals, allow 7 hours 30 minutes.
Circular walk from Westhumble: 12.4km (7.7 miles): 3 hours 30 minutes walking time
|Maps||OS Landranger Map No 187. OS Explorer Map No 146|
|Toughness||5 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.
a) Diversion to a pub lunch in Effingham Village: The National Trust self-service restaurant at Polesden Lacey makes a perfectly acceptable lunch stop on this walk, but if you prefer a pub lunch or a lunch break earlier in the walk, this option, which starts from point  in the main walk text, takes you across pleasant open fields to the Sir Douglas Haig in Effingham Village. It adds 2km (1.2 miles) to the length of the walk, making the total walk of 16.3km (10.1 miles).
b) Circular walk from Westhumble: If your aim is to spend some time at Polesden Lacey, this option gets you to the house in just 5.5km (3.4 miles) from Boxhill & Westhumble station. It also introduces a quiet valley not traversed by the main walk. After Polesden Lacey, it rejoins the main walk route to get back to Westhumble, making a total circular walk of 12.4km (7.7 miles), or 3 hours 30 minutes walking time
c) Alternative ending at Dorking: From the visitor centre on the Denbies Wine Estate (point  in the main walk text), it is easy to finish the walk at Dorking station, if you prefer, adding 1km (0.6 miles) to the walk. Trains from Dorking back to London go roughly twice as frequently as those from Boxhill & Westhumble.
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 is open from 11am to 5pm from late March to early November, and the gardens all year from 11am to 5pm (10-4pm in winter)
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 from 9.30am Monday to Saturday and 11.30am on Sunday, and closing at 5.30pm. 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. For the shorter circular walk, take the train nearest 10.30am from Victoria to Boxhill & Westhumble. One train an hour (two on Sundays) returns from Boxhill & Westhumble to Victoria (journey time 56 minutes); otherwise, you can change at Epsom for Waterloo.
The best place to have lunch is undoubtedly in the self-service restaurant at Polesden Lacey (tel 01372 452048) romantically set in the old stable yard, and ideally situated about half way through all the walks described here. This does three hot lunch options between 12pm and 2pm, and is open for tea and cakes from 10am-5pm daily from mid February to October, and 10am-4pm in winter.
If you prefer a pub lunch, option a) is a diversion off the main walk to the Sir Douglas Haig (tel 01372 456886) in the village of Effingham, adding 2km (1.2 miles) to the walk length. This thoroughly modernised pub has a more suburban than a village feel, but has a reasonable meals menu and serves food from noon to 2.30pm Monday to Saturday and all afternoons on Sunday. It is 4km (2.4 miles) into the walk via the option a) route.
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, Polesden Lacey also 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 from 10am to 5pm. In winter, note that it is about 20 minutes walk from the Visitor's Centre to the street lights of either Dorking or Westhumble, though in extremis an alternative way to Dorking station is to walk down the car approach road to Denbies, and then carry straight on along the main road (a dual carriageway) to find the station on your left.
Pilgrim Cycles (01306 886958 www.pilgrim-cycles.co.uk). This cycle shop on Box Hill station also has a cafe. It is open 9am-5pm Tues-Fri, 9am-5.30pm Sat, 10am-4pm Sun. It may stay open later than the stated times for groups who phone in advance.
The Stepping Stones pub (01306 889932, http://www.steppingstonesdorking.com/) is a possible tea option near Boxhill station. It is open 1 1am-3pm and 5pm-11pm Monday to Saturday, and noon-10.30pm Sun. Note that a sign on the door specifies ‘No boots, or wet or muddy clothing’, however.
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.
After the walk, we would love to get your feedback
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
Sorry, the sketch map they refer to is only in the book.