Effingham Junction to Westhumble walk
Polesden Lacy (dramatic NT country house) for lunch, steep woods opening out onto the North Downs Ridge, and an English vineyard for tea
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 is the highlight of this walk, a fine country house nestling in a landscape of hidden valleys, pretty woodland, and gentle pasture. It also has a finish along the North Downs escarpment, with extensive views, and a visit to one of England’s largest vineyards. The walk has something to offer at almost any time of the year. In late April and early May there are a couple of bluebell woods towards the end of the walk, in autumn there is plenty of golden colour in the woodlands, and in summer the walk offers several 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 itself.
There are two minor variations possible for the main walk:
- A diversion to the Queen Stage pub in Effingham, 4.3km (2.6 miles) into the walk, adding 1.7km (1.1 miles) to the walk length.
- An ending at Dorking station (which has slightly more frequent trains than Box Hill & Westhumble station), adding 1.1km (0.7 miles) to the walk.
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).
Two trains an hour run from London Waterloo to Effingham Junction daily (the fastest take 46 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 Queen Stage pub a train an hour later would be fine. Buy a day return to Effingham Junction. You will then need to buy a single for the short distance from Box Hill & Westhumble or Dorking to Leatherhead on the return journey.
For Westhumble circular walk, take the train nearest 10.30am from Waterloo or Victoria to Box Hill & Westhumble.
One train an hour (two on Sundays) returns from Box Hill & Westhumble to Victoria (journey time 56 minutes); and one an hour to Waterloo. Changing at Epsom may give you access to other Victoria, Waterloo and London Bridge connections. On Mondays to Saturdays there is an additional hourly train to Victoria from Dorking.
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 is currently the only lunch stop on both the main walk and 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.
The Queen Stage (01372 579209) in Effingham village, 4.2km (2.6 miles) into the main walk via a special diversion, is a new pub built on the site of the former Sir Douglas Haig. It has a modern menu of "burgers with a twist", schnitzels, pizzas, toasted sandwiches, soup and fish and chips, as well as roasts on Sundays. It serves food all day and evening daily (to 9pm only on Sundays). Another nearby option in the village is apparently the Plough, but I have not researched this...
There also are several good places for a picnic in the environs of Polesden Lacey, which are marked in the walk directions
If you are planning to visit its house and grounds, 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, which is open till 5pm daily from April to October, 4pm November to March.
The Stepping Stones pub (01306 889932) 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
It is commonly 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 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 is a remarkable sight, a huge vineyard that looks like a slice of France that has been airlifted the heart of England. Originally billing itself as the "largest wine estate England has ever seen" (now "one of England's largest single estate vineyards"), it can produce up to a million bottles of wine a year from its 265 acres of vines. It specialises in white and sparkling wines, having a similar soil and geology to the Champagne region of France. The estate has a large visitor centre, open until 5.30pm April to October and 5pm November to March. There are also vineyard tours.
This walk was originally published in Time Out Country Walks near London volume 2. We now recommend using this online version as the book is dated.
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Out (not a train station)
Back (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Traveline (bus times): 0871 200 22 33 (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