Stage 19 - Merstham Station to Box Hill & Westhumble Station (11.4 miles)
Start: Grid Reference TQ2915253300 Post Code RH1 3ED StreetMap
If you just want to print out the "Route" instructions of stage 19 of this walk,
without all the blurb on the website, you can download this as a
Word Docx by clicking on the link.
If you just want to print out the "Route" instructions of stage 19 of this walk, without all the blurb on the website, you can download this as a Word Docx by clicking on the link.
follows Station Road North to cross the A23 and join Quality Street. The route
then joins the North Downs Way past Merstham Cricket Club and across Reigate
Hill Golf Club, then thru' the Royal Alexandra & Albert School at Gatton Park,
and up on to Reigate Hill. At
From the main entrance to Merstham Station veer right, past the entrance to the car park, into Station Road North and using the pavement on the RHS.
Soon Merstham Village Club is to your RHS and the Old Fire Station, now an upholstery company, is directly opposite.
After 140 yards turn
left to cross road and take footpath down the LHS of the Old Fire Station. This
leads through a car park and comes out onto High Street, next to the
Crossover High Street / A23, with great care, using the traffic bollards. Once
across turn right into
On the ground of the small seating area, to the left as you enter Quality Street, you can see original sleepers of the oldest public railway in the world. The Surrey Iron Railway, was opened in 1803 and was extended to Merstham in 1805 by Croydon, Merstham and Godstone Railway. The carriages were pulled by horses and, from Merstham, were mainly used for carrying goods from the quarries to Croydon, London and beyond. However, due to competition from steam locomotives, the old railway was closed in 1838.
After just 20 yards turn left, signed North Downs Way, onto a lane towards Merstham Cricket Club. Bear right at the club's car park and continue on a path with the cricket pitch on your left.
It's in Quality Street where the North Downs Way rejoins us as it comes from the
opposite direction. It accompanies us for the next 3.75 miles to just before
Buckland Heights. I have been asked why I don't just follow the North Downs Way
through Merstham. The reason being is I prefer this alternative route as it
takes us past the station and cuts out some roads. However, it does miss out St
Katharine's Church. The
church is built on a small hill (Church Hill) just
north of the village and can be reached by following the footpath (North Downs
Way) north from Quality Street, to a footbridge over the M25 and continuing
straight for another 100 yards.
The church is mainly
Quality Street has many old and interesting buildings. It dates back to the 16th Century when it formed part of the then village High Street. The name was changed to Quality Street at the start of the 20th century when Ellaline Terris and Seymour Hicks, the two lead cast of a play of the same name by J M Barrie, lived at the Old Forge.
takes its name from an ancient tribe called the
who inhabited the
marshlands around here for thousands of years. In 52AD Emperor Claudius defeated
a regional British King named Caractus. The king and most of his family were
From: 'Parishes: Merstham', A History of the County of Surrey: Volume 3 (1911), pp. 213-221. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42958 Date accessed: 10 April 2010.
mention of MERSTHAM (Mearsdethan...) occurs in 675, when Frithwald, subregulus of
Surrey, and Erkenwald, Bishop of
The tribe witnessed a later invasion by the Danes and the Battlebridge area of the village is where King Alfred's son Edward (later Edward the Elder) finally defeated the Danes in the late 9th Century. Over two and a half centuries later the Mearsorti witnessed the Norman Invasion and the last time this island was to be conquered by a foreign army.
In 1100 the
early church was replaced by a Norman one, and around 1220 this was replaced by
the present church. It was financed by an early Crusader, dedicated to
St Catherine of Alexandria
and built of local stone. Roman slates and bricks from the older church were
used in its construction and can still be seen today. The church has been
altered and extended over the centuries, however many of the original features
still remain. The
In 1940, the year after Britain declared war on Nazi Germany, Merstham welcomed troops and army medical corps from Canada. They took over Merstham House, parts of Church Hill and the Pendell Camp at Warwick Wold. Merstham House was home to the Joliffe family. It was just north of Quality Street near Gatton Bottom and just west of the footbridge over the M25. The family were Lords of the Manor and in 1866 William Hylton Joliffe (1800 - 1876) was created 1st Lord Hylton. He was a soldier, Conservative politician and played first class cricketer, he died at the house. In the 1950s, a few years after the Canadians left, the house was pulled down and was later replaced by the M25.
During World War II many German bombs dropped on Merstham, many people were killed and hundreds of houses were destroyed. Two of these were large parachute bombs dropped on 19th April 1941. One dropped harmlessly in a field, but the second took a direct hit on All Saints Church. The church was completely destroyed, the 84 year old vicar and one of his sisters were badly injured, but recovered, however two of their sisters were killed - another 8 people also died. The Canadians rebuilt a place of worship for the local parishioners, and although a new All Saints was built in 1950, the temporary church still exists as Canada Hall and as a reminder to the Canadian Forces who lived here during World War II.
In later years
other foreign visitors, through fate and not choice also came to Merstham to
live. This time it was the consequence of a natural disaster and not through the
acts of a dictator, who wanted to rule the world.
Tristan da Cunha
is a group of small volcanic islands in the
The full history of Merstham would take many more pages to write. Since 1339, the village held a Merstham Fair with consent from Edward III. This never seemed to be held on the allocated date and there are wonderful stories of the gypsy stalls. There are more stories to read on both World Wars, how the building of the motorways affected the village, the building of a large modern residential estate, on local people who were important to the community and more on the influence of the quarries and the transport links. You can read all of these by visiting the History Section of the Merstham website, at British History Online and on Wikipedia.
Follow the path across Reigate Hill Golf Course and continue west, ignoring paths off to both sides.
After another 640 yards cross a tarmac road and past a golf tee to your RHS.
After 60 yards go through a wooden kissing gate onto an enclosed path, and still heading west.
In 350 yards, this
path joins the driveway to a large house (at 1 mile), then after 60 yards veers
left then right and out to a T-junction with Rocky Lane.
right along the road. After 110 yards, and where the lane turns sharp right, go
straight on and enter Gatton Park at
You have now entered the grounds of The Royal Alexandra and
Continue along the road into Gatton Park and after 200 yards, at a mini roundabout, turn right. Follow the road as it veers left, with school buildings to your LHS and playing fields to your right.
A manor at Gatton can be traced back to Saxon Times, when it was held by Alfred the Ealdorman and his son Ethelwald between 871 and 889AD. In later Saxon era, during the reign of Edward the Confessor, it is recorded as being owned by Earl Leofwine, brother of the later King Harold. After the Norman Invasion of 1066 and the defeat of King Harold by William the Conqueror, Gatton is listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Gatone and was held by Herfrid for the Bishop of Bayeux.
Roman coins and
masonry have been found within the park, thus suggesting a much earlier
occupation than during the Saxon era.
When the first large house (or even possibly castle) was built here seems to be uncertain. However, according to British History Online "A house of considerable importance was attached to Gatton Manor in 1220, and a deer-park existed in 1278". From then the estate passed through many hands. According to Gatton Park, in the late 15th century there was a fine Manor House, built on the site of a former castle - however, no proof of the castle exists.
Gatton became a borough in the middle 15th century, returning two members to Parliament from 1450 to 1832. It was later to be known as a "Rotten or Pocket Borough", a corrupt constituency with only a few voters, which could be bought by wealth to return members to Parliament.
Sir James Colebrooke, a wealthy banker, bought the estate in 1751 and on his death in 1761, his daughters sold Gatton to his brother Sir George Colebrooke He commissioned Lancelot "Capability" Brown to landscape the grounds. This was to be one of the famous garden designer's major projects and took years to complete. He created three lakes and a serpentine, planted many trees and built a temple. In 1765, Sir George built the "Town Hall" where results of the token local elections were announced.
Colebrooke sold Gatton in 1774 and shortly afterwards the estate was split into
two parts, Upper Gatton and
Monson family can trace their roots back to 14th Century
In 1728 John Monson, 5th Baronet joined the peerage, being created 1st Baron Monson of Burton by Lincoln where a large new country house was built. By the early 19th Century the Monsons of Burton owned an estate of 20,000 acres.
Monson, 4th Lord Monson died 14th November 1809 at the
young age of 24, leaving a very young heir Frederick John Monson, born 3rd
February 1809 and then only 9 months old.
When the estate
was bought, the buildings of
he had come of age, Lord Monson set off travelling around
In St Andrews Church the interior was completely remodeled to include Medieval paneling from Burgundy, stained glass from Aerschot (near Brussels), a communion table from Nuremburg, stalls from Ghent and an alter from Rouen.
Lord Monson was
a cultured and educated man who delivered lectures on Geology and Mineralogy. He
was made an honorary Doctor of Civil Law at
He continued to
tour the continent in 1839, but the following year he fell seriously ill and
died in 1841. The new house at Gatton was still incomplete at the time of his
death although he had spent a large sum of money building it, selling off some
12,500 acres of his
Monson had no offspring and his title and lands were inherited by his second
cousin, William John Monson, the 6th Lord Monson. William Monson
restored Burton Hall and after living for a while on the continent took up
residence in 1847.
Gatton was rented to Lady Warwick,
The Colman Family
The Colman's were a family with East Anglian connections, who from relatively humble beginnings took full advantage of the opportunities emerging in the Industrial Revolution.
In the 19th Century, they rose to be successful food manufacturers and financiers. The family fortune was mainly founded on the production of the famous Colman's Mustard at Norwich.
association with Gatton began with
(born in 1859). He was educated at
Gatton was indeed a prize to possess and Jeremiah went about completing Monson house. He also found many opportunities to indulge his passion for flowers, particularly orchids and carnations. He spent a fortune remodeling the gardens. They were divided into Japanese, Italian, Rose and Herbaceous sections with several water features.
Jeremiah took a
keen and paternal interest in the local community leading the Parish Committee
set up in 1894. He became a Justice of the Peace and later Deputy Lieutenant
There were many parties and festive occasions held at Gatton, which were attended by the cream of local society. The local poor and needy were not forgotten and there were free banquets for the estate workers and their wives.
In 1933 as part of local government reorganisation, the Parish Committee was abolished and the Parish absorbed into the responsibility of Reigate Borough. This was strongly contested by the Colmans and led to a reduction of landowner control and influence in favour of elected bodies. The Colmans feared a gradual urbanisation of the Parish and led Sir Jeremiah to seriously consider leaving the estate. In fact, his son Jeremiah Junior was so affected that he removed from Gatton and never subsequently lived there in spite of many fond hopes that he would succeed his father in residence and generosity to the local community.
In 1934 disaster struck. A fire, starting in the cellar completely gutted and destroyed the famous house and many of its irreplaceable treasures. This was a sore blow to Jeremiah, who was by then in his seventies.
A new house was built in replacement but sadly the previous glory could not be restored. Jeremiah Colman continued to live on the estate that he loved until his death in 1942. After this, his widow Lady Colman moved to the 'cottage' on the estate. During the Second World War the estate was taken over by the Armed Services and the gardens fell into neglect.
Jeremiah Junior never came back to the estate and eventually in 1948 Gatton Hall and most of the estate was sold to the present owners, the Royal Alexandra & Albert School. The parkland to the west of the school was acquired by the National Trust in 1952.
The Gatton Trust was founded in 1996 to manage the estate with the aim of restoring the park and gardens and developing the place as a community and education resource. There has been much work done in recent years and most of the gardens have been restored. Gatton Hall and gardens are also open to the public on certain days and events for children, schools and adults are held throughout the year. The route of the North Downs Way passes through the grounds and there is also a marked two-mile circular walk (see video) through the National Trust area of the park.
After 450 yards and shortly after passing the last building, at triple fingerpost, follow the road as it starts to veer right, signed North Downs Way.
To the LHS,
after another 50 yards, is an information panel giving details about the
sculpture of the
These are through the fence in an field to the left and are worth the small
diversion. This is a modern stone circle consisting of ten upright Caithness
Flagstones quarried in
were created by
during 1998 to 1999 to mark the double millennium from AD1 to AD2000. The first
stone in the series is inscribed with the words from
The generosity of The
"In the beginning the word was.
And the Word was with God.
Word was God."
"Too late have I loved you, O Beauty, ancient yet ever new.
Too late have I loved you! And behold, you were within
was outside, searching."
"A person is an individual substance of a rational nature."
John Scotius Erigena 810-877 AD
"Although I know that I am,
knowledge of myself is not prior to myself."
Saint Anselm 1033-1109 AD
"For I do not seek to understand in order to believe,
believe in order to understand.
For I believe this; unless I believe, I will not understand."
Saint Thomas Aquinas 1225-1274 AD
"The soul is known by its acts."
William Shakespeare 1564-1616 AD
"There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat;
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or we lose our ventures."
Saint Francis of Sales 1567-1622 AD
"Do not wish to be anything but what you are,
and be that perfectly."
Johann von Goethe 1749-1832 AD
"The deed is all, the glory nothing."
T S Eliot 1888-1965 AD
still point of the turning world.
Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point,
there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement."
flagstones are quarried in the far north of
have been placed here at
Follow the road for another 320 yards, and just before a house (Tower Lodge Cottage), turn left onto a bridleway, signed North Downs Way.
100 yards before Tower Lodge Cottage there is a bench on the LHS by a clearing in the trees. This gives a great view across the park. Also, to see an aerial video of Gatton Park, the school and the house, visit the link to YouTube.
400 yards, at a Y-junction of paths stay left following the North Downs Way.
In another 370 yards veer right at fork, then 80 yards later stay straight on. After 100 yards another path joins from the right, stay straight on.
The path soon turns left to a road (Wray Lane). Cross straight over and veer left, skirting the car park to your RHS. After 100 yards veer right and uphill towards a wooden hut (cafe) DO NOT follow the lower path. Immediately before the café veer left on a path and uphill to cross a footbridge over a road (A217). Continue straight on along the NDW - it's wide and it's well marked.
The footbridge takes the North Downs Way (NDW) and us over the A217. A sign before the footbridge states: "Reigate Hill Footbridge. This is the earliest example of a reinforced concrete footbridge in the country. It was built in 1910 and carries the North Downs Way. The slender and elegant structure weighs 50 tons and has an uninterrupted 97 feet long span..."
After 720 yards
the track crosses a lane and 180 yards later past Reigate Fort to your LHS. The
fort was one of 13
built between 1889 and 1903 as part of the London Defense Scheme. They stretched
in a line from Epping to Guildford thus protecting
To the left of the path, just a few yards after the fort, is an old War Department Ordnance Survey Marker and on the right just after this is a water tower sandwiched between two transmission masks.
To the left, 200 yards after the water tower, is a clearing named Memorial
Glade. This is the site of a wartime air disaster. On 19th March 1945
a number of aircraft from the
On 19th March 2015, to mark the 70th anniversary of the crash, a new memorial was unveiled. The following excerpt is from Surrey Hills. You can visit the link for a full story about the ceremony.
"To leave a lasting legacy to the
victims of the crash, a sculpture has been positioned at the site of the
accident, known as
on Reigate Hill. Two wing tips, made to replicate the size and shape of a
have been carved by sculptor Roger Day and been spaced apart according
to the dimensions of the aircraft. Molten fuselage aluminium, recovered from the
crash site, has also been incorporated into the sculpture."
0.75 miles after the footbridge the path emerges, through a gate, onto open ground next to what looks like a small circular temple (at 3.1 miles). Continue straight on keeping the circular structure to your left and still following the NDW.
The circular structure is known as "The Inglis Memorial". It was originally a drinking fountain, but now houses a direction indicator. This Georgian Pavilion was commissioned by Lieutenant-Colonel Robert William Inglis and was presented to the Corporation of the Borough of Reigate in 1909. The ceiling of the pavilion is painted with a colourful map of the Solar System. The link above does have a short video entitled Reigate Hill from the air, showing some of the places we have just past. From the video you may notice a large circular depression in the ground, to the left of the path, soon after the Inglis Memorial. From researching this, some believe it to be a bomb crater left over from the Second World War, some believe it's a depression caused by natural sinkage, some believe it's due to chalk mining, others believe it is a it's to do with military tunnels used by the Ministry of War during the Second World War. I'm not 100% sure, but there's a lot about this on the Internet. Here's two sets of thoughts, link 1 and link 2.
Continue to follow the NDW along the top of the ridge for 950 yards ignoring paths off to both sides.
Along this section of the route the
In another 400 yards you pass a National Trust sign to leave Colley Hill through a wooden gate. Before leaving Colley Hill, I'll direct you to one more short aerial video which shows the hill, the area around, the nearby M25, the views over the south to Reigate and beyond, towards Buckland Hills, Headley Heath and Box Hill where we are heading. It's worth a watch at YouTube.
Go through a wooden gate and continue west along the bridleway for 280 yards, then out onto a tarmac lane.
120 yards after exiting the gate from Colley Hill a wide bridleway goes away to the right. At the junction of paths is a well-preserved coal & wine tax post. (see photo) We pass so many of these on our way around London. We pass another very soon, and it shows this was an important route for transporting some commodities along during the 1860s and later.
Turn left along the lane signed North Downs Way for just a very short distance, then turn very sharp right, (opposite a coal post to your LHS and Mole Place in front), onto an enclosed signed bridleway between trees and a fence (DON'T MISS IT). It is at this point we divert from the NDW as it continues straight on and downhill.
The bridleway we have just joined is marked on some maps as a "trackway", thus this must be a very old route. We follow it, almost straight for 0.8 miles. It seems to lead on from where the Pilgrim's Way joins the North Downs Way below Colley Hill. Why the North Downs Way descend to join the Pilgrims Way, and not the other way around seems strange to me. The one we follow is stays at or near the top of the escarpment and seems to be the obvious route. The North Downs Way and the Pilgrim' was both take the lower route. Anyway, that's just my opinion.
The bridleway crosses a private lane and then, after 600 yards, out onto a private residential road. Cross straight over the road (Buckland Heights), onto a bridleway to the RHS of the entrance drive to last house.
Continue straight on along this bridleway for 800 yards (ignoring a path off to the right after 600 yards). The path then veers left and soon turns sharp left and downhill, fenced and with a field to the right. On reaching a T-junction of paths, at the bottom of the field, turn right.
descent is quite steep and there is a great view over an old chalk quarry on the
slopes of the
Follow the enclosed path along the bottom of the field and eventually into a wood. Follow this path as it turns right then left to weave its way through the woods (at 5 miles). After 550 yards and on reaching a T-junction with a sunken track, turn right and uphill along this old wooded track. In a short distance the track soon levels out and after 450 yards opens out with a bridleway going off to the left. Turn left onto this bridleway. You are now heading west with a wood to your right and some buildings through a fence to your left.
After 300 yards, and 100 yards before reaching a road, turn right onto another bridleway through the woods and going north-west.
70 yards the path comes out onto the
Follow Tye Lane for 400 yards ignoring paths off to the right. Then follow as it turns left (west) and past public bridleway "Banstead 636" to your right (now at 6 miles into the route).
Continue along Tye Lane for a further 600 yards then turn left onto a path / bridleway going west. After 310 yards this leads to a road (Headley Common Road).
is a small, scattered village and a civil parish situated on top of the
The extract below from: 'Parishes: Headley', A History of the
"On Headley Heath, and scattered at other points in the parish, are numerous neolithic implements and flakes, and fragments of a coarse earthenware vessel have been found near Toot Hill. Less than a mile south-west of the church, west or north-west of Headley Heath, on the slopes of the valley up which the road from Juniper Hall comes, excavations have revealed the inclosing trench of a large inclosure. In the loose soil overlying the undisturbed chalk Mr. Gordon Home, of Epsom, found in 1907 fragments of hand-made pottery, with bones of many different animals, and one worked flint. At a higher level he found the broken point of a bronze weapon. Near the trench, but not in it, was some good glazed pottery, and in another place several signs of fires, burnt stones, and charcoal. A young plantation unfortunately is on the spot. The names Toot Hill, and Elderbury, and Nore Wood (a name often found in close juxtaposition to old fortifications, for which we may compare Nore under the banked hill at Hascombe) suggest an ancient settlement or settlements."
There are many small roads and lanes joining up different sections of the village, and the M25 motorway slices through its northern edge. A few hundred yards north along the road is the village hall, shop, church, post office, and pub. In 1994 an excellent hand-drawn map of the area was produced to celebrate the parish council's centenary. The map can be viewed on the village website.
St Mary's Church, built in the 1850s, is close to the site of a much earlier Norman
church. Stones from the old church were used in the construction and some were
later used to build a grotto in the churchyard as a memorial to Ferdinand
Faithfull, the local rector at the time.
Theodore Evelyn Reece Phillips (aka.
was rector from 1916 to his death in 1942. Phillips was also an internationally
acclaimed astronomer and in 1918
was awarded the
by the Royal Astronomical Society.
He built two observatories in
the grounds of the rectory and would often hold
"Astronomical Garden Parties"
here. From 1927 to
1929 T.E.R. Phillips was President of the
Royal Astronomical Society.
The Cock Inn, just south of the church on Church Lane, dates from the first half of the 18th Century and is the only surviving pub in the village (pub website). There did used to be two pubs (the Clermont on Tot Hill closed in the 1960s), plus several beer houses here, serving what was once a thriving agricultural community.
During World War II,
As Headley village lies within the Metropolitan Green Belt, restrictions on building have meant there has been very little development here in over 50 years. This means the village has retained a lot of its old character and is still a pleasant place to visit or pass through.
Cross straight over Headley Common Road past a fingerpost and through a gap in a wooden fence and turn left and through a gate (at 6.7 miles).
Just to the right, before we cross the road is Headley Cricket Club (see photo from our walk) and across the road from it is a large car park. On the north side of the car park is a small tea and snack kiosk. If you fancy a refreshment and a snack, it's only a short walk to the other end of the car park. As for the road it was used during the London 2102 Olympic Games for cycle road races.
According to a
"Friends of Headley Heath" National Trust publication:
"Until recent times
Headley Heath was open heathland.
Before 1880 it was used for grazing the sheep of the parishes of Betchworth,
Brockham and Headley as a single flock. The Lords of the Manor of the three
villages met periodically to agree the number of sheep to be grazed and their
management. The open heath was also used by the villagers of Headley for gravel,
animal fodder and fuel. Heather, gorse and turf were burnt on the cottage fires
and bracken was used as bedding for animals.
The Ordinance Survey map of 1860 shows Headley Heath as treeless in
contrast to the surrounding woods. The only features shown were four ponds, many
gravel pits, the cricket pitch and a number of tracks. The road now known as
Sheep grazing ended in the 1880s, but even as late as 1939 photos showed most of Headley Heath as open heathland with only a few scattered trees. The ridge of Middle Hill was overgrown with bracken birch and bramble but the chalky slopes were still smooth turf.
During the Second World War (1939-1945), the heath was used as an army training ground - tanks and bulldozers causing sufficient soil disturbance. In the subsequent heathland regeneration, lack of grazing and other traditional practices allowed birch to establish itself amongst the young heather, eventually shading it out as well as blocking many of the fine views.
In 1946, Headley Heath and the Lordship of Headley Manor was
offered to the
National Trust by the owners Mr & Mrs Crookenden. It was accepted in spite of the
fact that no endowment fund was available for its upkeep. Sir Edward, later
Lord Bridges at Goodmans Fruze offered to form a local committee to manage
the Heath for the National Trust by raising funds for its maintenance from local
subscribers and users of the Heath. The area was in a run-down condition when
the War Office finally de-requisitioned the Heath in 1948.
Headley Heath covers an area of 525 acres and is contains the largest remaining
area of lowland heath on the
Once through the gate, turn left along a bridleway. Soon take the right fork. Follow the track straight on and eventually past two ponds.
The first pond is named Hopeful and the second (larger) Brimmer. The track goes through woodlands of mainly silver birch but there are also some oaks. Some clearance has been carried out to allow views to the right over the Heath.
After passing Brimmer Pond (at 7.1 miles) ignore the next three tracks coming in from the right, but at the first cross tracks turn right (at 7.25 miles). The path falls slightly to the next junction where you take the track to the left. The track continues through woodlands and goes downhill. At the bottom of the dip take the left-hand fork and keep to that track, ignoring the tracks which cross it.
Eventually, follow the track as it swings and drops sharply, then as it rises and then forks, take the left-hand fork following the Box Hill Hike. Follow the track to and through a gate (gate 23) onto a road (at 8 miles).
Turn left along the road. Almost immediately the road forks, take the right-hand fork (Headley Heath Approach). Continue straight on for 800 yards to the junction with Box Hill Road.
To the right, at 8 miles, Headley Heath Approach leads past the entrance to the Bellasis House, designed by Sir Edward Lutyens for Philip Tilden (architect & garden designer) in 1922. The house was used by the Special Operations Executive during World War II to train ex-German PoWs. The excerpt below is from Dorking Museum.
"Codenamed STS2, Bellasis House on Box Hill housed a training centre for Czech agents of the Special Operations Executive. There they were prepared for their return under cover to occupied Czechoslovakia. The team that assassinated the Nazi Reinhard Heydrich, (the acting Protector of Bohemia and Moravia who had chaired the Wannsee Conference that set in motion the Final Solution), set off from Bellasis for Prague in 1941."
The plan to assassinate Heydrich was codenamed Operation Anthropoid and many books have been written and films have been made on the subject. For revenge, the Nazis murdered an estimated 5,000 Czechs, including friends and relatives of the assassins and most of the occupants of two villages.
Further along the lane is High Ashurst, originally a farm, then converted to an 18th century stately home. It later became a boarding school and during World War 2 was used by the Canadian Army. After the war the house fell into disuse and was demolished. The site is now the Surrey Outdoor Learning Centre.
Cross straight over Box Hill Road and onto a tree-lined bridleway. After 250 yards the North Downs Way (NDW) joins us from the left. Continue straight on and downhill along the NDW (follow the acorns and the fingerposts) for 300 yards, then turn sharp right and up a long flight of steps and still on the NDW. At the top take the right fork, signed NDW.
We follow the NDW for the next mile to the viewpoint on Boxhill. There are a few twists and turns. After another 420 yards follow NDW left down steps and then right at the bottom (at 9.1 miles).
After another 420 yards up a few steps and stay on NDW, avoiding path to left. Then soon another set of steps. In another 250 yards the path goes through a wooden gate and out onto a clearing with great views to your LHS.
After 120 yards, through another wooden gate and back into
the woods. Stay straight on along the NDW for 320 yards ignoring paths crossing
our route. Then at a T-junction, turn right, and take the right fork leading up
to the famous
viewpoint at the
where we take the right fork up to the viewpoint that we leave the North Downs
Way for the last time in this stage. We'll rejoin it during the
next stage above Denbies Vineyard.
the viewpoint veer right on a path going gradually uphill in a northwesterly
direction, soon parallel to the road.
Box Hill a noted beauty spot and viewpoint owned by the National Trust and gets its name from the numerous box trees on its slopes. It is very popular with day trippers but beware of the motorcycles. There is a Visitor's Centre, shop and cafe where you can get souvenirs, refreshments and snacks.
Box Hill is
National Trust property and a beautiful place to walk. There are so many options
with footpaths going off in all directions. The
Box Hill rises 634 feet above sea-level and 563 feet above the Mole Valley below. Due to its sheer beauty and closeness to London, Box Hill has attracted visitors in their droves and inspired great writers, painters and others throughout the years. It has connections with J M Barrie, Daniel Defoe, John Keats, George Lambert, Fanny Burney, Jane Austen, George Meredith, John Logie Baird and more.
With the coming
of the railway through the valley and the opening of the nearby Westhumble
station in 1849 the area became more accessible to Londoners and the surrounding
towns and hence the number of visitors increased. In 1912 just over 230 acres of
Box Hill were offered for sale on the open market. The National Trust believed
that the area should be protected for the nation. After some complicated
negotiations the land was purchased by Leopold Salomons
Today the area
owned by the National Trust has increased to 1,200 acres and is managed by a
professional team employed by the Trust under the supervision of the Head
Warden. It is estimated over a million people now visit each year, mainly day
trippers out to picnic, walk, cycle, admire the views, study the wildlife and
plants and get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday city life. The
National Trust Team at Box Hill carry out lots of great work, helping to build a
natural environment where trees, plants and wildlife can live in harmony. The
different species which thrive here are numerous and some being unique within
Like the rest
of the North Downs, Box Hill is made of chalk. At this point in the escarpment,
the River Mole has carved a great gorge through the chalk, giving Box Hill its
characteristic shape with steep cliffs (or "whites")
falling down to the Mole. The gap formed by the river has been used as natural
communication corridor since Roman Times.
the Roman road from Chichester to
1817) often visited Box Hill and used it as the setting for the
ill-fated picnic in her novel Emma (1816). In the book Austen's hero Emma just
wanted to discover what
"everyone found so
much worth seeing".
1821) would climb Boxhill by moonlight when composing
Endymoin whilst staying at the Burford Bridge Hotel.
visited in 1694 on her epic journeys around
" ...its a Greate height and shows you a vast precipice down on the farther side, and such a vast vale full of woods Enclosures and Little towns. There is a very good river that runs by a Little town Called Darken just at the foote of this hill, very famous for good trouts and great store of fish. On this hill the top is Cover'd with box whence its name proceeds, and there is other wood but it's all Cutt in Long private walks very shady and pleasant, and this is a great diversion to the Company and would be more frequented if nearer Epsom town."
Box Hill was
"Here every Sunday, during the summer season, there used to be a rendezvous of coaches and horsemen, with abundance of gentlemen and ladies from Epsome to take air, and walk in the box woods; and in a wood, divert, or debauch, or perhaps both, as they thought fit, and the game increased so much, that it became almost on a sudden, to make a great noise in the country."
You can read
more history on Boxhill by visiting
Wikipedia or the
Friends of Box Hill
website. There is also a 10 minute video at YouTube entitled,
"The National Trust - Box
Hill Centenary". It was made in 2014 and is well worth a watch .
As the road turns right, and before reaching the cafe / visitor centre, stay left to follow a bridleway, soon past the gate to Swiss Cottage.
It was from
Swiss Cottage that
John Logie Baird
1946) carried out some of his early experiments on television by sending
signals to the valley below.
After 180 yards follow the path as it turns right (at 10 miles), avoid paths going off to the left. Soon past the grave of Major Labelliere.
Major Peter Labelliere (1726 - 1800), was an eccentric author and Marines officer who rented rooms in South Street, Dorking after serving in the army. He enjoyed walking and resting on Boxhill, often giving away his coat or shoes to less fortunate people he met. His time in the army seemed to have made him a bit unbalanced. An early 19th century book entitled "Promenade round Dorking" relates that:
"in early life he fell in love with a lady, who, although he was remarkably handsome in person, eventually rejected his addresses - a circumstance which could not fail to inflict a deep wound on his delicate mind".
Having accurately prophesied the date of his death in 1800, Major Labelliere left two express wishes in his will: that the youngest son and daughter of his landlady should dance on his coffin, and he should be buried upside down on Box Hill. "As the world is turned topsy-turvy", he reasoned he would be the right way up in the end. However, even though his last wish was carried out, some people believe his ghost on horseback still roams the area around his grave.
70 yards later, at a junction, if you turn right and follow the path it leads to the remains of Box Hill Fort. If you choose to do so, it's well worth the short diversion. There is a path around the fort, then retrace your steps back to where you left the route, then turn right to re-join.
Box Hill Fort
was one of 13
built between 1889 and 1903 as part of the London Defense Scheme. They stretched
in a line from Epping to Guildford thus protecting
"The Fort Road or Military Road is
the name now given to the broad grass-covered track leading up the long spur of
Box Hill from the Mickleham road, though it was in existence as a track long
before the erection of the fort - believed to be one of the earliest examples of
reinforced concrete - in the last decade of the nineteenth century. General Sir
Edward Hamley, a leading writer on military strategy who conducted a vigorous
campaign for the adoption of measures to prevent invasion from the Continent.
Unlike most of the other leading soldiers of the day, Hamley was an enthusiastic
supporter of the volunteer forces, and he considered that they could play an
important part in the defense of the capital in the event of an invasion. He
outlined a scheme for the establishment of a line of lightly fortified assembly
The fort is now a scheduled "Ancient Monument", is owned by the National Trust and is home to three species of bats who have taken up residence in the old ammunition tunnels. As bats are a protected species the interior of the fort is not open to the public, but you can freely wander around the exterior which is accessible by public footpath. There is an information board on the site to tell you more about the fort.
Further along the footpath to the right through the trees, is Zig Zag Road. This goes off the hill down a deep gorge and resembles an Alpine pass with its use of hair pin bends to changes of direction and decrease the gradient. It had many sleeping policemen to trip pedestrians up and to slow down vehicles, but these were removed before the 2012 London Olympics for the road cycle races. There are lots of videos of the Box Hill Zig Zag as it was the highlight of the route and climbed many times by both male and female cyclists. Here's a link to just one on YouTube. The National Trust at Box Hill did take on the London Olympics whole-heartedly, they put huge Olympic Rings on top of the hill overlooking Dorking and the valley below. They even allowed the public to paint the road.
On a personal
point, at the start of this project I first organised a long-distance relay run
around London's green belt in 1995. I didn't realise Box Hill was a private
road. I got a major telling off by the Head Warden at the time. We met and had a
chat. In 1995, with permission, I held the second relay. I ran the stage down
Zig-Zag Road. To me, gravity made me fly and I've never ran so fast before. It
was such an experience and at two miles I checked my watch as I entered the
subway to West Humble. It took me nine minutes. However, watching the cyclists,
they probably climbed quicker than I descended. I organised the relay run for 18
years, and it's still takes place today and I am still involved, but thankfully
in a lesser role. It was through the run, and historical information from an old
friend when we went out to recce different routes, that I decided to develop
As for the route we walk, it is more direct along a traffic free footpath, it has better views, but it is steep and in places is uneven underfoot.
Continue along the path. It gets chalky and loose, so watch your footing. Stay straight on avoiding a path off to your right and forks leading off to the left.
The part where the hill narrows and there are drops on either side is called the Burford Spur. When the path opens out the views over the Mole Valley and into the distance are glorious. If you look slightly to your right you might be able to see a large, square, white house. This is Norbury Park and was home to Leopold Salomons, the man who purchased Box Hill in 1914 and later gifted it to the nation.
On approaching the bottom, a wooden gate, to the right, leads down to the junction of Zig Zag Road and Old London Road. Do not descend to the road instead turn left onto a path along the grass, running parallel to and above Old London Road.
70 yards before reaching the bottom of the track and to the right, just across Zig Zag Road, is Flint Cottage. This was the home of the novelist and poet George Meredith (1828 - 1909) from 1867 until his death in 1909. Of all the people associated with Box Hill, none had a better feel for the place than him. He wrote:
"I am every morning at the top of Box Hill - as its flower, its bird, its prophet. I drop down the moon on one side, I draw up the sun on t'other. I breathe fine air. I shout ha ha to the gates of the world. Then I descend and know myself a donkey for doing it".
He built a small timber chalet up in the steep garden where he done much of his work. He was often visited by J.M.Barrie, who after Meredith's death wrote a fanciful essay in which he imagined the old man sitting on the crest of the hill which rises in front of Flint Cottage, chuckling at the sight of his own funeral cortege solemnly accompanying an empty coffin to the cemetery at Dorking. Barrie himself is commemorated by Barrie's Bank, just outside Flint Cottage, where the playwright is said to have sat before daring to approach the great writer.
The footpath soon goes through some trees and then, at the last opportunity (after 300 yards) turn right and descend to Old London Road.
Direct opposite, on reaching the road, is Ryka's Cafe and its large car park. At weekends this is very popular meeting point for motor cyclists. For many years they have enjoyed pitting their skills against each other by racing north along the divided road through the Mole Gap. The local police are well aware of this and usually have a presence by the roadside to discourage the races. However, this place remains popular with the bikers and acts like a sort of a staging point where groups blast off in all directions around the Surrey Hills and down to the south coast.
Cross over the road (with care) and turn left along the pavement. Then as soon as a pavement appears on the other side, cross back over and turn right past the Burford Bridge Hotel (at 11 miles). After passing the hotel stay left along the pavement running parallel to the dual carriageway (A24).
Burford Bridge Hotel
has seen many famous people stay through the years. They include
It is where
is reported to have spent his last night, in the company of his mistress
Lady Emma Hamilton,
before joining his ships for the
Battle of Trafalgar
(21 October 1805). The hotel is also said to be where
stayed when he found the inspiration to finish his epic poem
"Endymion". It is near here where the
fictional "Battle of Dorking", written
Sir George Tomkyns Chesney
in 1871, took place. This short story contains only 48 pages but was very
popular at the time and started a literary craze for other stories which aroused
imagination and anxiety about fictional invasions of
the pavement along the A24 soon to cross over the River Mole at
Exit the subway to the left and cross over Westhumble Street, then turn right and through the village, soon past the aptly named Stepping Stones Pub.
I say aptly
named as the North Downs Way crosses the
via stepping stones just 500 yards south of here and a short walk east of the
A24. This long distance path however needs to walk north to the subway to cross
the road and then the same distance south again to follow the path through the
The pub was built around 1870, soon after the
railway came to the village, and named the Railway Arms. According to
Streets: "It was renamed The Stepping Stones when Prime Minister Clement
Attlee and Home Secretary Chuter Ede ate here in 1946 to celebrate the
re-instatement of the Stepping Stones across the River Mole."
The pub was built around 1870, soon after the railway came to the village, and named the Railway Arms. According to Edith's Streets: "It was renamed The Stepping Stones when Prime Minister Clement Attlee and Home Secretary Chuter Ede ate here in 1946 to celebrate the re-instatement of the Stepping Stones across the River Mole."
The large white house, immediately before The Stepping Stone pub, is named Burford Corner, dates from the early 19th century, is grade 2 listed, and was previously named Westhumble Corner.
market town of
Dorking is just a mile south of West Humble along the A24.
It dates back to at least Roman Times when it is almost certain there was a
"Roman Station" or
meaning stopping off point, along
Follow the road, straight through the Westhumble village, for 380 yards and you'll see Box Hill & Westhumble train station, and the finish of the stage, to your left.
On the right, shortly before the station is Cleveland Court. This was originally the site of Westhumble House. It was later named Cleveland Lodge after the Duke of Cleveland lived there in the 1830s. The eminent astronomer & mathematician Sir James Jeans (1877 - 1946) bought the house in 1918. According to Mickleham & Westhumble Local History Group (see page 19),
"After his first wife died, he married Susi Hock, an Austrian organist. Sir James also played the organ and the couple had two organs installed in separate soundproofed rooms so they could play at the same time without disturbing each other! After Sir James died Susi stayed in the house and held the annual Box Hill Music Festival there until 1992, shortly before her death. The house has since been demolished and rebuilt as flats and townhouses."
Lady Susi Jeans died in 1993, she bequeathed the house to the Royal School of Church Music, who subsequently used it as their Headquarters from 1996 until 2006, when the school then relocated to Salisbury. Both of its most famous residents are remembered by two blue plaques on the side of the building.
I'll cover the rest of the history and points of interest on Westhumble village at the start of the next stage.
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