There’s nothing like a walk in the Downs to pick you up. I’m sure that phrase or some variation of it is used somewhere along the North Downs every day. That overuse doesn’t stop it being true though.
Actually I was feeling fine when I popped down to Surrey recently, but I still left in an improved mood; as the signs and even the maps say Surrey Hills is indeed an ‘area of outstanding natural beauty’. In fact if you were looking for a slice of chocolate box England with interesting history, stunning scenery and nothing but A.A Milne names to match, then you’d be hard pressed to do better than this part of the world.
Only 20 miles from Piccadilly Circus is Mercure Box Hill Burford Bridge Hotel, a few minutes’ walk from the outstandingly named ‘Box Hill & Westhumble Railway Station’. Just around the corner is Crabtree Lane, while just a few yards from the hotel is the River Mole. The morning I arrived there had just been a sighting of Winnie the Poo.
From the front, Mercure Box Hill appears to be a smart, stately hotel, which is exactly what it is. However, once inside it felt as if I was staying at a friend’s rather impressive home in the country. Wide arches and very spacious living areas are populated with comfortable sofas and Mercure’s trademark crushed velvet chairs.
It’s the finer details that make you feel so at home though, or at least like a welcome guest at someone else’s: shelves full of hand turned vases; pictures of local wildlife; a wooden sculpture that appears to be from ‘War Horse’. Ornaments are eclectic, yet everything works together. More importantly though it all works with the hotel’s setting. You can’t imagine these touches are replicated at any other Mercure hotel and indeed they’re not.
The bedrooms continue the chilled out, spacious theme, albeit with their own Mediterranean/ Southern Californian style. Plenty of room, an enormous bed and a wardrobe fit for a travelling fashion blogger. All the rooms also have a three or four panel canvas print of the surrounding countryside, bringing just a little of the stunning outdoors indoors.
For some places it’s said that you really have to visit, see or eat the local specialty. Surrey Hills’s specialty is its scenery: its paths for tramping, running or cycling, the occasional crumbling ruin and its stunning vistas, just begging for someone to use as a logo for a new baking powder. However there’s no pressure here. If you want three days of barely moving from your hotel room, then, by all means, fill your boots. You may as well if you’re not walking in them!
If you are heading out though, you’ll want to tick off the highlights: Hindhead common, the Devil’s punchbowl and the iconic Salomon’s memorial viewpoint at Box Hill for starters. It’s also a good idea to follow a guided walk. I can personally recommend the trail we took - ‘Walk the Chalk’ - which roughly follows the train line from Dorking railway station to Gomshall where you can get a pint in while you wait for a train back. The ‘Mole gap’ trail also comes highly recommended.
Whichever trail you choose to muddy your boots in you’ll have a warm welcome, a comfortable bed and a satisfying, photographic reminder of the day you’ve just had…or an incentive for the one you might have tomorrow…