Friday, 6 March 2009

Box Hill

Box Hill

Having climbed the well-named Zig Zag Road from the Burford Bridge Hotel on the A24, you park at the National Trust car park at Fort Cottages. The start of the walk follows the continuation of the road, quickly detouring to the view point, which also marks the end of the walk. The views over Dorking and the Mole Valley are splendid.

Further along the road you turn left and descend through Juniper Bottom.

At the end of the descent you cross a road and begin what the walk book very correctly calls "the seemingly interminable climb up a long flight of rustic steps". This leads to an open area with a precious bench for recovery and further fine views: we displaced the people we found there and in due course gave way to the next party.

After a further descent you reach St Michael's church on the edge of the village of Mickleham.

The church is Saxon in origin, and was mentioned in the Domesday book, but much of what we see today reflects the "improvement and re-construction" of 1842. We spotted a green woodpecker in the churchyard.

The route then follows the road back to the Burford Bridge Hotel where you cross the A24 by means of an underpass and walk up the road to Westhumble. Here you are confronted by this fine gateway, which dates from 1923. The blue plaque commemorates Fanny Burney (1752-1840), a novellist, diarist and playwright who built Camilla Cottage with the proceeds of her novel of the same name. She lived there with her new husband, General Alexandre D'Arblay, for three years. How did she come to marry a French general? D'Arblay was apparently one of a group of French monarchists who were living in Mickleham having fled from the French Revolution. It is not clear what prompted the construction of the archway; we had some enjoyable speculation.

Continuing along Chapel Lane you reach the ruins of Westhumble Chapel. It was built in the 12th or 13th century and desecrated three centuries later. As so often, internet research reveals these scanty facts, but no explanation - why?, by whom?

Shortly after the chapel the route turns back towards Box Hill, but there is still time for a detour to Denbies Wine Estate, "England's largest vineyard", where we enjoyed a moderate lunch with a surprisingly good bottle of Chardonnay.

After Denbies you cross the A24 again and then traverse the mighty River Mole. The pretty stepping stones were unfortunately covered by a raging torrent, so we had to use the bridge. I have a soft spot for the 50 mile long Mole having fished in it at West Molesey as a boy.

Then the final assault on Box Hill, up another long series of steps, memorably described as "unremitting" by the walk book. We were pleased when they did remit, close to the original view point.

From: 50 walks in Surrey (AA).

Map: Explorer 146 (Dorking, Box Hill and Reigate).

Rating: four stars.

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