Tuesday, August 6, 2019

A Day at Box Hill

Standing at the top of Box Hill

If you're looking for a nice and easy day trip from London for a bit of scenery, I highly recommend a trip to Box Hill in Dorking. Depending on where in London you're traveling from it take about an hour or an hour 1/2 to get there and it's a super fun place to spend the day. When my husband suggested we go, I couldn't shake the feeling I'd heard of it before. Once we got there I saw all the cyclists and realised why it was so familiar... It was part of the cycling route during the 2012 London Olympics. 

Uprooted tree

Whether you enjoy cycling, hill walking or just a bit of countryside, there's something for everyone. This is the type of destination where you could go full tilt with a challenging hike or simply take in the views from a cute, country pub over a Sunday roast while sipping the tipple of your choice. However you plan to spend your time there, if you love a bit of peace and quiet, country scenery and being outdoors, this little day trip needs to be on your to-do list.

We started our journey from Putney and it took us about an hour 1/2 to get there door to door, taking a train from Clapham Junction. We booked our tickets via The Trainline from Putney to Box Hill & Westhumble and they were pretty cheap, ringing in at about £12 each. If you're on a budget, this is about as cheap a trip as it gets since you can get really affordable transportation and pack a picnic to take with you. That said, if you have a car or a motorcyle, it's a lot quicker - about a 40 minute drive from Southwest London.

Box Hill National Trust

Arriving at the station we immediately started to see signs for Box Hill, not that we needed them... It was easy enough to simply follow all the people wearing hiking boots and outdoor gear. It's a short walk to the first entrance we found to the hill, which is just past the Burford Bridge Mercure Hotel on the right side. There are a number of places to start and ways to go about your walk, but this is the most obvious if you take the train to Box Hill & Westhumble. It's worth noting that the ascent up the hill is quite steep and probably not super great if the weather is wet as it's mostly rock and could be quite slippery. If you choose this route, you'll see a National Trust sign that says Box Hill where there are some dirt steps and you can absolutely start there if you like. Click here for more information on Box Hill walks and free guided walks in the area.


It might not be the worst idea to be more organised about your plan than we were. My husband had a map from the internet he found on his phone, but there were various better ones available from the National Trust... I imagine people got them from some kind of visitor's centre we didn't go to. At a certain point we were in the woods, not necessarily lost since there are trails carved out, but very unaware which way to turn or how much walking lied ahead and some very friendly hill walkers gave us their map. We wouldn't have died in the woods or anything, but it probably would've been a nicer experience if we'd planned it better. We also might've seen more that we wanted to see. For example, there are some stepping stones that cross a river there and though that was at the top of my list of things to do, we never actually made it to see them.

View from the top of Box Hill

At the top of Box Hill there's a viewing area and some monuments, one of an eccentric who was buried head down as per his wishes. The views are incredible and you can see a lot of cows in the distance... Depending on your route, you might walk past those cows later on like we did. If scenery is your thing, this is a great place to visit and after such a tough climb, the view is a nice reward. You can of course stop your journey there and go back down... To be honest, I would probably do that next time, however if you keep going there's a restaurant you'll pass that looks like a really fun place for lunch called Smith & Western and I might be tempted by that next time I'm there.

Cows in Dorking

We walked for about 3 1/2 hours before I simply couldn't do anymore. I don't mean to be dramatic... I could have, but I was already tired from some workouts the day before, I needed a loo and I was starting to get hungry for something sturdy and delicious. It's hard walking on those trails since much of it is uphill - you can really work up an appetite and we happened to be there on a particularly hot day. Once we made our loop around, we looked up a pub and headed that way, mostly for a loo, but we found quite a surprise on our way...

mill stream in Dorking

Passing through a field of cows we made our way towards the Watermill Inn, crossing a small footbridge to see the mill stream which was beautiful and so peaceful. Surrounded by a few stunning country houses, this little hidden bridge is part of the path that takes you to the local pub and it passes so close to the houses that you feel like you're trespassing through someone's garden, but it's all good. After crossing the bridge, we still weren't quite sure where to go when a man popped his head out of the upstairs window of his gorgeous house and we simply shouted up, asking him where to go. His reply was like something out of a movie... "Keep walking straight until you see the willow. Make a left up the hill and it's going to be on your left." Even though the pub itself is quite hidden and we almost passed it because it's not that far up the hill, he led us right there. It had been a long time since this former country girl had been given directions like take a left at the next tree.

Blackberries in bloom

The Watermill Inn is a cute pub with lots of outdoor seating. The beer is fresh and the food is delicious - it's the kind of place where you could quite happily camp out all day with a board game, a book or a magazine. We sipped cold beers and ate lunch there, whiling away the afternoon and having conversations with a few locals. It was the perfect ending to our trip. We shared the chicken goujons starter with pale ale BBQ sauce and then split the halloumi & chips, which is just like fish & chips, but made with halloumi cheese instead and quite possibly one of my favourite things ever. The food was so great that I've been thinking about going back already... It's not often I find a pub that serves food I really love. Unfortunately I didn't get any photos of the Watermill Inn, but you can click here to check out their website.

If you're planning a trip to Box Hill, I highly recommend taking some food with you. Of course you might want to hit up any number of cafes, pubs or restaurants in the area, but your walk might be long and you may need some food and water to keep you going, or at least happy while you're out and about. We noshed on ham & mustard sandwiches and sweets throughout our walk and I was so happy to have them. We also had some snacks and nibbles on the train ride home. It made sense given that we only went out for one meal in the afternoon, but we were there pretty much the whole day into the early evening. I would suggest packing things like sandwiches, pretzels or crisps, bottled water and something sweet be it fruit or candy. Other ideas would be a flask of coffee and/or soup if it's chilly - I look forward to having these things on the hill later in the year when it's a bit chilly. You'll also probably want to bring a phone charger with you in case you need to top up sometime during the day. Other things to consider would be sunscreen and/or a hat to protect you from the sun and sunglasses. I suggest getting an early start that way you know you'll be out by dark and you can then relax with some lunch after your walk, but if you're going later in the day, depending on the time of year it might not be the worst idea to bring a flashlight.

We aren't hiking pros in the slightest, so we didn't get all kitted out in gear... I'm sharing this because it might've kept me from taking the trip if I'd known just how steep the hill is. That said, I wore some sturdy running shoes, gym leggings, a t-shirt, a sweatshirt and a baseball cap. My husband wore something similar. It did rain a little bit while we were there and we managed just fine, but had it rained heavily, I will admit that we might've been too cold and we probably would've fallen a time or two because our shoes weren't right for slippery conditions. If you're visiting with any kind of wet weather, it might be a good idea to invest in some proper walking or hiking shoes or boots. A walking stick might also come in handy too. Furthermore, I can't stress enough how important layers are. It can get cold in the shade, blistering hot in the sun and everything in between. You're also walking a lot and sweating... A few light layers that you can shed or add as needed are key.

It's also worth noting that the cell service isn't super reliable on the hill. A few times we wanted to use Google Maps and it just wouldn't load. Likewise, when we wanted to leave, we couldn't get an Uber because there were no cars in the area, so it's a good idea to have a map printed just in case and research the number for a local taxi company and keep it somewhere handy before you set off. You're probably never too terribly far from the train station, but after a full morning of walking and an afternoon of delicious food, I didn't fancy the 45 minute trek to the station... I was actually so tired from the day that I slept the whole way back to Clapham Junction.

There are a few things we didn't get to do while at Box Hill, so we're definitely planning to go back again soon... Ryka's Cafe is a popular place to grab a bite for bikers who ride in the area. My husband used to go there a long time ago when he rode a motorcycle in London, so we'll definitely need to check that out at some point. The Stepping Stones is another cute pub that looks well worth a visit and of course its name sake, the stepping stones walk which we missed this time. There's definitely more than enough to see, do and eat to fill up a day.

For more information or to plan your trip to Box Hill, visit nationaltrust.org.uk/box-hill

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