I’d heard of Box Hill from Jane Austen long before I lived and worked in Surrey and long before the Olympic cyclists came. And while the latter put it high on my work radar, communicating about the road closures, it took until a recent visit to fully appreciate just how stunning it is.
Ironically it was my work that got me there again. But this time inspired by one of the campaigns my team runs, this one encouraging people to ‘Explore Surrey’ and help boost the rural economy and their health. The good news is that if my last visit is anything to go by it’s working – there were plenty of people of all shapes, sizes and ages enjoying the walks and views.
Going back to my literary heroine, Jane Austen’s scene at Box Hill in Emma was a picnic and it’s undoubtedly a great location for that. Everyone who goes to Emma’s picnic has ‘a burst of admiration’ when they arrive as the views are fabulous and it’s easy to see why the Surrey Hills are recognised as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
Once you’ve eaten your alfresco lunch you could just sit and admire the views or you can tackle one of a range of walks helpfully planned and printed in booklets by the National Trust. You can pick them up at the Box Hill Cafe or print off in advance from the NT website. They range from a 20 minute stroll around the top of Box Hill to more challenging walks that go to the bottom and back up to the top again.
That’s the case with the circular two mile Stepping Stones walk which doesn’t sound far but is estimated to take an hour and a half because of the uphill element. The first part of the walk is downhill which sounds good but its via 275 steps – helpful for not slipping on loose rocks, but can be a bit rough on the calves.
It leads down to the River Mole and the stepping stones that give the walk its name. There are 17 hexagonal stones crossing the river which are pretty easy to walk across though can be slippy, so if you don’t fancy it there’s a path that leads to a footbridge. Now the walk takes you on a wander through Burford Meadow on a path parallel to the river and with chalky cliff the Whites towering to the right.
After that you’re briefly on the side of the main A24 with an opportunity to stop off for a break and a drink at Ryka’s, a popular hang out for motorcyclists so lots of mean machines to check out if that floats your boat, or maybe that should be floats your bike.
A break isn’t a bad idea because the next bit is all uphill and for a while it’ll probably get your heart rate going. But it doesn’t take long to get to the ridge and then its a more gentle climb back to the top of the hill with a stop off to look around the Old Fort. Then a couple of minutes later there’s the Box Hill Cafe again and time for a big slice of cake that feels entirely justified.
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