SURREY

Surrey benchSurrey is famous among London commuters who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city after settling down.  As a result, it is filled with suburban homes, and a gap between two kinds of residents—the Londoners with fat checks, and the locals who never left.  However, for the most part, Surrey is filled with natural woodlands—in fact, it is the most wooded county in England, and much of its land belongs to the UK Green Belt, a project aiming to control urbanization.  So, look past the suburban houses and venture to the countryside like a Jane Austen character on a leisurely walk. Surrey has plenty of woodland paths to offer.


Woking War of the Worlds sculpture Flickr Ben SutherlandWoking (pop. 101,200), in the west of Surrey, is a sprawling town built around its train station.  The post-war growth of the town led to its many modern structures. 

It also features prominently in HG Wells’ War of the Worlds—its northern woodland area called “Sandpits” is the area that the fictional aliens attacked.  Woking is very proud of this literary shout-out.  It even has an underpass with a mural dedicated especially to this scene in the novel as well as a square showcasing sculptures on the same theme.

 

 

 

 


Dorking landscape Flickr Johan J.Ingles-Le NobelDorking (pop. 16,100) is a historic market town that has managed to maintain its old-school charm while at the same time managing to keep up with the times in terms of modernity.  Its West Street is antique-lovers’ idea of heaven.  It also has the largest vineyard in all of Britian, Denbie’s Wine Estate.  It is a good pit stop for those with niche interests in antiques and wines.

 

 


Farnham Castle Flickr DamekFarnham (pop. 36,000), a small town located at the extreme west of Surrey, boasts of charming antiquity.  Its streets are filled with Georgian architecture that one can marvel at while walking or cycling around.  But don’t let the antediluvian charm fool you—apparently, it is one of the most haunted places in England. 

Layout
Farnham’s historic town centre is the point of convergence of its streets East, West, South, and Castle, and this is easily where most of the best sights are.  It is also quite small enough to navigate on foot.  As the Farnham Castle looms over the town, it is hard to miss.  The train station is in Station Hill, at the southern tip of South Street.

Sights
Farnham Castle Keep
(Castle Street, +441252721194).  Towering over the town is the Farnham Castle.  Occupied for almost 900 years by the most powerful Bishops of Winchester, this Norman Castle and its buildings reflect the architectural styles of the various eras it has managed to live through.   Nowadays, the Bishop’s Palace houses a conference center owned by the Farnham Castle International Briefing and Conference Centre, but the medieval parts of the castle are under the care of English Heritage.  It offers limited public viewing, so be sure to check the website for dates when it is open.

Directly in front of the castle is the Farnham Park, home to amazing flora and fauna, and behind the castle, a public golf course.

Hotels
Farnham Bed and Breakfast (22 Abbots Ride, +44 1252719580, £55-£65).  Many call this B&B a hidden gem—and both words are apt for this little B&B.  The location is serene and quiet, and proprietress, Jenni, seems to be popular among her guests for going out of her way to make them feel comfortable without being too intrusive.  The rooms are spotlessly clean and equipped with modern facilities.  It is a fifteen-minute walk from the railway station.

Hotel de Vie (22 Firgrove Hill, +44 1252823030, £90-£110).  Juxtaposed with the old school charm of Farnham is this relatively new luxury hotel.  It is notable for having many different themed suites—mirrors and laces, or Oriental pleasure, these are just two of the options.  The rooms are big, with plush beds and comfortable bathrooms.  The owner, Roger, practices very hands-on service, and his staff take after him.


Waverley Abbey ruins Flickr JohnONolanBe haunted by the ruins of this abbey sitting on the banks of the River Wey, southeast of Farnham.  It is notable for being the first Cisterian Abbey in England, built in 1128 by French monks, and then later abolished by King Henry VIII.  Across from the River Wey is the Waverley Abbey House, which was once owned by a relative of Florence Nightingale in the 19th century.  The bricks forming the house were apparently salvaged by Sir John Aislabie from the ruins of the abbey when he built it in 1723.  The house then became a military hospital during the World War I, and has now become the headquarters of the Crusade for World Revival.  Though the house itself is close to the public, the surrounding grounds on the riverbanks are a great way to stroll and take in the serene beauty of the place. 



Surrey landscape Flickr Johan J.Ingles-Le NobelHindhead (pop. 6,060) is  right in the middle of largest moorland in Surrey, south of Farnham.  Nineteenth century Victorians flocked to this hamlet back then, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who purportedly wrote “The Hound of Baskervilles” here, as well as playwright George Bernard Shaw, who lived in what is now St. Edmund’s School. 

But the one thing people go all the way to the village of Hindhead for is the Devil’s Punch Bowl, a natural amphitheater (or simply just a natural depression) now owned and protected by the National Trust.  It is the site of varied wildlife, as well as amazing woodlands, and some pretty amazing legends.  Above this natural wonder is Gibbet Hill, a site of execution for many years.

After walking through the woodlands in the highest village in Surrey, you can check into the Hindhead YHA Hostel (Punch Bowl Lane, +44  8453719022, £14).  Its grounds are near the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, so you can be pretty sure that you’re covered if you can’t get enough of nature.  It is also near the Devil’s Punch Bowl, yet as it is, it is quite secluded.