Key information: Box Hill
- Londoner's classic fresh-air escape spot, mentioned by John Evelyn in 1655, Daniel Defoe in 1724 and Jane Austen, in Emma, in 1815.
- Prominent hill of the North Downs, only 193m high but still dominating the gentle Surrey countryside below. A lovely, often-overlooked, face of suburban south-east England.
- 490 hectares of National Trust land allow for easy random wanderings without fear of getting lost, or use the hill as a focal point for a wider-ranging hike.
- Box Hill can get crowded at popular times.
- Walkopedia rating75
- Natural interest14
- Human interest15
- Negative points10
- Total rating75
- Note: Neg: popularity
- Length: Variable
- Maximum Altitude: 193m
Emma Woodhouse's solecism on Box Hill is one of those literary moments that, once read, are never forgotten. We've all had things fall from our mouths that, even as we say them, we know are going to rob us of sleep for the rest of our lives, and Austen's detailing of Emma's terrible quip at the expense of the easy-target local spinster is so excruciating that, for many people, the very name of the event's location is enough to make the hairs on their necks prickle.
This scene takes place during the Regency Picnic Vogue, but Box Hill, in fact, has a long history as the place where the gentry of the south-east would go for a spot of fresh air and a view. One of the highest points on Surrey's North Downs, with a fine chalk cliff carved out by the river Mole on its west flank and all-round views over the wooded, rolling southern countryside and (less thrillingly) the commuter town of Dorking, Box Hills "godly walkes and hills shaded with yew and box" were visited by the Diarist John Evelyn 1655, and Daniel Defoe mentions its popularity as a place of "rendezvous" for the gentry of Epsom.
The hill, in increasing quantities, has belonged to the National Trust since 1914, and its easy access and network of paths and viewpoints make it a powerful draw for jaded Londoners and locals alike. There are few places in southern England where one can guarantee total solitude, and Box Hill is no exception but its long, mellow views are a wonderful reminder that, even in this densely-populated part of the country, England is blessed with generous open tracts of elegant green unspoiled by urban sprawl.
From Box Hill station, either head directly over the Mole and wander the paths criss-crossing the Trust's 490 hectares of land, taking in the tower, Victorian fort and panoramas over Dorking, Mickleham Downs and beyond, spotting the 40 out of 58 species of native butterfly which live here and stopping for tea at the NT café near the summit. Or set out for a more constructed, more strenuous five-hour up-and-down circuit, taking in Norbury Park, Mickleham, its downs and racing gallops, the Trust's other site at Headley Heath, the Brockham quarry and, finally, the summit of Box Hill itself before dropping back down to the station.
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