AREA GUIDE TO SURREY
COUNTRYSIDE & BUZZING TOWNS
Impossibly pretty villages, bustling market towns, sought-after schools, low crime rates and well-connected transport links, it’s no surprise that Surrey is often cited as one of the best places to live in the UK. In fact, Surrey Hills was awarded the accolade in a Sunday Times poll earlier this year.
Surrey has long since been a popular choice for city dwellers looking to upsize and live with more open green spaces and countryside on their doorsteps, all the while only being around 35-45 minutes train journey away from the centre of London. Being close to the capital is a big draw, but the county is also near to other major hubs including Gatwick and Heathrow airports, as well as major motoring routes on the M25 and the A3. In Surrey, you get the best of both worlds – all the amenities but less people, less pollution and less noise.
Pictured: Roman Fox, Unsplash, Leith Hill Tower
The word ‘Surrey’ comes from the Saxon term Suthrige, meaning ‘Southern kingdom’. A treasure trove of history, Surrey was featured heavily in the Domesday Book and villages including Banstead, Ashtead and Tadworth are amongst some of the 115 towns that still exist today. Its boundaries have shifted dramatically over the centuries. Back in the Anglo-Saxon period, South London towns such as Clapham, Tooting and Wandsworth used to be part of the county.
There are traces of ancient settlers in Surrey that date back to the Bronze Age, while the Romans built major roads in their early occupation of the area. The A3 and the A24 still follow the Romans’ exact route. Next came the Saxon and Norman occupations, and in 1215, a hugely significant event in history took place in Runnymede, when one of the most famous documents in history, the Magna Carta, was signed by King John of England
In the Tudor period, King Henry VIII favoured Surrey for his hunting grounds. Kingswood was named so, after the area became part of the King’s hunting domain alongside Hampton Court and Nonsuch Palace – although he did not see it completed before his death. Elizabeth I stayed at Nonsuch on many occasions. It was sadly pulled down in 1682-3 to pay off some gambling debts, however, some of the original oak panelling can still be seen in Nonsuch Mansion today.
VALUE FOR MONEY
Tucked-away private roads, Victorian semis on leafy streets, gated detached houses, quaint cottages, Edwardian homes and new-build developments. Surrey has them all. And while property prices are relatively high – around £500K on average, you get more value for money in Surrey. So even though Surrey is the most expensive of all the Home Counties, a superb family home here will still cost less than a new flat in London’s Zone Two. With Surrey’s greater landmass in comparison to the city – around 642sq miles to 607sq miles, and with only around 1.2 million residents compared to 8.9 million in London, finding a reasonably sized garden, with private parking, is not as challenging, cementing the appeal of Surrey particularly for young families looking for more space and outstanding schools.
EXCELLENT TRANSPORT LINKS
Surrey has excellent transport links into central London – which is what makes it so popular for those looking to live in the suburbs with quick connections into the city. There are several routes that serve Surrey run by Southern and South Western that take commuters to several mainline stations including London Waterloo, London Victoria and London Bridge. Journey times vary, but anywhere between 30-60 minutes.
Whether you’re looking to send you children to an independent school or state school, Surrey has some of the best that the UK has to offer. With high rankings across the region, you will find top-performing schools across both sectors. From St John the Baptist in Woking which is ranked as the best state secondary in Surrey, and 23rd in the whole country to well-performing independent schools including Epsom College in Epsom and St Johns in Leatherhead.
One of the biggest pulls for those opting to live in Surrey is the abundance of incredible natural scenery and a wide variety of countryside that can be explored. Surrey Hills is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and has been for more than 60 years. This stunning expanse of rolling hills, woodland, heathland and countryside is rich in flora, fauna, and wildlife. And stretches across a quarter of the county from the North Downs of Farnham in the east to Oxted in the west. Box Hill, the Devil’s Punchbowl, Reigate Hill and Abinger Roughs are just a small selection of Surrey landmarks that are unmissable and have glorious views.
There is a vibrant food scene in Surrey. From supper clubs to Michelin-star restaurants and all those in between. You’ll find a decent mix of nationwide high street chains to independent cafes, bars and bistros across Surrey. Surrey also has a glut of fantastic pubs serving excellent food from traditional dishes to modern classics. And with many luxury hotels across the county, too, talented chefs have swapped the bright lights of the big city for the more tranquil vibes of leafy suburbs and village life. You’ll also find an abundance of AA Rosette and Michelin-star restaurants in the area. Voted for by locals, the Time & Leisure Food & Drink Awards recognises the many fantastic restaurants and bars in Surrey, and rewards their owners and staff who work tirelessly to give the community excellent food and quality service.
ARTS AND CULTURE
Surrey has a strong arts and culture scene. Live music, comedy shows, dance, theatre performances and plays can be enjoyed across the county from venues including G-Live in Guildford, the Maltings in Farnham and Epsom Playhouse.
For art, award-winning galleries such as The Lightbox in Woking and Watts Contemporary Gallery near Guildford offer exhibitions showcasing local talent and beyond, running workshops and masterclasses. The Inspiring Views project run by Surrey Hills, sees stunning sculptures and artwork nestled across the landscape, while ongoing projects include poetry, talks, workshops and demonstrations.
A destination in its own right, the enchanting West Horsley Place near Leatherhead is home to the revered Grange Park Opera. Every season, the sprawling gardens welcomes opera fans and music lovers to picnic on the grounds and to watch glittering performances in the Theatre in the Woods.
With some of the UK’s best race courses and premier golf courses, Surrey has much to offer for those who like to keep active and who are horse racing fans. Follow in the footsteps of legendary golfers. Walton Heath has played host to the iconic Ryder Cup tournament while Wentworth in Virginia Water is perhaps one of the most famous golf courses in Surrey – hosting the European PGA annually. There are over 140 different golf courses in the county to choose from.
For those who like cycling, there are six National Cycle Network routes that pass through Surrey – including Downs Links. Starting near Guildford it follows a disused railway line that heads through the South Downs to Shoreham-by-Sea. If you’re up to the challenge, the Surrey Cycleway is a 94-mile route that uses quiet country lanes and has major links to Surrey towns including Woking, Farnham and Epsom.
Horse racing fans have three iconic courses in Surrey – Kempton, Sandown and Epsom. Perhaps one of the biggest races in Surrey is the Epsom Derby – one of the greatest flat races in the world. Held in June, it is a huge event in the sporting calendar and one that is visited by thousands of racegoers and watched by millions on the TV. It’s an occasion that certainly puts Surrey on the world map.
Surrey has plenty to offer for those looking for a variety of things to see and do. It has excellent walking and cycling routes, and for those looking for outdoor adventure, there is much to explore – historical mansions, homes, museums and sweeping gardens and grounds – there are countless to choose from. Gatton Park in Reigate, Painshill Park in Cobham, Alice Holt Forest in Farnham and Wisley Gardens near Woking, are just some of the popular Surrey locations worth visiting. You will also find several National Trust sites in Surrey including Polesden Lacey in Bookham, Leith Hill near Dorking and Frensham Ponds near Farnham – where in the summer months you can take a dip.
For families, the choice of Surrey attractions is endless. Home to two of the UK’s biggest theme parks – Chessington World of Adventures and Thorpe Park, there are thrills and spills galore, as well as farms, adventure playgrounds and water parks.
Pictured: Surrey Hills, Inspiring Views Project, Radius
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Even though Ashtead has a small village feel with one bustling high street running through its centre, it is the largest village in Surrey’s Mole Valley. Close to the North Downs and Boxhill, Ashtead (which means homestead among the ash trees) is also a historic settlement dating back to 1086. The village is also known for its tranquil nature reserve. Ashtead Common is home to over 2,300 oak trees, and you can discover ancient woodland, plenty of historic tales, and rare wildlife.
The high street still has a village vibe, with family-run shops including a fishmonger and two butchers, alongside gift shops, independent cafes and restaurants. You’ll also find some local historic gems such as The Leg of Mutton and Cauliflower – a 500-year old pub that runs quiz nights and only sources local produce for their menus.
Each year, thousands of visitors flock to Banstead’s Mayfield Lavender Fields to walk amongst the stunning purple lilac blooms that are alive with colour and scent. Now a major attraction, families can purchase refreshments and meals, and kids will love the tractor and train rides.
Even though Banstead is a small village, its high street has a decent mix of independent restaurants and bars, some of them family run, with mainstream supermarkets and eateries. The park and cricket grounds are popular as are Banstead Woods. There are several walking routes through the woods and surrounding woodland, including a magical Narnia trail.
Nicknamed the ‘Beverly Hills of Britain’ Cobham is home to the rich and famous – from football stars to celebrities, private number plates and luxury cars are the norm in this pretty village. Chelsea FC’s training ground is also located in Cobham.
Encircled by the River Mole, Cobham is an idyllic setting, with wide residential streets, mansion-like homes and a village feel. Perhaps one of the area’s most famous landmarks is the 19th-century watermill that sits on the bank of the river. It’s the only surviving watermill in Surrey and can be visited from April to October.
The Cobham crowd is well-heeled and you’ll find them enjoying themselves at the many trendy and upmarket cocktail bars, restaurants, cafes and pubs on the High Street from The Ivy to the Coppa Club, establishments that are firmly part of the London set, too.
Dorking’s history is long and varied but perhaps it is most famous for William Mullins who, with his family, servant and friend, sailed to the New World of Massachusetts on the Mayflower in 1620. The Mullins’ family home was built in 1590 and stands proudly in Dorking’s West Street. It is the only home of a ‘Pilgrim Father’ that has survived in to the 21st Century.
In the heart of Surrey Hills and close to Box Hill, Dorking is a thriving market town. You’ll find a quirky independent shops, art and antiques, as well as craft beers and gins, and gifts. A traditional market is held every Friday in St Martin’s Walk car park and an artisan market on Sundays.
Foodies flock to Dorking with its brasseries, bistros and fine dining options. Steve Drake’s Michelin-starred restaurant Sorrel, located on South Street, attracts diners from far and wide, who want to dine on classic European dishes with a flair.
Dorking is also home to the England’s largest vineyard – Denbies. Over 30,000 people visit the wine estate nested in the rolling hills of the North Downs. It produces cool climate sparkling and still wines that are grown in chalky soil.
EPSOM & EWELL
Famous for its healing salts and the location of suffragette Emily Davison’s untimely death in 1913, who died after falling in front of the King’s horse at the Derby, Epsom was once a spa destination for those looking to convalesce. It is now is a vibrant town that sees artistic students from the University of Creative Arts and Laine Theatre School mix with families, Generation X and Baby Boomers.
The town centre is lively with a combination of big chains and independent businesses, a shopping centre, town plaza Epsom Square, as well as well as two night clubs and several bars. The market situated near the historic Clock Tower sells fresh produce from artisan bread to stalls selling street food. There is a whole host of restaurants and pubs to choose from in Epsom – and some with stunning views including those up on Epsom Downs.
Perhaps it is Epsom Downs that is one of the town’s biggest draws. For views across the London’s skyline, the Downs is a huge opens space of chalk grassland as well as woods that extend to Langley Vale. It is also home to the famous racecourse and to the Centenary Wood, which commemorates the soldiers who fought in World War One. The Downs isn’t the only wide open green space in the Epsom & Ewell. Two important conservation areas, Epsom Common and Horton Country Park, has large ponds, marshlands, ancient woods and rural landscapes.
Ewell Village, around five minutes from the centre of Epsom, is situated close to the pretty Hogsmill River and has a small high street. Rising in Ewell, the river flows to Kingston Upon Thames, and is famed for being the setting for John Everett Millais’ oil painting Ophelia.
Once officially named the ‘nicest place town in Surrey’, Farnham is an ancient market town that has masses of appeal. Wander the quaint streets and you’ll discover Georgian architecture, Queen Anne cottages and half-timbered buildings, an abbey and even a castle. And located close the North Downs, as well as the impressive pine forests of Bourne Wood and the ancient oaks of Alice Holt – there is also an abundance of countryside views.
Farnham has a fascinating history that dates to the Stone age. England’s first Cistercian abbey, now the ruins of Waverley Abbey, was founded by monks almost a century ago, while the grandson of William the Conqueror, Henry de Blois, built the castle that stands proudly overlooking the town.
With an award-winning farmers market selling locally sourced produce, an annual food festival and lots of local pubs, restaurants and cafes, nestled in between a range of independent shops and chains, the town has a lively feel with excellent amenities.
Also known for its heritage in crafts, 16th-century potteries in Farnham were major suppliers to London, and back in 2013, it was named as England’s Craft Town. To honour this, each year Farnham runs a spectacular crafts event that celebrate local craftspeople throughout October.
Having been awarded Purple Flag status, Guildford is now recognised for its excellent dining and entertainment options. Close to the banks of the River Wey, Guildford is a buzzy town with a range of upmarket properties, from Victorian townhouses to quaint cottages. It is also home to the University of Surrey, a grand cathedral and a Norman castle.
Surrounded by landscaped gardens, the medieval Guildford castle lies the centre of this pretty Surrey town. Built by William the Conqueror at the end of the Saxon period, Guildford has a wealth of history and culture.
Now, you can wander the pretty streets filled with a vast assortment of designer boutiques, independent shops and high-street stores, while a farmers market takes place on the first Tuesday of every month. There’s a fantastic choice of pubs, bars, cafes and eateries, including the Ivy Castle View and popular Positano restaurant.
Leatherhead is perfectly located for the area’s outstanding beauty hotspots. It has more than 80 buildings that are listed as being of historic interest and of special architectural interest – including the church of St Mary and St Nicholas which dates back to the Domesday period in the 11th Century.
The tranquil River Mole flows from Box Hill down to Leatherhead, and is the town’s most picturesque feature. With three listed bridges along the town’s stretch of river, including the Shell Bridge, it is a haven for all types of wildlife including birds and insects.
Leatherhead or in Anglo-Saxon Leodridan, means a ‘place where people ride across the river’. During medieval times, the town became an essential transport hub. The site of the Swan Hotel, which has now been replaced with a chain hotel, was integral in offering weary travellers a place to stay when they were travelling from London to Guildford on what was the old Roman Road for the A3.
The town itself isn’t huge, but it has plenty of large high street chains within the Swan shopping centre, supermarkets and independent boutiques. Leatherhead also has a vibrant cultural scene, that centres around the theatre and events including a drama festival. There is a great deal of choice for eating out, but perhaps it’s the towns historic pubs that have the most character. A favourite includes 600-year old The Running Horse, that overlooks the River Mole.
Packed with a great collection of places to eat and drink, Reigate, voted the best place to live by The Times in 2019, is another affluent market town close the rolling hills of the Surrey Downs. But even though the countryside is close, Reigate’s huge Priory Park in the centre of town means that residents can enjoy sweeping green spaces and a lake right on their doorsteps.
Reigate Hill affords wonderful views across Surrey. It is here that you will discover a fort built in 1898, as part of the London Defence Scheme, to protect the capital from invasion against France. Back in town, you can walk amongst the ruins of Reigate Castle and its surrounding gardens, as well as go underground. The castle mound is composed of soft sandstone and over the centuries it was mined. The old mines or caves literally crisscross underneath the town and many of the excavations still remain.
There is a fantastic mix of independent shops in Reigate from antiques and furniture to fashion. Dining options are vast with big chains including the likes of Giggling Squid, Gails and Wagamama. However, you’ll also find independent restaurants such as Island House that serves fusion food and Lebnani, that serves Lebanese.
Woking lies on the River Wey and has Bronze Age burial mounds that date to around 1500 BC. And while the large town has a cosmopolitan centre, in Old Woking you’ll find the Tudor ruins of Woking Palace, which hosted King Henry VII, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.
It is also the setting for the opening chapters of sci-fi classic The War of the World, H.G Wells is commemorated throughout the town. From the imposing The Woking Martian – a sculpture by Michael Condron – to a statue of himself that can be found in Wells Plaza, the author lived in Woking from 1895.
Woking Park is a large green space that is popular with residents and families who adore the play areas, the leisure complex and annual activities including Party in the Park. The centre of town is a shopping mecca with the large complexes filled with high street brands. There is also a covered market that has a large variety of stalls offering food from around the world, as well as a vibrant food and drink scene. The arts are celebrated here, with several venues including the New Victoria and Rhoda McGaw theatres. The Lightbox is an impressive gallery and museum and tells the story of Woking’s fascinating history and the people who lived there.
Time & Leisure magazine, south west London
Time & Leisure magazine began life in Wimbledon in 1997 and is owned and managed by the publisher Lucy Kane. Originally it started life as a bi-monthly ‘Arts in Wimbledon’ title, founded by Tony Kane which soon became a flourishing family business. In 2002 his daughter Lucy Kane revamped the title into a monthly local lifestyle magazine for Wimbledon, Putney and Wandsworth. She created the brand we are familiar with today and expanded the portfolio. She launched new editions in Clapham, Battersea, Fulham, Kingston and Surrey. Lucy and her team then launched a magazine website for south west London and Surrey. Time & Leisure remains the number one lifestyle magazine for SW London and Surrey, delivered to high net worth residential homes every month.