Age? Oh, thousands of years. Two Bronze Age round barrows, located close to the Salomons Memorial, provide the earliest archaeological evidence of human activity on Box Hill. Yep, Bronze Age.
Where exactly is it? It’s the famous summit of the North Downs in Surrey, approximately 19 miles south-west of London. The mound gets its name from the ancient box woodland found on the steepest west-facing chalk slopes overlooking the River Mole. The western part is owned by the National Trust, whilst the little village of Box Hill lies to the east. The highest point is Betchworth Clump at 224 m above sea level, while the official viewpoint near the cafe is a lower (see more on this below).
OK. Can I get there by public transport? You sure can: take the train to Box Hill & Westhumble station itself, walk a few minutes down the road – and there’s the hill rising majestically above you. Once you start to ascend, it feels a little like the Alps. Honest.
Where should I eat and drink? Surprisingly, you’re spoilt for choice. My top tip would be the well-situated King Bill On The Hill – otherwise known as the King William IV (pictured below) – just over in Mickleham, and easily walkable after the hill. With cosy rooms and panoramic views, it serves hearty traditional pub grub, including excellent calamari boards to start, as well as an enormous ploughman’s: try one between two (read my review of the pub in The Guardian here). Or go posh at the nearby Running Horses, a swankier gastropub with pavement terrace overlooking Mickleham church.
There’s also that well-worn National Trust Cafe right on the summit, a biker’s cafe called Ryka’s at the foot of the hill, should you need a coffee before the climb, and the handy Stepping Stones pub a few minutes’ walk from the station, with an appealingly ramshackle beer garden. A pub crawl could well be possible possible; after all, you’ve done the steps and earnt it.
Top tip: Don’t miss the Salomons Memorial (at 172 metres) overlooking Dorking, a gently inspiring viewpoint that’s popular with picnickers when the sun shines. It was deserted on my midweek visit, however.
Where to stay? The historic Burford Bridge hotel, with its own bar, restaurant and heated outdoor pool, nestles at the foot of the hill. We haven’t roadtested its double rooms, but they start at £134: perfect to recharge before the train back to the smoke.
The quickest trains go direct from Waterloo to Box Hill & Westhumble and take 47 mins. Intrigued about Box Hill? Find out more here.