The county of Surrey sits in the south-east of England, bordered by Kent, East Sussex, West Sussex, Hampshire, Berkshire and Greater London.
Despite being home to 1.2 million people, Surrey has the highest proportional coverage of woodland (22.4%) of all the English counties. Such a wealth of trees makes autumn in Surrey particularly special, as the county flushes red, orange and yellow.
A host of hills – including the dominant North Downs chalk ridge – along with wending rivers and lowland heath offer further opportunity for exploration.
Explore the woodlands, rivers and rolling hills of Surrey with our favourite county walks.
St Martha’s Hill, Surrey
Genteel Guildford might not seem a location for much wilderness, but St Martha’s Hill offers a chance to feel at one with one of the most spectacular wild landscapes of Britain – the High Weald.
Once a dense and dangerous forest with difficult terrain and treacherous roads, the High Weald was best avoided, which is why pilgrims took the high and dry roadway along the North Downs. Today the Pilgrim’s Way and North Downs Way coincide for only short stretches, and the climb to St Martha’s Hill is one of the best. The tracks are well maintained, so you should avoid a quagmire even on a soggy November day.
Chobham Common, Surrey
Chobham Common luxuriates in the honour of being the largest national nature reserve in south-east England. But its 574 hectares are a fragment of the vast lowland heaths that once dominated this landscape from East Anglia, through Surrey into West Sussex, Hampshire and Dorset.
Today, the flagship reserve of Chobham Common is managed by Surrey Wildlife Trust. Conservation work may appear stark as scrub is cleared and trees felled, but this large-scale intervention is necessary to keep Chobham one of the finest remaining lowland heaths in the world.
The deep holloways that lend this route its character are little worlds of enchantment, alive with birdsong, the skittering of squirrels, and leaves unfurling with almost audible vigor.
Ancient, sun-dappled and – thanks to deep layers of litter – delightfully springy underfoot, these paths are incredibly atmospheric.
Box Hill, Surrey
“I like this place very much,” noted poet John Keats during his stay by Box Hill – who are we to disagree? This National Trust site, named for the box trees on its flanks, has long been popular as a fresh-air escape.
Even Jane Austen’s Emma day-tripped here. You can see why – the views of the undulating downs are worth the steep climb, while the nearby countryside, dotted with grand estates and verdant vines, is a joy to explore.
Polesden Lacey, Surrey
This 1,400 acre estate on the North Downs, nestled among the Surrey Hills, is rightly classified as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. A short drive from Dorking, Polesden Lacey was once the country residence of Edwardian socialite Margaret Greville and is now being preserved in her unique style by the National Trust.
Whether you arrive by road, rail or foot, you cannot fail to be impressed by the stunning views over the Surrey Hills.
Days out in Surrey
Waverley Abbey, Surrey
The grandeur of Waverley’s glory days takes some imagining – the church itself was almost 91 metres long. There was also a cloister, an infirmary and, to the east, the abbot’s lodgings. However, the monks’ dormitory walls still stand, along with substantial parts of the chapter house. Look, too, for the earthwork remains of the fishponds that once kept the monks fed. Not surprisingly, these striking ruins have starred in numerous films, including Hot Fuzz and Elizabeth.
Across the river, you’ll also see Waverley Abbey House, which was built in 1723 on the edge of the abbey precinct. This was the first country house in England to be converted into a military hospital following the outbreak of the First World War, when an estimated 5,000 soldiers were cared for here.
Watts Gallery and Artists’ Village, Surrey
In the heart of the wooded Surrey Hills nestles a hub of creativity, a portrait-packed gallery and an astounding red-brick chapel, tribute to an extraordinary artistic couple.
His name may not be familiar now, but in his day George Frederic Watts was known as ‘England’s Michelangelo’.