Just a short hop down the A3 and A24, Box Hill is one of the prettiest sections of the North Downs.
A nature lover’s Mecca, Box Hill boasts a dozen species of orchid, butterflies and its namesake box trees. Arriving in drizzle, we checked in to our lodgings and refuelled in preparation for a long walk. Once fortified, we left the pub ready for a flora- and fauna-packed afternoon.
The Nature Walk is a two-mile marked trail showcasing 400 plant species (visit www.nationaltrail.co.uk/northdowns/ for suggested walks). Starting out, we spotted a roe deer trotting around the clearings – before hiking into stands of Corsican pine, wild cherry and native box trees. The path opened out and we caught spectacular views over the Zig Zag Valley and Mole Gap. We counted whitebeam, hawthorne and pussy willows among our flora sites, then marjoram, wild thyme and more orchids before an imposing yew tree. ‘Donkey Green’ marked the end of our ramble and we headed to a café for tea. Country trail perfection.
Where to stay and eat
The Running Horses
The Running Horses is an enchanting sixteenth-century coaching inn and restaurant right in the heart of the impossibly quaint village of Mickleham, half a mile from Box Hill. Loved by locals, the pub is the heart of a community that comes here to chat, chill out and indulge in the locally sourced seasonal dishes. Owner Steve Slayford showed us to our room for tonight: ‘Ascot’, the smartest of the five British racecourse-themed bedrooms, was traditionally decked out, complete with large four-poster.
Downstairs we settled in to the Colonel Bar – a cosy, beamed affair full of Hunter-clad diners huddled around roaring fires. The slow-braised lamb, marinated for 36 hours in aged balsamic and Burgundy, was a gutsy, delectable dish.