Box Hill is on the North Downs and is easily accessible from the A24 main road, near Dorking in Surrey. Box Hill and West Humble railway station, which provides direct trains from London, is within a short walking distance of the foot of the Hill. Box Hill is only 19 miles west of London and has been popular with Londoners for over one hundred years. Victorian and Edwardian Londoners were encouraged to enjoy the views from Box Hill and breath the fresh air. After leaving the railway station at West Humble, which was opened in 1867, these tourists walked up the gentle chalk slope of Burford Spur, to picnic on the Hill. As they walked up, they may well have looked left to view Flint Cottage where George Meredith, the Victorian novelist and poet lived, from 1868 until his death in 1909. He had many literary visitors there, including J.M. Barrie and Robert Louis Stevenson. He composed the poem, “The Lark Ascending” in 1881, which inspired Vaughan Williams to compose his instrumental work of the same name. In Victorian times, children enjoyed donkey rides at the top of the Hill, hence the name Donkey Green, which has been given to the area behind Salomons Memorial and Viewpoint.
The Box Hill estate now extends to 1,200 acres and is managed by the National Trust. In 1914, Leopold Salomon gave Box Hill, which consisted of 230 acres, to the National Trust. There is a memorial to him at the top of Box Hill, where a viewpoint provides a magnificent panoramic view to the south, of more than 25 miles over the Surrey Weald and Sussex to the South Downs. The viewpoint, at 564 feet, is not the highest point, as this is at Betchworth Clumps, at 735 feet east of the viewpoint in a wooded area.
Box Hill takes its name from the now rare native box tree. At least 40 percent of Britain’s wild box trees grow here in the River Mole Valley. It grows very slowly into small shrubby evergreen trees, creating very hard timber, which is used for wood carving. It was used for making the propellers of the World War II Spitfire fighter aircraft.
The National Trust estimate that Box Hill welcomes over 850,000 visitors each year. It is very popular, not only with walkers, but also cyclists and motorcyclists. The car park at the foot of Box Hill is free and here, Ryka’s Cafe can be found, which is popular not only with bikers, but also walkers and families. A leading biking website regards Box Hill and Ryka’s as one of the best biking destinations in England “and is the place to be seen on your bike.” Box Hill has also been given the accolade of being one of the top ten places in the country to have a picnic. In Jane Austen’s novel, “Emma”, published in 1815, there is a famous picnic scene set on Box Hill. When the 1996 feature film was recorded, the authentic location was used and again for the BBC television version in 2009.
At the top of Box Hill, there is a National Trust car park, Cafe and Visitor Centre. Close to this building is Swiss Cottage, the home of John Logie Baird, inventor of television. The house is not open to the public. He lived there from 1929 until 1932. One of his earliest television transmissions was from the top of Box Hill. Behind the Visitors Centre is Box Hill Fort, one of thirteen built in the late 1880s to protect London from a French invasion at a time when the Royal Navy was below strength. These were supply centres for ammunition and tools to dig trenches along the North Downs.
On the path to Salomons Memorial, walkers will come across the grave of Major Peter Labelliere, an eccentric resident of Dorking. He was buried head downwards in 1800, as he believed the world was becoming topsy-turvy.
As well as the views from Salomons Memorial, Lodge Hill also gives spectacular views over Burford Spur, Zig Zag Road, Dorking town and Denbies Vineyard. From here can be seen Broadwood’s Tower, which was built by Thomas Broadwood in 1815 as a memorial to the Battle of Waterloo. It overlooks, what is today, Juniper Hall Field Studies Centre, but it was formerly the home of the Broadwood family, who manufacture quality pianos and who have held the Royal Warrant since 1740.
The Zig Zag Road provides a direct route up Box Hill. It appeared in an Ordnance Survey Map in 1869, but has become more prominent following the 2012 London Olympics. It was featured in the 2012 Olympic Cycling Road Race events. The men’s event involved nine circuits and the women’s event, two circuits of the Zig Zag Road. Numerous cyclists now try to emulate their Olympic heroes.
Instead of the gentle walk up Burford Spur, it is possible to reach the top of Box Hill by a steep path which crosses the Stepping Stones at the foot of Box Hill. There are seventeen hexagonal stones crossing the River Mole. These can be reached by a path from the Mercure Box Hill Burford Bridge Hotel, which follows the River Mole around Burford Meadow.