6 of the best family walks in the Surrey Hills
A perfect choice for family jaunts in nature, close to London
If you’re looking for a family jaunt in nature close to London, head for the Surrey Hills. One of the UK’s first designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it covers over a quarter of the county, from Farnham to Oxted. Here you can stroll through forests, chalk downs and heathland, and alongside pretty rivers and streams. There are heart-stopping views, too, not least from the Greensand Hills rising to the highest point in South-East England, at 294m high Leigh Hill.
In short, the Surrey Hills are a dream for walkers of all ages. There’s a treat for long-distance hikers on the North Downs Way, one of the great National Trails. But you’ll also enjoy fabulous family adventures here. Countless footpaths link historic towns and picture-postcard villages, castles and stately homes, flower-strewn gardens and leafy arboretums. Kids love exploring woods, watching ducks paddle around ponds and hearing tales of highwaymen. Plus, of course, you’re never far from a traditional country pub or café where you can settle in to toast the end of an amble with a cold drink or a cream tea.
And with great railway links serving even small villages from gateway hubs, it’s easy to explore car-free. Trains from London Waterloo to Guildford and Dorking, and from Victoria to Redhill and Oxted, all take well under an hour.
We’ve picked just six of our favourite short walks each offering far-reaching views, natural wonders and plenty of attractions to keep the whole family enthralled.
1. Devil’s Punch Bowl
Spooky goings-on are afoot on Hindhead Commons, near Haslemere. Legend has it the distinctive hollow called the Devil’s Punch Bowl was scooped out by the thunder god Thor to throw at the devil. The name might also owe a debt to its reputation as a hotbed for highway robbery and other villainy.
Today this natural amphitheatre, lined with heath, woods and springs, is a peaceful spot perfect for your next family adventure. Explore the fairly easy-strolling footpaths across, around and beyond the Devil’s Punch Bowl. For panoramic views north-east across the Weald, try the short, gentle amble to Gibbet Hill. A Celtic cross here marks the spot where a sailor was murdered in 1786. Or tackle a slightly more testing 4.5-mile circular route, watching for woodlarks, stonechats, woodpeckers and grazing Highland cattle. Wherever you wander, you’ll want to finish with a treat at the National Trust café by the car park (and handy toilets).
2. Chilworth Gunpowder Mills
Roaming the tree-shaded banks of the Tillingbourne River at Chilworth, it’s hard to believe this spot once hosted truly explosive activities. But for nearly three centuries the now-abandoned and overgrown Gunpowder Mills produced ammunition, gunpowder and other military and industrial goods.
Today the wet woodland is a great venue for a family stroll incorporating a minibeast safari, spotting dragonflies and damselflies. After sundown, bats take to the sky to hunt insects too.
Meander east to find Waterloo Pond, the start of the climb onto the Greensands Ridge and St Martha’s Hill. There’s an atmospheric church here, and wonderful views of Newlands Corner. Returning to Gunpowder Mills completes a memorable 3-mile circuit, ending at a pub with a great beer garden. Chilworth train station has good connections to London via Guildford, just to the north.
3. Winkworth Arboretum & Hambledon
A magical woodland landscape spreads across the hillsides at Winkworth, a couple of miles south of Godalming. The arboretum, created in 1937, is particularly spectacular in autumn, when maples, scarlet oaks and beech trees flame red and gold. But it’s glorious in any season. Explore its wooded slopes on one of three colour-coded walking trails, all tailored to families. Take it easy on a gentle amble of just over half a mile, or expand your wanderings on the most extensive route, about 2.25 miles.
Trees aren’t the only attraction, of course. Paths lead to the grassy meadow known as Badger’s Bowl and the pretty Rowe's Flash Lake. Children love the natural adventure playground, with its fireman’s pole, rope tunnel and mini climbing wall, and animal-shaped wooden benches provide ideal picnic spots.
To stretch your legs a little more, head south-west and visit two other National Trust sites. A relaxed 3-mile wander brings you up onto the hill known as Hydon’s Ball. Continue down to the lovely village of Hambledon to find a medieval church and 16th-century Oakhurst Cottage.
4. Ranmore Common, Polesden Lacey & Denbies
Rare stretches of ancient woodland form the heart of Ranmore Common Site of Special Scientific Interest, a patch of gloriously wild tree-studded heath just north-west of Dorking. With lots of mighty oak trees, it’s home to beautiful and rare birds such as hawfinch and marsh tit, plus white admiral butterflies. You might even spot a huge Roman snail. Take to the North Downs Way for far-reaching southerly views, or stroll north to find the grand Edwardian mansion of Polesden Lacey.
Only half a mile of nature reserve separates Polesden Lacey from Ranmore Common. Add on a couple of miles through Ashcombe Wood to the east, and you’ll emerge among the vine-striped hills of Denbies Winery. There are views from among the grapes across to Box Hill, another tempting if more challenging prospect.
5. Frensham Common
Just south of Farnham you’ll find two lovely sparkling ponds with a surprisingly long history. Frensham Common’s Little and Great Ponds were created in the 13th century to supply fish to the Bishop of Winchester. You won’t see hungry priests here today, but you’ll spy birds and other wildlife on an easy stroll around the common. Dragonflies and damselflies dart across the flower-fringed ponds where great crested grebe perform their curious courtship ‘weed dance’. And the surrounding heath is covered with purple heather and bright yellow gorse between ancient oaks and pines.
Follow footpaths criss-crossing the commons to link the ponds with three small hills known as the Devil’s Jumps. Just to the south-east, and easily tagged on to a rewarding 4.5-mile loop, lies the Sculpture Garden where you can wander among more than 600 artworks, an arboretum and water gardens.
6. Shere, Gomshall & the North Downs
Along the picturesque River Tillingbourne at the foot of the North Downs beckons a series of classic English villages, featuring public greens, wandering ducklings and proper old pubs. Pick of the bunch is Shere, with its charming timber-framed houses. Pop inside Norman St James' Church to find a medieval square stone font, an iron-bound Crusader alms chest and a medieval cell in which a local woman was voluntarily locked seven centuries ago. Then get exploring!
Less than a mile to the east you’ll find Gomshall, another pleasant settlement with a handy train station and alluring riverside pub. Link the two with a stroll through peaceful meadows. Or extend your outing to a 3.5-mile circuit by looping north onto Netley Heath to walk a short stretch of the North Downs Way. There you can watch for roe deer and birds among the ancient woodland.
We’ve got ideas for hundreds of wonderful walking routes across England, Scotland and Wales, long and short, easy and challenging. Search for routes on our website. Or join a guided walk with a local Ramblers group. Find your nearest Ramblers group and choose a walk that suits your pace, fitness and interests.
All images © Getty
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