First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A lovely crisp sunny day over the North Downs, the sort of day you dream of as winter takes a sly peep behind the curtains of spring. The crocuses were out under the big oak on Ranmore Common, green lambs’-tails swung from hazel twigs, and deep in the woods a great tit rang his two-tone territorial bell.
A bridleway dropped northward through the trees towards the Polesden valley, winding among holly, yew and butcher’s broom – all trees and shrubs that would be in scarlet berry later in the year.
Down in the valley bottom Bagden Farm stood splashed by the late winter sun. A great spotted woodpecker drummed out a rattling claim to its patch of Freehold Wood as we followed a permissive path through the valley, one of many provided by the Polesden Lacey estate. The country house itself lay hidden beyond flint walls and thick belts of shrubbery, but the influence of a well-maintained estate on its surroundings was plain to read in beautiful parkland trees, subtle corners of landscaping, and the excellent waymarking of paths.
Walking the tracks I recalled a previous visit to the house, hearing splendid tales of Polesden Lacey’s early 20th-century chatelaine Mrs. Ronald Greville and her forthright manners (Lady Leslie: ‘Maggie Greville? I would sooner have an open sewer in my drawing room!’).
Actually Maggie Greville, despite her acid tongue, was a generous and warm-hearted person, one of life’s radiators. Born the illegitimate daughter of a Scottish brewer, she loved money and power, but was unashamed of her origins, proclaiming, ‘I’d rather be a beeress than an heiress.’ And it’s Maggie Greville we have to thank for leaving Polesden Lacey to the National Trust in her will.
From the high-perched environs of the house the deeply sunk old holloway of Hogden Lane rolled us down into the valley and up a long flinty rise to the ridge beyond. Here we crossed the ancient route of the Pilgrim’s Way, a shadow track in its contemporary guise of a country road, and turned for home along the North Downs Way among beech and venerable yews on the slope below.
A short detour through a grassy upland, and we were clear of the trees and looking south across a wide valley to where Leith Hill, highest point in Surrey, raised the impudent finger of its crowning tower.
Start: Denbies Hillside car park, Ranmore Common Road, Dorking RH5 6SR (OS ref TQ142504) – NT members free.
Getting there: Train to Dorking West. Road: M25 Jct 9; A 24 to Dorking; Ranmore Road west for 1 mile to car park
Walk (5¾ miles, easy, OS Explorer 146): Cross road; bear right on path to Ranmore Church (145505). Left; in 100m, left on bridleway (fingerpost) north for 1 mile. Just before Bagden Farm, left by shed (148520), through gate; on with fence on right. In ¼ mile, through gate (144517, BA); left; in 30m, right (gate 33, ‘Run England’ red arrow). Follow red arrows and Polesden Valley Walk/PVW. Just beyond Polesden Farm, right (135519, PVW); at top of slope, cross track (gates); ahead on permissive path. In 300m, through gate 20 (132522, yellow arrow); ahead on Hogden Lane, south for 1¼ miles to cross Ranmore Common Road/Pilgrim’s Way (126502). Keep ahead (south) for ⅓ mile; left on North Downs Way (127497, fingerpost) to car park. (NB – in 700m, path across open ground on right gives wide views).
Lunch: Duke of Wellington, East Horsley KT24 6AA (dukeofwellingtoneasthorsley.co.uk, 01483-282312)
Accommodation: White Horse, High Street, Dorking RH4 1BE (01306-881138, whitehorsedorking.com)