It’s been a funny old year. Six (mostly unplanned) months in Russia followed by a race against COVID closures in a Siberian van back to the UK. A (planned) six-week stay in New Zealand becoming (an unplanned) three months. Arriving back in Moscow only to be turned away because of the small print I’d failed to spot.
When the May Bank Holiday Monday in the UK failed to deliver the dodgy weather usually saved for public holidays I really shouldn’t have been surprised. It has, after all, been an unpredictable time. It sadly meant a fail for the planned moody photos, but a win for staying dry.
My friend Stephanie and I first met in Sydney thanks to Instagram. She’s since relocated to London, and when she suggested a jaunt to Box Hill during my unexpectedly prolonged stay in England, I jumped at the chance. Although I grew up here in Surrey, I’ve not visited Box Hill in years.
An icy headwind attacked us for much of the way, but the bluebells were out, the sun did her best against the clouds, and birdsong accompanied us as we sweated our way up some of the steeper areas. And, of course, we rewarded ourselves in classic British fashion, with a visit to a local pub.
An easy 40-minute train ride or hour’s drive from Central London, Box Hill is a National Trust managed area in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The network of trails here makes for a great choose-your-own-adventure day in the great outdoors. And I know this because we were forced to choose one when we took a wrong turn and ended up waaaaaaay off track.
You’re spoiled for choice if you’re looking for a picturesque walk in Surrey, but Box Hill is a local favourite for a reason. This short guide covers everything you need to know to plan your own walk in this beautiful little corner of the UK, from how to get there to what to take.
A Complete Walking Guide to Box Hill, Surrey
Box Hill at A Glance
Location // Tadworth, Surrey
Cost // Free
Walking Distance // 1-8 miles (1.6-12.8km)
Difficulty // Easy to Challenging
Getting There // Public Transport or car
A Quick History of Box Hill
Box Hill didn’t get its name because of its shape, but because of the ancient Box forest that grows there. For those of you who’ve been to any sort of stately home in the UK, Box is probably best known to you as that bush that people chop into crazy shapes. Don’t expect any apiary swans here though, the trees are about as wild as they come!
The hill’s chalk downland supports up to 40 different species in a square metre, which is pretty astounding. There are orchids, bluebells and wild garlic amongst other wildflowers that are obviously great for bees, butterflies, moths and other insects. They, in turn, provide food for some of the resident bat colonies.
There’s evidence that this area was in use in the Bronze Age, and the Romans even built a road along it. The majority of the area was donated to the National Trust by Leopold Salomon in 1914.
How to Get Here
This is one of the most easily accessible parts of the country, with multiple options for public transport as well as excellent road links and lots of car parking at the site.
The closest train station is Box Hill & Westhumble, a tiny village affair with direct regular service from both Waterloo and Victoria. The ride takes under an hour and costs around £10 for a single ticket. I recommend booking tickets in advance via Trainline – they’re often cheaper than purchasing on the day. This also enables you to store the ticket on your phone so you don’t need to print one – good for you and the planet!
It’s an easy 10 minute walk from Box Hill station to the Stepping Stones car park, but you will then have to hit the hill. You could also get the train to Dorking, but it’s a slightly longer walk to the Visitor Centre area.
There’s a bus that goes directly to the Box Hill East car park (except Sunday and Bank Holidays), which is the Metrobus 21 servicing Epsom, Leatherhead, Dorking and Crawley. Alternatively, the 465 from Kingston to Dorking will drop you at the foot of Box Hill. But then you have to start your visit with the walk up it!
Box Hill is located just off the A24 and there are multiple car parks in the area, the majority of which are National Trust owned and operated.
If you’re a National Trust member then you can park for free at the National Trust car parks by scanning your membership card. The other carparks use Paybyphone, which you’ll need to have downloaded on your phone – the signal at many of the car parks is weak and you may need to wait until you’re up a hill to actually pay for your parking.
Paid parking costs £1.50 per hour for the first 2h, £4 for up to 4 hours and £6 for 5 hours or more. Unless you’re tackling the Box Hill hike, 4 hours should be plenty of time for the majority of walks.
Amenities and Accessibility
You’ll find public toilets at the Visitor Centre near the Old Fort, along with a water fountain and the cafe. The cafe is currently closed during the week but open at weekends from 10am-4pm. The entire area is dog-friendly, but you will need to have dogs on a lead at certain times of year.
Although Salomon’s Viewpoint has accessible paths, the majority of Box Hill has steep descents, ascents and steps to contend with.
Best Box Hill Hikes
In my opinion, these are the best hikes that Box Hill has to offer, in order of distance. All of them are circular routes and some can be tackled from multiple entry points, depending on how you get here. The easiest is a 30 minute, fairly flat stroll. The hardest is 8 miles of ascents and descents with the odd never-ending staircase thrown in for fun.
The Hilltop // 1 mile (1.6km) // Easy // 30 mins
Best for // A gentle stroll
The route starts from the Visitor Centre car park. Cross the road to the Visitor Centre and bear left, aiming for the Salomon memorial with its beautiful views. From here, you’re going to head right, below the viewpoint. Ignore the steps to your left since, if you’ve opted for a gentle stroll, you definitely don’t want to be taking the 275 steps down to the Stepping Stones.
After you go right, head straight on, and you’ll find yourself at the top of a gentle slope. This is the Burford Spur, and in Victorian times was a popular place to picnic. It even made it into Jane Austen’s Emma, so how’s that for fame?! Even on an overcast day in May people were picnicking here, which just goes to show that some things never change. Like the British having a picnic when it’s freezing cold and cloudy.
Eventually, you’ll come to a small path to the right and you’ll take this up to Box Hill Fort. The path winds through the ancient Box forest that the hill is named for. Go right again at the fort, and you’ll find yourself back at the Visitor Centre.
Stepping Stones Walk // 2 miles (3.2km) // Moderate // 1h
Best for // People with an irrational love of stepping stones and/or steps
The first thing you need to know is that this walk features 275 steps. If you’re at the top of Box Hill, you’ll head down them to River Mole. We made the amateur mistake of climbing up them, which really wasn’t the best move. Since I’m big on saving others from my mistakes, I’ve got a much better way round for you to walk. This starts at the Stepping Stones car park, but you can also join the route from the Box Hill car park up at the Visitor Centre.
From the Stepping Stones car park don’t walk across the stones but take a left and go through the gate into Burford Meadow. Wander along the river bank until you reach the road. Go left again, walking along the road and past the hotel, taking the path that goes right beside the hotel. When the path forks, take the left-hand path that heads up the hill.
You’ll eventually come to a chalky path and you want to turn right here to head along the ridge. Continue to follow the path uphill and you’ll come to Box Hill Fort, once home to military forces and now the home of bats! Keep heading up the hill and you’ll reach the Visitor Centre.
At this point, you might want to grab a coffee before going to Salomon’s Memorial to take in the views over the Downs – on a clear day you can see all the way to the South Downs from here. Go down the path below the viewpoint, bearing right, and you’ll find the steps which I have kindly sent you down, rather than up, as Steph did to us. Once you reach the bottom you’ll cross the stepping stones to return to the car park.
Happy Valley Circular Walk // 2.7 miles (4.3km) // Moderate // 1h30
Best for // Views and variety
Fair warning, if you’re not a fan of steep descents and steps, this route will not make you very happy. It’s best tackled from the Visitor Centre car park. You’ll start off by simply following the Box Hill Hike signs, which will take you to the rather cool Broadwood’s Tower.
The valley you can see from here is the Happy one that this walk is named for, but I honestly prefer its other name – Juniper Bottom. Mostly because it makes me think about gin possibilities. Anyway, Juniper Hall is the lovely house that you can see, and it was once owned by the Broadwoods, hence the name of the tower.
From the tower, you’ll head down a series of steep steps and slopes until you reach the valley, where you’ll turn right to walk up it. The main path leads to the road, where you’ll find the Smith & Western restaurant. At the restaurant, cross the road and turn right, before following the North Downs Way back to Salomon’s Memorial viewpoint and on to the Visitor Centre.
Whitehall to Mickleham // 3.9 miles (6.2km) // Moderate // 2h
Best for // Pubs and history
There’s one pretty steep hill to climb here and you don’t get to the Box Hill Visitor Centre on this walk. If you’re after the best views, this probably isn’t the walk for you. It does, however, take in Mickleham village which has been around since the Domesday Book, and that’s pretty cool in my book (sorry, sorry, I know. I just couldn’t resist).
The official trail is circular, starting and ending at the Cockshot car park, but you can join it at the car park on Headley Road near Juniper Hall or start in Mickleham if you’d like to end at the pub (which is where we’re starting because this is my blog and I think all good walks should end with food and drink). The pub in question is The Running Horses, and it’s lovely.
So, Mickleham is adorable and historic, the church is gorgeous and you should definitely wander through the churchyard. Not only because it’s old and full of character, but because it’s the start of your walk. Turn left at the end of the stone church wall and walk past a cottage. If you’re lucky you’ll find some Shetland ponies in the field to your right, for added adorable factor.
This short section of track deposits you on a road right by a pub (sadly not open when we walked past, but the food smelled phenomenal), which you walk up the side of before heading uphill. And uphill and uphill. Watch for mountain bikers who may shoot out of the bushes unannounced at any time. The path veers around to the left, and you’ll spend a fair amount of time wandering through some lovely woodland areas.
You’ll reach a junction where you can take a right turn, so do that and follow the track uphill. Eventually, you’ll emerge on the open top of Whitehill, in an area known as The Gallops, since they used to exercise horses here. It’s a large open space with woodland on either side, and you’ll walk along it until you reach a path heading downhill into the woods. Take this, and when you reach the T-junction take the right turn (unless you’ve started at Cockshot, in which case the car park is down to your left) and wander along the valley.
You’ll get lovely views over towards Box Hill itself and when you reach a seat, take a sharp left up the hill. As I kept saying to Steph, what goes up must come down, and you’ve got a bit of a steep downhill ahead of you until you cross a stile and then find yourself back near the church in Mickleham. Just aim for the steeple and you can’t go wrong!
Juniper Top Circular Walk // 4 miles (6.4km) // Moderate // 2h
Best for // Wildflowers in spring
This walk has quite a few steep sections, both ascending and descending. I’d recommend a decent pair of walking boots if you’re planning on tackling it. The trail starts from the Visitor Centre car park, before heading to Salomon’s viewpoint. From here, you’re going to go left through the woods, where you’ll see the purple marker for the trail. You’ll emerge near the Smith & Western restaurant, crossing the road to join the bridleway that heads through the woods.
You’ll find another purple sign here, so simply follow that. After about 15 minutes you’ll reach a left turn and enter the Bluebell woods, which are really lovely in the spring with their carpet of pretty flowers. Keep going straight along this path until you reach Juniper Top, a large open area with lovely views. Head on down the hill until you reach the gate at the bottom and then turn left, following the Happy Valley/Juniper Top trail signs back to the car park.
I’d actually recommend a modification of this walk, taking the Happy Valley trail as far as Juniper Bottom so that you can see Broadwood’s Tower. Once here, instead of turning right up the valley, take a left and then a right just before the car park, which will see you joining this trail at the bottom of Juniper Top. You’ll then do the first part of this walk in reverse.
The Box Hill Hike // 8 miles (12.8km) // Challenging // 4-6h
Best for // Bragging rights
This is the Big One. At 8 miles, with more steps, ascents and descents than you can shake a stick at, this hike will take most people 4-5 hours to complete. It combines the best parts of many of the other hikes, so if you’re after a really nice walk with great views and a pub or two along the way, the Box Hill hike is the one for you! Make sure you’ve got decent boots and some supplies for the trip.
Start your walk at the Box Hill car park by the Visitor Centre. The trail is clearly marked with red signs, but you’re simply going to head into the woods by the car park and keep going until you reach Broadwood’s Tower. The path forks, and you’ll take the left fork which leads downhill via some steps. At the bottom, turn left and you’ll reach the Whitehill car park.
This is where Steph and I decided to throw caution to the winds and said “oh this looks nice, we’ve already taken a wrong turn so let’s just do the Box Hill hike”. Don’t be us. Be prepared.
So, from the Whitehill car park you’ll cross the road and head up a lot of steps to Mickleham Down. Try not to swear at the person who suggested this walk. I’ll wait. Once you reach the top, you’ll take the left fork, then gingerly pick your way down a very steep slope whilst wondering why the path didn’t just go around the bottom.
At the T-junction, take a left, go over the stile when you get there, and you’ll find yourself in Mickleham. Take some time to wander through the churchyard. Reward yourself with a beer at the pub for making it this far if you like. Hey, I don’t judge.
From here you take the gate in the back left of the churchyard, going along a wooden fence and following the signs. At the T-junction go right, up the hill (surprise, surprise) and you’ll find yourself at another pub. Make good choices, that’s all I ask. Take the steps immediately to the right beside the pub and start climbing the hill. Eventually, you’ll reach the beautiful flat area of The Gallops, on the top of Whitehill. Enjoy it.
Once you’ve passed the information board at the end of The Gallops, turn right and start going steeply downhill – I did promise a lot of slopes didn’t I?! At the bottom of the hill, walk past the car park and cross the road, going up the next hill beside the cottage. When you reach Gate 26, go through this onto Headley Heath, taking a left at the T-junction.
You’ll take the steps heading uphill to your right, and when the path forks, head left. Keep going in a roughly straight line along here, and then go right through Gate 23 onto the road, where you’ll turn left. Take the right hand fork in the road (Headley Heath Approach) and walk along here until you reach Box Hill Road. Cross the road and enter the woods again. You’ll come to a set of stairs going up the hill on your right. You’re going to take them. I know, your legs don’t like you much right now.
At the top of the steps, take the left fork and enjoy a nice flat stretch of path. Cross the stile and follow the track downhill. When you come to the road, go left, and then almost immediately right, following the Box Hill Hike signs once again. At the fork, go left through the gate, and then just follow the signs uphill until you find yourself back at the Visitor Centre.
What to take | Essential Gear for your Box Hill Walk
Obviously, if you’re just planning on a quick leg stretch then you don’t need anything special. If you’re going to tackle one of the more strenuous hikes then I’d recommend the following:
Hiking Boots – I use these Salomon boots, the X Ultra 3 Mid GTX. They’ve never given me a blister, even though I broke them in with a 10km hike. Whilst they’re not totally waterproof, they stand up to a pretty good soaking and they have excellent traction in the wet.
Hiking Poles – These aren’t strictly necessary, but if you struggle on steep slopes and steps then they can make life so much easier. I have the Fizan Compact Pro poles, but many people swear by these from Black Diamond.
Day Pack – I tend to use my F-Stop Gear Lotus for literally everything since my camera lives in it and I can rarely be bothered to repack. For those who are a little less lazy, I’d recommend the Osprey Tempest 20L which is big enough to hold everything you’ll need and small enough that you won’t really notice it.
Water Bottle – For light and leakproof you can’t beat the OG Nalgene. It’s plastic, but it’ll last you forever. If you’re not so bothered about weight and you are bothered about plastic (go you!), then a Hydroflask is a great option and it’ll keep your water cool or hot, depending on your preference!
Waterproof jacket – This is the UK, you’re going to need one at some stage. I love my Kathmandu Andulo waterproof for the fact that it’s tiny and incredibly light. It’s always in my bag just in case. If it’s already pissing with rain and I want to cover absolutely everything, then my Rains coat is my go-to. I love love love it.
Camera – I mean, this is me, and I like to take photos. I actually shot everything in this post with my iPhone, despite taking every single piece of camera gear I own with me. If you want something light and excellent, then the Sony A6600 is awesome.
What to Know | The Countryside Code
It may seem fairly obvious, but I think we’ve all encountered people being less than responsible when enjoying the great outdoors. Bear in mind that a lot of the land you’re walking over is used to maintain critical ecosystems, and act accordingly. You can read the Countryside Code in full, but here are the main points summarised for your enjoyment.
This means saying hello to people, following the directions of people working on the land, and giving animals (livestock and wild) a wide berth. Don’t feed any of the animals that you encounter unless invited to do so. If you’re driving then bear in mind that parking can be difficult, and don’t block any rights of access.
Please close any and all gates that you open. Also remember that lots of areas of the country allow wild grazing so you might find a sheep in the road as you turn the corner…
Care for the places that you’re visiting. Take all your rubbish with you, including dog poo. If you happen to tie your dog poo bag to a tree to collect it later, please remember to actually collect it later. If you are taking your doggo on that epic walk with you then pay attention to any signs that they must be on a lead – they’re common during breeding and birthing seasons for both the safety of the animals and your dog.
Don’t light any fires except in designated areas. Although it looks like it rains here literally all the time, we do get extended droughts and fires get out of control here too.
Obviously getting lost will probably mean that your walk sucks. I’d recommend both an app and a paper version of a map if you’re spending any length of time outside. For apps, maps.me wins every time, just make sure you’ve downloaded the relevant area whilst you have wifi if you don’t have unlimited data.
For physical maps, you can’t beat the Ordnance Survey for maps of the UK. Their Explorer maps are the most detailed, ideal for hiking routes. The Landranger are slightly less detailed but cover a larger area. You can use their handy map choosing tool to work out what’s best for you.
Tell someone where you’re going. On the off-chance you forgot to check the tide times or didn’t take a map.
There’s a surprising amount of this around. Arrows can be yellow, blue, purple or red. If you’re walking, then you can follow any of them, but if the colour’s anything other than yellow then be aware that there may be horses, cyclists or even vehicles on the path with you.
Acorn signs mark National Trails, like the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. Round brown signs with a person on them mean the area is Open Access and you can explore off the path. Please don’t do this elsewhere, since you can damage delicate ecosystems.
Sometimes you’ll see a sign saying “Permissive Path”. This means that the land is privately owned and the landowners voluntarily let the path be used for certain activities. Follow any additional signage accordingly.
So there you have it, everything you need to enjoy walking in and around Box Hill. Let me know if you have any questions and please share this post if you found it useful!