10 things to see and do in Dorking

Dorking, Surrey (Illustration: Emily Westwell)

Dorking, Surrey (Illustration: Emily Westwell) - Credit: Archant

Surrounded by the Surrey Hills, the charming market town of Dorking manages to seamlessly blend history with a more recent foodie explosion. What’s not to love?

Box Hill

With its unique ecology and loads of recreational areas, the National Trust’s comment that there is “so much to explore” here is very true. There is an absolutely stunning view over Dorking and towards the South Downs from the lookout at the very top of the hill. The Adonis Blue butterfly is a local resident here, as is the incredible giant Roman snail – this huge beast is a protected species but is quite easy to spot if you look hard enough. If you need to refuel while here, there’s a café near the car park, which has inside and outside seating and rangers are always on hand to advise or suggest walks. One of these walks takes you to Broadwood’s Folly – a tower that until recently had a tree growing through it!



The Stepping Stones and River Mole

We make no apologies for including this as a separate item. You will need stout walking shoes to visit this dramatic corner of ‘secret’ Surrey. Starting at the Old Fort by The National Trust visitors’ centre this is a lovely circular walk taking in the best of the Surrey landscape. If you’ve not seen the Stepping Stones before, they are an absolute delight but beware, there is no handrail and they get slippery in the wet. Nearby is Rykas Café, famous over the years for welcoming bikers on a sunny Sunday afternoon, so a quick cup of tea and a piece of cake and you’ll have the strength to clamber back to the top of the hill.



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Denbies Wine Estate

This astonishing vineyard lays claim to being the largest in England. With a huge area of over 600 acres (265 under vine) and historical links to Royalty, (Prince Albert planted some rare conifers here apparently back in 1851), Denbies is now owned by local businessman Adrian White. Another bit of history was the planting of the first ever English Sauvignon Blanc variety, so if you are a bit of a connoisseur of the grape this is one place to visit. With indoor and outdoor tours (travel around the vineyard in a splendid little trailer) and a conservatory restaurant, you could easily spend most of the day here. Cheers!



West Street

An entire street almost completely dedicated to antique shops, this lovely historical part of the town will have you window shopping till you drop. A little test to see how observant you are: can you spot the blue plaque showing the house where William Mullins – a Pilgrim Father who sailed on the Mayflower – lived? The building dates from the 16th century and is the only surviving home of a Pilgrim Father. As for the shops, at the last quick count we noted 13 antique outlets jostling for position along this street but please correct us if we’ve missed one. And if all the shopping leaves you parched, there’s a couple of pubs, restaurants and cafés to stop for a breather.



Dorking Museum and Heritage Centre

As you’re already in West Street, here is a lovely little stop¬off while you drag your bags of antiques around. Dorking Museum, open on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10am to 4pm, has an incredible eclectic mix of historical, fascinating and completely bizzare exhibitions. As you walk in, you are welcomed by two huge stuffed cockerels (we told you they feature in this town!). The museum tells the story of Dorking and the surrounding villages from the Cretaceous period right up to the scientists working on semi¬synthetic penicillins in the 1960s. One rather unique exhibit is a collection of mousetraps spanning the centuries. They do say, if you can invent the perfect mousetrap you will be rich and these examples show how hard some have tried. We like The Royal No. 1 – a really vicious looking toothed contraption patented in 1870 by James Keep of New York. Whether it worked or not, sadly we don’t know.



The Cockerel

If you know anything at all about Dorking, you know the town is famous for a particular breed of chicken – not surprisingly called, The Dorking. The town was once described as “the greatest market for poultry in England” so it seemed fitting that, about 10 years ago, a giant cockerel was commissioned by former chairman of Mole Valley District Council, Neil Maltby. Created by Peter Parkinson of Leatherhead’s Fire and Iron Gallery, the huge bird was lowered into place one quiet Sunday morning. A controversial sculpture as some residents weren’t too pleased to see it, but it has to be said it makes a change from bollards. We won’t ask you to try and find it – it’s rather difficult to miss.


Emlyn Restaurant

Restaurant of the year at our Surrey Life Food and Drink Awards last year, Nick Sinclair and his team continue to offer some of the best in contemporary British cuisine here at the Burford Bridge Hotel. The situation is magnificent. Set at the foot of the wonderful North Downs countryside, there is a huge choice of menus including large, small and sharing plates, a grill, sides and desserts. And that is just the restaurant. There is a bar and lounge and kids are catered for with a special menu for the little ones. Now that spring is turning to summer, you can choose to dine outside too – on the terrace. Perfect for a Pimm’s to waken the taste buds.



Dorking Friday Traditional Market

If you are thinking of visiting the town then this weekly market is a great day to get there. You can enjoy everything the town has to offer, plus a wander around this lovely traditional market overlooking the North Downs. All sorts of items are on sale; Bill Westley has a fruit and veg stall, there’s Bobby’s Sussex fish and shellfish, McCarthy’s Bakery, Cheese and Olives, Richard and Lee’s stationary… shall we go on? Okay, Bridge Farm farmed meats, Mark and Jane’s flower stall… enough! Take your largest shopping bag and get down there.



South Street Caves

Right under your feet as you toddle about the town is a fascinating network of caves with interconnecting galleries and well shafts. The shafts are thought to date from medieval times and the caves, used for wine storage due to the steady temperature in the subterranean tunnels date from the late 17th century. With a staircase and a ‘Mystery Chamber’ they are well worth a visit. Tours can be arranged by booking (see website), but be warned they are very popular and sell out quickly. Not for the claustrophobic by the way!



Dorking Halls

Last on our list this month is the Dorking Halls – the town’s centre for entertainment. There is loads going on all the time here – live events, panto, comedy club and films are just a part.