Off the beaten track with villages around Shere

It may well come as a surprise to those from further afield that some of Surrey’s most idyllic villages are located close to one of the county’s busiest roads. MATTHEW WILLIAMS heads off the A25, just outside Shere to discover more

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine February 2010


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In recent years, the topic of Surrey’s continued urban sprawl has been a cause for concern to many, and while the battle rages on over protecting the county’s green belt, our beautiful villages are too often overlooked by the wider world.

For example, how easy it is to forget that by barely jumping off the county’s main vein, the A25, between Dorking and Guildford, there remains such a charming collection of idyllic communities.

Well, starting with the pretty village of Shere, let us remind you by taking you on a tour of them...

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Film stars and beauty spots Recent years have seen Hollywood descend on Shere, which is often cited as one of the county’s most beautiful and photographed villages. St James’ Church, and its Sir Edwin Lutyens designed lychgate, feature briefly in the wedding scene at the end of the film Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. The cast of 2006 film The Holiday, starring Cameron Diaz, Jude Law and Kate Winslet, were also to descend on the village, which featured heavily in the movie – although a few days of filming at the village store, which was transformed into a coffee shop for the movie, sadly ended up on the cutting room floor.

Famous connections continue at The William Bray restaurant (you may have spotted them in the national papers with their Christmas snow machine, which proved to be unnecessary given the recent flurries of the real stuff), which is owned by former racing driver and sometime Stig, of Top Gear fame, Julian Bailey. And, going back a few years, Peter Pan creator JM Barrie once organised a cricket team, featuring Arthur Conan Doyle, to play the Shere village XI. The village museum moved next to the village hall last year, from its previous home in a resident’s house. Well worth a visit, it’s packed full of information on local produce through the ages and the Shere Dambuster, among other highlights.

Blacksmiths and watercress The famous Abinger Hammer clock is an icon of Surrey. Completed in 1909, the clock celebrates the role of the blacksmithing industry in the village’s past and was built in honour of Thomas Henry Farrer, who established much of the village. An area that is also famed for its watercress, the Kingfisher Farm Shop still ably satisfies your vitamin and mineral needs, while further along the road, Tillingbourne Trout Farm is also a haven for those on the hunt for local produce. The village shop and tea room, the latter of which is housed in the converted living room of the adjoining cottage, is perfect for a swift brew at any time of year.

Meanwhile, the village green and stream opposite provide summer entertainment for cricket fans and aspiring fisher-children alike. The town sign is a bit of a giveaway that the area’s beautiful surroundings continue to provide an attractive destination for cyclists – it was donated by cycle tourists and includes cut-outs of bikes through the ages. This idyllic small village is also home to one of Surrey’s four Michelin star restaurants, Drakes on the Pond.

Old mills find new beginnings Further along the A25, and continuing something of a theme in this corner of old Surrey, Gomshall proudly boasts one of those old-fashioned red telephone boxes that most remain so fond of. Two lovely pubs, the Gomshall Mill and The Compasses, attract large crowds of diners, although the Black Horse currently sits derelict. Having once formed part of a chain of productive mills along the Tillingbourne, Gomshall Mill continued its traditional water powered function until 1953, when it was transformed into a restaurant. Meanwhile, guarded by twin lions, Coach House Antiques’ quaint premises provides a prime destination for those hunting for something a little different. Gomshall was once famous for its tanneries, which were finally shut in 1988, but, in a sign of the times, much of the old tannery site has been redeveloped for housing.

Suffragettes to the hills A focal point for mountain bikers stopping off for a coffee and sandwich at the village shop or a pint at the inn, Peaslake is found by dodging particularly hi-tech and committed adrenaline junkies hurtling down the warren of country lanes that weave through the hills. Certainly worth the trip is the Hurtwood Inn, which was built in 1920 on the site of two cottages, one of which had previously acted as an off-licence, and has been privately owned and family run since 1992. Once a base for the suffragette movement, Peaslake’s history stretches back through labourers via smugglers and even one of the earliest Quakers.

A head for heights Home to possibly the highest sports ground this side of, well, Coldharbour Cricket Ground (which can be found half way up Leith Hill), the isolated little village of Holmbury St Mary is reached through a labyrinth of winding country lanes. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the village is that it is home to a cutting edge space science laboratory – but then again, the only time light pollution becomes a problem in Holmbury is bonfire night, when their notoriously quirky fireworks displays warm things up. Popular with horseriders and walkers alike, the village’s pubs, the King’s Head and the Royal Oak, are usually busy on the weekends.