A town guide to Dorking
- Credit: Archant
A perfect launchpad into the Surrey Hills, Dorking has long been celebrated for its antiques shops but has increasingly made its name as a food and drink hub in recent years. Here are just a few of the reasons you should think about exploring | Words: James Knighton - Photos: Andy Newbold
Please note that this article was written prior to lockdown and so all locations or activities mentioned may not yet be open
Stood at one of Surrey’s most famous viewpoints, Box Hill, it feels like you can see the edge of the world on the horizon. Lower your eyes for a moment and you’ll find the town of Dorking, sprawling out from around the spire of St Martin’s Church.
Depending on your direction of travel into town, you may head past England’s largest single estate vineyard, one of Surrey’s premium antiques and interiors shopping streets, one of the nation’s great lost landscapes or a giant cockerel forged from steel. Clearly, Dorking is not your average town.
In West Street, you’ll find the heart of Dorking’s independent spirit with its antiques shops packed full of unique treasures, coffee shops and pubs, one of the best beer shops/micropubs in Surrey (Cobbett’s Real Ale), The Gilliangladrag Fluff-a-torium (seriously, check it out!) and the Head for the Hills bike shop, where you can shop for electric bikes, as well as the traditional variety.
Jump on a bike from Dorking and you can explore some of Surrey’s most charming villages and pristine beauty spots, such as the aforementioned Box Hill or the highest point in South East England at Leith Hill Tower.
That countryside also plays host to some exceptional Surrey food and drink producers, including but not limited to Chimney Fire Coffee, Dorking Brewery, The Gin Kitchen and Hill House Farm (as well as those mentioned in the Abinger Hammer section later!).
Back in the town centre though, you’ll find an elongated High Street with what seems on a quick glance to be thousands of shops.
Highlights include the award-winning Dorking Butchery, St Martin’s Walk, Kuoni Travel and The White Horse hotel. To list them all would be to create a directory, but it’s also where most of the national brands can be found.
South Street, meanwhile, is home to Steve Drake’s Michelin starred Sorrel, which is among the best restaurants in the country, let alone Surrey. Here you’ll also now find Dorking Deli’s second branch (the original is still open on West Street), The Vineyard wine shop and the Two Many Cooks coffee shop.
A little further along you’ll find the popular Queen’s Head pub, which has just changed hands but looks to have an exciting future. There’s plenty to explore then, if you’ve a passion for food and drink.
Which handily leads us to one of the leading food and drink hubs in the south of England, Denbies Wine Estate. Found just outside the town, it’s not only home to a sprawling 365-acre vineyard, three restaurants and Britain’s first wine hotel, but you’ll also find Surrey Hills Brewery and Village Greens Farm Shop when you visit.
While Denbies is internationally known these days for its wine, what’s perhaps less widely remembered is some of the lost heritage on the estate and the wider area.
In the 1800s, Thomas Cubitt, said to be one of the best builders of the Victorian era and the man responsible for Polseden Lacey among other striking builds, chose the area for his home and built a grand mansion on the Denbies estate. Few signs remain of the house, which was demolished in the 1950s, however.
A fate that befell the Deepdene Estate too, although recent years have seen the secluded area to the south of Dorking’s famous cockerel sculpture resurrected with follies and the Hope Mausoleum.
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There are plenty more famous historic connections in Dorking, from William Mullins, a Pilgrim Father who sailed on the Mayflower, to Ralph Vaughan Williams, the eminent composer who was inspired by the Surrey Hills, and multi-Oscar winning actor Laurence Olivier.
Back to modern day and the main centre for the arts is Dorking Halls, home of the Leith Hill Musical Festival. Vaughan Williams was the festival’s conductor from 1905 to 1953 and it remains a highlight of the year for music lovers of a classical persuasion. There’s plenty of theatre and cinema to be enjoyed here in-between too.
Finally, keep an eye out for the markets. The traditional one has been running for over 700 years and takes place at St Martin’s Walk every Friday from 8.30am to 2pm but there’s also Dorking Artisan Market on various Sundays through the year.
So, there we go, a town where you can enjoy some of the finest food and drink in Surrey; explore historic sites; browse antique wonders and then head for the hills. Perhaps it’s time to book a weekend in!
Found off the historic West Street, the former Dorking Foundry was converted into the town museum in 1976. Today, Dorking Museum is open Thursdays to Saturdays. Inside it tells the story of Dorking and the surrounding villages, but they are also the keeper of one of the town’s best kept secrets, the South Street Caves.
The caves were originally privately owned by various brewers, vintners and grocers, and now they provide a fascinating point of intrigue for visitors to the town.
Where to stay?! Not so long ago, Mercure Box Hill Burford Bridge Hotel would have been the only strong recommendation but following a multimillion-pound refurbishment of The White Horse on the High Street and the opening of Denbies Vineyard Hotel, you’re spoiled for choice.
There’s plenty of coffee shops to explore too, if you prefer to get out and about before your first bite of the day. Then, enjoy a leisurely spot of antiques hunting on West Street to start the day.
Whether you set off on foot across the stepping stones and up the sloped tracks or you cheat by driving up the Zig Zag Road, the Box Hill viewing point is a must if the weather is good.
The Deepdene Trail near the town centre also offers wonderful walks, with trails heading out to villages such as Brockham and Betchworth.
Take in a show at Dorking Halls or check our what latest films are on the big screen there before or after a top-quality meal at Sorrel.
Denbies also has a new Vineyard Restaurant, as well as its Gallery Restaurant with panoramic views.