Celtic, Roman and even late Stone Age settlements. The site of one of England’s defining moments, the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, is at the riverside meadow of Runnymede. The most impressive of all buildings along the Thames is Hampton Court, where Henry VIII expanded Cardinal Wolsey’s already magnificent palace.
Farnham, with its lovely Georgian architecture and 12th-century castle, is the largest town in southwestern Surrey, while Guildford, the ancient county town of Surrey, is an obvious base for travellers interested in exploring Surrey. Guildford has been the capital of the region since pre- Norman times, and the remains of Henry II’s castle and keep provide commanding views over the surrounding area. The old Georgian cobbled High Street incorporates the Tudor Guildhall, with its distinctive gilded clock. Woking, like many Surrey towns, was transformed by the arrival of the railway in the 19th century. The Victorian influence is evident in many of the larger houses built by Norman Shaw and other proponents of the Arts and Crafts style. The more ornate style of Victorian architecture, designed to reflect the prosperity of a confident imperial power, is also represented in the two massive buildings funded by Thomas Holloway - Royal Holloway College and the Holloway Sanatorium, which are near Egham in the north. The best of Edwardian architecture is well represented throughout Surrey by the work of Sir Edwin Lutyens, often working in partnership with the eminent gardener Gertrude Jekyll.
This varied architectural heritage belies the notion that Surrey is nothing more than a collection of anonymous suburbs of London. Much of Surrey is indeed the capital’s commuter belt and conurbations like Kingston and Croydon spread out into a vast hinterland of suburbia. However, around Guildford and Dorking, and near the Sussex border, there are small towns and wayside villages amid rough Down and Weald uplands or thickly wooded hillsides. The countryside is varied, from the well-maintained plantation of Kew Gardens, possibly the most famous gardens in the world, to numerous parks, greens, heaths, commons and open land. Rich farming areas give way to expanses of heath and woodlands with networks of paths for walkers and cyclists. The famous Hog’s Back section of the A31 is one of the most scenic drives in the southeast, with excellent views north and south as it follows the ridge between Farnham and Guildford through some of Surrey’s most unspoilt countryside.
Surrey’s proximity to London often leads people to assume that it is nothing more than a collection of anonymous suburbs extending south and west from the capital. Indeed much of what had originally been (and which steadfastly continues to consider itself) Surrey was absorbed by London in the boundary changes of 1965. Growing conurbations such as Kingston and Croydon house and employ thousands. Rail lines and major roads fan out through the area from London.
However, this northeast corner of Surrey is also full of historical traces, some well known and others truly hidden gems. Great houses, as well as royal and episcopal palaces, were built here from medieval times, and many villages have evidence of Saxon, Celtic, Roman and even late Stone Age settlements. The countryside is varied, from the well- maintained plantation of Kew Gardens to the rough Down and Weald uplands to the south, and numerous parks, greens, heaths, commons and open land in between. The sound of birdsong ringing through the woods and the click of a cricket bat on a village green are as much a part of this stretch of Surrey as the whirring suburban lawnmower.