Young and coffee in varying degrees, Kat also says stuff @ThoroughlyMode
Published February 22nd 2011
However often you tell people that London is your spiritual home and you wouldn't live anywhere else, we all still reach saturation point with the bustle and crave a little countryside peace and quiet. But how can you recharge your nature-batteries without being outside of your beloved Ring Road for more than a few hours? Box Hill is your answer, and has been for generations of other similarly plagued Londoners.
In fact Box Hill has been lauded of in paint and in ink for centuries. Jane Austen's Emma visits to see what all the fuss is about and many poets and painters have waxed lyrical about the splendour of this little pocket of green and very pleasant land.
And what precisely has everyone been raving about all these years? Quite a few things actually:
Box Hill is the highest point in the North Downs, known for their chalky soil and great, scenic, chalk ridge. Chalk doesn't sound like it would make for particularly verdant conditions, but actually life thrives here, from Box Trees, to rock rose and a dozen species of orchid. That greenery, and the choice of more than 400 different flowering plants, means that this hill is a haven for insect life as well, including often spectacular numbers of butterflies. Moving up the food chain, the insects attract an impressive array of birds, some of which are quite rare. If you know about birds prepared to be impressed by mandarin ducks, ring-necked parakeets and kingfishers.
Now the view has been established it's time to consider the most enjoyable way to experience it. If you're training for the Tour de France you might have already heard about the hill as a cycling destination, if not, it has a reputation for being steep but rewarding. The same can be said for the walking routes that snake all over its slopes. But the views from the top, of grassy dells and woodlands, should be enough to distract you from feelings of undue exertion. If you're looking for a more restful escape from town pack a picnic and drive up the hill.
If you don't have a bike or don't want to bring yours out, there's a mountain bike hire service at the visitors centre at the top of the hill. This centre will also help you identify the plants and animals that you'll see hereabouts. You won't recognise these from your local London park!