Whilst most of the walks on this blog are in Greater London, some outside the M25 are still reachable by Oyster Card.

Starting point: Merstham bus stop, reachable by the 405 bus from Croydon and therefore within Oyster Card range.

Finishing point: Dorking, there are a couple of railways stations to choose from but none are covered by Oyster so you will have to buy a standard ticket.

Length: 10.7 miles

Ordnance Survey Maps app route link here

Download the GPX file for this route here Merstham to Dorking

The North Downs Way skims along the hills just south of London, this is proper Green Belt territory with fields, woodland, the odd golf course, and tremendous views towards the South Downs.  Kristina decided to join me on this relatively quick and easy walk towards a picnic at Box Hill and a pint in a local pub.

Touching in with your Oyster Card on the 405 bus from Croydon takes you past the M25, heading towards Redhill.  Get off when the announcer mentions Merstham station and you’re at a useful junction between two stretches of the NDW.  If you headed east from here there’s a 17 mile undulation to Otford in Kent but the target of this walk takes you west to Dorking, via Box Hill.

A few steps up the road from the bus stop is the first trail blaze for the day.  It points you towards the hill and a path that cuts across the Reigate Hill Golf Course.  Head along this way and you climb quite quickly to an altitude where the views are brilliantly rewarding for such an early point on any trail.

Starting the trail on a lovely day for a walk, North Downs Way

The noise of the M25 cannot be easily heard from here, even though you are in close proximity to it.  For us the wind was helpful in that respect and almost all day the rumble was hidden from us.

The best thing about this walk is just how soon you feel that you have left the city behind, if you’ve tired of city walks but can’t afford an expensive train fare somewhere more distant then this is a perfect choice.

Beside the North Downs Way, just outside Merstham

A tunnel of foliage took us away from the golf course and through a quiet hamlet hidden in trees.  We both remarked on the lovely day and how fast we seemed to be progressing.  This path is really quite straight for most of the time so it’s obvious that you’re chowing down the miles when you glance at a map.

The first of many foliage tunnels on the walk along the North Downs Way from Merstham to Dorking

A strange length of path takes you through a school’s grounds and you feel like a naughty trespasser before woodland saves you and the climb continues.

Looking along the North Downs

Many cyclists use the NDW as it’s quite wide and there are usually good views far in front so that you don’t clatter into someone, or something, but still many of them seemed to pay little care when whizzing around corners.  If you do this with children or pets be careful!

Shortly you reach Napoleonic-era fortifications which would have commanded immense views over Gatwick Airport, had that existed, or the French Army if Boney had taken his chance to invade Britain instead of messing about in Russia.

Cows are liberally scattered around these hills. They stand in solemn groups often facing away from the views, eying the humans with disdain and a fair whack of confusion.  They make a nice photo though…

Cows on the North Downs Way!

After some time the path suddenly veers downhill and cuts along the bottom of the chalk downs for a mile or so.  It makes a dramatic change to have the fields at eye level and an uneven path underfoot.  The day was getting hotter by now and the climb back up to Box Hill looked sweaty from a distance.

Clearly walking on chalk between Merstham and Dorking

A lovely dappled part of the North Downs Way

At the bottom of the North Downs near Box Hill

Just as suddenly as we descended the hill we found ourselves climbing stiles in the middle of farmland, something that my diminutive girlfriend found challenging.  And I?  Hilarious…

There follows a few hundred metres of road walking before the great climb begins again.  Straight up the side of an old quarry with interesting views of the old buildings at the bottom.  There are a lot of wild flowers here and probably some extremely rare ones.  The birds chirped noisily to try and scare us away.  We saw almost nobody on this part of the walk.

Climbing up towards Box Hill beside old quarries

Suddenly you enter woodland and begin the battle to work out what the blazes mean at each fork.  They are less than clear but intuition usually pulls you along the correct path.  A good long series of switchbacks and steps lifts you to the summit, the trees on the slope below blocking any sense of how high you are but the declining gradient above suggesting that the ground is leveling out.

When you step into a car-park with an ice cream van it’s almost like you’ve emerged from the wilderness into civilisation.  People everywhere.  We followed the masses along the path to the left and admired the views from clearings before the trees ended for good and we entered the main slope of Box Hill.  The views over Dorking and beyond are pretty much perfect and everyone here knew it.  They brought picnics, kites, and remote controlled aircraft to play with.  Not a game of football in sight on this terrifically steep hill.

Looking out towards Gatwick from Box Hill on the North Downs Way

The view from Box Hill on the North Downs Way

After having a deserved rest, lunch, and a bottle of warm beer we headed down the zig zag path (not the nearby Zig Zag Road) full of steps and brambles.

The path down from Box Hill to the stepping stones

At the bottom the stepping stones over the River Mole were idyllic but the main road next to it was not.

The stepping stones over the River Mole by Box Hill

We followed the A24 north until we reached the Stepping Stones pub on the outskirts of Westhumble.  It’s a bit far from the Hill to be an ideal target but it was nice enough, I suppose.  The cold beer was welcome anyway.

The slog into Dorking runs back along the A24, passing the Denbies vineyard on the right.  This place produces one of my favourite wines, one I heartily recommend you pick up from Waitrose – the only stockist I know of.

The Denbies vineyard at Dorking

The three railway stations in Dorking are Dorking, Dorking Deepdene, and Dorking West.  Dorking station took us to Redhill, from which we took the 405 bus back to Croydon.  There’s also a station near the Stepping Stones pub called Boxhill & Westhumble, if that’s of any use?  It will be to me because it’s the destination of the Thames Down Link from Kingston.   A walk for another day.

We both really enjoyed this easy walk and it’s one that I will certainly do again one day, if only to convince visitors that walking ‘around’ London can be as green as anywhere else.