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Stay at Home: Surrey Hills

Head to the Surrey Hills for rolling green countryside just outside the capital that’s home to an unlikely cocktail of gin, llamas and vibrant villages

Stay at Home: Surrey Hills

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Why go

Famed for their starring role in the 2012 Olympic cycling events, and just 30 miles from the centre of London, the Surrey Hills are full of life. Stretching across the chalky North Downs, the area’s market towns and villages are packed with galleries and cafes, while families and ramblers enjoy local beauty spots. And they all come with good reason. This year sees the 60th anniversary of its designation as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty — and it’s this beauty and vibrancy that’s drawing in a growing number of winemakers, breweries and distilleries. This is no sleepy backwater but the perfect place to escape the urban grind. 

Where to stay

The Merry Harriers is a 16th-century inn outside the village of Hambledon. Cosy rooms are situated above the lively pub — swing by on a Saturday night to catch live bands and cheery locals and good pub grub (you’d expect the homemade pies, but charcoal oil on nettle gnocchi makes for an impressive surprise).

Where to eat

The William Bray is in the village of Shere, where Hollywood film The Holiday was filmed. The crowds come for its gastropub classics: fishcakes, pork belly and baked Camembert. 

We like

Gin. The Silent Pool distillery might be young but has already achieved international popularity (more than 20 countries and counting). The distillery is based around a natural spring steeped in local legend, and its gin is distilled with 24 botanicals. Book a tour for an all-important tasting. 

What to do

Hike with llamas. Yes, llamas. The woodland, heathland and rolling hills make for prime walking territory and are also home to several collections of the charming camelids. The Merry Harriers have 12 resident llamas and offer several treks, taking you on a three-hour meander along part of the 108-mile Greensand Way with the llamas in tow. 

Don’t miss

Set aside several hours to wander the meandering paths through the vast number of trees at Winkworth Arboretum. This ever-popular, 46-hectare National Trust site leads down a valley to a lake. Staff at the entrance will advise on which route to take in order to make sure you catch the most impressive sights: bluebells in spring and kaleidoscopic maples in autumn are the most popular. 

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