As we’ve mentioned in the past, David and I really enjoy spending time outdoors. Even though we live in London now, we love that there are many opportunities to escape the hubbub of city life.
This past weekend, such an opportunity presented itself when a new business acquaintance of David’s invited us for a tour of Surrey.
Excited to check out a new region—and with dreams of the quintessential English country cottages in my head—we boarded a train at Victoria Sunday morning and headed southeast to Dorking.
The Countryside: Doggie Paradise
I’m sure you’re wondering, “What about Spark?” Spark joined us for our day trip to the countryside and she loved every minute of it—from the train ride to romping through meadows to enjoying lunch with us at the cozy dog-friendly restaurant The Dabbling Duck—more on that in a bit.
You can always follow Spark’s weekly adventures on Instagram at spark_sees_the_world!
So, a few interesting things about Surrey. It’s home to Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. That pretty much sums it up. This is a beautiful grassy and hilly region speckled with cottages, farm animals, and the occasional pheasant. It’s everything my dreams of the English countryside are made of!
007 and a Cupboard under the Stairs
That’s no coincidence. As an American, most of my aforementioned dreams about the English countryside hail from books, TV, and movies and turns out a lot of these are set in Surrey. Just to name a few—parts of the Bridget Jones, James Bond, and Harry Potter series were all filmed in the county.
Oh and speaking of Harry Potter…in J.K. Rowling’s book series, Harry Potter lives in the fictional town of Little Whinging, Surrey.
“The Holiday” and Cottages Galore
Scenes from well-loved holiday romcoms like Love Actually and The Holiday (both filmed in part in Surrey) also hold responsibility for my clear mental image of English country life.
Funnily enough, our journey took us to the very site of The Holiday—a charming Christmas-y romcom starring Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz. David’s friend (our local tour guide for the day) Simon, showed us the place where Kate Winslet’s character’s adorable cottage once sat.
To my disappointment, the cottage was neither original nor does it remain today. Instead, they built Kate’s adorable cottage just for the movie and later tore it down. But whyyyy. That was my response, too. The charming village of Shere couldn’t (and didn’t want to) accommodate the extra traffic and tourist throng that would have descended upon its narrow streets to catch a view of Kate’s cottage.
Today the site of the cottage is a nondescript field where sheep roam. I kid you not. Sheep. You would never know that it was once the site of a major Hollywood production. Our local guide showed us where there was once a small sign, but even that is now gone.
Alas, Shere made up for the lack of this cottage with many many more. Timbered, shuttered, and with extremely low doorways, the country cottages lived up to their quaint reputation.
Getting To and Around Surrey
I can also understand the locals’ aversion to further traffic. Streets in this part of England are windy and extremely narrow. Zipping around them in our guide’s small hatchback was crazy enough with “light” Sunday traffic.
Although neither of us are prone to car-sickness, even we definitely preferred our time out of the car. Once in one of Surrey’s towns or villages—Shere, Dorking, etc.—you can easily stroll through the center of town where you can enjoy dining at a local restaurant or pub, shopping at quaint gift shops, or strolling through pedestrian-friendly fields and wooded pathways.
In Shere we enjoyed a delicious lunch at the shabby chic-style restaurant The Dabbling Duck. This was a cute venue that was both dog-friendly and had gluten-free options. We also stepped into The White Horse—the charming historic pub that Cameron Diaz visits in “The Holiday.”
We loved our day in the countryside—it was a lovely springy day after several drizzly weeks in the city. And all this only about an hour away from Waterloo or Victoria via South Western Railway.
Overall our experience of the Surrey Hills was lovely and a distinctly English experience. We’ll definitely be heading back for another country escape soon!