The Charles Dickens tomes left on the bedside table were a lovely touch, but there was too much to see and do to read in the room.
My friend and I had taken the train to Dorking – less than one hour from Waterloo – to recharge our batteries while exploring the area’s renowned countryside. Our home for the night was The White Horse on Dorking High Street, a lovely former hitching post for those who, like us – and Dickens, Daniel Defoe and Benjamin Disraeli – made their way south from London.
Part of Bespoke Hotels, the UK’s largest independent hotel group, the 18th century coaching inn – which was once a manor and listed in the Domesday Book as belonging to William the Conqueror – underwent a
£4 million refurb last year to restore it to its former Dickensian glory.
Sympathetically made over, the result is that the 56-room hotel has
a cosy feel, with brightly-coloured velvet armchairs and dark leather sofas in the lounge areas and saddle-shaped bar stools. We also appreciated
the on-trend grey walls, wooden features and quirky details such as the old-fashioned phone (there is also Wi-Fi).
We wanted to make the most of the day, so had a quick lunch at the Courtyard Café Bar in Old Kings Head Court, where there is a gallery and gift shop, before taking the bus (Oyster cards work here) to a footpath leading to the National Trust’s Box Hill, which is part of the North Downs.
Box Hill Fort was built in the late 1800s as part of the London Defence Scheme, literally a last-ditch attempt to save London, which would then,
it was believed, be followed by the rest of the empire. There is also a two-mile natural play trail full of trees and structures suitable for toddlers to climb, and walks of various difficulty.
We were rewarded by stunning views of the Surrey Hills and stopped off at the café for a reviving tea. While we were obviously on foot, the area is also perfect for cyclists (the Box Hill Route is 16km).
Dinner was in the 100-seater destination restaurant, The Dozen – so called because baked goods are sold in the hotel deli. I enjoyed the delicate and fresh grilled lemon sole and my friend’s sirloin steak – served rare – was just right. Had we not wanted to wake up bright eyed, we would have enjoyed Dickensian and countryside-themed cocktails, but the warm chocolate brownie and Eton mess did the trick.
The next morning we explored the nearby streets, noting that, alongside the ubiquitous retailers, there are many specialist stores, such as those selling hunting and fishing ware, antiques and interiors and cycles. There are many other areas and attractions nearby worthy of a visit, for example the Deepdene Trail – around a 15-minute walk from the town centre – and the Denbies Estate and Vineyards.
Unlike Dickens, who spent months at the inn composing The Pickwick Papers, ours was a brief stay – but a charming one.
Alex was a guest of The White Horse, where a standard double room starts from £50 per night. For details, visit whitehorsedorking.com
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