A county of contrasts
Surrey may be regarded as a commuter county for London but it is full of interest. Its star attraction is Hampton Court, which Henry VIII turned into one of the most, sophisticated palaces in Europe. With its tennis courts, bowling alleys and pleasure gardens, it stands on the River Thames. Jane Austen’s admirers visit Box Hill near Dorking. This summit of the North Down takes its name from the ancient box woodland on the steepest west-facing chalk slopes overlooking the River Mole: it is the scene of the disastrous picnic in Emma.
Surrey’s artistic gem is the Watts Gallery in the tiny village of Compton near Guildford. Built in Arts and Crafts style by the Victorian painter and sculptor, GF Watts (who died in 1904) and his wife Mary, it was recently restored. It houses many of his paintings, sculptures and notebooks, and has an extraordinary memorial cemetery chapel, designed and built by Mary Watts, which unites art nouveau, Celtic, Romanesque and Egyptian influences. Houses to visit include the charming Polesden Lacey where the Queen and Prince Philip honeymooned, and Clandon Park, a Palladian mansion in grounds landscaped by Capability Brown. Leith Hill, south-eastern England’s highest point, is especially splendid when the rhododendrons are in bloom.
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