This hidden gem within the beautiful Surrey Hills, the archetypal English town surrounded by outstanding natural beauty, has attracted everyone from Charles Darwin to Vaughan Williams. For hundreds of years it has warmed its way into people’s hearts, and no wonder. As you walk along its historic streets you catch glimpse of glorious countryside and wooded hills. Completely understated, thanks to visionaries and dreamers, Dorking continues to excite and prompt many to make it their home.
It is believed that Dorking was originally established as a staging post on the Roman road between London to Chichester, and the settlement remained even after the Romans left Britain. The name Dorking is actually Saxon and was listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 as the Manor of Dorchinges. By the Medieval period, it had developed into a thriving agricultural and market town, but growth became hampered due to the chalk and clay – that is, until the turn pike road was laid in 1750, making the town more accessible, and Dorking became a staging post on the route between London and Brighton.
In the 19th century, Dorking consisted of mansions such as Deepdeene, set within hundreds of acres. ‘The Deepdene was the grandest of all the estates in Dorking, and is mentioned in the Domesday Book. After more than 100 years in the Hope family, it served as a hotel, and then the Southern Railway HQ during the war, before being demolished in 1967.’ (Source: Dorking Museum)
In the 18th century, the town’s sporting pursuits placed it on the map, particularly for cricket and the Shrove Tuesday street-wide all-day football game in the 20th century, which has been described as being more like a mass brawl. But we can’t talk about sport in Dorking without mentioning cycling. A local ironmonger was the first to purchase a velocipede, in 1868, and rather than being an eccentric activity, cycling became socially acceptable in the 1890s – even Lily, Duchess of Marlborough and her husband, Sir William Beresford, the owners of Deepdene, often cycled in the grounds. Cycling is still very much at the heart of Dorking culture.
Life in Dorking is so serene, you can spend hours wandering around the many stores, discovering enchanting art galleries, inspiring home interior stores and fantastic eclectic vintage shops. Boutiques, antique centres, jewellers, and many more are there for you to peruse at your leisure; you can always find something truly special for that unique gift.
When it’s time to relax with a latte, there is a great selection of coffee shops, including Too Many Cooks, who use locally roasted beans. For a spot of fine dining, the Michelin-starred, award-winning Sorrell has to be visited, with its menu inspired by the best produce available. Deepdene is something a bit different, and for those working from home, offers you a change of scenery. This modern bar and restaurant is also a business lounge, offering comfortable work spaces and even meeting rooms.
Yet it is the outdoors that always grabs the attention of those who visit, whether they come to hike or cycle. Dorking is cycle country, and there are many trails you can explore, no matter your ability. Map My Ride Dorking is a fantastic resource to discover new routes, but one of the most popular is around 10 miles long and suitable for all abilities. With the most breathtaking views over Dorking and the surrounding area, the picturesque Box Hill Route follows a section of the Olympic Cycle path. For the more experienced cyclist, the Dorking Circular via Leith Hill route is around 30 miles.
Wine lovers will just adore a visit to our local vineyard, the Denbies Estate. Planted in 1986, it has been family owned and operated since 1984 and is now one of the largest wine producers in the UK. Whether you’ve decided to take a tour and do a tasting, sample the delicious menu in the restaurant, or visit the Village Greens Farm Shop, there is so much to entice you back again and again.
Head on down to West Street, a whole street is filled with antique stores amidst a historical part of the town. The blue plaque 16th century house Mullins Court, of William Mullians, a pilgrim father who sailed on the Mayflower, is also located here. As you meander through the town, you may not realise there is a fascinating network of caves right underneath your feet. The shafts are believed to date from the Medieval period when the caves were used for wine storage, there is also a staircase to a mystery chamber!
Dorking Halls, with its rich programme of live events, films and live screenings, is a jewel within the town, keeping us all entertained regardless of the situation. For families, Meadowbank Playground and Softplay is somewhere they can burn off all that excess energy.
As with any town, there is a good choice of schools depending on catchment and conditions. For primary schools, there is the outstanding St Paul’s CofE (Aided) Primary School, as well as St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School, Powell Corderoy Primary School, St John’s Church of England Primary School, and St Martin’s CofE Controlled Primary School, Dorking. The Ashcombe School is an academy and the Priory CofE Voluntary Aided School, a secondary. There is also a selection of independent schools, including Hurtwood House School, St Teresa’s School, and Box Hill School.
When it comes to travel, Dorking is extremely well connected, with trains from the local station serving Leatherhead, Epson, Horsham, London Victoria and Waterloo. From Dorking West or Deepdene station you can get to Guildford and also Gatwick Airport, ideal should you like to visit further afield from time to time. Within 10–15 minutes you can be on the M25 and, depending on traffic, you could be at Gatwick Airport within 30 minutes.