DORKING is an ancient market town shot through with antiques shops, some new buildings and a couple of delicatessens. It prides itself on its variety of restaurants, from Thai to French. Reigate Grammar and St John’s at Leatherhead are the two popular local public schools. Guildford is close enough for smart shops and the theatre. Denbies, is England’s largest vineyard, where they run daily tours and have recently opened a guest house. Property prices in the area are fairly constant and the web of villages surrounding Dorking has much to offer. A three-bedroom semi with work to be done sells for £275,000 to £350,000. A period three-bedroom farm cottage would cost £500,000. One-bedroom flats sell for about £140,000.
Five miles west is Shere, a village with a stream bubbling through it that is so pretty that British Gas used it to illustrate the rural idyll in an advertising campaign. The square is picturesquely framed with old houses; it has a 12th-century church (used as a location in the film Bridget Jones’ Diary), several shops, a post office, two pubs, tea rooms and a couple of antiques shops. Social actitivies abound, including a gardening club, youth and old folks’ organisations. For the time being it retains its village school. The dramatic society is shared with Peaselake, which backs on to Hurtwood Common, one of the many Surrey commons that are covered in golden broom and gorse, with shelter-belts of pine. The village has a green with a war memorial and is very leafy. Another popular village is Abinger Hammer, which has a green, a working blacksmith and an insatiable passion for cricket. The full Australian team was invited to play here, and the villagers managed to make the return match, too. There is also an annual celebrity match. Men swap their white flannels for green tights when the annual medieval fair comes round to Abinger Common. Opposite the pub is a clock tower from which a little man emerges every hour to strike the bell with a hammer, hence the name of the village.
Nearby is Holmbury St Mary, which has a green and a post office that opens in the mornings. This was once considered to be one of the most remote places in Surrey. The poor soil made it unsuitable for farming, so it became a refuge for smugglers and squatters and only began to be recognised as a village in the 1850s. It became popular with weekenders who built the first large Victorian houses up on Holmbury Hill, from where there are magnificent views over the Weald. By far the most remote spot here now is Coldharbour. Designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it clings to the side of the 960ft Leith Hill, from which, on a clear day, you can see the Channel. It is a mountain in the middle of Surrey. The narrow winding roads that lead up to Coldharbour are often cut off in winter. There is a pub, a church and good-neighbourly residents who offer lifts for elderly villagers into Dorking.
To the east is Brockham, with 18th-century houses overlooking the green, pubs, a primary school and 16th-century church. You can easily spend £500,000 to £2m on a large house here, but there are some superb smaller ones which start at around £235,000. The main event of the year is the bonfire on Guy Fawkes night, which draws thousands of people from miles around. Leigh (pronounced Lye) is also an extremely popular small village with a 16th-century priest’s house on the green and a weatherboarded pub. Newdigate is tucked right away from the main roads and has an excellent farm shop, a blacksmith and a new estate of executive homes.