Box Hill, an inspiring viewpoint
Box Hill is a high point on the North Downs in Surrey near Dorking, about 19 miiles south-west of London. It has been a famed beauty spot for centuries and was used as a setting for an important scene in Jane Austen's novel "Emma", when almost all the major characters enjoy a rather fractious picnic there.
The view south stretches across the Western Weald countryside for miles through to the South Downs.
Box Hill lies within the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and forms part of the Mole Gap to Reigate Escarpment Site of Special Scientific Interest. The north-and south-facing slopes support an area of chalk downland, noted for its orchids and other rare plant species. The hill provides a habitat for 38 species of butterfly.
The location gets its name from the ancient box trees found on the steepest west-facing chalk slopes overlooking the River Mole.
The highest point is Betchworth Clump although the Salomons Memorial overlooking the town of Dorking is the most popular viewpoint.
Jane Austen was not the only writer who took an interest in Box Hill. The Romantic Movement, led by William Wordsworth, popularised communing with nature and Box Hill became a popular place to visit. John Keats completed his poem Endymion (1816) while staying at the Burford Bridge Hotel at the foot of the hill. Other writers such as Daniel Defoe, George Meredith and Robert Louis Stevenson all visited this beauty spot. J. M Barrie used to sit on one of the slopes of Box Hill getting inspiration for Peter Pan.
John Logie Baird, the inventor of television, lived in the Swiss Cottage at the top of Box Hill, one of the many locations associated with his work. In the 1930’s he conducted early experiments in television from the top to the valley below.
The strangest individual connected with Box Hill is probably Major Peter Labelliere. He requested that he be buried upside down on the top of the hill. He believed that the world would go topsy-turvy and that one day he would be the right way up. His other dying wish was that the youngest son and daughter of his landlady should dance on his coffin.
The western part of the hill is owned and managed by the National Trust, whilst the village of Box Hill lies on higher ground to the east.
An estimated 850,000 people visit Box Hill each year. There is a National Trust visitors' centre there. The North Downs Way, a long-distance footpath that runs along the south-facing scarp slope. Box Hill featured prominently on the route of the 2012 Summer Olympics cycling road race events.
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