Of all the Home Counties, Surrey has the best access to London. As a result, it is densely populated, but often appears surprisingly rural: the rolling, wooded landscape is ideal for tucking houses away.
It has often been said that Surrey is not ‘real country’, but there are some sweeping landscapes and spectacular views, and wildernesses such as Box Hill. The intervention of the National Trust, together with the designation of green-belt tracts and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, has saved much of the countryside from over-development.
The county was important in medieval times and had a thriving wool trade. Today, the principal industry is agriculture; the low rainfall and relatively flat land is ideally suited to arable farming.
Surrey was poor in the 18th century, largely because of the agricultural poverty of its sandy soil. As a result, there are few Georgian houses, and those that do exist command substantial premiums; there is also a scattering of earlier houses.
It was only in the second half of the 19th and early 20th century that the county’s popularity took off: there are many substantial and well-built late-Victorian and Edwardian houses. The most famous were designed by Lutyens, who combined local materials and vernacular forms with a feeling for drama and geometry.
There are many beautiful and well-tended gardens, most notably at Wisley, where the Royal Horticultural Society’s gardens are open to the public. All of Surrey is popular; the most sought-after areas include the Surrey Hills, between Guildford and Dorking, and the villages round Guildford.
Guildford, Cobham, Cranleigh, Dorking, Epsom, Esher, Farnham, Godalming, Oxted, Redhill, Reigate.
Train: Waterloo to Guildford 35min; Waterloo to Reigate 50min; Waterloo to Godalming 45min.
Car: Guildford is 31 miles from central London via the A3; Reigate, 23 miles, via the A217; Godalming, 35 miles, via the A3.
Aldro School, Shacklefield (01483 810266). Boys only, age range 7-13, day and boarding. www.aldro.org/
ACS Cobham, Cobham (01932 867251). Co-educational, age range 3-18, day and boarding. www.acs-england.co.uk/schools/cobham/
City of London Freemen’s School, Ashtead (01372 277933). Co-educational, age range 7-18, day and boarding. www.clfs.surrey.sch.uk/
Claremont Fan Court School, Esher (01372 467841). Co-educational, age range 3-18, day and boarding. www.claremont-school.co.uk/
Cranleigh School (01483 273666). Co-educational, age range 13-18 (boys only, 7-13), day and boarding. Associated preparatory school. www.cranleigh.org/pages/cranleighschool/
Guildford High School (01483 561440). Girls only, age range 4-18, day.
Royal Grammar School, Guildford (01483 880600). Boys only, age range 11-18, day.
St Catherine’s School, Bramley (01483 893363). Girls only, age range 4-18, day and boarding. www.st-catherines.surrey.sch.uk/
Golf courses: Wentworth, Virginia Water (01344 842201); Sunningdale (01344 21681); St George’s Hill, Weybridge (01932 847758).
Hunts: the Old Surrey and Burstow; the Surrey Union.
Yachting clubs: London River Yacht Club; Frensham Pond Sailing Club.
Fishing: rivers Mole and Wey, Enton Lakes and Tri Lakes.