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Cherkley's Famous Media Magnate

A walk in the woods around the former country home of one of the great press barons, Lord Beaverbrook.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 410ft (125m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Fenced, easy-to-follow tracks around estate boundary

Landscape Wooded, with some views across surrounding valleys

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 146 Dorking, Box Hill & Reigate

Start/finish TQ 193546

Dog friendliness Watch out for them running after rabbits or deer

Parking Mill Way, almost opposite Nower Wood Nature Reserve

Public toilets None on route

1 The newly knighted Sir Max Aitken probably got his first glimpse of Cherkley from one of the main carriage drives, but we must approach this private estate from a different direction. Two bridleways diverge from the car park in Mill Way. Take the right hand fork, with the golf course on your right, and drop gently down through a tunnel of trees to cross Stane Street at a four-way signpost. Keep straight on, and cross the drive to Cherkley Court at Upper Lodge. When I last saw the building it was a forlorn, bricked up cottage, but restoration plans are in the air.

2 The track narrows at the lodge, and continues down the hill for a further 800yds (732m). Just as the path sinks into a shallow cutting, a footpath crosses your route. There's a waymarker post here; turn left, and climb gently past the houses and gardens backing onto the hedge on your right. As you crest the brow and begin to wind downhill, keep an eye out on the left for glimpses of Cherkley Court.

3 Beyond Cherkley Hill electricity sub station the path drops more steeply, rounds a brick wall, and crosses another estate drive at Lower Lodge. Beyond the drive, climb the short flight of steep rustic steps that lead to a pleasant, gently rising path through a centuries-old thicket of yew trees.

4 The path ends at a T-junction with Stane Street. Turn left at the three-way signpost, towards Thirty Acres Barn. Follow this ancient route uphill and down dale, until at length, it climbs to a cross roads, and the four-way signpost that you passed on your outward journey. Turn right towards Mill Way, and retrace your outward steps to the car park. You'll get a different perspective on the way back, with good views across the Tyrrell's Wood golf course to the clubhouse in the trees on the skyline.

Cherkley Court began life as a kind of granny-annexe, when the wealthy Midlands industrialist Abraham Dixon built the great house in the early 1870s as his retirement home. The Surrey countryside clearly suited him, for he lived at Cherkley until his death more than 30 years later.

Meanwhile, Cherkley's future was being played out on the far side of the Atlantic. After making his first fortune from the cement business, Canadian-born William Maxwell Aitken shut up shop and emigrated to England in 1910. The next 12 months were a whirlwind; he was elected to Parliament, acquired a knighthood - and bought Cherkley Court.

The outbreak of the First World War did little to halt Aitken's meteoric rise. He gained control of the Daily Express, and subsequently founded both the Sunday Express and the London Evening Standard. At the same time, he achieved considerable political influence. He was ennobled as Lord Beaverbrook in 1916, and served in the Cabinet during both World Wars.

Throughout this time Cherkley was the focus of Beaverbrook's media empire. The news streamed into his office on ticker tape, and he was deeply involved in the day to day running of his newspapers. But a great country house was also an indispensable political asset. Here, politicians could meet and manoeuvre; Beaverbrook entertained lavishly, regularly welcoming famous names like Herbert Asquith, David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill.

Lord Beaverbrook lived at Cherkley for over half a century, and died there in 1964. The Beaverbrook Foundation is now restoring the estate, with the long term aim of opening the house and grounds as his public memorial.

Where to eat and drink

The Cock Horse, next to Headley church, has a traditional public bar in the original pub building. A more modern, food-orientated bar in a recent extension now forms the main entrance. It's up a steep flight of steps, but there's disabled parking and access in the upper car park.

What to look for

For part of this route you'll be walking along Stane Street, the great Roman highway from Chichester to London. History is only skin deep here; in recent times, local people have found Roman coins buried just below the surface of the track. The road was built during the 1st century ad, although its name - which simply means 'stone road' - dates only from Saxon times. You can follow Stane Street on foot for almost 3 miles (5km) between Juniper Hill and Thirty Acres Barn, and a similar stretch lies buried under the modern A29 at Ockley.

While you're there

Inside the 17th-century, timber-framed Hampton cottage in Church Street, Leatherhead, you'll find Leatherhead's Museum of Local History. Besides its comprehensive displays of memorabilia, maps and old photographs, the museum also features a collection of Ashtead art deco pottery and figurines from between the two World Wars.


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