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Royal Romances at Polesden Lacey

A woodland circuit around a great country house that was once a favourite with high society.

Distance 4.2 miles (6.8km)

Minimum time 2hrs 15min

Ascent/gradient 607ft (185m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Woodland and farm tracks

Landscape Remote wooded valleys around Polesden Lacey estate

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

Start/finish TQ 141503

Dog friendliness The kind of walk that dogs dream about

Parking National Trust car park on Ranmore Common Road

Public toilets Toilets at Polesden Lacey for visitors only

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© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 Cross the road from the car park, turn left, and walk for 200yds (183m) along the broad roadside verge. Turn right just beyond the tile-hung Fox Cottages, where two public footpaths meet the road. Take the left-hand path through the woods and, ignoring all turnings, follow it through a little combe. At length it draws alongside a post and rail fence, and veers sharp left. Turn right here, through the gap in the fence, and continue through the woodland glade. Just beyond a wooden gate, turn left onto the signposted Yewtree Farm Walk. Continue to the gravelled forest track 100yds (91m) further on, and turn right.
A little further on you'll come to a bench seat on your right. There's a great view of Polesden Lacey from here, and it's a good spot for a picnic. Notice the massive estate water tower sticking up through the trees, just to the left of the main house.

2 Follow the gravelled track as it winds past Yewtree Farm; then, 150yds (137m) beyond the farm, fork left. Follow the signposted bridleway across a low causeway until it climbs to meet an estate road. Keep straight on, under a little thatched timber footbridge.
As you pass the entrance to Home Farm House, look half left across the open field. On the far horizon, you'll see a long, low white building - and, on a clear day, you'll be able to pick out the jets landing in front of it at Heathrow. Bear gently right past the entrance drive to Polesden Lacey, and continue onto Polesden Road. Walk right to the end of the broad, grass verge on the right hand side of the road; then, 60yds (55m) further on, turn right down a waymarked bridleway towards the youth hostel.

3 The track is relatively easy to follow. It zig-zags right and left into Freehold Wood, then dives under a stone-arched bridge. Continue down the sunken way, then bear right at the blue waymarker post at the bottom of the hill and climb up gently through the woods to Tanner's Hatch.

4 Bear left at the youth hostel and follow the yellow waymarked gravel track as it climbs up gently but steadily all the way back to Ranmore Common Road. Turn left for the last 200yds (183m) back to the car park.

To say that the history of Polesden Lacey is the history of the British monarchy through the early decades of the 20th century is, perhaps, overstating things. Nevertheless, in the years before the Second World War the royal family's footfalls often echoed within these sumptuous walls.

Even if you don't step beyond the Lacey's main gates, there's plenty of opportunity to see the house and grounds as you weave your way around the estate. Soon after the start of the walk, you'll get a stunning panorama across the terrace and formal lawns to the colonnaded south front, and you'll be glad of a pair of binoculars here. A little further on, you'll dive under the thatched bridge linking the formal gardens to the summer house and the old kitchen garden, and pass the entrance to the Home Farm. Then comes the main entrance at North Lodge, before you turn south and drop under the balustraded bridge that carries the drive from Chapel Lane.

Late in the 18th century, the dramatist Richard Sheridan made his home at Polesden Lacey. Although he thought that it was 'the nicest place, within prudent distance of town, in England', the house was pulled down after his death. In 1823 a new Regency villa arose on the site, and this building now forms the core of the modern house. The Hon Ronald and Mrs Greville bought Polesden Lacey in 1906, extended and remodelled the house and its grounds, and set about transforming their new home into a focus of high society.

The couple were not exactly without influence. King Edward VII was an intimate friend, and the cream of Edwardian aristocracy was drawn to Polesden Lacey by the stimulating company and Mrs Greville's impeccable hospitality. The royal family were frequent visitors throughout the inter-war years and the Duke and Duchess of York - later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the late Queen Mother) - came here for part of their honeymoon in 1923.

Ten years later, another royal romance ended in tears. The Prince of Wales was a particular favourite of Mrs Greville's but, by the mid-1930s, his liaison with the American divorcee Mrs Wallis Simpson was causing speculation on both sides of the Atlantic. When King George V died in 1936, and the new King declared his intention of marriage, it unleashed a constitutional storm that led to his abdication before the year's end.

Time was also running out for Polesden Lacey. Mrs Greville had just a few years left to

What to look for

The isolated youth hostel at Tanner's Hatch is one of the jewels in the YHA's crown. Hostellers themselves virtually rebuilt these derelict cottages during the later years of the Second World War, and Tanner's opened for business in September 1946. I've something of a soft spot for the place myself, having completed my very first night's hostelling here in 1972. That was long before electricity reached this remote little building but, although it was upgraded in 1998, the character has changed very little. Now, as then, Tanner's is still known for its monthly folk music evenings around the open fire.

While you're there

You can easily include a visit to Polesden Lacey in this walk, which passes the main entrance. The principal rooms in this magnificent mansion are the natural setting for Mrs Greville's collections of paintings, furniture, silver and porcelain, now displayed just as you'd have seen them at one of her Edwardian house parties. Outside, the formal gardens and lawns are the perfect counterpoint to your woodland walk.

Where to eat and drink

The licensed National Trust tea room in Polesden Lacey's old stable block serves teas, coffees, and light lunches, as well as a nice selection of home made cakes and scones. Tuck yourself into a table in one of the cleverly converted horses' stalls, or sit out in the spacious, sunny courtyard.

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