Free Weekend? Head for the (Surrey) Hills

I love Peckham, but you don’t have to travel far to find yourself in rolling countryside with nary a Morley’s …

I love Peckham, but you don’t have to travel far to find yourself in rolling countryside with nary a Morley’s Chicken Shop in sight

surrey hills panorama

Short-break expert – and southeast Londoner – Kate Chappell edits The Weekenders, a lovely website stuffed with ideas for the perfect short break. We asked for her guide to great getaways easily accessible from our neck of the woods

Life in Peckham is great, really great, but sometimes a jog on the Rye, a trek up to Dulwich Park or a picnic in Nunhead Cemetery just don’t offer enough greenery to soothe the soul. It’s easy to succumb to the London bubble – I once went for a month without leaving the postcode – but you don’t have to travel far to find yourself in rolling countryside, breathing lungfuls of fresh air with nary a Morley’s Chicken Shop in sight.

I’m a big fan of exploring every corner of the UK, but one of my best discoveries has been the beautiful Surrey Hills – miles of lush, green countryside, pretty villages and fantastic pubs – all just 30 miles from SE15. It seemed a bit odd dragging the other half away for a weekend break just over the other side of the M25, but with time short and budget low, it was the perfect solution. We left Peckham at 6.30pm on the Friday evening and were happily ensconced in our room at the b&b by 7.45.

One of the rooms at Rookery Nook
One of the rooms at Rookery Nook

We’d booked ourselves into Rookery Nook, a cosy and stylish little place in the picture-book village of Shere (a favourite film location for just about every British romcom ever made). At just £80 a night for a gorgeous double room and a hearty country breakfast, it made forking out for a flash hotel seem terribly naff. I’m an ardent devotee of the British b&b, and Rookery Nook is one of the best I’ve come across.

We headed a mile or so down the road for supper at the William IV pub in nearby Albury, for some proper homemade pub grub that wouldn’t break the bank. It was all flagstone floors, roaring fires, local ales and sticky toffee pudding – just what the doctor ordered. Then it was back to Shere for a good night’s sleep minus sirens, air traffic and the distant thump of our insomniac neighbour’s speakers.

The next two days were a lazy whirl of long walks, cobbled-together picnic lunches and Scrabble matches in Shere’s White Horse Pub. We were on a pretty tight budget, but managed to reign in the spending without giving it a second thought. We climbed Box Hill (free), got lost on the North Downs Way (also free if slightly knackering), bought cheeses, quiche and breads from the lovely Peaselake Village Stores for cheapo picnic lunches, and went for a tour and wine tasting at Denbies Vineyards (a tenner each).

The rolling Surrey Hills
The rolling Surrey Hills

Dinner on Saturday was a fantastic homemade stew at the pretty King’s Head pub in Holmbury St Mary. Having lost that afternoon’s Scrabble session, I’d been given the car keys and was forced to watch the other half gulp his way through a selection of delicious-looking local beers, but the food and the cosy pub atmosphere more than made up for it.

We headed back to town on the Sunday afternoon – leaving at 4pm, back in Peckham by 5.30 (there was a traffic jam near New Malden) – feeling full, tired but happy. We’d topped up our fresh air reserves, spent only a bit more than we would have over a weekend in town and, most importantly, had popped the London bubble.

Words & outdoor pictures: Kate Chappell, editor of The Weekenders an online guide to planning the perfect British weekend away.

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Three more brilliant budget weekends:

Lilac Cottage
Lilac Cottage, Dorset

Budget weekend for foodies
Lovely little Lilac Cottage b&b sits on the edge of the pretty Dorset village of Hawkchurch, but more importantly is just a short hop from River Cottage. Head to the cookery school for some culinary inspiration, or walk cross-country from Hawkchurch to Axminster and the popular River Cottage Canteen. Lilac Cottage only costs £70 a night, so you’ll have change left over for pudding.

Blakeney, Norfolk. Pic courtesy Visit Norfolk
Blakeney, Norfolk. Pic courtesy Visit Norfolk

A Budget weekend beside the sea
Head east to the beautiful North Norfolk coast for long walks along the endless beaches, fresh fish and chip lunches and seal spotting at Blakeney Point. Eton Lodge is a lovely b&b in Hunstanton – a seaside resort with old-school charm. A double room costs from £70 a night.

Jolyons, Cardiff
Jolyons, Cardiff

A Budget city break
For a long weekend with a difference, spend the weekend in vibrant Cardiff and get that boutique city break on a budget. Jolyons Boutique Hotel in Cardiff Bay has stylish bedrooms with antique beds, iPod docks and lovely en-suite bathrooms complete with fluffy bathrobes. There’s a buzzy bar and double rooms start at just £70 a night.

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