Denbies is just a 20 minute drive, up the A24. It has a huge car park, a cafe offering fresh food and decent coffee, and a branch of Village Greens organic foods. In it’s own shop, Denbies offer an attractive, but somewhat random selection of ‘gift’ type merchandise – and, of course, particularly good wine!
This is a lovely walk; up and along the North Downs, down the other side, and back. Exhilarating when taken at pace, whatever the time of year. Leafy paths through beautiful woodland, opening out to far reaching views of manicured vines, grazing cattle and sheep, and wide countryside beyond. In autumn, whether seen through the lens of foggy mist, or the bright sparkling light that sunshine creates when breaking through slightly damp air, the woods are hugely atmospheric. In places, they look almost prehistoric!
Boots are recommended in Winter. Well behaved dogs, kept to the paths, seem to be welcome at Denbies, where there are masses of Cockapoo and Labradoodle types, dizzy with the excitement of the smells and freedom of Denbies & The Downs.
In Spring and summer, wild flowers will adorn the route. Once owned by King Harold & William the Conqueror, the common land on the ridge of the Downs has several fingerpost signs to butterfly sites – Chalk Hill Blues, Red Admiral, Clouded Yellow, Azure Blues and Peacock butterflies can be seen, sharing the sky with Kestrels.
At 265 acres, sited on some of the richest chalk grasslands in south east England, Denbies is the UKs largest vineyard & wine producer, currently responsible for over a tenth of UK production.
Denbies’ indoor and outdoor vineyard ‘experiences’ (tours) are both interesting and fun: well worth booking. The vineyard also hosts regular exhibitions, showcasing locally produced artwork and crafts, welcoming around 300,000 visitors each year. Denbies restaurant provides a venue for weddings and other functions, but is also a good place to stop for a snack or drink. Despite somewhat unimaginative decor, the food is fresh, with a reasonable choice, and good value.
The ‘Village Greens’ organic food, drink & plant store is popular, selling high quality, largely locally produced produce. With some very happy cows outside!
The North Downs form a stunning backdrop to the lines of vines that stripe the large site’s grassy expanse. Offering a wonderful vantage point, the main path up the Downs from Denbies works its way through leafy woodlands; drawing you up from the bustling vineyard site to another, quieter, untouched world. Muddy paths unfold past beautiful trees showcasing all stages of life. Autumn is the time to really appreciate the fallen branches, tall bracken and decaying stumps – carpeted in thick blankets of vivid green moss. Turn left at the top of the Downs, and from the woods emerge onto Ranmore Common.
From the common, continue west along the Downs, passing some fingerpost signs indicating butterfly sites. In season, Red Admiral, Clouded Yellow, Comma, Holly Blue, Small Skipper, Adonis Blue, Small Heath, Brown Argos and Peacock butterflies may be spotted, sharing the skies with Kestrels.
A further fingerpost sign flags up a right turn which leads down to the National Trust’s magnificent Polesden Lacy house and estate.
This is a walk of contrasts: up the woody North Downs, down the other side, enjoying wide vistas, and back again through the hamlet of Westhumble, into the lower slopes of the vineyard. It’s easy to download the route online, or almost as easy to follow the paths.
Just Pedal bike hire is located in the grounds of Denbies, if you fancy hiring a bike after your walk – or on another day!
“I will drink life to the lees”Ulysses;
Alfred, Lord Tennyson