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Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.
I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps. See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Box Hill makes me think of Switzerland...

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. At certain times of year I hunger for mountains with their spring flowers, clean breezes and magnificent views. Here Nicola Baird hikes up Box Hill thinking it's a bit like Switzerland.

A ridge walk with a hilly view. Box Hill has everything Switzerland
has. Just imagine the motorbike roar as tinkling cow bells.
I love mountains, but I'm a bit scared of heights and cable cars. I don't even know how to ski. So what could be better than a day trip to a beautiful high point in the UK that makes you think you are in the clean mountain air of, say, Switzerland when in fact you are up at the top of 600ft Box Hill in Surrey. 600ft is a perfect height: it feels like you've gone up, but for anyone reasonably fit if

Pilgrim cycles - lovely place for a cuppa and cake.
And calls itself a "climbing cafe, without mountains".
Like Switzerland this area is well served by trains - I arrived on the Box Hill & Westhumble station to find a cycle shop renting bikes, selling maps and serving snacks in the lovely old booking hall. Pilgrims feels idiosyncratic which reminded me of the Swiss obsession for getting outside and doing Olympic type feats (eg, cycling an alp just to get a good cup of black coffee with a view). On my brief walk from the station to the down I was staggered by the number of people in lycra trying out the unforgiving hills that made up part of London's 2012 cycling course.

Not so quiet
Box Hill is a busy place. There are the cyclists, walkers, leisure drivers and scores of motorbikers (fortunately on ZigZag Road rather than the chalk tracks crossing Box Hill). It's managed by the National Trust which seems to do an amazing job keeping every interest group happy. There are cups of tea and fat slabs of cake at the hill top visitor centre; nature trails making use of the wonderful box trees (Mole Gap is where 40% of the country's wild box trees grow) and plenty of opportunity to fly kites, run trails or spot birds and butterflies. Obviously dog walkers love it too.
(4yo girl in angry tears): I want to climb a tree! 
25 mile views from the top of Box Hill.
You can try the strenuous four mile Juniper top walk or just take a stroll to Salomon's Lookout. This was far too busy when I turned up, but it does have amazing views over the Surrey Hills. I followed the steep path down the cliff edge (not realising it was a cliff until I looked back) to reach the famous Stepping Stones crossing the River Mole into Burford Meadow. Except it's spring and the water was too high to spot the stones (luckily there's a bridge too).
(9yo girl beaming as she puffed up the hill): You should see the mud!
Relief map: pale green is flat and dark green indicates steep slopes.
There are also all sorts military hardware on Box Hill - an old fort designed to save the British Empire but now beloved by bats. Far below it are 12 concrete pillars positioned to prevent tanks crossing the river and pounding to the summit. Excitingly I even came across a disused pillbox (fyi: type 24 infantry shell proof)when I got distracted off the main path by the wild garlic (it makes fabulous pesto) growing along the riverbank.
(20something woman): I feel so good after being outside all day. 
In any mountainous country there are inevitably tall tales of fierce people and beasts. But at Box Hill you have Labilliere's grave - the major who insisted he was buried head downwards in 1800 because he felt the world was changing so quickly and in such a topsy turvy way that one day he'd be the right way up... And there's also a Swiss Chalet, a Little Alp and Broadwood's Tower. This is storybook country with fab views. Do go.

(20 something man): I've done 23,000 paces...
OS Explorer 146: Dorking, Box Hill & Reigate
Over to you
Where else in Britain offers a great mountain-style view? Or do you have any ideas about where I can take my family to explore the world without leaving Britain?

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