Perfect horse riding countryside in Surrey
PUBLISHED: 14:26 15 July 2013 | UPDATED: 11:12 18 July 2013
Editor-in-chief at Horse&Rider magazine, which is based in Grayshott, Alison Bridge brings us all the latest from the Surrey horse world...
We are so spoilt in Surrey for so many reasons, but the top of my list is the countryside. Not only is it beautiful and varied, but also a lot of it is accessible to us horse riders. The National Trust, the Forestry Commission, English Nature – we have a lot of agencies to be very thankful to for preserving their land so beautifully and opening it to visitors of the two and four-legged variety.
I love hacking. Winter or summer, cloudy or sunny, alone with Harry my horse, with a friend or in a group – as long as it’s not raining horizontally, I’ll saddle up and head on out. Of course, this time of the year is perfect for lovely long rides, and I have lots on my doorstep in Horse&Rider’s own stamping ground, south west Surrey on the borders of Sussex and Hampshire. The hacking is brilliant – thousands of acres of horse-friendly wide open commons and stunning woodland. Because the area is sandy, you can hack here whatever the weather and you can have a good long ride barely touching a major road.
Some of the best areas for riding around here are Hankley Common near Elstead, Frensham Common to the north of it and just to the east, Thursley Common. Together they make up a huge, wild, undulating landscape, clothed with heather and threaded with golden sand bridlepaths.
There are fine stands of pine trees – Hankley Common is like a piece of Scotland in the middle of the Home Counties. There’s also a big golf course you can ride across – somehow, galloping past golfers in their dodgy pastels is particularly good fun. This is MOD land that the army uses for training purposes sometimes, which can make it even more exciting!
Thursley Common is a Natural England property; somewhat less dramatic but equally wild and rich in amazing bird and insect life. It’s brilliant for long canters on flat tracks. There’s something of the African veldt in parts of this common, plus a bog - rumoured to be the Grimpen Mire in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles - which is fabulously picturesque in sunny weather.
Frensham Common has two lovely ‘ponds’ though the Great Pond is actually a huge lake complete with a sailing club, while the little pond is a slightly smaller beautiful, atmospheric, reed-fringed stretch of water – who needs to go all the way to the Lake District when you have this on your doorstep?
You needn’t be as far south as we are to enjoy wonderful hacking. I’ve had some wonderful rides in Richmond Park, Henry VIII’s old hunting ground, where deer, people practising T’ai Chi and snogging couples are all ‘natural hazards’ I have encountered. My horse was particularly startled by the martial artists. If you fancy a ride here, Stag Lodge Stables can provide the horse.
At Epsom Downs, you can ride in the hoofprints of equine stars, not actually on the course itself, but on the wonderful sand gallops which are open to us mere mortals when the pampered racehorses from local yards have finished exercise.
In Bourne Woods near Tilford you can pretend to be Russell Crowe on his charger – Gladiator was one of the many movies filmed in this area, and the Scottish mansion and church where M popped her clogs in the latest Bond movie was morphed on to the middle of Hankley Common.
Newlands Corner, Box Hill, Leith Hill, Albury Heath, Chobham, Horsell, Ashstead and Marley Commons, Banstead Heath, Alice Holt Forest... I could go on (and frequently do). So, what are you waiting for? Saddle up and get out there – Surrey is the best county in Britain for riding!
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