Essential Esher - places to eat, shop and visit

PUBLISHED: 13:00 28 June 2011 | UPDATED: 16:06 20 February 2013

Sandown Park Racecourse is one of Esher's top attractions

Sandown Park Racecourse is one of Esher's top attractions

With its numerous bars and restaurants, historic royal links and modern-day high society, Esher has much to recommend it. Here, MATTHEW WILLIAMS unearths ten of the most interesting things about this attractive, bustling town

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine June 2009

With its numerous bars and restaurants, historic royal links and modern-day high society, Esher has much to recommend it. Here, MATTHEW WILLIAMS unearths ten of the most interesting things about this attractive, bustling town

Images supplied by Esher-based photographer and photography tutor Majken Kruse.

Royal worship...

Esher's oldest public building, St George's Church, is one of the earliest Anglican churches, with much of its structure dating back to the 16th century. Princess Charlotte, heir to George IV, and Prince Leopold, who became the first King of the Belgians, both worshipped there while living at nearby Claremont after their marriage in 1816. Queen Victoria, Leopold's niece, also attended services when staying with her uncle and later visited with Prince Albert. Restored by the community in 1965, it remains a consecrated building and is in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.

I'm Henry VIII, I am, I am

The first of the royals to make an appearance in Esher was everyone's favourite tyrant, Henry VIII, when on All Souls' Day, 1517, the young king made a gift of 6s 8d to Esher Church. His presence in the town was cemented when he acquired Esher manor from the Bishop of Winchester, with its great house on the banks of the Mole. Henry swiftly included all the manorial lands in the far-spreading deer-park that he was creating around Hampton Court, too.

Green skies at dusk

A pest? A colourful and welcome guest? A noisy nuisance? No, we're not still talking about Henry but the chirping blur of green that is Esher's flock of parakeets. Some say that Jimi Hendrix brought the bird to England for the first time and however unlikely that might be, they've certainly brought their own particularly raucous style to proceedings. Often seen around the town, they've made a home for themselves at the Princess Alice Hospice on West End Lane and Esher Rugby Club's ladies team are even named after them.

Cosmopolitan relaxation

These days, Esher is the kind of town where you can lounge in the sun and almost imagine yourself lost in a Spanish plaza, with bars and restaurants like The George, The Albert Arms, The Bear and Layla - a real place for high fliers to relax over a bite to eat and their favourite tipple, while completing their latest deal or swapping trends. And then there is Carluccio's, which tops off the caf culture vibe perfectly.

Shop til you drop

For a bit of retail therapy, head to the high end boutique Bernard of Esher, the store asked to dress Louise Owen, wife of football star Michael, in preparation for Ladies Day at Sandown Park Racecourse on Saturday July 4. Fashion store O'Keefe, which stocks a range of great labels, is also all set to open a new store in the town this month, too.

Down by the finishing post...

Founded in 1875, Sandown Park Racecourse is one of UK horse racing's most loved and revered venues. If you fancy paying a visit this month, on Saturday June 13 the craic returns for Irish Day - one of the most popular occasions in their racing calendar. Plus, if you arrive in emerald green clothing, they'll knock 5 off the price of 'on the day' entry to the Grandstand Enclosure.

Sculptured landscapes

If the hurly-burly of a day at the races is too much, a tranquil stroll or picnic, perhaps with a choice selection from your bookshelves, could be the perfect day out at the oasis that is Claremont Landscape Garden on Portsmouth Road. Once said to be the noblest garden in Europe, Queen Victoria was a regular visitor. Today, the garden is of national significance and packed full of potential adventures.

Unusually National Trust

One of the National Trust's more unusual properties, The Homewood was built in 1938 and reflects the style and ethos of the Modern Movement. A fascinating place to while away an afternoon, it is accessed by minibus from Claremont Landscape Garden, though you'll need to book in advance as this is also someone's home! When architect Patrick Gwynne donated the house to the National Trust in 1992, it was his wish that it should have live-in tenants.

Knowing where your food grows

A pick-your-own haven, Garsons Farm, on Winterdown Road, is said to be the biggest in the UK and June happens to be the perfect time to pick anything from asparagus to sugar snap peas. Grab yourself a basket and delve among the rows of plants for just about the freshest meal possible. A farmers' market also runs at the Civic Centre on the last Saturday of each month.

The young ones

It's easy to see why so many professional families move to the town. Esher College was attended by actress Keira Knightley until she decided to concentrate on acting full-time after landing the role of Lara in Dr Zhivago, while Milbourne Lodge School acts as a springboard for students to Eton and Harrow. As if that wasn't enough, Claremont Fan Court School is set in the historic landscaped grounds of the Claremont Estate, too.

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