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Explore Rhododendron woods and spectacular views with this Leith Hill walk

PUBLISHED: 12:07 22 June 2015 | UPDATED: 08:56 23 June 2015

The spring flowers of the Rhododendron Wood (Photo: NTPL/Andrew Butler)

The spring flowers of the Rhododendron Wood (Photo: NTPL/Andrew Butler)

©NTPL/Andrew Butler

Enjoy an exhilarating walk across the highest point in south east England and discover Leith Hill Tower, which is celebrating its 250th anniversary this year

A visitor rests on a bench close to Leith Hill Tower (Photo: National Trust Images/John Millar)A visitor rests on a bench close to Leith Hill Tower (Photo: National Trust Images/John Millar)

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine May 2015

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Share your Leith Hill photography @ www.surreylife.co.uk/photos

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The route…

1 From either of the Windy Gap car parks, head south using the track adjacent to the cottage, following the orange way markers.

2 This track leads you down through the woodland where, in the autumn, you can hear roving flocks of woodland birds including nuthatches, coal tits and treecreepers.

3 At the junction of tracks take the second left through the Lime Avenue, planted as part of the original estate landscape. The path takes you past the walled garden on the right and to the road where you should turn left carefully heading down the road for 55yd (50m) before heading right into the farmland over the stile.

4 Follow straight ahead in front of Leith Hill Place on your right and admire the stunning views across the parkland and southwards over the Weald onto the ridge of the South Downs. Pass through the kissing gate and cross the second field to the gate just below the pond. Once through the gate you will pass through woodland. Bear right and follow the straight track ahead of you.

5 Follow this track which bends right and heads uphill. Bear right, following the signs which lead you through the Rhododendron Wood and up through the car park to the road.

6 Turn right from the car park and then left up a couple of steps, being careful when crossing the road. Once across the road follow the path heading left up alongside the sandstone wall. This path will lead you all the way up through woodland to the tower.

7 Reward yourself with some light refreshments from the servery whilst enjoying the stunning views of central London looking north and the English Channel to the south, through the Shoreham Gap some 25 miles (40km) away. To learn more about the area, and enjoy the spectacular panoramic view from the top battlements, why not climb to the top of the tower. To return to the car park head down from the tower, turning left with your back to the noticeboard following the rail around to the top of the steps. Carefully take the steps back to the car park.

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Viewpoints…

Leith Hill Tower celebrates its 250th anniversary this year. Leith Hill is highest point in south east England, higher even than the Shard. On a clear day, from the top of the tower you can see all the way to central London and the English Channel. The tower was built in 1765 as a ‘Prospect House’ by Richard Hull of Leith Hill Place, as “a place for people to come and enjoy the glory of the English countryside”. Today it is looked after by the National Trust and is open every day of the year, except Christmas Day. There is a tiny, fascinating exhibition room and servery café serving hot drinks and cakes and snacks. Climb the tower and look out at the incredible 360 degree views, with two new telescopes at the top. There are also tracker packs for kids and binoculars available for free hire.

• An atmospheric house, which was the childhood home of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Leith Hill Place is opened by the National Trust from Fridays to Mondays, 11am to 5pm. Join the guided audio tour to hear about his life and music or simply enjoy a cup of tea and the glorious panoramic view over the South Downs.

• The Rhododendron Wood, at the foot of Leith Hill, is a place of beautiful scent and wonderful colour for a few short weeks each late spring. The woods, with their bold and blowsy springtime display was created by Caroline Wedgwood, a keen plantswoman and botanist and the eldest sister of Charles Darwin.

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Footnotes…

Start: Windy Gap car park

Map: OS Explorer 146

Grid ref: TQ139429

Length of walk: This 2.5 mile walk should take one to two hours. It is mainly moderate terrain, with a long, gradual climb up to the tower and steep steps down the car park. Dogs must be kept on a lead in the Rhododendron Wood.

Food/drink: The servery hatch in Leith Hill Tower and the tea room at Leith Hill Place both sell hot drinks, cakes and snacks. Otherwise, head for The Plough Inn at Coldharbour, which has its own brewery, a great garden and home cooked food.

While you’re there: Mind the mountain bikers who fly around the hotly sought trails that crisscross the hillside!

Recommended by: National Trust / nationaltrust.org.uk/surrey-hills

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