Leatherhead 2014: where to eat, shop and visit
PUBLISHED: 09:14 10 June 2014
Pete Gardner Photography
Often described as ‘the gateway to the Surrey Hills’, Leatherhead is surrounded by beautiful countryside – but there’s plenty to discover in the town itself too…
A potted history...
A lorry driver trying to find the town centre leans out of his cab and above the noise of the engine shouts at a passer-by: “Leatherhead?” The startled pedestrian gives him an angry stare and retorts: “Fish-face!”
Sorry if you’ve heard that one before, but the town’s name does raise a few eyebrows from those who have never heard of it before.
Apparently, there are a few older versions to chew over too, including ‘Leret’, ‘Lereda’, ‘Ledreda’, ‘Leoda ride’, ‘Leddrede’ and ‘Leodridan.
There are several royal connections too – Henry III granted a weekly market and annual fair to the town in 1248, and it is recorded that Elizabeth I once spent the night at The Running Horse pub in Bridge Street when the River Mole flooded making the roads impassable (nothing new there then!).
Elsewhere, the old Roman road of Stane Street lies to the east side of the town, while on the other side, near Hawks Hill, is the site of an old Saxon burial ground.
Today, the town is probably best-known for its annual drama festival, often attended by local resident Sir Michael Caine who has presented the awards in the past.
Out & about…
Leatherhead town centre itself is a narrow pedestrianised High Street lined with a variety of shops and cafés, but interestingly has numerous tiny little alleyways leading off the main street – see if you can find Neate’s Alley, King’s Head Alley and, our favourite, Brickbat Alley – there are others too but so tiny they don’t even have names.
Mole Valley District Council has produced a couple of Heritage Trails for those of you who want to explore the town, so go to molevalley.gov.uk and follow the links, and then, er, wear out your shoe leather.
Elsewhere, Leatherhead Theatre hosts the annual Leatherhead Drama Festival, which is often attended by the town’s most famous resident, Sir Michael Caine.
And, finally, no trip to Leatherhead would be complete without a visit to nearby Polesden Lacey, the stunning National Trust property where the Queen Mother stayed during her honeymoon. For something a bit different, head to this beautiful estate on Saturday June 21 or Saturday June 28 when ‘Pop-Up Shakespeare’ will be taking place, with memorable scenes performed in various settings around the grounds.
A bite to eat…
If you feel the need to soak up a bit of history while eating your lunch, pop into The Running Horse in Bridge Street (as we mentioned on the left, Queen Elizabeth I’s local). With home-made locally sourced food, three Sunday roasts and voted one of CAMRA’S pubs of the year, it’s well worth a visit.
For a lighter bite, and conveniently located in the middle of the Heritage Trail, Annie’s Tearooms in the High Street, next to the brilliantly named Brickbat Alley, should fit the bill.
Another place to pop into if you have a spicy palate is the Five Rivers Restaurant in Bridge Street. Specialising in North Indian cuisine, all dishes are free from artificial colouring, additives or GM ingredients.
And, last but not least, new to the town is the Italian Rialto in the High Street – check out next month’s issue of Surrey Life for a review.
Shop till you drop…
The Swan Shopping Centre, just off the High Street, has plenty of well-known brands while the High Street itself also has a few interesting independents.
A highlight is Barton’s Bookshop (pictured right), occupying a beautiful timbered building at the junction of the High Street and North Street, which has that quiet air of a library with a huge selection of books to keep you browsing for hours.
The owner, Peter Snell, is a well-known character in the town, brimming with local knowledge. He says that one of his favourite works in the shop is a nature book called My Side of the Fence. Written and published by local author and photojournalist Jeremy Early, it describes, with photographs, the huge range of plants and animals recorded in Jeremy’s garden in Leatherhead during a period spanning almost 50 years.
The rather splendidly named Black Dog Gallery is another of the town’s independent retailers. It’s been there for over 10 years and is run by partners Sue and Becky. Not just a picture framers mind you, there are original works of art for sale as well as jewellery, ceramics, gifts and cards, so if you are after that elusive present for someone and want something different – give the dog a bone as they say...
In the spotlight…
Leatherhead is soon to hit the airwaves with its very own radio station. Described as a ‘not for profit social enterprise’, Surrey Hills Radio is being launched by a group of local businessmen.
Graham Pountney has teamed up with locals Dave Smith and Andy Newbold (see above right) to develop the station, which will broadcast via the internet.
With live local music nights, school quizzes and also providing a voice for senior residents too, the radio station aims to become a long-term community resource.
Dave, who has lived in Leatherhead since 1977, is convinced it will appeal.
“Leatherhead has a great sense of community,” he says. “People want the town to succeed and will support anything that helps.”
Keep your eye on them by visiting surreyhillsradio.co.uk from this month when they hope to start broadcasting.
As a thriving business area as well as an established shopping centre, Leatherhead is well served by rail, car and buses. Not far from junction 9 of the M25, the town has excellent parking in the Swan Centre car park (KT22 8AH). Served by Southern and South West trains, there are also frequent bus services (details can be found at surreycc.gov.uk).
My favourite Leatherhead...
A well-known character in the town, photographer Andy Newbold, who is also one of the pioneers behind Surrey Hills Radio (surreyhillsradio.co.uk) and part-time station manager, reveals his five favourite things to do in the area
1. Walk along the riverside from the town bridge. In either direction, within just minutes, you feel like you are miles away.
2. Drink coffee. Leatherhead has several great café s - Amici, Blue Café and Chimes amongst them – each with their own quirky personalities.
3. Visit Polesden Lacey. Just outside the town in nearby Bookham is this great National Trust property with plenty of walks and a fascinating history. Perfect for Sunday afternoons.
4. After a visit to the Swan Shopping Centre, browse in Bartons Bookshop – a cracking little independent bookshop housed in the most beautiful building in the town and full of gems ran by a popular and slightly eccentric chappie (some say he has the longest eyebrows in Surrey). You can chill on a leather couch and he will even make you coffee.
5. Stop by the Fire and Iron gallery, a working blacksmiths next to Teazle Wood with a superb gallery full of wonderfully creative objects. The house in the grounds is the oldest in Leatherhead!
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