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The new Deepdene walking trail opens for exploration in Dorking

PUBLISHED: 17:57 27 September 2016

The closest section to town, the entrance to Deepdene Gardens is found just past the entrance to Kuoni/Stonegate on the A24

The closest section to town, the entrance to Deepdene Gardens is found just past the entrance to Kuoni/Stonegate on the A24

Archant

A brand-new walking trail, rediscovering one of Britain’s great lost gardens has now opened in Dorking. Having been lucky enough to visit at various stages of this ambitious project, Matthew Williams got a sneak preview before the opening for September’s Surrey Life magazine

There are various stages of the trail that can be tackled in full or in parts, linking parts of the local countryside that many may have missedThere are various stages of the trail that can be tackled in full or in parts, linking parts of the local countryside that many may have missed

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine September 2016

***

When Surrey Life last visited this quiet corner of Dorking in autumn 2015, it took a certain amount of imagination and plenty of archive photography to picture the final results of the ambitious project taking place.

With just over a month to go until opening day on our visit, things still aren’t quite complete at The Deepdene Trail in Dorking, but there is a confidence in the air that suggests there won’t be any last-minute phone calls to Anneka Rice or the local rugby team needed to complete things before launch day on Saturday September 10.

“We’re all on track but there’s still a lot to do; don’t you find deadlines tend to sharpen the mind though?” laughs project manager and historian, Alexander Bagnall. “It’s also a fairly organic process, so I’m sure there will be things we’ll want to change as we see visitors react to them.

“There are so many little corners that we’ve puzzled over so many times, but I think in most cases we’ve managed to create a pretty authentic experience here.”

For those new to the project, The Deepdene Trail sets out to rediscover the 19th-century ‘lost gardens’ of the Deepdene Estate, which once sprawled from Dorking to Brockham and Betchworth with a spectacular country house at its heart. The original property has long since gone, with travel company Kuoni currently calling the site home despite recently selling their HQ to Stonegate Property – long-term plans for flats have been submitted.

“They’ve all been very keen to work with us over the project, as they can see the benefits, and fingers crossed there is some talk of Kuoni’s current car park actually being moved further away from the newly restored gardens, which would help us to make that section more true to its 19th-century nature,” says Alexander.

Hidden history

Perhaps the estate’s best-known former owner was Thomas Hope, the famous connoisseur and collector, and the world-famous composer Ralph Vaughan Williams was at the forefront of campaigns to rescue it from development (in a bid to keep things concise, we’ll leave its full history for you to discover in the original Surrey Life feature here).

“It’s been such a pleasure to watch what was once something I only had a rather romantic vision of, from the pages of books, take physical shape – with an awful lot of hard work from all our contractors and volunteers,” says Alexander. “They’ve done an incredible job.

“We really hope that this will not only excite the people of Dorking, who maybe didn’t realise the estate previously existed, but also attract an international crowd, as there’s still such interest around Hope. We’re so lucky that it’s only a short walk from the train station.”

So it is that a defined parterre now forms the hub of the Deepdene Gardens site (which boasts some of the key follies, like the Embattled Tower and Terrace that so encaptured Surrey Life’s imagination last time round).

This area is now accessed via a new entrance off the A24, just beyond the main Kuoni one, with beautifully designed information boards telling the site’s story and signs pointing the way (“they’re there along the whole route but we didn’t want them to be too intrusive so have tried to keep things to the essentials”).

Along the trail, you can enjoy the newly-reinstated Deepdene Gardens, branch off to, perhaps the key architectural site, the Hope Mausoleum, or walk all the way to Betchworth Castle or Brockham should the inclination strike – and, all the way, mobile phone app technology will be available to partner you, not only helping to tell the story but also ‘projecting’ the comparative historical view at key sites.

It’s a sprawling and lovely piece of countryside to explore and a fascinating and romantic addition to the Surrey portfolio of visitor attractions.

***

• The Deepdene Trail opened to the public on Saturday September 10, with Lord Fellowes launching the trail the day before. For more information, see deepdenetrail.co.uk

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