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Things to do in Epsom - where to eat, shop and visit

PUBLISHED: 12:57 08 July 2014 | UPDATED: 13:17 08 July 2014

Epsom Clocktower

Epsom Clocktower

Pete Gardner Photography

Away from the horse racing, there's plenty more to discover in Epsom

A potted history...

As the home of the world-renowned Investec Epsom Derby, the town is steeped in horse racing history. Epsom Downs Racecourse, with its iconic grandstand overlooking the track, has been the venue for the famous flat race since it was first started in 1780. The only time it wasn’t run there was during the war years when Newmarket hosted the event.

The town of Epsom itself first appears in the Domesday Book of 1086, albeit as ‘Evesham’, and in its other claim to fame later went on to become one of the leading spa towns of the Georgian period. Epsom Salts (magnesium sulphate if you want to impress your friends) were discovered in the early 17th century in a spring near the town and rapidly became a ‘cure all’ for health problems ranging from indigestion to poor skin. In fact, they remain popular even now, with Gwyneth Paltrow and Victoria Beckham both reported to be fans.

Today, easy access to London and the attractive Surrey countryside mean that Epsom always scores highly in “Best Places to Live” lists, not only in the local area but for the entire country.

 

Shop till you drop…

You’ll need stout shopping bags here – as well as the usual big names there are numerous independent shops awaiting you.

As you might expect in a town so closely linked to horse racing, Lester Bowden (01372 747474) outfitters has gained a reputation far and wide for supplying everything you need to join the country set. Housed in The Old Spread Eagle premises at 109–113 High Street, right in the middle of the town, they really do have everything equestrian – drop in for your bespoke hat-fitting or browse the range of Dubarry country boots.

As a complete contrast, and if you have a sweet tooth, there is a wonderful little shop tucked away inside the Ashley Centre shopping mall. Hatty’s Sweet Shop (01372 727779) is one of those places where you just stand and gawp at the rows and rows of jars filled to the brim with all the old-fashioned sweets – cola bottles, jelly alphabets, giant spiders (oh, yes!) and milk teeth. Oh, and the most popular of the lot? Laura Jenkinson, who works there, is in no doubt – it’s the toffee crumble, which sells like, er hot cakes.

Finally, don’t miss the popular Farmers’ Market on the first Sunday of every month. Held in the High Street, it runs from 9am to 1.30pm so get there early to get the pick of the produce.

 

Grab a bite…

Located a stone’s throw from the clocktower, 143 The Canopy (01372 745330) is that rarity on the High Street, a restaurant specialising in modern English cuisine.

If you fancy something a little spicier, head to Le Raj (01737 371371) on Fir Tree Road, which is considered to be among the best Indian restaurants in the county – and gets the clientele to prove it.

Over at Epsom Downs, there’s also an excellent little refreshment kiosk overlooking the racecourse, plus a couple of decent pubs. In fact, The Rubbing House (01372 745050), a few yards from the main complex, proudly claims to be the only pub in the world on a racecourse.

 

A spot of culture…

At the heart of the town, adjacent to the Ashley Centre, is the Epsom Playhouse, a popular theatre with a wide range of entertainment on offer. As well as the 450-seat auditorium, there is also the Myers Studio too – a venue for jazz evenings, professional productions, children’s shows and various community events. In fact, there’s something for everyone at this thriving arts centre. For more information, call the box office on 01372 742555 or pay a visit to the website at epsomplayhouse.co.uk.

 

Out & about…

The wide High Street has a distinctly continental feel to it, where you can sit at a street café with a coffee and just watch the world go by. The town itself is actually surprisingly compact – hop off the train and, within just a few hundred yards, the shopping centre and mall are yours. A visit to Epsom Downs and the racecourse is a must even if it’s not race day – it lies a couple of miles south of the centre (take the number 460 or 480 bus) and soak up the atmosphere of Tattenham Corner and the grandstand.

 

On the move...

“The housing market in Epsom is the strongest it’s been for the last seven years,” says Robert Muat, manager of Aston Mead estate agents. “We’re having an unprecedented number of buyers signing on with us – many are first-time buyers moving out of London. They’re particularly interested in properties close to the town centre and I would say the last five we’ve sold were snapped up within 48 hours of coming on the market.”

 

Getting there…

Train, bus or car – take your pick. Operated by South West Trains and Southern, the trains serve central London at Waterloo. There’s plenty of buses too. Car parking in Epsom is not too much trouble – there is a multi-storey car park above The Ashley Centre with easy access via lifts to the town centre.

 

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My favourite Epsom...

Freelance public relations consultant Mary Zoeller has lived and worked in the town for many years. Here, she reveals her five favourite things to do in the area...

 

1. I love the walk along the path of the Hogsmill River from Bourne Hall to Ewell Court House. It is so beautiful no matter what the time of year is and there’s a fantastic slope for sledging in winter! We recently joined hundreds of other people at the annual duck race down the Hogsmill, which is always great fun.

2. I can really recommend lunch at Bamboo Basket in The Ashley Centre. This hidden gem is situated by the back doors of M&S and offers really tasty Chinese noodle and rice dishes and a fantastic array of teas! We go as a family and the children love sitting up on the high stools overlooking the kitchen area and watching the food being prepared.

3. Being so close to the world-famous racecourse, racing on the Downs is a definite “must do”. You don’t have to know anything about racing to enjoy it, as there are always plenty of larger than life bookmakers willing to explain how betting works and what the odds are! On Derby Day, after the last race, many local people line the streets from the Downs to the A3 to wave to the Queen as she makes her way home. It’s really exciting as the outriders come through a few minutes before the Royal cars and so you know she’s on her way!

4. We are really lucky to have the Epsom Playhouse in our borough offering a superb mix of live productions. I’m a keen theatre-goer and I love the fact that I can see great drama, comedy and music live on stage just up the road from where I live.

5. Last but not least, there’s Nonsuch Park, home to Nonsuch Mansion, which was originally Henry VIII’s Nonsuch Palace. As well as beautiful gardens, there’s lots of paths for walkers and cyclists, but the best bit in my opinion are the cakes in the café! Go on, treat yourself...

 

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