The Surrey Hills provide a welcome respite from the hectic pace of life in the city
In the heart of the commuter belt there's a secret oasis of wooded hills and rolling downland that is less than an hour by train from the centre of London. The Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty borders the M25 between Farnham and Godstone, providing a welcome respite from the hectic pace of life on the other side of the London Orbital.
Characterised by open common, dry heathland, ancient sunken trails and pretty little towns and villages, this 163 square mile wooded natural enclave was designated an AONB in 1958.
While modest compared with the fells of northern England, the Surrey Hills do offer some particularly fine views. Newlands Corner near Albury is one of the best views in Southern England, encompassing the picture postcard vista of Tillingbourne Valley with St Martha's Church on its sandy ridge. On a clear day, 13 counties can be visible from the 290-metre high vantage point of Leith Hill - it's the highest point in South East England.
Road cyclists will already be familiar with the challenging climbs of Leith and nearby Box Hill, and many walkers, runners and off-road cyclists realise that the Devil's Punchbowl has been ‘re-wilded'. It's now a glorious place to explore on foot after the opening of the Hindhead Tunnel in 2011.
This once notorious stretch of the A3 was once famous for traffic queues and congestion has been returned to nature and is a wonderfully wild natural amphitheatre. Most of the soil from the tunnel excavation was relaid on top of the A3 and seeded with heather, saplings and shrubs and now rare species like the Dartford Warbler and nightjar are recolonising it.
And for a walk or ride with a difference, you can explore hundreds of acres of vineyards on the Denbies estate – England's largest producer of wine – which is criss-crossed with miles of footpaths and trails.
The Surrey Hills' proximity to London make them popular for a full spectrum of competitive events – from 5K and 10K runs to triathlons and cycle sportives following in the tyre tracks of the 2012 Olympic Games road race.