. Rising steadily up from the floor of the Thames Valley, with the river supplying its northern border, Surrey is crossed from east to west by the rolling chalk slopes of the North Downs - including the popular walking (and skiing if there is snow) area of Box Hill - whose escarpments are sheer to the south.
. Further east is a range of sandy hills, which reach their highest point in the outcrop of Leith Hill, a secluded and thickly wooded beauty spot (with a tower dating from 1766) which offers superb views south across the Surrey Weald, it is said that on a clear day you can see Surrey, Sussex, parts of Hampshire, Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Middlesex, Essex and Kent - and with the aid of a telescope some of Wiltshire - giving a field of vision of 260 miles;
. The Downs are intersected by the River Mole near Dorking, and further west by the Rivers Wey and Eden. The former is linked to the Thames by navigable waterways.
Origin of name: Surrey derives from the Old English "Suthrige" meaning the region south of the Thames, probably of Middlesex. Name first recorded: 722 as Suthrige.
KINGSTON-UPON-THAMES Several Saxon kings crowned here, hence the name (King's Town).
CROYDON The palace here has been owned by the archbishops of Canterbury since the Conquest. Fairfield Hall is a Festival Hall- style building comprising a concert hall, smaller theatre (named after Dame Peggy Ashcroft), and art gallery. My great uncle was once Mayor of Croydon.
EPSOM Medicinal purging waters impregnated with alum and discovered in 1618 - otherwise known as Epsom Salts. The racecourse dominates proceedings in this not unattractive market town. The Derby has taken place here since 1780.
FARNHAM End of the road for the Hog's Back, a high ridge of chalk taking the A31 over 500 feet high.
GATWICK London's second-largest airport and main employer for many miles around. Opened in 1958.
GUILDFORD All the modern shops and a fine theatre.
HASELMERE Set in beautiful dense woodland, this is picture postcard Surrey countryside with 17th- century tiled houses surviving. Finely crafted musical instruments continue to be made here.
LEATHERHEAD Another market town another modern theatre (this one is the Sybil Thorndike Theatre). John Wesley preached his last sermon in this Surrey town before he died.
RICHMOND Originally called Shene (Shining or splendour because it was so fine) and became Richmond after Henry Vll took a summer residence there (he was earl of Richmond in Normandy before being crowned king, hence the name).
SOUTHWARK The surroundings have undergone massive re-building as Shakespeare's Globe Theatre rises again (thanks to Sam Wanamaker) but the cathedral started life in 1106.
WIMBLEDON Synonymous with tennis and HQ of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. There is an attractive heath with two ponds and windmill (1817).
WOKING Once had the biggest mosque in England.
. Camber-well . Godalming . Mitcham . Reigate . Streatham
. Tooting . Wandsworth
Mole, Wey, Thames, Eden.
Leith Hill at 965 feet.
. April: Leith Hill Music Festival at Dorking.
. May: Farnham Festival of Youth & Music.
. June/July: Polesden Lacey Open Air Theatre Festival at Leatherhead.
. October: Croydon Fair.
. July: Metropolitan Police Horse Show at Imber Court, Thames Ditton.
. 1st week in June: Derby (Oaks) Race Meeting at Epsom.
. August/September: Guildford Agricultural Show at Guildford (Stoke Park) while the Surrey County Show, also at Guildford, takes place in May.
. July: Annual music festival at Haslemere features medieval music and instruments made locally.
. August Egham & Thorpe Royal Show at Runnymede.
. Three of the Beatles lived on the private St George's Estate during the 1960s.
. Other more contemporary artists who reside in the county include members of Squeeze and Soul II Soul and pin-up actors Tim Roth and Gary Oldman.
. Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, was born in Godalming in 1894.
. William Cobbett, the writer and social commentator, was born at Farnham in 1762. in his famous book Ruro) Rides, he castigated the influence of London in corrupting and destroying the pastoral beauty of his home county.
. John Keats and Robert Louis Stevenson both stayed at the Burford Bridge Hotel at the foot of Box Hill. where the poet John Keats finished writing his epic poem Endymion. Now the nearby car park is a haven for bikers out for the weekend.
. George Meredith, the novelist, lived at Flint Cottage on Box Hill for 40 years, and is buried in the cemetery at Dorking,
. Lewis Carroll often stayed with his sister at Guildford where he died in 1898.
The southwest of Surrey is two-tier provided by Surrey County Council and the 10 District Councils of Elmbridge, Epsom & Ewell, Guildford,Mole Valley, Reigate & Banstead, Runnymede, Surrey Heath, Tandridge, Waverley and Woking. A small part at Gatwick Airport is also two- tier provided by West Sussex County and Crawley District Councils. The northeast is governed by 8 unitary boroughs: Croydon, Kingston, Lambeth, Meiton, Southwark, Sutton, Wandsworth and Richmond-upon- Thames (shared with Middlesex).
THIS PARADOXICAL COUNTY encompasses the hallowed Centre Court of Wimbledon and the peaceful deer park of Richmond; it also radiates out from familiar- sounding places like Brixton, Barnes, Putney, Battersea and Clapham and sprawls along surburbia. But after you hit the North Downs you enter an unchanged and enchanting land of village greens with cricket games and quaint pubs, wooded hills offering not-too-vigorous hiking - a curious contrast that gives Surrey itsuniqueness.
Although Surrey lies on the south bank of the Thames, that hasn't appeared to have hindered the rapid expansion of London into its territory, and what = mere 80 years ago were a host of small country towns and villages within 15 miles of the metropolis have now been absorbed into its great, amorphous mass. The much- vaunted Green Belt around London is gradually being squeezed tighter and tighter, and if you want to get an idea of how pleasantly rural and rustic life must have been in most of this county a century ago, you will need to travel some 20-plus miles from the centre of London. Even then, you will still be made aware of what London's proximity has meant to the county when you encounter the concrete swathe of the orbital M25 motorway slicing its path along the North Downs from Kent round to Middlesex at Staines. Within its circumference lies classic commuter-land, which rises up the reverse slope of the North Downs from the Thames Valley. The series of small towns which are positioned along the spring-line on this side of the chalk downs, such as Cheam, Ewell, Epsom, Croydon, as well as Leatherhead and Sutton, have now expanded into one continuous belt, from whence a fair number of its working population make a stamina-sapping return journey into the capital's centre each working day by road and rail. If you're observant though, you can still pick out the remnants of the original town centres, even though these vestiges are usually now surrounded by modern offices and shopping developments. Croydon and Sutton, for example, have undergone extensive redevelopment in recent years, with the former's unprepossessing higgledy- piggledy streets giving way to high rise office blocks. The city of Guildford has been likened to 'the buckle in the stockbroker's belt'. It hasn't escaped redevelopment lightly either, and now boasts a prominent red-brick cathedral, consecrated in 1961, and a modern university. You might not equate the Surrey downs with the Scottish Highlands, but the producers of the hit film Four Weddings and a Funeral were happy to let Albury Park,near Guildford, double up as just that (they were strapped for cash) for the wedding of Hamish (Corin Redgrave) and Carrie (Andie Macdowell). Dorking bestrides the gap where the River Mole carves its way through the chalk Downs at the foot of the impressive sheerness of Box Hillat nearly 700 feet. The town has few sights of interest itself but makes an ideal starting point for some of the wonderful walks around.
Chessington's World of Adventure was originally a zoo, but has now been remodelled as a contemporary theme park, like Thorpe Park near Chertsey, while still retaining some of its animal attractions. On the A3 at Wisley are the Royal Horticultural Society's Gardens, a mecca for keen gardeners, and of course the country's most famous botanical gardens, at Kew, also lie within the county Near Wisley are the National Trust properties of Polesden Lacey (a Regency-style mansion built by Thomas Cubitt housing collections of Chinese porcelain, silver and fine paintings) and Clandon West. Surrey's only remaining castle stands at Farnham, tucked away on its south-western border, where the high street exhibits some splendid Georgian buildings. The county's soil and sheltered climate has also witnessed the growth of viticulture with the Denbies Wine Estate near Dorking comprising 250,000 acres of vineyard - one of the largest in Europe and 300,000 vines planted with 18 different grape varieties. The Romans were growing wine in the region 2,000 years ago and the chalky down soil structure runs on under the Channel to the Champagne region in France so the growers must be on to a good thing. It is open to the public with tours of the vats and other wine-growing activities.
In prehistoric times much of the woodland between the downs was used for smelting and there were a number of iron foundries. At Wotton were built the first mills in England for casting brass. Guildford was once the centre ofthe cloth industry until the Industrial Revolution transferred it 'up north'.
Much of Surrey was handed over to William the Conqueror's nobles after the Conquest, and fortified castles were built as a protection at Farnham, Guildford and at other major points along the routes from the southern coast to London. In later centuries, the beautiful countryside became a favourite hunting ground for royalty, and pockets of these areas still exist at Nonsuch (at Cheam), Herds of deer still run free in these green spaces. In 1215. King John reluctantly signed and sealed the Magna Carta at a convocation of his barons in a field at Runnymede near Egham. Surrey's subsequent status as a favourite home base for stockbrokers and other wealthy people was initially reflected in the large numbers of prominent individuals who resided here from Tudor times onwards. They included Sir Francis Walsingham, Lord Howard of Effingham, and Cardinal Wolsey who also began the building of Hampton Court Palace in Middlesex. Surrey is rich in ecclesiastical landmarks: Lambeth Palace, has been a home to the Archbishops of Canterbury for 700 years, and is a splendid Tudor brick residence with white stone facings. Its library has writings from Caxton, Bacon, Gladstone and Elizabeth I. Dulwich has its famous college founded by a rival of Shakespeare, Edward Alleyn. He made his money in the 1600s from his share of the Bear Garden in Southwark, where gambling on bull- and bear-baiting took place. Dulwich also has a famous picture gallery with original portraits of Elizabethan actors. The forests of the Weald once provided the oak for British ships that saw action in the Napoleonic Wars as well as a flourishing charcoal industry. Today, Surrey's light industry and services have swept away agricultural activities of earlier times, but the demands of circumferenceand has ii gates. London ensure that there is still considerable market gardening.