It’s the climb up White Hill that gets the sweat breaking out on my brow. It is a little steeper than Box Hill but perhaps it’s just that it’s an hour and a half into the walk. Either way, from White Hill, it’s a comfortable stretch to Mickleham and a pub lunch at the Running Horses.

 

On the list of childhood memories, the Sunday afternoon walk is always there. Running ahead to set up an ambush for mum and dad, tree climbing, once and a while a pub lunch. My nine year old self was packed in the brown Vauxhall Victor while my daughter finds herself on a train, with ample time to devour a chapter or two of the book she has underway.

 

From the station, we take the gaily-painted subway beneath the A24 and soon reach the stepping stones across the River Mole. Kids are either so nervous they are glad when they’ve made it to the other side or thrilled to be using the stones and wanting to go back and forth several times. My daughter is now an old hand, so we strike on up Box Hill and the way-marked Box Hill Hike. This walk encompasses the evocative structures dotting the natural play trail, the flint tower that is Broadwood’s folly, some steep climbs, woodland and grassland and more beautiful views.

running horses mickleham

By the time we have struggled up White Hill, we are closing in on our lunch stop. The Running Horses manages to be both bright and cosy, with glass roof, booths of plank and maroon leather, and oak panels on the main part of the L-shaped dining room. We slake our thirsts on pint of Brakspear for me and a lemonade for my companion. Craft beer has delivered impetus to the beer market but it wasn’t the regional breweries like Brakspear that needed the kick up the backside. There are still plenty of insipid draft beers, so it’s good to get a non-craft pint that got something to it. In this case, that something is a nuttiness, enough body to satisfy and a bitterness that lingers nicely.

Were lunch to be followed by a snooze rather than a lengthy tramp, I might have been tempted to go for three courses (and a second pint). As it was we settled for two and my fellow-diner being nine, it was the starters that had to be sacrificed. Devilled crab and treacle cured salmon with pickled cucumber are treats for another day.

The roasted duck breast with parsnip, blackberries and port was suitably tempting, with some broccoli with stilton hollandaise on the side. The blackberries complemented the duck exceptionally well and the sweet and juicy broccoli’s was given a little edge by the stilton.

duck breast blackberries

My daughter eschewed the children’s menu and even the bar menu, deciding to experiment with pan fried sea bass, served with pesto-crushed potatoes. Her verdict on the fish was that it was crunchy and a little salty (which is a good thing) and on the pesto-potato; “It’s lovely! Good idea”, adding of the green, potato column, “It may look a bit weird”. Just to be safe, we shared a portion of chips too.

The puddings menu was the main event as far as my daughter was concerned. After deep thought, she selected crème brûlée and declared it “very vanillary”, though she definitely preferred the custard to the caramelised top. I had a slice of treacle pie with clotted cream. It was nice but whenever I order that sort of pudding, I long for a sticky stodge. This was a lighter but still tasty.

Apropos of nothing, the waiter reminded me of Carl, the head waiter at Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca.

When we left the pub, we took a short detour to explore the remains of the Roman Stane Street, which once ran from London to Chichester. Another climb brought us to Mickleham Gallops, an open stretch of downland, where horses stabled at the Running Horses exercised before racing at nearby Epsom.

Tiredness was creeping into us and we decided to leave the way-marked hike and find a short cut. A mixture of common sense and smart phone saw us chop off a chunk (sadly, a pleasant one) from the walk and soon we were walking through Box Hill village, which always strikes me as the oddest place.

Reaching Box Hill Road, the main road, my daughter retrieved a stick she had stashed there a few months ago and we regained a woodland path, which wound its way down and around, before we crossed some fields. Regaining the woods, we joined our original ascent path, a little above the stepping stones.

stepping stones river mole

Our luck failed with trains failed up. Pilgrim Cycles, the bike shop & cafe had closed but they let my daughter in to use the loo and sold us a couple of sustaining hot chocolates. This little act of kindness made the long wait on the platform more bearable.