For many of us holidays by the sea whether abroad or here in the UK have become a regular annual fixture on our calendar. There is something rather special about being close to water – the sight, the smell and the sound – whether walking on the beach, swimming in the sea or simply drinking a glass of rose at a beachside taverna.
But life this year, as we are all too aware, is sadly rather different. Many of us feel that holidays abroad pose too much of a gamble and are just too stressful to contemplate. At the same time, we have perhaps been deterred from going to the coast in England following the horrific scenes at south coast beaches during the June heatwave and the likelihood of a frosty welcome from locals when going further afield.
Perhaps it is time to think about being closer to home and seeing what the Surrey Hills has to offer. We may not have the sea, but we do have a wonderful variety of rivers, ponds, canals and lakes right on our doorstep. Even this poses a dilemma however, as overcrowding, destruction of natural habitats and safety issues are a real cause for concern. Overcrowding at popular places such as Frensham Ponds, a spate of recent deaths from diving from bridges or swimming in rivers, along with concerns about disturbing wildlife when embarking on the increasingly popular wild swimming, are just a few of the hazards.
There are, however, plenty of interesting waterside places to visit and activities to enjoy that while not being the perfect substitute for a week by the sea may go some way to providing enjoyment this summer.
Swimming is often synonymous with holidays. One hidden gem is Buckland Park Lake between Dorking and Reigate; a recently created venue offering 50 acres of open water swimming in a beautiful setting. Like most sites it was forced to close again due to Covid, but has now reopened with the usual post lockdown rules in force and a strict on-line booking system.
Messing about on the water offers more adventure, perhaps canoeing, sailing or kayaking, but for something more peaceful, take a look at one of the many video clips of travelling by narrow boat to see why it has to be one of the most relaxing staycations. Boating on the River Wey, one of England’s oldest navigation systems, dating back from 1653, has always been popular. It can however get far too busy sadly and the weir in Guildford being washed away by the winter floods has not helped matters. One option perhaps is to go upstream from Byfleet, passing through three locks, Pyrford, Newark and Papercourt, although this is probably far more enjoyable out of season. While the towpath around Guildford and other populated areas gets too congested, the footpaths that run close to the upper reaches of the Wey around Tilford or Elstead can offer wonderful countryside and a more peaceful environment.
Since lockdown began one of life’s great pleasures for many of us has been the sound of birdsong. Whoever thought birdsong apps, such as birdgenie or warblr, would become so popular, and along with them birdwatching. Along the riverbank a host of native species and visitors can be spotted, including warblers, wagtails, dunnocks, and terns and if you are lucky, the elusive kingfisher.
Other lovely river walks include the Tillingbourne Valley Trail, and the parts of the River Mole avoiding the Stepping Stones at the foot of Box Hill, which has become far too crowded and is impossible for social distancing. And for anyone hooked on fishing there are plenty of options apart from local rivers, including the Tillingbourne Trout Farm, Rushmore Fishing Lakes, near Farnham and the Old Quarry Lake in Betchworth.
Finally, worth considering are the many local nature reserves such as Nutfield Marsh, near Bletchingley, Riverside Park, Guildford and Ripley Nature Reserve. They all support a variety of wetland wildlife and with good footpaths and boardwalks make for interesting and easy walking.
There is so much more, but in planning our staycation, we should also think about supporting local independent businesses, farm shops, pubs, craft and coffee shops and consider visits to favourite beauty spots in the early evening when the crowds have gone. And as for that glass of rose, we have of course a wonderful choice with our award-winning local vineyards.