Picnic spots and literary lunches in Surrey

It’s picnic time here is sunny Surrey, and there are just so many beautiful spots where you can enjoy some al fresco dining.

Whether you are looking for a secluded spot in a forest, an open park or a place where the kids can play while you relax, our selection of picnic hot spots has something for everyone.

But it is also worth remembering that picnics are by no means a new phenomena. A trawl back through history shows that people have been enjoying picnics for many centuries. Picnics were often the catalyst for something to happen within novels and as our quick guide to literary picnics shows, al fresco dining hasn’t always been a resounding success!

Stoke Park, Guildford

Stoke Park in Guildford is a diverse and well-used green space, popular with residents and visitors alike. It is also a Green Flag award winning park.

The park and its woodland have remained more or less intact since they were laid out in the 18th century. In those days there was a manor house complete with walled garden and icehouse. Heritage features that still exist today include the 18th century walled garden which now encloses tennis courts and formal flowerbeds; a boating pond; a paddling pool built in the early 1930's; a crazy golf course, a children's play area; a sensory garden and a rose garden.walled garden.

The park caters for people of all ages and abilities. It has sports pitches as well as a very popular skate park.

Reigate Hill and Gatton Park

This stretch of the North Downs is good walking country, with flower-sprinkled grasslands, quiet shady woods, and an exciting splash of history to add just a little bit more colour. Sitting proudly at the top of the Hill is the 19th-century Reigate Fort; the fort commands a historically defensive position looking out over the weald towards the South Downs, reminding us all of Reigate Hill’s past.

A lovely spot too for family picnics and games, the chalk downland is home to many rare wild flowers and insects, including the vibrant Adonis Blue butterfly. To the east, Gatton Park nestles serenely into the North Downs.

Alice Holt

Once famous for its oak trees which supplied timber for navy ships, Alice Holt is managed by the Forestry Commission and is a centre for a host of exciting outdoor activities in a beautiful woodland setting. Alice Holt offers walking, cycling, play areas, the ever popular Habitat Trail, Go Ape and nordic walking. There is also a wide range of holiday activities for children of all ages.

Box Hill

Scenic walks and stunning views greet the visitor to Box Hill.  For many Box Hill will always be associated with the cycling events of the 2012 Olympics, but for many years, this National trust run area of woodland and chalk downland has been a favoured destination for visitors.

It has much to offer families, as well as ramblers and naturalists, with many beautiful walks and views towards the South Downs.  On the summit there is an indoor café, small gift shop, servery, ample car parking and a magnificent view.

Our trawl through picnics in literature starts on Box Hill as we catch up with Emma as she suffers a slightly boring day out…

Emma by Jane Austen

Jane Austen dramatises, in the Box Hill outing, the difficulty of getting decent conversation going in the hit-and-miss situation of a picnic. Frank Churchill sets himself up as a tiresome quiz master insisting everyone perform; Emma humiliates Mrs Bates for being a bore and is mortified when she is later told off by Mr Knightley. The atmosphere is of lassitude. There is a “want of spirits, a want of union, which could not be got over”. Nothing as vulgar as the consumption of food is alluded to, but one assumes it was on offer (Mrs Elton planned pigeon pies and cold lamb in an earlier chapter.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

An unpretentious picnic in a boat within sight of the eponymous lighthouse. Mr Ramsay enjoys the simplicity of the fare: “Now he was happy, eating bread and cheese with these fishermen.” But the sandwiches cannot have been up to much as his daughter, Cam, wants to throw hers into the sea (Mr Ramsay forbids it). Another side to his character is revealed as he offers her, in a moment of picnic etiquette, “a gingerbread nut, as if he were a great Spanish gentleman… handing a flower to a lady at a window”

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan has form as a food writer. In the novel Saturday he devotes a whole chapter on assembling the ingredients for a fish pie and his attention to detail for this picnic is also meticulous. The setting for the picnic is a beech wood in the Chilterns and the picnic ought to have been tasteful, middle-class and uneventful. The ingredients were bought at Carluccio’s in London, the centrepiece is “a great ball of mozzarella”. There are olives, mixed salad and focaccia. The wine is a 1987 Daumas Gassac – opened but never enjoyed because of what is to eclipse the picnic forever and launch the turbulent novel: a hot air balloon in trouble which has the narrator abandoning his picnic and running across the fields to… an unfolding nightmare.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

This is one of literature’s rare picnics: a success. “What’s inside it?” Mole asks, eyeing a fat wicker luncheon basket. ‘‘There’s cold chicken inside it,” replies the Rat briefly; “coldtonguecoldham­cold beefpickledgherkinssaladfrenchrollscress sandwichespottedmeatgingerbeer lemonadesodawater… ”Enough to give any picnicker indigestion. But Mole is intoxicated by the provisions and by Rat’s watery lifestyle. There is a charming EH Shepard illustration of Mole with his velvety snout deep in the basket. He gasps “O my! O my! O my!’ at the mysterious parcels, each containing a new revelation”

And for a good old fashioned picnic from hell try this offering from Martin Amis in the novel Dead Babies.

Drugs, gin, a collision with barbed wire, a stomach upset and a chase across a field by a heifer make up this hilarious picnic from hell. The girls strip off, the bloodied heifer limps off, the picnic is broached: “Offending portions of salad and cheese were disgustedly spat out on the grass…the company snorted when bananas were mentioned and actually gagged in unison when boiled eggs were produced.” Wine comes to the rescue – a bottle each – and “loquacity” returns.