Leith Hill Tower
Leith Hill, the highest point in south east England at 293 meters, is a beautiful wooded hill a few miles south of Dorking in Surrey. The hill's first notable role in history was as a battlefield in the ninth century struggle between Saxons and Danes. In 851AD the Danes planned a full scale invasion, after raiding the country regularly for many years. The Danes invaded up the Thames and burnt Canterbury and then London. The next target was Winchester, but on their march towards Winchester they met the army of Ethelwulf, father of Alfred the Great. Ethelwulf, it seems, took up a position on the slopes of Leith Hill - an ancient mass grave found in 1882 seems to point to this area as the sight of battle (Stories of the Surrey Hills published by the Surrey Society). Ethelwulf was able to use position on high ground to win the huge battle that followed. This battle ended the Danes immediate prospects of conquering the whole of Britain.
In later history Leith Hill was to become a symbol of peace. As the Industrial Revolution gathered pace in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there was a romantic reaction against the new society. Wordsworth and Coleridge started idealising nature at the end of the eighteenth century, and this theme was soon taken up by Keats in the early nineteenth century. Now that nature was considered beautiful, people started taking trips to places where nature could be enjoyed. Leith Hill was a popular picnic spot for nineteenth century tourists. A tower, or "Prospect House" had been built here in 1766, by Richard Hull. From then on visitors started to climb the hill to see the tower and use the "prospect glasses" which Richard Hull had provided. Leith Hill Tower was rebuilt in 1796, and restored in 1864.
In 1835 the poet Alfred Tennyson visited. Walking among the trees of Leith Hill he wrote The Sleeping Beauty and began The Black Bird and Sir Galahad. Sir Galahad, like Tennyson, climbs a hill in search of something:
I leave the plain I climb the height;
No branchy thicket shelter yields;
But blessed forms in whistling storms
Fly o'er waste fens, and windy fields
Leith Hill Tower and Leith Hill have been the property of the National Trust since 1923.
Opening Times: The woodland and hilltop are generally open all year.
Opening hours for the tower can be complex. Please use contact details below. The tower may be closed in bad weather.
Directions: From Dorking take the A24 south towards Beare Green. At Beare Green turn onto the A29, and then take the second right towards Coldharbour. At Coldharbour turn left, and park in one of the National Trust car parks at the base of the hill. Click here for an interactive map centred on Leith Hill Tower.
Access: Paths up the hill are steep and rough, and the tower has many steps.
telephone: 01306 712711