with Mark Davison
Tea garden, Box Tree Cafe, Box Hill
"MMMMmmmm. That's nice," said a lady in a blue blouse, removing the lid from a takeway cup of tea and taking a sip.
She then took a bite into a large slice of Victoria sandwich cake and seemed very content.
I was visiting the new tea garden which has opened at the Box Tree Café on the top of Box Hill.
Previously, I had availed myself of the facilities in the café itself, which opened some 18 months ago and has proved to be an overwhelming success for the National Trust.
The tea garden has been laid out and furnished more recently and provides a secluded and partly shaded spot where visitors to the beauty spot can sit with friends and family members and enjoy lunches, teas, coffees and cakes.
I was out and about in the Dorking and Leatherhead area last Thursday afternoon and decided after completing some chores, to pop into the tea garden and relax for a little while.
Time was getting on. It was gone 4.20pm and I knew that the place closed at five o'clock so I swiftly went to the food servery and selected something to take outside into the garden.
It was a warm, slightly sultry afternoon and a salad seemed the right choice. I picked up a plate of fresh salmon which was laid out on a bed of lettuce, tomatoes and baby potatoes (£7.25). A tiny pot of chilli sauce was placed at the side and the meal was sealed with cellophane.
I picked up a bag of Burts' British potato chips "hand cooked with care" – the "vintage cheddar and spring onion" variety.
I was also tempted by the freshly-squeezed lemon juice in a jug nearby and poured the juice into a large cup.
On a table nearby, customers could taste a selection of jams.
I asked one of the staff if people were meant to leave comments on a piece of paper. "No," he replied, smiling. "We just know from the sales afterwards which are the most popular."
A lady in the queue said she lived by the River Thames near Teddington and was visiting Box Hill.
"I didn't realise how lovely it was all round here," she said. "I'll probably come back tomorrow with my grandaughter."
The tea garden has seating for about a couple of dozen customers. I took a seat at a rustic-style table and tucked into the salmon which almost melted in my mouth. The lemon juice was so much better than squash. This was heavenly.
A large oak tree afforded some shelter from the hot sun. Thunder clouds seemed to be building and after a while, the sun dimmed but any rain happily held off.
On the next table a trio of adult ramblers sat down and discussed their walk.
They went on to talk about a problem in their neighbourhood involving traveller sites.
"There's a meeting tonight about the gypsies down the road. They keep sending these letters about it. It must cost a fortune in stamps."
I spread a little chili sauce on the remaining piece of salmon.
"At the last meeting we were told it would be better to say we've no objection to them being there but it was getting out of proportion, but someone at the last meeting took exception to that."
In the afternoon heat, there was an air of tranquillity, broken only by the chat and a gentle hum from a chiller unit nearby.
Two ladies at another table laughed together while they caught up with each other's news over a pot of tea.
They talked about work.
"I said to him: 'Ah! You got rid of the contract so it's your fault. You'll have to sort it out."
I sipped some more lemon juice.
One of the ladies on the next table reported a good number of bees making a "bee-line" to the corner of the courtyard.
"I think they're after the water there," she said, but was corrected by another customer, who explained there was a nest there and a viewing area from inside the cafe.
Another fellow was perusing a pamphlet detailing walks around the Stepping Stones – another beauty spot along the River Mole at the foot of Box Hill. He then ran his finger along a map on one of the pages of the leaflet.
"Look," he mused. "There's a place called Donkey Green!"
One of the ramblers remarked: "It says the hilltop walk is relatively gentle. Ha ha!"
The man with the pamphlet told his friends: "I see that a man called Labelliere is buried upside down on Box Hill. It says he thought the world was changing so fast, it was becoming topsy-turvy."
The man carried on reading and quoted that Labelliere had requested that his landlady's son and daughter should dance on his grave at the funeral.
A member of staff came out and politely notified the customers that the café would be closing in ten minutes' time.
I finished the last few drops of lemonade and emptied the last few morsels of crisps from the packet into my hand.
It had been an enjoyable and restful visit but it was now time to join the real world – and the early evening rush-hour traffic in Dorking.