Unlike many English counties such as Kent or Sussex, Surrey does not derive its name from an ancient kingdom. Instead its name its derived from the old English sutherge or suthrige meaning "south district". Surrey is a relatively small county, covering an area of 650 square miles and having a population of around a million. As such the visitor would expect that it both lacks natural and historical interest and is overcrowded. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.
Surrey is host to a long and interesting history. In the village of Abinger, for example, six miles south west of Dorking, remains of Mesolithic Man dating from about 5000 BC have been found, making the village the oldest in England. In about 3000 BC farmers arrived in Surrey from the Continent although apart from a few remains of flint workings that have been found near Redhill, very little evidence of their presence survives.
The Iron Age, however, provides the most interesting remains, notably the ring forts on Hascombe Hill near Goldalming and near Halmbury and Anstiebury. The forts were probably built to stave off attacks from the Belgae tribes which were coming into Britain from Europe. The Romans conquered Surrey in 43 AD and foundations of Roman buildings have been unearthed at Wanborough, Shamley Green and near Guilford. Unfortunately Surrey boasts only one major Roman village, that of Ashstead Common, north of Leatherhead.The centuries that followed also left their mark on the county, although again not as abundantly as elsewhere. Neither the Normans nor their successors filled Surrey with great castles and abbeys as they did elsewhere. There are, however, remains to be found at Guilford of a 12th century tower keep of a castle and at Farnham of a brick-work tower which once formed part of the fortress palace of the Bishops of Winchester. The only Abbey which survives in Surrey is Waverly Abbey that was founded in 1128 by the River Wey. Although not the grandest of Cistercian Abbeys it was the first to be built in England. Surrey's also has a number of old churches which include some notable features and possess considerable charm. Walton on the Hill Church, for instance, contains a 12 th century lead font, probably the oldest in England. Dansfold Church contains a splendid set of medieval oak clergy seats and pews and Purford Church contains extraordinary frescos of soldiers and pilgrims.
A site unique to Surrey is the world famous Runnymeade, near the village of Egham. At Runnymeade in 1215 King John of England signed the Magna Carta that established basic freedoms that came to form the foundation of not only Britain's justice system but also that of many other countries.
Today Surrey, being on London's door step, is very much a commuter county and as such does not have a distinctive industrial sector of its own. From the point of view of a tourist this is its greatest advantage because many of Surrey's towns and villages such as Guilford, Dorking and Godalming, have remained unspoilt by industrialisation, retaining much of their original history and character. Moreover, what is remarkable about Surrey is that despite so much of its territory being filled with houses, it has one of the highest proportions of open countryside anywhere in Britain. Boasting a varied landscape that includes numerous charming villages with inns and quaint shops, Surrey makes for a wonderful place to search for peace and quiet.