The window seat in the White Horse is ruined and it’s all Jude Law’s fault. Since he sat there in 2006, eyeballing Cameron Diaz for a scene in the Baileys-sweet romcom The Holiday, film fans have flocked to the pub to park their own derrières on the now-devastated leather. It’s a pilgrimage of sorts, a homage to the Christmas flick that’s back on the box.
I joined them last week, taking the once-hourly bus from Guildford to chocolate-box Shere, the village it was filmed in. The morning mist still clung to the surrounding Surrey Hills as two woollen-clad women ordered G&Ts at the bar. Inspired by their pre-noon indulgence, I ordered a pint.
“We get international tourists every day,” Josh Cooper, the pub’s assistant manager, told me over the crackle of the open fire. “A lot of Americans, but also Australians, South Africans. People from all over.”
For The Holiday? “A lot of them, yeah. But for the pubs, too, and the Surrey Hills – it’s so quintessentially English around here.”
He’s not kidding. I looked out the window at the old village stocks, the fairy lights in the trees, the crooked houses, the crumbling church, the rolling hills. No wonder the Americans love it. This is gift-shop England. Exactly how the old world should look.
But there were no Yanks. I prowled the pub looking for some but found none. I did collar some Colombians, though. “This village fits the idyllic image we have of England back home,” cooed Sebastian Montez, a Latin American gone native with his Last of the Summer Wine flat cap.
Montez, a writer who relocated to London, was showing some friends from the motherland around. “I said to them ‘you’ve got to see this place’.” And what did they think, his friends? “Very beautiful,” they nodded, politely.
Indeed. But like the pub’s threadbare chairs, patience is wearing thin in Shere due to the large number of visitors descending on the village. Or so the tabloids reckon. One report suggested residents were at “war” with tourists.
Nonsense, claimed the locals I spoke to along the high street, which is lined with pretty tearooms, indie gift shops and Tudor houses that overhang the pavements.
“I love to see tourists here, I think it’s good for our wellbeing seeing people out and about,” said resident Caroline Goddard. “To be honest, we probably wouldn’t have these shops and tearooms if it weren’t for them, so you won’t hear me nimbying.”
Shere certainly has a gentle buzz about it, and how many villages can you say that about these days? Many of its size would struggle to support even one pub, but Shere has two – the White Horse and the William Bray – both of which are open before noon.
“There’s loads going on, it’s a proper village,” said Goddard. “We have a cinema club twice a month in the village hall, Pilates, yoga, stream bathing in winter. All kinds of wacky stuff. If you want a busy village, this is the place to be.”
However, in that very English way there is discontent about parking; a sense that, while tourists are welcome, their cars aren’t.
“That’s where the issue lies,” said Goddard. “Some people who don’t have parking are getting quite irate. There’s a lot of inconsiderate parking going on, too. I’ve had tourists park on my drive.”
It’s not just tourists, though. One local man, a long-time resident who wished to remain nameless, pointed a finger at recent “incomers”, outsiders who bought into the chocolate-box dream and brought their his-and-hers Range Rovers along for the ride. Most of which, of course, have never seen mud. Not here, in Surrey.
SUVs notwithstanding, Shere was making me come over all nostalgic. Something about the babbling brook, the cosy tearooms, the Christmas lights, the jolly locals. It’s been featured in countless films, of course, mostly the schmaltzy ones, like Bridget Jones’s Diary and Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Film crews love it here for the same reason everyone else does – because it’s close to London but a world away. You can live out the rural dream and still commute to the city (as another of The Holiday’s protagonists – Kate Winslet’s Iris, a columnist for The Telegraph – does).
Before heading back to the city myself, I had a cuppa in Hilly’s Teashop, where the tea is served loose leaf, in bone china and with an hourglass timer so you know when it’s steeped. A proper brew.
Like Shere itself, there was something quietly grounding about the ritual of taking tea this way. A sense of occasion. Of tradition. Not for the first time that day, I found myself leaning into the cliché of it all, giving in to old English nostalgia. Well, it is nearly Christmas after all.
How to get there
Curry favour with the locals by taking the train to neighbouring Gomshall and walking to Shere, which takes about 15 minutes.
Where to stay
Rookery Nook B&B (07946756344) is housed in a low-beamed 15th-century property opposite St James’s Church, where they filmed some of Bridget Jones’s Diary: Edge of Reason. Doubles from £160, including breakfast.
Where to eat
What to do
Shere sits in a fold in the Surrey Hills and is a good base for hiking and biking. The hyper-local Shere Museum chronicles the area’s history. The high street has a handful of indie shops and tearooms, including Hilly’s.