A beginner's guide to Guildford

Guildford Shopping Precinct

“It's a lively place that's good fun at the weekend and has everything you need.”

Between the office of Guildford law firm Stevens & Bolton and the River Wey is an innocuous-looking tiled area of outdoor space, known locally as the 'magic circle'. (Not to be confused with the five-strong band of elite UK law firms, of course.) If you stand in its centre and yell in the direction of S&B's office, you'll encounter the aural phenomenon – which one local described to us as “sounding like there's a voice speaking all around you, but you can't tell where it's coming from” – that gives the spot its name.

Luckily for potential trainees, Guildford has much more to offer than just the magic circle. As S&B's cohort of trainees summed up:“It's a lively place that's good fun at the weekend and has everything you need.”

Trainees tell us that the firm's “prime” location, a few minutes from the town centre, offers an array of chances to “pop to the shops in your lunch break.” In the town centre you can find numerous restaurants and cafés to pick from, and it's just a hop, skip and a jump over to the flower-filled castle grounds, one of the S&B cohort's favourite haunts for alfresco dining. 

Guildford's many drinking establishments prove handy for a firm where“there's always someone up for going to the pub.” Our trainee sources did, however, warn us that“the less said about the nightclubs, the better.”We'll take their word for it and add our own warning: beware the cobbled high street after a night out on the town, as many an unbalanced reveller has fallen foul of its treacherous irregularity. Fortunately, A&E isn't too far away.

Guildford has been home to several authors including Kazuo Ishiguro, P.G. Wodehouse and Lewis Carroll, who wrote Alice Through the Looking-Glass at his Guildford home. The town also hosts three theatres, including G-Live, which acts as a music venue and a cinema. There is also the popular arts venue, the Electric Theatre, where locals can take in a Shakespeare play, chuckle at a comedy night, or catch the latest foreign film. Other cultural entertainment can be found in the form of an annual literary festival. The 2017 line-up included John Simpson, Alan Hollinghurst. Jeremy Vine, Sarah Millican, AN Wilson, Nigella Lawson, Ben Okri and Judy Murray (mother of Andy).

The Surrey Sports Park is a favourite for local sports lovers, who also frequent other local green spaces, including Stoke Park, host to the Old Guildfordians Rugby Club, and Shalford Park, which seems to exist solely to hold football tournaments. And then there's the Spectrum Leisure Centre, near the town centre and perfect for anyone partial to slide-filled swimming pools, ice discos, and well, even superheroes: the centre hosts Guildford's very own Comic-Con.

Guildford is tucked into the North Downs, which also provide plenty of mountain biking routes alongside some more gentle walking paths. Man-made trails include Summer Lightning and the less exhilaratingly named Yoghurt Pots, and there's always the River Wey for a milder jaunt. Here you can watch young couples and families frantically scamper out of the path of holiday barges before inadvertently grounding their hired rowing boats on hidden sandbanks. Fun for the whole family!

There are several picturesque villages in the vicinity of Guildford, including Shere, where Hollywood repeatedly insists on covering the streets with fake snow for films like The Holiday and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. If rom-coms aren't your cup of tea, you may be interested to know that Guildford Cathedral was featured in horror classic The Omen (much to the chagrin of its then-Dean!)

Travelling further afield is easy, thanks to a well-connected train station a mere five minutes from Stevens & Bolton's office.“You can be at Waterloo within an hour, tops,” trainees told us, so“loads of people actually do the reverse commute.” One quipped: “We joke with our London rivals that it's quicker for us to get to Waterloo than them because the London buses are in such a state.” For the more intrepid day-tripper, there are frequent trains to Reading, and from there you can explore the West Country and all its spoils.