Freeland is an Oxfordshire village, in the green middle of the county, the star and finish of a celebration walk of 17½ miles.
The walk takes in some pretty, hidden villages, a canal built for industry but now serving leisure, broad farmland, and the mighty estate of Blenheim Palace. It takes in at one point part of Shakespeare’s Way, reminding us of where we are in the middle of the British imagination.
The path through the estate runs to the north end of one of the great lakes of the park, and round the Column of Victory, celebrating the feats of arms achieved by the Duke of Marlborough, and on through some of the finest of the grounds.
Even at the end of January, or the dawn of a new age, there is no better way to wash the old air out of your lungs than with a vigorous walk n some of the loveliest countryside.
Just before New Year we headed out for another family welly walk, starting in an unfamiliar place by a familiar river: a six mile walk along the upper course of the River Colne, from London Colney, south-west of St Albans.
London Colney has the heart of a pretty village round a green by the little river, if you ignore the overwhelming grey modern development brought by the motorway junction. Or destination eastwards was Colney Hatch.
We started for convenience in the main car park in London Colney, threading through alleys to avoid the main road before we needed it, and thence down to the village’s interesting bridge over the River Colne: a fine, elegant, brick-built bridge with seven arches, and all this for a river little bigger than a brook, though it spreads into a wide pool above the bridge.
The path follows the river upstream, eastward, and very soon comes upon a children’s petting farm (which even in the after-Christmas frost was open with eager, short customers. Beyond the farm you depart from the riverside to a series of fishing lakes, created from old gravel pits, whose banks are being reclaimed by nature.
Beyond here the path suddenly comes upon and crosses over a quarry conveyer belt, serving Tyttenhanger Quarry.
Approaching Colney Heath, there is a model railway centre created by the North London Society of Model Engineers. Not much to say as it was closed when I passed and nothing could be seen.
Instead of taking the path through the common on the south side of the river, we went to see the village which was after all the interim destination, Colney Hatch. Through the edge of the village and along the north edge of the common, we had lunch before the return leg.
The river must be crossed, and here there is a ford: wellies were needed in the cold water.
This is the return leg. Again, it is possible to follow a path west and south-west to Tyttenhanger Farm, but the route chosen here follows through the common close to the road, and along field-edges until the farm’s entrance track, when the route heads north-east a short way, not to the farm, but the path turns off again, once again to encounter the long conveyor belt.
Here there are little woods and the river again; scrubby riverside land, until it reaches the petting farm again.
Under the A1081, it is soon back to London Colney and to the bridge.
A Happy New Year to all. Today the family enjoyed a gloriously muddy walk in the Chilterns to greet the new year and see if we approve of it.
It was a welly walk, as so often and just five and a half miles across fields and woods and valleys on the intertangled border of Oxfordshire with Buckinghamshire, beginning at Stokenchurch, in Oxfordshire.
Stokenchurch is a pretty place to start, at the village’s wide, scattered village green, and soon you escape the village, turning north into fields which were almost deserted.
The path climbed up and down, reaching the Buckinghamshire border invisibly at the edge of Crowell Wood at another fold in the land, before a short climb up to a lane. More woods followed, to Town End, one of the hamlets which makes up Radnage.
Radnage is a scattered place – not a village as such, it appears, but a collection of hamlets. The path leads to one of these, ‘Town End’, though with no town in sight. (At the south end of the parish, not on this walk, is a hamlet called ‘The City’. That might have to come into another walk some time.) The parish church is not on the planned route either, but wander down the hill a little into Town End and it is across the fields, and worth a visit. We had a picnic lunch at Radnage.
The return journey is on part of the Chiltern Way, over the fields to Grange Farm, where the lane marks the county border again so it is back into Oxfordshire. Then up and over the hill again – very muddy in winter, with many warnings to keep dogs away from sheep – but we had no dog with us, and saw no sheep – there was a llama though, and two great, black, hairy pigs rooting with delight on their snouts in the mire they had made.
All too soon it was back to Stokenchurch. A lovely day, and yes – we approve of the new year.