Grafham Water, Huntingdonshire

It is a sweet, unexpected expanse in the sometimes forgotten western part of Huntingdonshire – Grafham Water. It is a lovely place to lose yourself in a walk, in the heart of a county which is astoundingly gorgeous in the summertime.

Covering 1,550 acres, this is a manmade reservoir dug to provide water for far-off towns. It is not Rutland Water, which is far better known, and no villages were drowned in its creation: it is a single shimmering expanse just west of Buckden, managed as a leisure lake for sailing and relaxation, and as a nature reserve.

A coupl of pleasant villages on the shoreline: Grafham on the north and Perry on the south, each with jetties.

All around the water are footpaths, which is makes for a single walk 9 miles long, so a pleasant afternoon’s walk, on which you will be accompanied by the lake water all the way. There is a visitor centre near Grafham, and cyclepaths running out form there, which are good for walking (if you listen out for speeding wheels). There are meadows and wooded stretches.

A variant form of the walk borrows a longer route, the Three Shires Way (which does indeed run through three shires: Huntingdonshire, Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire). This provides a loop to the south towards the little River Kym and through the tiny village of Dillington before rejoining the west shore of Grafham Water.

Maps and books

Route map

Ivinghoe Beacon

I had never climbed Ivinghoe Beacon until the other weekend, which was a noticeable gap in my Chiltern explorations. It is one of the highest hills in Buckinghamshire, and though beaten in altitude by Haddington Hill and Combe Hill to the west, the Beacon is bare at its summit and presents a wide vista to all sides, especially over the precipitous scarp dropping away to the Vale of Aylesbury and all the pretty villages dotted across it.

It was a busy summit too: lockdown or not, the top was full of families enjoying the glorious sunshine, as well they might. I later found there is a car park near the top, on the dip slope, which is cheating.

The village, Ivinghoe, is a pretty one, set around a village green, its spired parish church blessing it. From the village a number of paths lead out, to the hills or the vale, and we took a way to the hills.

The narrow, hedged path soon opens up into the wide, green, chalk landscape and ahead rises the ridge of the Chiltern escarpment; a wave of little summits one following the other from south to north. The hills follow up from the Ashridge Estate, on the county border, to the south, and like that estate they are owned by the National Trust (though unlike Ashridge the Trust has mercifully restrained from filling these clean hills with kiosks).

Climbing crabwise across the slope on a well-trodden path there is a view down into a deep, precipitous and thorn-filled dip, the Incombe Hole (out of which one visitor was climbing, up the steep slope of Steps Hill).

I said that the tops are bare, but that is not quite true – the gorse and wild roses close over the slopes and the path winds through.

Having climbed to the clear air, we came across a road, which only slightly spoils the feeling of remoteness. (Anyone thinking of driving it: that would be cheating.)

Past the interloper road, is the last haul to the summit of Ivinghoe Beacon. lofty, lone; and covered in families out for a walk.

The view from the summit is a wonderful one in the sunshine and clear air. To the south is a sweep of hills running away to the woods of the Ashridge Estate, but to the north and west the slopes drop away suddenly and laid out beneath are the villages of Buckinghamshire stretching away across the Vale, and in the distance the grand, neglected Mentmore Towers.

Our path from here was down the face of the scarp – not an easy path (and while I walked it standing up, not all the party managed to). From there we followed a path to Ivinghoe’s daughter village, Ivinghoe Aston, form which there is a long path, possibly an old track or droveway, back to Ivinghoe.

You shouldn’t visit Ivinghoe without having a look at the Pitstone Windmill too. Like the Beacon itself, it is a National Trust property, and it was closed but can be admired form the outside. Maybe windmills and the workings of their ingenious engineering are a thing for another day.