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 try – the gorse and wild roses close over the slopes and the path wind 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.

New Year’s Day welly walk in Stokenchurch

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.

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The Icknield Way Path

The Icknield Way Path carried one of my favourite sections of the Hertfordshire Border Walk, as I could hardly avoid expressing on the first ‘Herts Embraced’ walk (on Day 3).  The path carries a heritage with it that connects you to the walkers of ancient ages, for it follows a road that was ancient even before the Romans came, and which in Anglo-Saxon days was noted as one of the Great Roads of Britain.

Much of the ancient Icknield Way is now tarmacked road, but other parts are remarkably left as footpath and bridleway, as they would have been in ancient days.  It runs roughly along the chalk ridge of the Chilterns, above the scarp, and the Icknield Way Path follows the ancient road, or close by it, from Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire, and thence in an east-north-easterly direction across into Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, for much of its length forming the borders of counties.  (It was in the latter capacity of course that it recommended itself to the Hertfordshire Border Walk.)

That is not quite the end either – Ivinghoe Beacon is the beginning of the Ridgeway long-distance route, and the north-easternmost end at Knettleshall Heath is the start of the Peddar’s Way.

To describe the walk is beyond a single, brief post. I have walk long, lovely stretches, but not the whole thing.  The rest of it is bookmarked for later explorations.  I’ll take a picnic: those chalk grasslands looking out far over the lower land below the escarpment are as if created for picnics.

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The route is long, stretching across several maps.  It might be done with standard Landranger maps, though the additional detail of an Explorer map can be very helpful.

In the Ordnance Survey Explorer, 1:50 000 series:

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The Buckinghamshire Way – first walk this weekend

The Buckinghamshire Way has been a long time in contemplation, but I will finally be starting it on Saturday, 13 July 2019. The starting point will by Buckinghamshire’s south-easternmost point, in Hythe End. I will then walk down to the Thames and the National Trust’s Ankerwycke meadows, and follow upstream to Eton and to Clivedon before turning due north. The next day should see me through the Chilterns and on to Aylesbury.

Some of the route is on paths I know, while most is completely new – in any case, the Buckinghamshire Way is no more than a line on a map until it is actually walked.

The Buckinghamshire Way has been a long time in contemplation, but I will finally be starting it on Saturday, 13 July 2019.  The starting point will by Buckinghamshire’s south-easternmost point, in Hythe End west of Staines, at the county border on the Colne Brook close to the M25 viaduct.  I will then walk down to the Thames and the National Trust’s Ankerwycke meadows, and follow upstream to Eton and to Clivedon before turning due north for Beacconsfield, where the Chilterns begin, and beyond.

The next day should see me through the Chilterns and on to Aylesbury.

Some of the route is on paths I know, while most is completely new and it must be walked just to see that it can be walked, or if the route needs diversion. In any case, the “Buckinghamshire Way” is no more than a line on a map until it is actually walked.

I only have weekends, so it will have to be finished off after a fortnight’s gap, but the final aim is to touch Buckinghamshire’s northernmost point at Northey Farm, north of Olney. Then I get to go home.

However, rather than set the whole route out here, I will blog as I go.

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Aldbury and the Bridgewater Monument

It has been a glorious day, and the perfect one for a short Chiltern walk.  As we wait for the joy of Easter, we are in anticipation.  Nature is bursting forth in readiness for the rebirth of summer, in all its variety giving praise to its creator.  We then stepped out to enjoy it, as we wait for Easter.

Aldbury stands below the scarp of the Chilterns, a perfect little village set around a village pond, and buzzing with activity when we arrived – cars had begun to circle like sharks for parking spaces.  Rising above the village is the wooded slope of the hills, which here belong to the National Trust’s Ashridge Estate.

The eagle-eyed may notice that I was here in Aldbury on Day 2 of my Herts Embraced walk.  That day was very different:  it was raining so hard I thought my map would dissolve into papier maché and my camera would fill with water.  I still recognised that this was a pretty village and the woods were lovely even in those conditions, and the coffee in the National Trust café at the top of the hill was very welcome.  Today though was dry, bright and the hottest day of the year so far.

We started down an intriguingly named road, Trooper Road, a name which was explained as we arrived at The Valliant Trooper, one of the village pubs, and at once lost the crowd.  We continued out of the village across a field to a cross-track, the east, across the road, and began climbing the hill (past a lovely arts-and-craft house, worthy of Lutyens) and up through the woods.  As this is woodland held by the National Trust it is left to be more natural than others.  At one point a group of roe deer appeared, close to the path and apparently unbothered by walkers.

While the escarpment is steep, the tracks climb this part across the contours to make it a gentle climb for the family.  Crossing a corner of the road we entered a part of the estate which was suddenly full of other families:  The National Trust in partnership with Cadbury were running an Easter egg hunt.  Whatever you might think about cheapening the Church’s most precious day, it was getting families out and walking, which is a good thing.

The Bridgewater Monument

Before too long we were joined by a path climbing more directly from the village which I had taken on ‘Herts Embraced’, and soon we arrived at the Bridgewater Monument, the centrepiece of the Trust’s estate.  Before the estate was broken up by Lloyd George’s taxes, the monument was part of the scheme of the Duke of Bridgewater’s private estate, standing as it does as a focal point on a two mile vista from Ashridge House, which is not owned by the Trust.   The monument was open, so we climbed it, and the views are wide all around, and clear in the brightness of the day.  (The last time I was here I did not see if the tower was open, but it would have been hard to see anything very far at all in that weather.)

We turned north-west around the Monument and headed back into the woods, then by a cottage lost in the woods turned south-west crabbing down the scarp until at the foot of the slope we emerged into fields by Stocks Farm.  From there, across the fields it is just a step back into the village.

The whole walk is only about three miles – just right with two tired but enthusiastic children to break a busy day

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New Year’s Day – Little Missenden

New Year’s Day, and we greeted the year with a walk in the Misbourne Valley, from Little Missenden.  It is a lovely village, barely touched by modernity, but in a good way, with two pubs, an ancient church, farms on all sides, and a network of footpaths. We set off on a loop south from the village.  I have included maps of the walks here on the page “Little Missenden Walks“.

The village is south of the unforgiving track of the trunk road (the A413), leaving it in happy isolation.  We set off east along the village’s one road and up a farm track which is also part of the South Bucks Way. This leads by a meadow beside the River Misbourne until a kissing gate and, turning south, the delightfully named Mop End Lane, a footpath, once a byway, leading south up out of the valley to the equally charmingly named hamlet of Mop End, which is one farm and no more.

The sun came out and the views down to the valley were wonderful.  It began raining gently after Mop End Farm, but briefly.

Turning west from the farm, we followed a path at a hedge line to a kissing gate (recently replacing a stile) where the hedge doglegs, and through to another tree-edged lane, named Toby’s Lane.  At this point we chose to take Toby’s Lane north, between high hedges of trees.  On this route, there is, after Breaches Wood, a path diagonally across the field north-westward down to the valley floor and back to Little Missenden, emerging almost opposite the church.

The longer walk looks like a much wider loop, but adds only a mile to the walk; it passes by Toby’s Lane, crosses Beamond End Lane and continues to Holmer Green.

Helpful Signpost, Little Missenden

Through Holmer Green, and a bridleway leads north, into Coleman’s Wood / Haleacre Wood, then down sharply into the Misbourne Valley, with, just above the river, a cut-across path to the edge of the village.

Little Missenden itself is a pleasant place, catering well for walkers.  The parish church is an Anglo-Saxon building, possibly tenth century, but extended in the Middle Ages leaving odd glimpses of the original work.  Most eye-opening though are the mediaeval wall paintings, whitewashed over at the Reformation and uncovered in the modern age.

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In the Explorer, 1:50 000 series:

Walking Christmas off around Chequers

It needs a good walk to break out of  turkey-induced lethargy, and so this last week we headed out to the Chilterns and dropped in on the Prime Minister – well not quite, but we took in a good path around her country residence, Chequers.

The path we chose, written up on this site as ‘Ellesborough and Chequers‘, starts at the vast church in the tiny village of Ellesborough, at the edge of the Chilterns and really at the heart of Buckinghamshire’s prime walking country.  The paths here lead south over the fields to Coombe Hill, then around the south edge of the Chequers estate.  It is odd that though this a secured area, bristling with cameras, there is a public path straight through and this we took.

Frequent readers may know that I previously wrote up a route hereabouts called the Resignation Way; a walk that a minister might take if he resigns during a visit here and has to find a station having lost his ministerial car.  It is a good walk, and almost worth timing the resignation just to get a good Chiltern walk in.  Much of our route was, by coincidence, on the Resignation Way.

The path is a mixture of landscapes to be enjoyed –  fields, woods, hills, and open meadow.  From parts of the walk, particularly in Maple Wood, there are good views of the Prime Minister’s residence, and it is a popular route – much of it uses The Ridgeway, a long-distance path very well defined.

Turning off the Ridgeway, going north and into Little Kimble Warren, there is an unexpected view:  a sudden, deep, heavily wooded valley, named Happy Valley, with a view opening out to Great Kimble’s parish church and the Vale of Aylesbury beyond; the path crosses the head of the valley.  Thereafter it open onto a chalk down beyond which Ellesborough’s church comes again into view, topping off a fine morning.

There is much to see around here also; the monument of Coombe Hill which is visible from much of the walk, the ancient church at Little Kimble, the little Iron Age fort known as Cymbeline’s Castle, an abandoned mediaeval village, and the anticipation of possibilities in the network of paths which meet here.  They are for another time.