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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Buckinghamshire Way 2.4 – Across the Vale to Aylesbury’s villages

At Great Kimble I crossed the Aylesbury Road. The sign for the North Bucks Way is unequivocal, with two footpath signs pointing through the hedge into a field.  Then you are abandoned.  In the field are the ridges and bumps of an abandoned mediaeval village, and beyond a hedge a pond which was once a moat.  Of the path though there is little sign or none.  It is possible that the path has been moved, or just deliberately obscured.  I threaded between electric fences (horses are the thing here) to a stableyard, where the Polish farm hand tried to tell me politely in limited English to push off and that there is no path through there.  I could see no alternative I might have missed so assuming the North Bucks Way to be gone effectively, I took a side path across to the lane by the church , and onto the Aylesbury Ring, which meets the North Bucks Way later on.  (One weekend I will drive over there and walk that section of the North Bucks Way from the other end and see if the Polish stablehand was right. There are few ways across the railway, so I cannot fail to hit upon it. Mind you, the Aylesbury Ring route form the scarp top might be the better way in any case.)

Anyway, down into the cutting and across the railway line, and through farm fields to Smokey Row, marvelling in how flat and fertile everything suddenly was after the hills. The Aylesbury Ring and the North Bucks Way soon unite at the next lane, Kimblewick Lane, and head north-north-west, and thereon it is a slog through paths, farm tracks, one long, broad farm track (in the course of which the Ring eventually heads off its own way), towards Bishopstone.  Approaching the village I entered a wide, green path occupied by solidly built bullocks, with that blank, puzzled look on their faces which oxen usually have, but these were in a skittish frame of mind, and on a path a herd of skittish bullocks, half a ton of beef charging about at random is not comfortable.  What if one of them had remembered what it was like to be a young bull?  Having got past them, some started trotting after me – but soon got bored and wandered off.

The Bugle Horn, Stone

The pub in Bishopstone was closed for refurbishment, so it was then on to Stone, where The Bugle Horn at least was open and able to serve a pint of lemonade.

I should at that point have called it a day and got a bus from Stone to Aylesbury to get the train, but tantalisingly on the same fold of the map is Waddesden and I reckoned that if I legged it at speed, I could get there before the last bus, or at least at a reasonable time.  What I only realised after I had started is that I was already exhausted:  I do not feel tired when walking, but when I get clumsy or stop thinking straight, or when it seems to be dark before time, that is tiredness.  However between Stone and Waddesden is nothing but open fields.

The River Thame

It is actually a lovely walk, but it was getting dark (or at least it seemed darker) and I was not able by this time to enjoy it.  The upward route starts by skirting the Hartwell House Hotel, then north over fields (nearly missed the path here) via Waddon Hill Farm and on to the infant River Thame, which is very pretty.  The along the Thame Valley Walk (also the North Bucks Way; also the Midshires Way) over two footbridges crossing the Thame’s backwaters, to an estate bridge to Eythrope Park. At this point I required careful map and compass work to pick the path and ploughed on (my thinking was beginning to shut down) until suddenly I was in the middle of nowhere, n a plantation with no clues other than to follow whichever path or break seemed to be going north.  I stumbled out onto an estate drive completely bemused as to where I was.  Having now checked the maps again in a better state and compared it with satellite photos, it seems that I had followed exactly the right route. I came upon a sign marker for the Aylesbury Ring (here again) and went north-north-west, to a point by a lodge which I had marked out before as a waymarker, and on to a road.  I could see Waddesdon Manor in the distance.

Through the Waddesdon Stud, the footpath was clear to the very edge of the National Trust’s land – Waddesdon was once the palatial home of Lord Rothschild, but when the family’s fortune fell, the house, built like a grand French chateau, fell into the grasp of the Trust.  At this point I did get lost again puzzled in a slightly befuddled state and fading light by the estate paths and missing the path I needed.  I did get out though, following instinct and driveways.  Aain, I will have to revist at more leasure and see where the path through the woods actually lies.  Still, I emerged at Waddesdon, by the Five Arrows.  End of a long day’s walk, that was as long as two days’ walking.  I will return to Waddesdon to head north soon.

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Buckinghamshire Way 2.3: over the last of the hills

I headed north out for Little Hampden (I kept thinking of Gray’s Elegy; “Some village-Hampden that with dauntless breast / The little tyrant of his fields withstood;”). The way leads north through the woods. The ridge here carries on up to the prominence of Combe Hill, but I took the Resignation Way, to the Chequers Estate.

Great Kimble, 3:30 pm, yesterday.  Just before 2 o’clock I headed north out for Little Hampden (I kept thinking of Gray’s Elegy; you know the lines – “Some village-Hampden that with dauntless breast / The little tyrant of his fields withstood;” a tribute to John Hampden from Great Hampden, over the hill and far off the trail).

The way leads north through the woods.  The ridge here carries on up to the prominence of Combe Hill on which stands the famed Boer War monument, but our route does not go this far.  I was puzzled at this stretch though: the map showed me reaching a small road, but I did not see one:  it turns out to be a public road on the map but on the ground an unnoticeable track fading out, so l though I know the path I was heading for, I overshot, wasting a mile, just looking for this mythical road. The actual turning is at a distinctive signpost a four way meeting of paths, signposted “Ridgeway”, and that is where I went.

I was now on the Resignation Way, a route I  devised as a joke one afternoon after the Chequers Summit but which is actually a very good walk; for this is a way from (or in this case to) the official country residence of Prime Ministers at Chequers. A police van was parked at the bottom of the hill as I entered the estate itself – they cannot stop use of the public footpath, but it is reassuring that if a walker is carrying a rocket launcher in the Buckinghamshire countryside he can be stopped.  I have seen shotguns being used at this location, but those a gentlemanly pursuit.  The path is well defined, leading though fields, across the grand entrance drive, and up over the hills.  There was no sign of Boris Johnson moving in nor anything much happening at all.

Edge of the Chiltern Scarp

After the woods the path leads on to the broad grass chalklands at the very edge of the Chiltern Hills.

Several paths run off at this point and several can be followed down the scarp.  I took the one marked both as the Ridgeway and as the North Bucks Way, a long-distance route which (with provisoes  was soon to discover) provides most of the Buckinghamshire Way after this point.  It does not quite tumble down the escarpment, but the drop is precipitous, and carved with dells. It is a good path and falls down to Great Kimble, a village sitting at the foot of the long line of the scarp; here begins the Vale of Aylesbury, which is a suddenly changed landscape.

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Bucknghamshire Way 2.2: The longest day

I was in no condition to post this on getting home yesterday – I ended up walking further than I should have; 28 miles. This walk went almost to plan (apart from the length) and on the walk I passed through many contrasting landscapes and saw more of what Buckinghamshire has to offer. Starting (8:30) from Forty Green, I started north on the Chiltern Way.

I was in no condition to post this on getting home yesterday – I ended up walking further than I should have; 28 miles.  This walk went almost to plan (apart from the length) and on the walk I passed through many contrasting landscapes and saw more of what Buckinghamshire has to offer.  I will compose this post over the course of the afternoon, adding bits as I go.

It was raining intermittently, lightly though, and mercifully cool.  Starting (8:30) from Forty Green, just outside Beaconsfield, where I had finished the Day 1 walk, I followed a waymarked path the Chiltern Way Berkshire Loop, out towards Penn – on the way it met the actual Chiltern Way – then round to Winchmore Hill, where I left the track and took local paths north to Penn Street and on over the common (fascinating, tall church there) to Holmer Green. There is then a footpath parallel to Featherbed Lane, that leads the road to Little Kingshill in the Misbourne Valley, and here I picked up the South Bucks Way, which is well signposted around and through the village and out to Great Missenden.

The meadows of Great Missenden were all over white marquees, with keen youth choirs belting out the distinctive sound of Christian rock – the Lighthouse holiday week is coming.  In another field were the tents for a very different endeavour, which I was to encounter as I went:

It was in this section that I started seeing pink arrow signs and indications of a challenge run, but they went on for miles.  Then I finally I encountered a runner coming towards me, slowly enough I have a conversation:  he was taking part in a “100K Challenge” – that’s 62 miles – and he was expecting to run it al in one, taking 11 – 12 hours.  That was what the markers and boards were for.  Suddenly I felt lumpen, slow and unfit.

Most of the day had been farms and little woods, and passing through villages as quickly as possible.  Here I was climbing higher into the Chilterns, the woods becoming larger, and the farms disappearing into them, and the ground turning into grazed scrub.  I scrambled down the steep slope in the Harpendenleaf Wood, and there were still odd runner coming up., crossing a broad wheatfield, then I came to Little Hampden which is a random hamlet at the edge of the wood (and here, by their “57 km” sign I left the 10K runners and turned north, but not until I had eaten a packed lunch.

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Buckinghamshire Way 2.1 – Forty Green looking north

8:00 (est.) Forty Green. I am posting this at home before setting off. Today I am not blogging as I go as I want to save weight after last time and the laptop is staying at home. I will post when I finish though.
It is raining hard, which at least means I will not have the roaring heat of the last few days. I start her I finished a fortnight ago, in Forty Green near Beaconsfield, and head north into the Chilterns.

8:00 (est.) Forty Green.  I am posting this at home before setting off.  Today I am not blogging as I go as I want to save weight after last time and the laptop is staying at home.  I will post when I finish though.

It is raining hard, which at least means I will not have the roaring heat of the last few days (the forecast on the Beeb has ‘heavy rain’ in Croxley Green and ‘light rain’ in the Chilterns, which is not the usual way round).

I start where I finished a fortnight ago in Forty Green, just outside Beaconsfield.  There is a straight path north from by the Royal Standard, which would be a legitimate way to do it, but the plotted route follows a roundabout way on the better established Chiltern Way to Penn and then to Winchmore Hill – here were really are in to the Chilterns – and then by lesser paths into the Misbourne Valley, where  pick up the ‘South Bucks Way’ at Little Kingshill and later the Resignation Way: I will be passing Chequers just in time to help Boris move in!

Past this point I descend the scarp of the Chilterns and pick up the North Bucks Way, which leads across the Vale of Aylesbury – I’ll see how I get on.

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Buckinghamshire Way 1.3: North into the Chilterns

7:20 – Forty Green.

Cliveden is political ground: the home of the Astors and the Duke of Sutherland before them and many noble families, and a frequent meeting place for political plots in past days. It is too sedate and respectable now.  However I could not get in, which means I must strike that part of the route from the map.  I had been misled in my confidence of the route, and the directions I received earlier were for the wrong direction.  I was later told that the northbound path by the Thames in the Cliveden Estate is a popular family walk hereabouts but it is open only to National Trust members.  I will replot the section, but as I was here, I walked along the roads, for miles, mostly with a pavement, which I do not recommend. It was punishing, particularly after walking up and down the hill in Taplow three times.

I was back on track at Hedsor Priory, north of the end of the Cliveden Estate, I turned from the river and looked north, following a stretch of the Shakespeare Way, though the signage marks this path as part of the Chiltern Way Berkshire Loop (presumably much of the loop is across the river then) and of the Beeches Way. It is a pleasant path, and heads north, inland.

The route runs through the area where my ancestors, I learn, owned paper mills, driven by the waters of the many streams here.

I carried on along paths of the Chiltern Way Berkshire Loop until eventually I came to Beaconsfield; one of my favourite little towns.  The main street of Old Beaconsfield is broad, and lined with old coaching inns, as this was the main London road, with a noble church at the cross-roads, where Disraeli worshipped: his thoroughly gaudy private pew is still displayed.

However I had not plotted the route to go through this picturesque spot but through the modern housing at the west end of the town at the– I was still going north, slipping between Beaconsfield to the east and High Wycombe to the west.

This is still the Chiltern Way, which here describes a horseshoe loop around to Forty Green.

I sat down at The Royal Standard of England, which is a delight and possibly the oldest pub in Britain. It is not on the exact planned route but worth a diversion or a meal stop.

However, I had overpunished myself on this day’s walking.  My boots squashed my toes with each step (I think my feet have changed shape), and it just went on too long.  I concluded that if I am to carry on then (a) I need new boots, (b) I must shorten the day stages, (c) I should not carry a heavy laptop and charger just to blog on occasion, especially since my ‘phone has stopped connecting and I can only work it in pubs.

I have yet to see how I am in the morning.

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Buckinghamshire Way 1.2: A morning by the Thames

The Thames is a perfect companion in the height of summer, a cooling mirror between trees. I first met it on the National Trust’s Ankerwyke Meadows, which once belonged to an old priory, bare remains of which stand in the corner of a field.
The route this morning was mainly beside the river.

1:00 – Taplow.  2:15 – still in Taplow.

The Thames is a perfect companion in the height of summer, a cooling mirror between trees. I first met it on the meadows owned by the National Trust between Hythe End and Wraysbury; the Ankerwyke Meadows that accompany its ‘Magna Carta’ estate. These lands belonged to an old priory, bare remains of which stand in the corner of a field.

The route this morning was mainly beside the river, though there was some road-walking from Wraysbury and a path by the railway (that was far, far better than other railside footpaths I have waded through). Then at Datchet I took up with the Thames Path, and was with it all the way here.

I went astray in Eton (how many gentlemen can say that, eh Boris?) but was soon back on track. Eton really is as genteel as the sound it makes on the ear.  It is not just the Battle of Waterloo that was won on the playing fields of Eton: an empire was won here and governed wisely and well, for the most part.  (For the failures I blame lesser schools.)  They could have fitted the literal Battle of Waterloo on its fields – the Eton College Estate is massive. No wonder Old Etonians have a unique outlook on the world.

From here are broad meadows beside the river and the Thames Path all the way to Taplow, opposite Maidenhead.

North of Maidenhead is the Cliveden Estate, also now owned by the National Trust and it was looking unlikely that the promised path beside the river here is open, but the helpful staff at the Oak & Saw in Taplow village have told me of a new bridge not on the map, over the Jubilee River.  I can recommend the Oak & Saw judging by the Eton mess I am about to tuck into.

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Buckinghamshire Way 1.1: Start at Hythe End

7:20 am, Hythe End. This is a practical rather than a pretty place, between Staines behind me and the M25 viaduct ahead, but it is where a lovely county starts.  I am at the brook marking the border with Middlesex, looking westwards into Buckinghamshire. In a few hundred yards I will make my way to the meadows by the Thames, and have a morning by the river.

It struck me that I could turn this morning’s route into the beginning of a county border walk, but not today. Buckinghamshire is a long, thin county and an end-to-end walk is best suited to it.  I will be missing a lot, but there are other weekends and other routes for another time.

First then to the Thames, which marks the border with Surrey and then Berkshire. I will turn inland at Hedsor, beyond Clivedon, and head north through the heart of the shire and see how far I can get.

It is not a good time to remember that I have been out of training.  Let’s go.

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