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.
I set off again this afternoon to walk new route for part of the Day 1 walk. I was unhappy about the walk north of Taplow last time: the riverside is not accessible, I found, and so I had to walk along the Cliveden Road, which can be very busy and without a pavement not ever a verge for much of it: I kept having to dive into thorn bushes – that and being unhappy about extended road walking.
So, today I parked at Dorney Reach, which is where the M4 crosses the Thames to try a different route. The Thames is gorgeous here, if you can ignore the extensive works on the M4 bridge. (The path is closed under the motorway bridge and so diverted onto a floating path at present, on pontoons bobbing on the river.)
After the first house, I turned off onto a track and a bridleway off that, heading north-west to cut a loop off the river, and this brought me to the Jubilee River, and across a footbridge. A track north then passed under the railway and emerged at the A4, but the road and attendant garages were soon passed, and past a sports field and an entrance, a path leads north-east across fields to emerge at Boundary Road, at the south edge of Taplow. The map shows the path continuing directly ahead – I had to retrace my steps though, as that was a farm entrance and not a public footpath, which runs from south of the hedgerow. (Apologies delivered in person to the farm.) From this footpath is a last, distant view to Windsor Castle.
After a short way up a lane is a little hamlet which I took to be called Burnham from the map, but Burnham is now a swollen suburb of Slough, a mile off, and this is just the bit which has so far escaped. None of my route this afternoon was urban, though there were hints that I was close to the edge of the town here, as there had been by the A4. Over the fields though and all that was left behind.
From this hamlet of Burnham, the path lay north, by fields, a golf course and through a wood. The woods around here are lovely and had I been able to do so, I would have plotted a route all through the woods to meet a further path I could see, but the woods at this point are private and closed. Therefore some road walking is unavoidable, but this rote was to minimise it. Emerging then at Taplow Common Road, I found it to be a B road with some traffic, so I went instead north up a narrow lane called Rose Hill, only to cut back to the B-road at the end of it.
The remaining stretch of Taplow Common Road is without pavement and little verge, but it is a far quieter road than the main Cliveden Road (to which it runs), and with no insane drivers, so where I did step off the tarmac it was more out of courtesy than necessity, and the verge is more accessible, mostly. The road emerges opposite the main entrance to Cliveden House, now a national Trust house. The main Cliveden Road here is back to the route I walked on Day 1, but I had bypassed the deathly stretch of road. North of this point, the road has broad verges or pavement all the way.
Immediately here though was The Feathers, a fine pub. I unlocked my bicycle, which I had left here earlier before driving to my start point, and cycled back to Dorney Reach.
An alternative revised route emerged though as I was walking. I had left the riverside soon after the motorway bridge, but if you want to carry on with the river a little longer, do, as far as Maidenhead Bridge. It is a pleasant stretch. From the bridge (and this is the way walked on Day 1) is park with a path which crosses the Jubilee River and heads uphill to Taplow Village (as I did on Day 1). It is a little more road, but you can stroll through the village, past the pub and the church up to the top, and emerge at Boundary Road just above the path I walked this afternoon.
I will mark the new route up on my online map on the project page shortly. That is the last link in the Buckinghamshire Way complete.
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North of Clifton Reynes is a straight haul north. There are farms, but no more villages, and the route is on good, farm tracks. This is the ‘Three Shires Way’ again; it rejoined me at Clifton Reyes.
The first sight is a last sight of the Great Ouse, at Lavendon Mill, then up past a lone, riverside house, it is back to farm tracks. Abbey Farm seems to have some mediaeval remains, had I had a moment to look, but I was determined to finish this.
Across an A road, further up hill to a thorn-choked brook and the destination came into sight: Northey Farm, at the top of the hill. I turned to the ‘Milton Keynes Boundary Walk’ – that is a reminder that although this is wide open farmland and gorgeous rural being, it is classified by Whitehall as ‘Milton Keynes’, which it clearly is not.
It was a happier trudge with the final point ahead of me, so I stepped up the pace and followed the path along the book all the way to the farm. The path here is meant to run north of the farm buildings but has become overgrown and obscured, so I crossed through the farmyard, which the farmer tells me most walkers do. (I explored the right path later.) In fact while the farm is the northernmost farm n Buckinghamshire, and the path to reach it is in its final stretch a county border path, there is a stop a few dozen yards further north, so I crossed the road, following a field edge footpath, and here at the apex of the field boundary, where the footpath turms sharply north, here is northernmost point, and here I finished the Buckinghamshire Way.
Out of Tyringham, I climbed up to the practical farmlands, aiming north towards Olney. This was still the ‘Three Shires Way’, mostly.
Soon after I had emerged from a plantation wood I found the most bizarre path I have encountered. It was made of old bits of rag, flannel and recycled textiles; it was broad and it went on a long way. I started walked it, and while the souls of my feet were blessing me for this soft surface and relief, it was too soft and very hard going so I switched to the grass path beside it and while my feet cursed me, I have little sympathy: the must do their duty along with my other limbs.
Further north, over a road and at the crest of a gentle hill, my route switched to the Ouse Valley Way which took me down to the valley, through a caravan park and past a series of manmade lakes by the river, in Emberton Country Park, of which I had never heard before but it was very popular with families who had come out from the town. I was going past though.
The path emerged on the road just outside Olney, the largest village of this northernmost part of Buckinghamshire. The Great Ouse flows lazily past, with the church spire looking down to it, and here I sat contemplating the divine while eating sandwiches. The village’s most famous vicar lies in a large memorial tomb here – John Newton, the slave-ship captain who repented and became a priest, and wrote several hymns, including his most personal, Amazing Grace.
Olney is a pretty place, and the one with shops, so it is a local capital. I was not stopping long though.
The path continues along the north bank of the Ouse, through heathland until another bridge on the river, after which is a climb up a steep bank to head for Clifton Reynes. This was the last village before the end. I grabbed a long lemonade in the Robin Hood and set off.
I set out along the Grand Union Canal in such glorious sunshine and by the calm, shining water it would have been easy to go into a dreamy state and walk there forever. There came a time to turn off though, which took me to the River Ouse, and past a ruined church, which had some stories behind it, at the site of a grand house which has completely vanished. The over the river, which is a beautiful river for its whole length and in the sunshine is a delight. Then away following the ‘Swan’s Way’, a route which I brushed by before.
The way led through broad, open fields then into a wood, where I switched to the ‘Three Shires Way’, then in time under the M1. After a little way on the road (not the M1; a local road) I passed under a gateway arch on the road leading to Tyringham House, and over the Great Ouse again, which makes a loop here.
Past the house, up the hill is the parish church. It stands alone. There is no village. The name ‘Tyringham’ may be a parish or a memory of a lost place. Here I sat a short while, looking back to the river and the bridge in a perfect setting before setting off again.
Today I set out to finish the Buckinghamshire Way. Beginning at Wolverton, the route should take me along the Grand Union Canal and down the Great Ouse northwards, then striking inland in the plains of the Ouse to Olney, the main village of this northernmost part of Buckinghamshire. From here I walk further north though open, green countryside to a farm, Northey Farm, which is at the northernmost point of the county. How I get away again I will work out at the time.
This is a shorter day than previous legs, at just 17 or 18 miles. It is also all on one map: the Ordnance Survey Explorer 207 (Newport Pagnell & Northampton South) and all on one side of the map, but it does wind about the paths so must not be underestimated.
I aim to start at 9:30 am, depending on the train I get to the starting point. I will report back this evening.
As I have not done it yet, I do not have a picture of the day, so instead here is a crowd of admirers who gathered to see me yesterday.
From Great Horwood, I followed the route leading first north to Nash (which is not a Regency folly as it sounds), then east. On this stretch I was very glad that I was using the full 1:25 000 scale Ordnance Survey Explorer map; Ordnance Survey Explorer 192 (Buckingham and Milton Keynes). The subtlety required to find the path is only at that scale. Here as elsewhere, the path (I was following the North Bucks Way all day) was alternately clear and broad and completely invisible. It would vanish at a field boundary.
Eastward then I came to Waddon, a goodly village and the last before the vast, swallowing bulk of Milton Keynes. There is a broad cordon sanitaire between the two, at present. The great town is clearly visible to the east from the path as it leaves the village, and I had to walk towards it.
Before diving into Milton Keynes, the path stops, and meets a north-south track along the edge of the town; I followed that north. Here it is a footpath and bridleway carved with the needs of the mighty town in mind, so I is good and convenient walking, if not of great fascination. On occasion there are new developments springing up right to the edge of the path. How the developers would long to overleap the fence are pour concrete onto acres and acres more! For now they are constrained by that boundary.
Eventually I emerged on a road and walked to a path which led through a couple of neighbourhoods. If I have to be honest, the back end of Milton Keynes is not where chose t spend my walking time. It is a convenient route still, and through I went just for a sort time, as eventually the path entered a park and led to the Grand Union Canal, which I followed to the station.
The whole route is 22 miles. That was Day 3 done. The rest of the way is more complicated, but should be shorter.
Straight out of Waddesdon north, and the first village is Quainton. Never has a village been better named. It is famous for the pretty cottages along the green, which looks its best in the sunny weather in which I began. At the top of the village is a working windmill. However I could not tarry. Much.
(Quainton Road,, incidentally, used to be a station built for private purposes and linked to the ‘Brill Tramway’. It is now a rather good heritage railway centre. It is not on the actual route though.)
Still due north, by Quainton Hill, where the landscape is shaped by earthworks – possibly clay mining or similar. On the next hill the path disappears completely, and can only be followed with a compass and keen map work, to emerge at the right gate.
There are few villages on this stretch, and the recently harvested landscape serves very well as a charm. The few villages could be very pretty, which made me wonder why had never explored this part of Buckinghamshire before.
On and over and eventually to a hamlet at what was a railway station, Verney Junction, which was once the terminus of the Metropolitan Rail – the Met Line. Here there are several red warning signs against trespassing; but there is no track. Maybe one day it will be unbeeched, but for now it looks very odd.
After Addington (dominated by an equestrian concern) the path runs along with the Midshires Way, and in company they reach Great Horwood.
Here there is a pub with a large sign saying ‘Swann Inn’; so I did. It did well for lunch.
It has been a few weeks since I completed the first half of the Buckinghamshire Way first walk; in between times I have had a walking holiday and the shock of going back to work, which quite put out of mind actually writing about walks. I can write about those family walks another time. I have been meaning too to write more on the art of the picnic, as long promised, having lived on well-chosen picnics through all that time. But not today.
I am conscious that this time the day’s route is 22 miles and that I would be carrying more weight than before – I have not gone back to hauling electronic equipment with me, but it was a good holiday, the consequences of which I must struggle to work off.
I began this morning in Waddesdon, north-west of Aylesbury, which is where I finished Day 2. It is just as well that I was diverted that day, as the actual North Bucks Way path which I was following appears blocked off on the route north to the village, possibly by a new close of houses being built. The plan for today was to head due north from Waddesdon and continue to follow the North Bucks Way all the way to Wolverton, once a modest industrial town but now an integral part of Milton Keynes. The route here continues through the low ground that is the Vale of Aylesbury. The route chosen also plays footsie for several miles with the Outer Aylesbury Ring, which is a 53 mile route in itself though some fine parts of the county.
I was cagey about the sections by Milton Keynes, but in fact the route runs along the side of the town, and only cuts through the town’s suburbs n its last few miles. More of that later though. For now, I will leave it hear and write separately about the walk as it went.
The Hertfordshire Border Path from Ashwell heads east then south-west along the Shire Balk, marking the county border, before nipping through the outermost corner of Cambridgeshire at Odsey Hall to emerge on the A505, which marks the border of Hertfordshire with Cambridgeshire for several miles. I walked along the verge of the A505 for two miles, on the southern, Hertfordshire side, but found it to be not only unpleasant but dangerous: for the first mile or so it is a narrow verge with thorn bushes in places projecting out to the carriageway of a frequently busy, 70 mph road. After a mile it becomes a broad sward, but we cannot have the Border Walk involving a lethal mile.
Odsey was the centre of my walk this morning. It is a hamlet in the south-westernmost corner of Cambridgeshire. There is a grand house here, Odsey Hall, and surrounding estate houses, and a station, Ashwell and Morden, with a pub and adjoining cottages, and little else. The name is also that of the neighbouring Odsey Hundred of Hertfordshire – whether there was an original village of Odsey south of the road in Hertfordshire I do not know, but the hamlet of today is firmly on the Cambridgeshire side of the road.
I rejoined the route at a point (TL290382) where the south-west path crosses the railway on an unguarded footpath level crossing, and here the two alternatives split.
Along the A505, north side
I first followed the path south, through a meadow belonging to Odsey Hall emerging at the A505. This time, instead of crossing, I walked along the north side of the road. I kicked myself for not having done this before: the verge is far better for walking. The first two hundred yards or so are a bit narrow, but quite walkable and with no hazards; it can be uncomfortable when a tractor or a lorry bowls past at speed but you are off the carriageway at all times, which I could not say for the south side verge. The shrubs do not project over the path, and it looks walked. Parts are gravelled and soon there is a tarmac path, leading to the mouth of Station Road.
Continuing past station road, the verge is very wide, green and kind underfoot. This I followed for about a mile and a half. Eventually I came to the Horse & Groom, a pub which for as long as I remember has been abandoned and boarded up – it is now at the time of writing a ruin, broken open and smashed by vandals and the weather, but now bearing a “Sold” sign, which promises a long overdue demolition. That is a distraction though: the pub is a landmark but do not go that far as beyond it the verge becomes impassable safely, and I did not try. Instead, I crossed the road before the pub, at the crossing-gap in the central reservation by Thrift Cottages, and continued east-northeast on the south side of the road to The Thrift; whence the route continues up the drive and over fields, but that did not need resurveying.
(Crossing the A505 takes speed and a good look-out but there are no bridges or tunnels.)
The railway path
The alternative path is one running immediately north of the railway. As you might guess, I walked this back to the original point, but I will describe it forwards.
From the point by level crossing, turn left, and take the path east-northeast, parallel to the railway. This is not apparently a public right of way, but a resident of a house that backs onto it told me that it is used frequently by the public for dog-walking and normal walking. (He mentioned a sign saying it is not a right of way, but I did not spot it.) This path is a good, broad path that has been used by vehicles and horses. It continues past a gate as a driveway access to a number of houses, which in turn emerges on Station Road opposite the station access for Ashwell and Morden Station. The station access is a public right of way, leading straight through the station car park and turning into a good footpath.
It is a pleasant enough path, if you ignore the scrapyard behind the station and chalk-quarrying, which are a brief interruption. It runs mainly between a hedge and the railway before emerging into a field edge (the main picture on this page), then turns south on a tarmacked farm track to meet the A505.
At this point, it would be tempting to try to cross the road, but do not: follow the broad grass verge until the wrecked Horse & Groom comes in sight, then look for the crossing-gap in the central reservation by Thrift Cottages: cross here (carefully) and continue east-northeast to The Thrift.
The railway path is the more pleasant path in that it is away from the road, but there is little to choose between them in the walking otherwise. The A505 route is along the county boundary, one side of it; the railway path is a little away from it, but in sight. The railway path starts on a frequently used path but not a public right of way, and you do not get to enjoy the brief scoot over the Odsey Hall Estate.
A compromise could be to take the original route, across the level crossing and the meadows to the A505, walk the verge on the north side of the road as far as Station Road, and then go up that road to join the railway path at the station.
Both of these routes, in particular the railway path, are outside our county, and run through Cambridgeshire for a mile and a half or more, which is a long ‘Trespass’. Nevertheless it is as Brooke explained, ‘Cambridgeshire, of all England a shire for men who understand’, and I am sure they would understand – no one came running at me with spears or mortarboards.