Buckinghamshire Way revisited: Thames to Cliveden

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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Maps used

Buckinghamshire Way 4.4: Completed

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.

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Buckinghamshire Way 4.3: Olney the Lonely

Out of Tyringham, I climbed up to the practical farmlands, aiming north towards Olney.  This was still the ‘Three Shires Way’, mostly.

Recyled path

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.

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Buckinghamshire Way 4.2: the meadows of the Ouse

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.  Then 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 onto the road leading to Tyringham House. The road here passes over the Great Ouse again, which makes a loop here, on a pretty Georgian bridge built for the estate.

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.

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Buckinghamshire Way 4.1: the last leg

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.

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Buckinghamshire Way 3.3: On to Milton Keynes and Wolverton

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.

New bits of Milton Keynes

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.

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Buckinghamshire Way 3.2: Fields and villages to Great Horwood

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.

North of Verney Junction

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.

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Buckinghamshire Way 3.1: Waddesdon start

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.

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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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