Walking from (or to) Brussels: announcing victory (or surrender)

Wellington’s dispatch from Waterloo was carried from Brussels to London. It would be a long walk (and if you walk to Brussels it may announce not victory but surrender. Still, the challenge is finding the best route.

When the cannon has ceased to bellow on the evening of 18 June 1815, Wellington rode to his headquarters at Waterloo, just south of Brussels, and in the small hours of the morning wrote his dispatch, which Major Percy carried at once to Ostend, and thence to London.  The party landed at Broadstairs, on the Isle of Thanet north of Ramsgate, but anyone walking the route will find there is no ferry these days, so Dover will have to do.  If walking from London to Brussels, you may be carrying not news of victory but news of surrender – but I will let the politicians worry about that.

Percy used horses and coaches. On foot it will take longer than the three days Percy took:  the walk to Dover is about a hundred miles, which is a five day walk if you are not caning it.  (I know the LDWA have a challenge to walk 100 miles in 48 hours; well. you can try it.)

The best route should keep off the roads.  It is mainly through Kent, the Garden of England, which should promise pleasing scenery albeit sliced up by major roads and railways. The direct route is by road, on old Roman routes as the way from Dubris to Londinium is an ancient route. There must be other ways.  There is in fact the Timeball and Telegraph Trail, which runs most of the way we want to go, all the way from Greenwich to close to Dover and avoiding the long road walk, so while I have left my original route on the map, I have (since I first posted this) replotted the London to Dover section using the Timeball and Telegraph.

I will build it up into a proper route, though not one I have walked nor intend to.  To start though I have linked existing walks – the Thames Path from Westminster to Silvertown, the foot tunnel to Woolwich and the riverside to the Darenth, thence cross-country to Rochester.  Any walk across Kent has the issue of where you cross the Medway, and Rochester is as good a place as any, and a pretty city. There though the long Roman Road to Canterbury is the direct route – will rethink that, but it does the job.

From Canterbury the North Downs Way Canterbury Loop gives a pleasing journey down to Dover.

Across the Channel you land at Ostend, in Flanders, and there you may be delighted to find the Belgian footpaths are pretty good.  The main routes are called Grand Randonnée, or Grote Routepaden; but that is for next time.  A hundred miles to the edge of the land is enough for one post – the Further Wild follows.

Route map

Maps

Ordnance Survey Explorer (1:25 000 000)

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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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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Maps

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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.  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.

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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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