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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Herts Embraced revisted – Odsey Odyssey

This morning I went out to remap a missing link.  On Day 4 of the original walk, I reported that the A505 route is not to be recommended.  Therefore I went out to look for an alternative.  I actually found two.

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

The A505 at Odsey

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

Path by the railway

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.

Compromise path

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.

See: Hertfordshire Border Walk

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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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The Tennyson Trail

Wandering across the western part of the Isle of Wight from Carisbrooke to the Needles, the Tennyson Trail is a lovely way to celebrate Hampshire Day, 15 July.

The trail displays much of the best sides of Hampshire’s great south island.  It is 14 miles long, beginning at the island’s ancient capital, Carisbrooke, in the heart of the island. From here the trail heads west-south-west climbing immediately up to Bowcombe Down and then into the Brighstone Forest.  Descending a little, to cross the ridge of Brook Down and Afton Down, there is a glorious view over the south coast of the island, and then down to the sea at Freshwater Bay.

The Tennyson Trail then leads along the chalk cliffs of the south coast, Tennyson Down, and to the western end of the island at the Needles.  It finishes at the Alum Bay close by.

The route is not of small footpaths:  most of it could be driven until 2006. It is therefore a well defined, broad track.  It leads to many places though where diversions can be taken to the hills or beaches.

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