Buckinghamshire Way 1.4 – addendum

8:00 am – Home. Waking up and find that I could not walk was a bit of a damper to a plan to continue north from Forty Green. I had everything packed and ready, with a shortened route.  However yesterday crushed my toes, and it was a longer trail than planned for.  I was gently reminded too that I have a particularly busy Monday morning and being half-asleep and half-brained will not help.

Also, it has been raining hard.

That is annoying, but there we are.

In two weeks’ time I aim to resume.

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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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The Buckinghamshire Way – first walk this weekend

The Buckinghamshire Way has been a long time in contemplation, but I will finally be starting it on Saturday, 13 July 2019. The starting point will by Buckinghamshire’s south-easternmost point, in Hythe End. I will then walk down to the Thames and the National Trust’s Ankerwycke meadows, and follow upstream to Eton and to Clivedon before turning due north. The next day should see me through the Chilterns and on to Aylesbury.

Some of the route is on paths I know, while most is completely new – in any case, the Buckinghamshire Way is no more than a line on a map until it is actually walked.

The Buckinghamshire Way has been a long time in contemplation, but I will finally be starting it on Saturday, 13 July 2019.  The starting point will by Buckinghamshire’s south-easternmost point, in Hythe End west of Staines, at the county border on the Colne Brook close to the M25 viaduct.  I will then walk down to the Thames and the National Trust’s Ankerwycke meadows, and follow upstream to Eton and to Clivedon before turning due north for Beacconsfield, where the Chilterns begin, and beyond.

The next day should see me through the Chilterns and on to Aylesbury.

Some of the route is on paths I know, while most is completely new and it must be walked just to see that it can be walked, or if the route needs diversion. In any case, the “Buckinghamshire Way” is no more than a line on a map until it is actually walked.

I only have weekends, so it will have to be finished off after a fortnight’s gap, but the final aim is to touch Buckinghamshire’s northernmost point at Northey Farm, north of Olney. Then I get to go home.

However, rather than set the whole route out here, I will blog as I go.

Also:

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Maps and books

Ordnance Survey Explorer range (1:25 000):

Books

 

What would Wainwright do?

There are more stories about Alfred Wainwright than about any other fellwalker. A list of his favourite places would fill volumes. He once though tried to sum up the best places of the lakes in a walk. No one but Wainwright would have thought of inviting his friends for a weekend walking 107 miles across the highest tops of Lakeland, but he did.

The Wainwright Memorial Walk is Wainwright’s own account of the epic walk. It loops over many tops, the best in Westmorland and Cumberland, and with the best views of the shining waters which lie between the fells. It is not a walk I would recommend trying in even a long weekend, but when challenged, the sights seen are spectacular.

There are more stories about Alfred Wainwright than about any other fellwalker.  A list of his favourite places would fill volumes.  He once though tried to sum up the best places of the lakes in a walk.  No one but Wainwright would have thought of inviting his friends for a weekend walking 107 miles across the highest tops of Lakeland, but he did.

The Wainwright Memorial Walk is Wainwright’s own account of the epic walk, named “Memorial” after his death).  It loops over many tops, the best in Westmorland and Cumberland, and with the best views of the shining waters which lie between the fells.  It is not a walk I would recommend trying in even a long weekend, but when challenged, the sights seen are spectacular.

I have so far only walked short stretches of the Memorial Walk, but my eyes are always turned towards the hills with a map and compass ready.

See main article:

Books and maps

Slieve Donard 2: Mourne with joy

Slieve Donard, the county top of County Down, Prince of the Mourne Mountains, stands looming above Newcastle; the silly seaside boutiques and rides, gaudy ice-cream stalls and beachwear shops looking tiny beneath its silent, majestic presence.
Previously I described the initial climb from the beach, though the woods by the Glen River up to the Ice House. It is here, having emerged from the woods, that the walk opens up, and the way to the top of the mountain appears.

Slieve Donard, the county top of County Down, Prince of the Mourne Mountains, stands looming above Newcastle; the silly seaside boutiques and rides, gaudy ice-cream stalls and beachwear shops looking tiny beneath its silent, majestic presence.

Previously I described the initial climb from the beach, though the woods by the Glen River up to the Ice House. It is here, having emerged from the woods, that the walk opens up, and the way to the top of the mountain appears.

The ice house is at the side of a deep, broad, steep valley climbing the mountainside.  It begins to divide the two neighbouring mountains, Slieve Donard to the south-east (on the left as you climb) from Slieve Commedagh to the north-west (right).  The route upwards is initially beside the wood, on a well-worn path, with the river, now a narrow stream threading between rocks, below to the left.

After the wood is left behind, the valley opens more and looking back there is a fine view down to the sea and the far Lecale peninsula, flat and fertile missy in the heat-haze.  The path is paved in parts from the rocks from beside it, and the river, now a bare mountain burn, is crossed again just on the stones within its course, and all in the great U of the valley which even over aeons this tiny water could not have carved.

The Glen Valley

The top of the path stops at a wall.  It climbs to the crest of the saddle between Slieve Donard and Slieve Commedagh halfway between the two summits and far below them both, and stops.  Here is the Mourne Wall.  The wall stands neck-high, between 1904 and 1922 by the Belfast Water Commissioners in order to enclose the water catchment in the Mournes, and to keep sheep out of it apparently.  It is a most remarkable construction, stretching for summit to summit miles across the mountains; Ulster’s version of the Great Wall of China. It also shows the way to the summit (although the fact that the ground goes up in one direction is generally enough of a clue).

The saddle (I keep wanting to call it a ‘bealach’) is a high ridge between the two mountains, and beyond it the Mournes stretch away inland, gorgeous to behold, and the wall looping over the tops to the horizon.  While I stood contemplating the scene a new group of walkers appeared over the lip, who had climbed the mountain from Bloody Bridge – a spot where the cliffs come down to the sea south of Newcastle with barely room for the road to squeeze by though there is a spot here to pull boots on and go.  The must be a more rugged path – and a goal for next time I come this way.

There are many routes up and around Slieve Donard:  I have listed some of the books below.  There is so much to explore in the Mourne Mountains, even just in this little corner of it, that one path, and the popular one at that, barely does it justice.  There is here at least a glimpse over those wilder slopes stretching of beyond.

I turned east.  It is a steeper, rockier climb beside the wall to the Slieve Donard summit.  You cannot stop as it is too tempting not to start again, and up, and further up it goes.

The summit levels, and here is the biggest cairn I have ever seen.  I clambered to the top of course. There: County Down duly topped. From the summit the view looks out over the sea and shore, to Newcastle, Lecale and the Ards peninsula beyond, into the Irish Sea, with the Isle of man appearing in the haze.  It is said that Snowdon is visible on a good day, but I could not see it, and the weather was descending.

Crowds on Slieve Commedagh

Back down to the Saddle, and I noticed that while there were many people up on Slieve Donard, no one was on its neighbour, Slieve Commedagh, so up I went.  It is an easier climb than the big one, and its summit cairn a far more modest affair.  Its resident inhabitants were better climbers than I – its sheep, and no more.

I looked across at Slieve Donard.  Its summit was now within a cloud.  It was time to descend.

Back down to the broad valley, and the vista once more opened up before me, back to the wee mountain burn hiding itself among the rocks and which grew as I followed it down, back to the ice house, which I took time to explore this time.

Then into the woods, the river a real river by now, with pools and cascades, and down, back to the car park and the sleepy seaside town.

Next time there are wilder routes.  My eyes at that point though were t a mountain further west, but that is for another time.

Maps and books

Slieve Donard 1: up to highest of Down

Slieve Donard, the highest mountain of the gorgeous Mourne Mountains, and the highest point of County Down and of all Ulster, was a challenge not to be missed, and gave me another county top to tick off the list.
The distinctive shape of this mountain, its bulk and whale-like profile, was visible from many of the places we visited around the edge of the Mournes, and called out to be trodden. It is not without neighbours equally haunting in their shape and immensity, but Slieve Donard is the greatest of them. For those who have not been among the Mourne Mountains, they create in a relatively small compass in the southernmost of one county a sudden landscape of rare intensity.

Slieve Donard, the highest mountain of the gorgeous Mourne Mountains, and the highest point of County Down and of all Ulster, was a challenge not to be missed, and gave me another county top to tick off the list.

The distinctive shape of this mountain, its bulk and whale-like profile, was visible from many of the places we visited around the edge of the Mournes, and called out to be trodden.  It is not without neighbours equally haunting in their shape and immensity, but Slieve Donard is the greatest of them.  For those who have not been among the Mourne Mountains, they create in a relatively small compass in the southernmost of one county a sudden landscape of rare intensity.

The mountain has the wee seaside resort of Newcastle at its foot, and here we started.  At one point on the promenade is a piece of modern art in the form of a cone with slot cut through it, arranged so that a look through the slot is of the summit of Slieve Donard: an interesting conceit, or a tribute to the mountain’s dominating presence.

We went down onto the beach and I trod with the sea washing on my walking boots, so that way there was no cheating and I could say I was climbing from sea level. My family then went off to explore the Tollymore Forest Park on the north side of the Mournes, which, they told me when they returned, was lovely – maybe next time then.  Today though I headed inland.

The Glen River
The Glen River

From the beach through the car park and out almost at once into a wood.  The route I was taking was up the tautologously named Glen Valley; the valley of the Glen River, and a lovely stream it is, tumbling over rocks worn smooth by its waters – in places not so much a river as a mile-long shallow waterfall, and with plenty of genuine cascades.

The path follows the river, on one side then the other, up though the woods it waters, at first a gentle climb.

It is a popular climb too – my hopes of boasting of achieving a rare feat were disappointed, except that I at least had walked from sea level not from the coach drop-off a little uphill, for all the difference it makes (and as it happens I coincided with a charity walk).  One thing I will say for the walkers of Ulster – they know to wear proper boots:  I have seen people trying to clamber lake District fells in plimsoles and flip-flops and wondered what planet they were on, but here in the Mourne Mountains there were stout boots on show.

The valley and the ice house

Eventually the tree cover thins and the path emerges, but I was not out of the woods yet (except literally).  There on the other side of the stream stands a large, domed ice house.  It looks in form like a giant igloo, except that an igloo is made of snow and an ice-house contains ice, or did in its heyday.  The ice-house was built for the estate, and I could imagine weary servants tramping up the much as I had to this far ice-house to collect ice and trudge back with barrows on an inadequate path, muttering curses under their breath, heavy-laden to the great house, wherever that is.  In a valley shaped by nature, the building stands out, but is a charm in its own way.

On then upwards. From here the valley is open and you can see how wide is this slice through the hill. In fact it is separating two mountains; Slieve Donard to the south-east and Slieve Commedagh to the north-west. There stands the challenge, which I will finish next time.

Maps and books

The Gerald Colton Way

The Gerald Colton Way looks an oddity, but there is a sharp logic to it. It runs from the South Bank Centre in Central London, out to the Buckinghamshire Chilterns, with loops and eccentricities on the way.
The route is 65 miles long, so do not expect to walk it in one weekend. It was devised in 1994 by Gerald Colton, a founder member and long-time Walks Organiser of the Hampstead Ramblers, to mark the first multi-racial elections in South Africa that year. He named it the ‘Mandela Way’ and it ran from a statue of Nelson Mandela by the Royal Festival Hall, out to the Boer War monument on Combe Hill in Buckinghamshire. It has no other connection with South Africa though and so after Mr Colton’s death the next year, the Hampstead Ramblers renamed his route in honour of its inventor.

The Gerald Colton Way looks an oddity, but there is a sharp logic to it.  It runs from the South Bank Centre in Central London, out to the Buckinghamshire Chilterns, with loops and eccentricities on the way.

The route is 65 miles long, so do not expect to walk it in one weekend.  It was devised in 1994 by Gerald Colton, a founder member and long-time Walks Organiser of the Hampstead Ramblers, to mark the first multi-racial elections in South Africa that year. He named it the ‘Mandela Way’ and it ran from a statue of Nelson Mandela by the Royal Festival Hall, out to the Boer War monument on Combe Hill in Buckinghamshire.  It has no other connection with South Africa though and so after Mr Colton’s death the next year, the Hampstead Ramblers renamed his route in honour of its inventor.

Since the 1990s, the route has become mostly forgotten, which is a pity because it is eminently walkable in sections – the path is devised so as to pass railway stations allowing sections to be walked as day walks, and some of these are very interesting.  It also achieve the feat of finding a largely green route all the way through and out of the metropolitan conurbation.

Hungerford-Bridge, at the route’s begininng

The route on its winding course passes through four counties, beginning on the Surrey bank of the Thames before crossing to Middlesex. It crosses almost due north all through Middlesex, then looping through Hertfordshire and Middlesex again before climbing through the Chess Valley into Buckinghamshire and following the Misbourne Valley through the Chilterns.

The Gerald Colton Way provided, if not a natural waking route, a series of pleasant walks to make into a personal project.

(Thanks to the Hampstead Ramblers for information on the route.)

Maps:

In the Explorer, 1:50 000 series:

Route map

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Climbing Snowdon: The Watkin Path

The Watkin Path is the toughest of the standard routes up Snowdon. There may be other routes known to climbers considered more challenging, such as the haul up Crib Goch, but of those normal routes straight to the top, the Watkin is the one. It also has the greatest ascent from start to finish: 3,330 feet.
The walk start at the ‘back of the mountain’ on the south side in the valley of the Nant Gwynant, at Bethania, between the two long lakes of the valley. A short walk in leads first through lovely woodland, then it begins to mean business as you walk up a dry valley carved into the mountainside, where Snowdon was heavily quarried for slate.

The Watkin Path is the toughest of the standard routes up Snowdon.  There may be other routes known to climbers considered more challenging, such as the haul up Crib Goch, but of those normal routes straight to the top, the Watkin is the one.  It also has the greatest ascent from start to finish:  3,330 feet, or 1,015 m in French.

It has been several years since I climbed the Watkin, so I have no photographs of my own for this own.  I had it easy:  my wife climbed with me in spite of a bout of flu, but we wanted to climb it before moving on and so we did.

The walk start at the ‘back of the mountain’ on the south side in the valley of the Nant Gwynant, at Bethania, between the two long lakes of the valley.  There is a convenient car park (with few cars when we were there, but if it were full I cannot think where else you might stop).  A short walk in leads first through lovely woodland, then it begins to mean business as you walk up a dry valley carved into the mountainside; here a theme of the walk appears as this is a side of Snowdon heavily quarried for slate.  There is a large monument here marking a speech by Gladstone:  what days they were when people would travel to a remote valley to hear a political speech, unless he just spoke to quarrymen off their shift.

The incline of a slate tramway crosses the path, while the path itself winds first beside the Cwm Llan river, then splits from a path across the flank of the mountain (which goes to Rhyd Ddu as it happens), crosses the stream and begins to climb in earnest, and when the path begins to climb, it does not stop.

The path has a haul up to the craggy ridge of Y Lliwedd (though not to its summit) before following the ridge north-west directly toward Snowdon’s summit.

One high section of this climb I distinctly; remember clambering with my hands and finding the foothold for us both on a narrow, very steep section, with the slate breaking away as we trod on it or held.  The weather was closing in too at that point.  Somehow in spite of weather and influenza we reached the ridge and the climb was still not over as we worked our way up to the summit.

I am told that this upper section has since had work done to it to make it less of s death-trap.

It was late in the season and late in the day for a climb and for once, I think the only time, the summit was empty.

Waterfall on the Cwm Llan River

We were unable to go back the same way after that break-away section and my wife’s state of health but we found instead an easier downward route, along Bwlch Main – a ridge on the other side of the quarried valley, down to the flank track from Rhyd Ddu, whence back to the Cwm Llan, and a feeling of a job well done.

I may have to revisit, this time with a camera, to see what has been done to the route.  It was fascinating as a side of the mountain not so frequently seen, and to encounter just one other walker, and that on the Bwlch Main path, is unique in my experience of Snowdon.

Maps

The best maps for Snowdon are of course the Ordnance Survey maps; the ‘Explorer’ at 1:25 000 and the ‘Landranger’ at 1:50 000:

Route map

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