The Icknield Way Path

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.

Links

Route map

Maps and books

The route is long, stretching across several maps.  It might be done with standard Landranger maps, though the additional detail of an Explorer map can be very helpful.

In the Ordnance Survey Explorer, 1:50 000 series:

Books

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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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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

 

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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