Syresham stands at the head of the Ouse Valley Walk. It is a pretty village in the very south of Northamptonshire, and a good starting point for a challenging walk: to Downing Street. This walk passes through four counties: Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and finally Middlesex, to end at the gates of Downing Street. The distance is 88 miles, so it should take about 5 to 6 days: the road is long but with few challenges. This is one of a growing series of “Downing Street Walks” on WildþingUK.
South Northamptonshire has many pretty villages which could be a starting point for a walk – those around Towcester are well linked with footpaths, which could be used to bring the intrepid walker to the chosen start point, there to look south for the journey ahead.
By Syresham is source of the Great Ouse, one of the great rivers of south-eastern Midlands and East Anglia. The Ouse rises inside Northamptonshire and flows out: remember that Northamptonshire has a remarkable quality; that while many rivers flow from it and some along its borders, no stream however small enters the county. The Ouse then runs prettily through Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire before entering Norfolk and going to the Wash at King’s Lynn. We though will only sample the river’s first flush of youth.
The path has only a mile or so in Northamptonshire then enters Buckinghamshire, where it runs down to Stowe Park, and down its long, straight vista, before continuing to Buckingham, which Henry VIII displaced as the county town of the shire named after it, and which the folk of Buckingham may occasionally make a pretence of authority, it is a much diminished place from what it once was and whilst it might be respected, Buckingham must be put in its place on occasion. From the town, the way continues downstream eastwards, brushing the edge of Northants, but at Beachampton we turn off the Ouse Valley Way to meet a legacy of modernity: the Milton Keynes Boundary Way, which is followed (avoiding Milton Keynes at all times) as far as the Grand Union Canal.
The Grand Union Canal is an industrial canal in origin, stretching between the mine and manufactories of Birmingham and the customers of London, but now a quiet, watery corridor through the land, and this canal is followed all the way to London. Having joined the canal, stick to its towpath (shun Stoke Hammond) and continue south. In this section, the canal uses the valley of the River Ouzel, which river from near Old Linslade forms the border with Bedfordshire, but the path happens to stick on the Buckinghamshire bank, between Linslade and Leighton Buzzard and southward away from the Ouzel and the temptations of the county border, to Marsworth and the canal summit at Tring Wharf, where it enters Hertfordshire, within the ‘Tring Salient’.
The Tring Salient makes sense to everyone except bureaucrats. It is an arm of Hertfordshire surrounded on three sides by Buckinghamshire, and it makes sense because of the geography of the Chilterns here, and the way the valleys run through the hills and the main roads with them, but to office-bound mandarins looking at contextless coloured shapes on a map it must look like an anomaly and they have tried to snip it off before. Beware the bureaucrat and restrain him before he causes more damage.
(The section from Marsworth to Tring Station, incidentally, is part of the Hertfordshire Border Walk, which I walked in 2018, and most of the way south of it in Hertfordshire I have walked and cycled.)
The canal passes through Berkhamsted and Hemel Hempstead and on, past abandoned mills a lordly park and a civic one, past Croxley Green and Rickmansworth, where a long string of manmade lakes begins – gravel workings and reservoirs – and into Middlesex and along its border with Buckinghamshire, to Uxbridge, which is a complicated place with all sorts going on, but sticking to the canal path, at least to the right canal path – there are two – should lead you through.
Past Hayes, and the Grand Union Canal Walk splits in two: one branch heading to the river at Brentford and the other heading north-east. On another walk I suggested going to the river and following the Thames downstream, but here we are walking the canal path, and is it is worth doing, we must see it through to the end.
Therefore after the North Circular Road, head north-east and through the industrial stretches of the canal. The end is at Paddington Basin. This is an interesting spot. At the end of the 18th century when William Pitt the Younger resigned as Prime Minister and handed over to new blood, Lord Addington, the wags said “Pitt is to Addington as London is to Paddington” and Addington has been remembered mainly for that rhyme ever since. Paddington in that age was a small village separate from London, and now a large district within it, and the basin has been transformed from a land of industrial wharves to a smart business district. Here the canal ends and it is time to take to the road for the first time since leaving the edge of Milton Keynes.
Then it is across Hyde Park (compass work needed) and on to Green Park beside Buckingham Palace, through St James’s Park, and with careful navigation you will arrive at Downing Street.
To get into Downing Street – that is a matter for your persistent ingenuity.
Ordnance Survey Landranger series:
- LR152: Northampton and Milton Keynes
- LR165: Aylesbury and Leyton Buzzard
- LR166: Luton and Hertford
- LR176: West London
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