Dick & Gloria & Lesley & Michael's
Chiltern Way Walk
Having been forecast as a grey day, the Saturday on which we re-started our Chiltern Way walk in 2008 dawned bright and sunny. I decided to wear a sleeveless cotton top as it already felt like the day would become very warm.
We met outside the Rising Sun in Little Hampden and parked on some grass where the Chiltern Way crosses the road. Piling into one car, we drove to Bledlow Ridge along some very narrow and very green country lanes. Parking off the main road was fairly easy, although we had a short walk alongside the traffic before we reached the start of this section.
The first path was very overgrown although we couldn’t have been the first people to walk it this year. The recent warm and wet weather has encouraged the nettles, thistles and brambles to grow at a tremendous rate and they variously stung, prickled and scratched us as we passed them. But pass them we must, all the while admiring the astonishing view the lucky residents the north-western edge of Bledlow Ridge enjoy.
A short stretch enclosed by a fence on one side and a dense hedge on the other led us past a dead young Green Woodpecker. Having spent a lot of time looking at the Loch Garten Ospreys and some Peregrine on Chichester Cathedral recently, I appreciate how easy it is for a young bird to fall (or be pushed...) out of an overcrowded nest. It was sad to see this beautiful young life cut short but that’s nature for you! (I’ll spare you a photo of the deceased.)
Emerging in Rout’s Green, we passed yet more pleasant houses with wonderful views. Dick told us that there were plans afoot to levy an element of the council tax based on the quality of one’s surroundings – these houses would be very expensive on that basis.
May and June are very colourful months in the British countryside, with buttercups and moon daisies (amongst others) in the hedges. Wild roses with their pale pink petals tangle through the creamy elderflower heads and deeper pink or white clover sweetens the hay which is almost ready for harvesting.
At one point we emerged from a wooded section into a field, dipping down before rising up sharply next to more woodland. To our right the view opened up dramatically wide under a beautiful blue sky with hardly a cloud above the horizon.
As I started up the bank to catch up with the others, the cry Red Kite went up and there, flying away from the woodland we were about to enter, was our first of the day. There have been enough Red Kite photos in these pages so far – I’ll only use more if they are particularly good, I promise, and the same applies to fungi!
The path was now shaded in a woodland edge environment with dappled sunlight and the cooler air was very welcome. Alongside the path when it emerged into the full light of day was another May/June hedgerow favourite, cow parsley. Also called ‘Queen Anne’s Lace’ by flower arrangers, this stately umbellifer is one of my favourite plants and is a member of the carrot family (which also includes cumin, parsley, coriander, dill, caraway, fennel, parsnip and celery.)
At some time, the owners of Callow Down Farm were granted permission to divert the footpath which ran through their farm yard. This is a perfectly reasonable thing to do when the alternative is only a few yards longer. The house the path now skirts is large and attractive on one side, the other side bearing an unfortunate scar from a previous extension , visible as a patch of darker, possibly glazed bricks. A sign in the well proclaims this as the home of the Callowdown Pedigree Welsh pigs so it must still be a working farmhouse. Nice! Their barn was wreathed in a particularly lovely pink rose which caught Gloria’s eye while my slightly less ambitious eye was caught by an orange poppy in front of a purple iris.
Leaving Callow Down behind, we walked through yet more hay meadows. One contained yellow rattle in abundance and another featured what I think was a native mullein. (I used to know these things for sure, but it appears that something had to give as I acquired new knowledge!)
We now found ourselves walking along a stretch of the Ridgeway which we recognised (partly due to the excellent signage, it must be said!) One of the clues which reminded me where we were was the ‘Bull in field’ sign on the gate. There were no cattle of any description in the field today, just lots of beautiful thistles. The path took us through a brilliantly-species-rich hedge (which included Hornbeam and Field Maple, with its very attractive parasite, as well as some evergreens) and into a wheat field with a very clear path down to a wooded area.
After passing through the shade of the wood, we followed an almost straight line north north east towards Bledlow, emerging just between the church and the pub. Ignoring both temptations we headed for a little treasure opposite the early eighteenth century manor house which has been home to the Carringtons since 1801 and is home to the present Lord C. The Lyde garden, named after the river, is set in a steep-sided valley and is a small but perfect gem of a garden open to all comers. Michael and I have been lucky enough to visit it a few times, once even taking my mother all the way to the bottom and back in her wheelchair! At this time of year there is plenty of lush growth and Michael observed that it almost felt like Cambodia. There was no evidence of this years’ visitors nesting in the house in the centre of the pond but there was plenty of evidence of bird life throughout the garden. We had to brush some of it off the bench by the top pond before we could sit down! All of the water must be natural chalk streams and springs and the sound of water permeates the whole place. We had a very welcome sit down for a banana break and a drink, although Michael managed to get most of his water on himself...
Leaving the garden, refreshed, we saw a Red Kite and a Kestrel apparently having a bit of an aerial disagreement just as we passed a cottage with a particularly lovely road-side garden. We passed the listed but abandoned building known as Bledlow Homes at the junction with the main road. This was the workhouse from 1800 until it became a school in the late 19th century. Bucks County Council still owns the building.
Turning left off the road we crossed a massive wheat field then came onto a concrete path running past a lovely old farmhouse, Frogmore Farm. We next passed a equally attractive farm house where a ride on mower was giving its owner some problems. We declined to offer our help. A short road section, initially named Oddley Lane took us towards Saunderton and past some previously accessible wildlife ponds. Saunderton is a very spread out village but we were lucky enough to pass its thirteenth century church. Also nearby are the moat of a Norman castle and the site of a Roman villa, although we didn’t see those. What we did see was a magnificent amount of marestail (a member of the genus Equisetum). This plant may be classified as a nuisance almost as serious as ground elder by some gardeners, but I think it is amazing. Apparently, the leaves don’t normally carry out photosynthesis, that role is performed by the stems. The plant bears spores and is therefore a relative of the ferns. What makes it amazing is that it has been in existence since the Carboniferous era. To my amazement, Dick pointed out a magnificent fungus!
Turning sharp right, we walked south south east along the hedge boundary of a lovely buttercup-filled meadow, crossing under north bound side of the railway line. The area felt like an inland island and was rendered even more strange by having the right to walk up the driveway of a lovely house called The Old Rectory. We met up with the Ridgeway again just before we crossed the southbound railway line in its deep cutting. Here we had to delay some enthusiastic camping walkers by chatting for a few moments as one member of the party was taking a comfort break!
The long hedgerow we followed towards our next goal contained some lovely honeysuckle. We crossed another wheatfield on a broad herbicide-created path heading towards Loosely Row and Lacey Green on the top of the hill ahead. But first we had to cross the busy A4010 Princes Risborough to High Wycombe road. Scary!
After walking alongside a field with a huge number of ants, we followed the signposted route very obediently, getting scratched, prickled and stung all over again, only to find that the concrete track we had rejected went in exactly the same direction... A short but very step uphill section brought us to Loosely Row. At this point the chaps claimed they were pausing and reflecting: Gloria and I had rushed off ahead, only to find that they were no longer behind us. Whilst waiting, I spotted the war memorial built into the side wall of a driveway before we set off up yet another steep hill. Passing a house with a snowman on an upstairs window ledge and a sign saying ‘A lovely woman and a grumpy old man live here’ we arrived at The Whip. No whips needed to get us in here, our lunch time venue. Normally, we take sandwiches and eschew pub grub (except maybe a bowl of chips...) but The Whip was at the six mile mark at 12:30 so it was the perfect place to buy lunch.
It was made even more perfect by being adjacent to the Lacey Green windmill, owned by the Chiltern Society (who organised the signing of the Chiltern Way) since 1971. It is open on Sunday afternoons and Bank Holiday Mondays from May to June and was, as we sat in the Whip’s lovely garden, being painted with a tar-based paint using a cherry picker to reach the cap. Two flying-related things happened after we had eaten (sandwiches with a bowl of chips!): firstly, a lovely friendly Robin decided to join us and Michael gave him some cheese. Secondly, two fighter planes roared past. As we finished our food, it started to get really windy and cool. My thin cotton top was no longer enough to keep me warm and Gloria very generously lent me the cagoule she had bought (but never wore) to keep dry at a Bon Jovi concert. The obligatory team photo shows Michael (who didn’t have anything else to put on) looking normal while the rest of us look like we are on an entirely different walk. Just before we left the garden, anticipating rain (although the landlord said he thought it would blow over), Sam the Jack Russell asked to have his photo taken.
We thought the path took us past the windmill and walked up that way, only to be approached by a very friendly woman who wanted to talk to us about the mill and the repainting. We finally twigged that the route didn’t go this way and she was on ‘stop the visitors’ duty to keep the painters safe. Back down that path and turning left, we came to the real path alongside a very ornate bus shelter, built to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002. This path quickly became very muddy at the first stile before we crossed an interesting field. The majority of the crop was what but there were a great many distinct patches of oats, their brighter green foliage and soft awns making them very visible.
At the end of this field it would have been less than easy to determine where to go next had we relied on the signage – the plaque was upside down. The next two had been removed entirely and I wondered whether the landowner was less than enthusiastic about having a popular walking route directed across his land, land which contained one of the Chiltern’s most valuable crops – horses. We survived the experience and even stopped to chat to one for a while before pressing on again.
We passed a polo pitch on the left before we crossed our first field of oil seed rape. This bright yellow crop is a member of the cabbage family which is why fields of it smell so foul as they start to rot in the autumn. Michael offered to take a photo including me rather than him and the result is fine! You’ll notice that the weather has improved and the rainwear is off – the landlord was right. At the end of this field we joined Grim’s Ditch (or Dyke) and dropped down to Lily Bottom Lane. Here we paused for a moment to make sure we understood the route and Dick referred to the book for the first time in ages.
We followed the line of Grim’s Ditch through some woodland, part of which was taking part in an ADAS experiment. Joining a road which also followed the Ditch for a while, my eye was caught by this gate just before we crossed another quiet lane and carried on alongside Grim’s Ditch for a while before striking off almost due east. The field of wheat we now crossed was a little later than some we had seen before and the ears were still uncurling. The path took us through a small copse in a dell before Grim’s Ditch, which had turned through a right angle, led us towards Hampden House. The Hampden family’s most famous member is John who refused to pay Charles 1st’s ship tax and fought and died in the English Civil War. There were Hampdens in the house until 1938: Hammer Films owned the house for a while and it features in several of their horror films. More importantly, Dick and Gloria attended a family wedding in the church and reception in the house not many years ago.
From Hampden House the path ran due north though woodland which included one magnificent Redwood tree . This lovely cool wood all-too-soon gave way to yet another wide open wheat field. On top of the hedge on its north western edge, a crow was sitting too near to a song bird’s nest. Said song bird was cheeping and chirruping its little heart out. Michael tried clapping the crow away but the field was too near a busy road for this to worry the crow. So St Tiggywinkle himself set off to disturb the crow. I don’t know what he said to it but the crow left and the songbird shut up so order was restored. Suggestions? ‘Pick on someone your own size’ or ‘I had a cat called Crow once.’ Maybe not! As we got to the field corner to leave, I spotted a fledgling bird on the ground.
After crossing the road to Chequers, we walked through a long stretch of woodland which I have admired from the road too many times to count. My patience was rewarded – it was a lovely area with dappled light falling on a wide variety of trees. We saw several very peaceful squirrels including this one who thought he was hiding from my sight. Upon leaving the wood we were faced with a steep climb but our reward came at the top when we spotted a bench made from a fallen tree. The view when we (reluctantly? Nope!) sat down was worth the climb. As we sat, we were less than 500 yards from the car and, blissfully, that was Gloria’s car with its very welcome air conditioning. The ten miles had taken us as long as Gloria and I took to do the 26.2 miles of the Moonwalk, but it had been a lot more fun (and the chips were great!)