Dick & Gloria & Lesley & Michael's
Chiltern Way Walk
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Cookley Green to Bledlow Ridge - Saturday 11th August - 12 miles, 22,112 steps

In the absence of mad dogs, on this staggeringly hot day we four English 'men' decided to go for a walk!

We set off full of joy on a long, gentle downhill section ... only to find ourselves staggering up a much less gentle, far shorter uphill stretch just after the short cut (which omits Ewelme – how glad I am that we did not use the short cut!) rejoined the main path. And that set the pace for the day, really: out of the 22,112 steps I took, probably about 18,000 were uphill, 3,000 downhill and the remainder were on the level. That may be a slight exaggeration, but that's certainly how it felt!

The last walk had included the eastern end of Russell's Water common – this section included the western end and, assuming that both ends are treated identically, had been both mowed and baled in the intervening seven days. Walking for a few steps on the road, we came to a pond – is this the water which gives the place its name? It was the road to Russell's Water which was running in full spate on The Day It Rained (day 4) but at the time I couldn't see the sign for the rain!

The pond has both ducks and carp and features a very superior duck house with a verandah: there's plenty of money in Russell's Water. As we passed the pond, a couple were unloading the shopping (Tesco bags!) and a bottle of white wine dropped onto the ground when they opened the tailgate of their people carrier: astonishingly, the bottle bounced! They were nice people with two nice dogs and we chatted for a few minutes before pressing on. Michael wanted a banana break but we had walked exactly one mile so he was outvoted!

Descending through some woods, we emerged onto the road at a tiny place with another watery-sounding name, Pishill Bottom. (Sorry! - It is actually a corruption of Peas Hill.) The path turned sharp right into a farmyard through an ordinary farm gate – it didn't look like the right place at all, and a cyclist who was following the same bridleway was as puzzled by the situation as three of us were. The fourth had the book and he confirmed that we crossed the farmyard to reach the path. Fine!

So uphill again, through some woods which were trying to return a car to nature. It looked like a very elderly car indeed but that didn't stop Michael looking for people injured in the accident! It was just one element in the rich tapestry which was this farmer's attempt at installation art: why are some farmers such untidy hoarders? Up and up and up then along a short flat bit before going down and down. The trees were magnificent beeches, creating a stunningly tall natural bright green arch above the walkers in front of me.

At some point here we crossed a field and passed a vivid green pond – the surface looked almost solid enough to walk on – what a miracle that would be! I took a photo of it because I take photos of everything, not because it was particularly attractive: whilst Photoshopping the pics for this page I accidentally did something to a very dull photo and ended up with this ... I like it, and I write these pages, so it's staying in!

We did finally stop for a banana break, sitting on a fallen log which was covered in ants and knots. It was a very peaceful spot, or it was until we arrived. Skins packed away for disposal at home, we set off uphill again heading for Northend, walking through cool woodland en route where Michael simply had to investigate a badger sett. We emerged into blazing sunshine just before the village: we went to Southend on a previous stretch, and we've been to Park End too. Apparently, Northend is so called because it was at the northern end of the parish of Turville. Crossing a cornfield just before the village we saw Thistles, cobwebs and the inevitable Red Kites, although this one redeemed itself by being tagged – look closely at the foredge of its wing.

As well as plenty of scrub, Northend Common has some mature trees (including some fallen ones, one of which Glors moved aside for us) and plenty of ferns. Whilst taking this photo, as so often happens I was left behind for a while: hurrying to catch up with the others, I thought I saw them sitting on a tree eating their lunch. Had I joined those people, we would have had little to discuss!

We had entered the Wormsley Estate at the far edge of the common: we descended to the valley which forms the bulk of the estate's land down a very steep path. Our efforts were rewarded by two lovely sights: an apparently newly-relocated Palladian stone ornament standing in a patch of sunlight, and a haha in front of the brick and flint wall which surrounds New Gardens Farm. Following this wall to the private road through the estate, we collectively made a mistake in navigation: I will hold my hand up and admit to having thought that the arrow painted on the tree was intended for folks travelling our way but it turned out (what felt like a mile later) not to be the case: turning round, we passed a magnificent lone specimen of an amazingly straight but unidentified tree for a second time, saw the Red Kites playing again, and found the right path. It took us across a lovely meadow, ripe for mowing, in which we decided to have our lunch. The best spot was off the path under the shade of the Ash trees on the boundary with the wood we had just entered in error, and was uphill from the path of course.

Lunch was very welcome, as was the rest and sit down. We had the most wonderful view while we ate and we listened to the sheep complaining that the other sheep's grass is always greener (which happened to be actually true on this occasion). We also saw the bull in the field we were about to cross. Gulp! We crossed safely if rather quickly, although the calves were so sweet I had to pause for them to pose.

And then we started climbing a hill again, but this time we were walking alongside a Clover meadow which had the very rich border of wild flowers. The Clover smelt so sweet in the sunshine. At the top of the hill was a wood through which the path continued uphill for some distance. Eventually we left the Wormsley Estate and entered Ibstone common, where I saw a flower I have not spotted previously. Spotting a large erratic boulder just on the edge of the cricket pitch, Glors and I headed that way: the path actually went further to the left but our error put off a moment's disappointment – The Fox (where D&G had stayed once after a family party) is currently closed.

Putting our disappointment to one side we trotted on, entering someone's garden on a footpath. Honestly! That path took us downhill for a while before the inevitable happened – up again. After a lovely cool woodland, we emerged (through a gate smothered in Harvestman spiders) into a meadow with an uphill slope (naturally) leading to Studdridge Farm. The view from the top of this field was quite amazing (quite apart from the Red Kites, that is) – Dick suggested that the hills we could see on the distant horizon were, once again, the North Downs and I am in no position to contradict him. We were walking through what was obviously a horse field but there were no horses in sight until we got to the top of the hill and peeped into a barn: lying on the ground was a very young foal, its mother standing guard over it. It looked quite cool in the barn compared to the field – sensible things.

We passed a converted barn which looked like it was used for conferences and parties, and a fuel tank with a filler nozzle, beside which was a wasps' nest, before passing the house. As we did so, a young woman arrived in a Mini and another young woman, wet and with a towel wrapped around her bikini, emerged from the back of the house. “Are you ready for some pool action?” she asked, but sadly she was addressing her friend, not us...

As we crossed boundary between the house and the entrance drive we saw a bucket and brush ready should it become necessary to disinfect against foot and mouth disease: we had earlier walked across a piece of carpet on a footpath, laid down for exactly the same reason I suspect. Entering this field our exhaustion was starting to kick in – we set off in the wrong direction, towards Stokenchurch on the horizon. We had to walk back across the uncut hay meadow to reach the path at the point where it skirted a copse completely hiding two ponds. As we chatted our way towards the trees, a Red Kite flew out of them and screeched that dog whistle noise at us. We walked alongside the trees and were startled by a Roe Deer leaping over the fence enclosing the copse. After crossing in front of us, it stopped not very far away, anxious but not too distressed by our presence.

The next field was full of beautiful milking cows: one of them stood at the gate to greet us. This was, surprise surprise, a level field (with a Red Kite – this picture shows why they are are called Red), but it soon gave way to a steeply-sloping wood with a path going down to the wood's edge. The subsequent uphill was v-e-r-y s-t-e-e-p and exhausting but we got our reward at the top where a field of young ?Guernsey calves greeted us: three of these delightful creatures were, for some reason, in the farmhouse garden although they had been a bit careless with their football. The calves in the field were happy to pose for some photos and must be the most beautiful I have seen for a long time.

Sadly, the tunnel under the M40, although beautifully shaped, led to the far from beautiful Stokenchurch. Oh dear: I don't like to damn a whole town but it really is a dump! The first part of the town we walked through was a 1970s housing estate hard up against the M40: the houses must be dirt cheap because of the appalling noise from the road. The only compensation of living there that I could think of is that Red Kites circle in large numbers over the gardens. We left the housing estate and spotted the pub. Actually, it was A pub (there were four on the map) but it was the nearest-and-therefore-best. Oh what a sad mistake. The Fleur de Lis (what a lovely peaceful name) had been built in 1886, according to the delicate moulding on the wall inside a gable. Today, this is the only bit of delicacy about the place: like many pubs, there is now an outdoor area of decking for smokers which, in the case of the FdL, is brutally slapped in front of the building. On the decking sat a number of foul-mouthed builders and other men, determined to have a few drinks before Saturday afternoon was over. Our drinks drunk (but not, sadly, our chips eaten – no food was available), we moved off quickly, passing the Four Horseshoes (bouncy castle in the garden alongside a mobile kebab van) before crossing the road opposite the King's Arms (or should that be Kings' Arms?) where (when, later, we passed through on our way back to Cookley Green and the other car) we saw a wedding party in full photo-shoot mode. The path, excitingly for Michael, led us past the chip shop but, sadly for Michael, it was closed: it was open later when we were just too tired to consider stopping. So we headed for the Royal Oak, but it was closed for the afternoon. What a place, what a walk! How extraordinary.

Leaving Stokenchurch (ah, how sweet the phrase) we passed a Turkey Oak tree with its distinctive 'hairy' acorn cups before crossing a very large field whose crop had recently been harvested. Michael spotted something bright and shiny lurking in the stubble and just had to check it out: it was a bag like the ones inside wine boxes, not that we are familiar with such things – ho noh. It struck me several times as we crossed stubbly fields how wasteful harvesting processes are these days: as little as 150 years ago, peasants like us would have been astounded and delighted to have such rich gleanings after the harvest had been gathered. All was more or less gathered in, safely, as we passed oats, wheat and barley within a short distance of each other on this well-used track. Just after being passed by a very fit-looking runner, we stepped through the hedge alongside the track so that it was then between us and the track as we walked. Shortly afterwards we heard two vehicles behind us on the track and, turning round, saw a huge cloud of dust which had been stirred up by their tyres: it was drifting through the hedge. As we reached the crest of the land we could just see the runner as a tiny dot ahead of us with the dust storm-inducing vehicles closing in on her. I guess she stopped breathing until it settled.

After crossing another field of stubble and just after greeting an Essex horse (before you say anything, my mother was an Essex girl!), we passed the buildings of Pophley's Farm and climbed a very steep hill – it was worth the climb for the view back over the way we had just come as there was no sign of Stokenchurch... A short section led us to the first part of the scattered settlement of Radnage (which, when it appeared on the ridge, I had hoped was Bledlow – wrong!): we found ourselves walking through yet another garden, this one part of Andridge Farm. The lady of the farm chatted to us for a few minutes after we told her how much we admired her garden. We soon met a road and walked along a short stretch of it (passing Lords and Ladies and some lovely Damsons) before crossing a meadow below Radnage church: this church is unusual in having its tower in the centre, between the chancel and the nave. A wedding in the church, probably that afternoon, had decorated the church with blue Delphiniums and Lilies. As is so often the case, a previous rector's family had dedicated a window in his memory, and very beautiful it was too in the north wall of the nave, although not as lovely as the window in the west wall, of which this is a detail. The churchyard contains the grave of Raymond Brimble, manager of the Embassy Hill motor racing team, who died on the same foggy November day on which our son was born. Brimnble's death was the result of an air accident: he was a passenger in a light plane, being piloted by Graham Hill, which crashed in north London. Just think: in their memory, we could have named our son 'Raymond Graham' instead of 'Liquorice Sunset'...

We sat in the churchyard for a while, watching a tired-looking Blackbird collect food for its young: its feathers were tatty and dishevelled and it looked thin. Michael suggested that it might be on its third lot of chicks this year. Wow – no wonder it was tired!

Dick promised us that we were now less than a mile from Bledlow Ridge but it felt a lot longer, partly because it was, inevitably, uphill to get to the ridge which gives the place its name. We were all a little crazy with exhaustion by the time we got to the car – I couldn't remember which car it would be until we got there, for instance.

It was a really lovely and very memorable walk, despite my grumbles about the heat and the hills!

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