Dick & Gloria & Lesley & Michael's
Chiltern Way Walk

Bovingdon Green to Stonor - Sunday 15th July 2007 - 11 miles

You last heard from your walking correspondent in October 2006: someone could have conceived and given birth in the time it took us to get out there again! We do have a variety of excuses, most of them (except the Moonwalk training) very dull.

So without a pedometer to tell us how far we had gone (my error), we set off to walk from Bovingdon Green to Stonor, a distance of eleven miles. It felt a great deal longer driving back from the latter to the former in order to start the walk but that’s what The Book says, so it must be true. The forecast had been for showers or even heavy rain at around noon so we were all prepared but the weather when we started was dry and humid. It got more and more humid and hotter and hotter as we walked on but it didn’t rain until much later than noon. Glors (who did the Moonwalk in a fantastically quick time) was wearing her Walk The Walk t-shirt with its pink sparkly bra print. Later she put the freebie WTW waterproof ‘cagoule’ over the top and very effective it was too, once she worked out which was the head hole – it had ‘sleeves’ too, you see, and was too thin to see clearly.

The first section took us west, initially through some beautiful beech woods (as you’d expect). We met a very friendly Golden Labrador who was guarding a hedge cutter while his guardian strimmed the footpath grass. I was struck by how far advanced the ‘autumn’ fruits are this year – we saw crab apples, beech mast, hazel nuts, rowan, ash keys and, most beautiful of all, a damson tree with multi-coloured fruit ready for the birds. Or the Haynes, as the case may be. We saw and ate wild raspberries (I'm not saying whose hand that is – I don't want the birds to know who nicked their dinner…)

We saw a lot of flowers too and I photographed far too many of them: here is a montage… or two… or three… and we saw lots of butterflies, although they were far too fast-flying for me to capture on ‘film’. Having walked through deep woodland where the arrows painted on the trees were our only guide and along broad walks in carefully managed woods, we also walked along footpaths completely enclosed by hedgerows. In one of the managed woodlands, we came across what looked like a tennis umpire’s seat, apparently tied to a tree: it’s not hard to imagine someone sitting on it to watch badgers in the dusk – there isn’t a tennis court for miles!

As we passed through Rotten Row (as in rotten with wealth – what amazing houses, including this one especially for the waterfowl!), we saw these two horses apparently engaged in mutual grooming – ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ personified. (Should that be equestrianified?) We had a very welcome banana break in one of the most difficult places to take a photograph that I have ever encountered. With the land sloping steeply away from us in front and to one side and rising behind us and to the other side, I first of all used a gate post to get a view of the valley with us as mere details. Michael then constructed a tripod using two discarded tyres and, inadvertently, an ants’ nest. Sadly, both images show me in the act of sitting down again after setting the camera to ‘timer’: I can’t run quite as fast as pre-operatively yet (although that’s not saying much!)

As we left one stretch of woodland, a view emerged in front of us framed by the hedges and trees in that quintessentially English way. So many things about this walk were stereotypically English – the weather, the flowers, the flies, the beer, the views – oh my word the views.

On and on we pressed until we reached the edge of the delightful village of Hambleden, passing giant thistles (were they really Cardoons?) and a lovely specimen of Cotinus, the smoke bush, on the edge of the cricket meadow. Hambleden has featured in two episodes of Midsomer Murders - Down among the dead men and Who killed cock robin, in case you have the box set to hand. The many picturesque cottages and period features (such as the sign above the garage) have made it the chosen location for many films and TV programmes. The pub here, The Stag, was doing a roaring trade in Sunday lunches and one of the little cottages opposite had the most delightful tiny garden I have seen for some time. We decided to have our lunch on a bench outside the church and watched a woman move house as we ate: we assume that’s what the two strapping blokes with the trolley were doing, not simply stealing stuff! The good pub meant that the village was full of cars so it was hard to get good photos without vehicles in them, especially of the lovely church which we visited. The Book of the walk tells us that WH Smith, Victorian bookseller (whose grandson still runs the Hambleden Estate) is buried here but Wikipedia tells me that he is in the new cemetery, which explains why I couldn’t find his grave. The church has a beautiful ceiling in the nave and a lovely memorial to the family of Sir Cope Oyley. An arrangement of flowers at the foot of the tower, on a pedestal and lit from behind/below, looked rather striking.

As we left Hambleden, turning north to follow the valley, I took one last photo of the church and the cows grazing in the water meadow beside it. The fact that we were now in a valley was A Good Thing as it was very hot and we’d done a lot of hill climbing so far. Shortly after starting this section, after a stretch of path which took us through one back garden divided by an ancient path after another, Dick pointed out Cobstone Windmill which sits on the ridge above Turville. It didn’t appear to get any larger at all over the next three hours: it must have got closer and it can’t have been three hours, but one’s exhausted mind plays one such tricks! The valley is wide and u-shaped and mostly down to clover meadow: at one farm the hay was being turned and there were lots of Red Kites circling, presumably to pounce on the disturbed mice. I actually managed to get a half-decent photo of one or two of them for a change…kites, that is.

We passed a lovely farmhouse at Colstrope, its structure bearing witness to the changing fortunes of the family who farmed the land around it. By this point I was sweating so profusely that Michael offered to carry not only the camera bag but also my rucksack – what a star!

Just as Skirmett hove into view, we passed some sheep who were also finding the heat unbearable: we decided to visit The Frog and have a drink. Michael also decided to have a bowl of chips … or three … so we helped him to eat them. Only a few, of course. No more than a bowl each, as always! And then it started to rain: pubs in the UK became smoke-free 14 days earlier so, ironically, we found ourselves sitting in the approved smoking area, a glass-roofed open-walled structure which sheltered us nicely (and there were no smokers in it). Eventually, having tried to make our drinks last forever (or at least until the rain stopped or eased up) we agreed that we’d just have to press on, wearing our waterproofs. And we found ourselves making much faster progress now that it was too wet to take photos! I hadn’t realised how much I slow everyone down – my humblest apologies are due to my fellow walkers.

Leaving Skirmett we headed uphill to walk through some woodlands as the rain saturated us – it ran off our waterproof tops and onto our non-waterproof trousers and down into our shoes/boots. Nice. After the first wood, we walked through a lovely field and spotted a short uphill stretch ahead – it had stopped raining quite so heavily by now and we struggled up the hillside in the steamy heat. Well, three of us did: the little mountain goat known as Glors had made it up into the woods amazingly quickly. We three followed behind, hoping at every step that we had reached the top but Glors kept on climbing up for what felt like miles and hours – eventually she reached the top and waited for us. On we pressed towards Fingest: our first sight of the village filled us with joy, despite the dreadful weather. It sits in the most beautiful valley with incredible hills opening out all around it, and the trees and fields were steaming gently as the rain turned back to water vapour. We met a walker without a raincoat but with two little King Charles spaniels as we descended to the village with its lovely and very unusual church tower roof, a double ridge of red tiles.

Leaving Fingest the path was very narrow and chalky, hence immensely slippery in wet conditions. In addition, it was full of holes, presumably rabbit burrows, which presented an additional challenge. We were now walking under the ridge atop which sits the windmill we had seen for so long, but we couldn’t see it until we were almost in the village of Turville. This is the ‘Vicar of Dibley’ village and is charming. A local resident had posted a notice in their window pleading for lorry drivers to have a care when turning into the narrow lane alongside their house: photos showed the damage done to their roof on several occasions.

And on we plodded as the rain came and went. We passed a huge farm at Southend, Red Kite Farm, whose buildings were completely silent and empty of animals. According to a website I found, the farm was set up to produce organic milk for Waitrose but the deal fell through: the farm now produces rare breeds beef, hence the absence of stock in the buildings on a good grazing day. A short road section (one of mercifully few – the views are so much better from the fields!) led us onto our final stretch of footpath: not that far into it we had to pass through a seven foot tall gate of the ‘kissing’ variety and a notice alongside it told us that we were entering a private deer park. I was too exhausted to realise what good news this was: it meant that we would be walking through Stonor Park and the car was parked in Stonor! But my word, what a big park they’ve got – it took us another ten miles and two hours to cross it. (I may be exaggerating a little.)

At last we were on the road to the car: water was flowing down the tarmac in great streams, especially where a road to a place with an appropriately watery name discharged its flood onto the village street. We followed this flow downhill, watching as it first flowed into and then slightly blocked a drain before carrying on flowing down the road. Passing subsequent drain covers, we could hear huge quantities of water flowing fast down the valley.

And finally there was the Haynes’ car, with Glors’ work phone still in it (shhh!) We whizzed back to Bovingdon Green where we did a very quick scoot to our car – Michael had promised the landlord that we would have a drink in exchange for a parking space but we were very wet and tired…

What a lovely walk, and the next stage will take us to the point where we have to decide about the extension – it seems a shame not to walk it, somehow…