Tuesday, 12 May 2015

A Chiltern Ridge Walk from Wendover, Buckinghamshire

One hour from Harringay by car. A walk with fantastic views across the Vale of Aylesbury, red kites, beech woods, 14th century church and a chance to snoop as you circumnavigate Chequers, the PM's country residence.

How to get there 
By car up the M1, one junction on the M25 to the A41, after Tring right along the A4011 to Wendover, there is a small car park in the main street opposite Budgens. Alternatively catch the train to Wendover from Marylebone. 

The Walk 
It's as long as you want to make it. There are loads of footpaths to choose from. This walk is around 9 miles and based on the 'Combe Hill and Chequers' walk covered in the brilliant 'Thames Valley and Chilterns Pathfinder Guides' which I've just discovered. The Ordnance survey map is Explorer 181. 

Wendover is a small market town that's been there for ever, first references are from Saxon times in 970 AD. On your way out you pass a few nice old houses. 


You're out of Wendover and on the walk pretty quickly. There's a slow climb up to the ridge, 

Up on the Chilterns looking back at Wendover. 
After the initial large vistas, trees obscure the view for while until you hit Combe Hill, almost the highest point in the Chilterns providing glorious views all around and on a clear day to the Cotswolds. Red kites circle up on the rising currents and you can spot Chequers down to your left. 

Red Kites Circling above the view from Coombe Hill 

Views from Coombe Hill across the Vale of Aylesbury

The huge monument honours those who died in the second Boer War. It was erected in 1904 and is one of the first monuments to commemorate the dead rather than a victory. Behind the monument is a long wide avenue of closely cropped grass with some brilliant climbing trees, perfect for picnics and ball games. 
Coombe Hill Monument

You take the path close to the edge of the hill rather than down the avenue and just keep following the ridgeway path markers until you come to a wood, you then descend down the hill. 

Turn right along the road at the bottom for a short distance then turn left along a footpath straight through the middle of a field to Ellesborough Church.

Ellesborough Church 
Back across the road and along the footpath taking you to the picture book Beacon Hill, site of a first century fort. Whilst it's a bit of a detour, it's worth scrambling up Beacon Hill for the view. 

View of Ellesbough Church from Beacon Hill 

Back down to the path and you're shortly in a bit of woodland

Onwards until you rejoin the ridgeway path and this takes you behind Chequers, perhaps not the most beautiful of 16th century houses, but interesting none the less, in part because of all the security arrangements along the way. 

 then through beautiful beech woodlands 

and through a field of buttercups back to Wendover - lovely.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Blossom and Bluebell walk - Cobham, Kent

A varied up and down hills walk, taking in medieval churches claiming the best bronzes in England, the rolling North Downs, beech woods, traditional Kent houses, an 18th century mausoleum plus blossom and bluebells if you visit in early May.

How to Get There
One hour by car, although add 30 minutes to the journey back due to queues at the Blackwall Tunnel and gridlock in Hackney and Harringay. Easy to get there by car, through Blackwall Tunnel and straight down the A2 to the Cobham turnoff (the one after Gravesend). Parking with toilet after the parking at the first pub. Alternatively you can pick up the walk from near Sole Street train station  via St Pancras.

The Walk
This area is crisscrossed with footpaths, so easy to plan a walk which is the right length for you. We’ve tried 3 different routes so far, my favourite is the 9 mile one described here. The map you need is ordnance survey explorer 163.

Cobham is one of those picturesque Kent villages with flint knapped buildings and half timbered houses. For a tiny place Cobham packs in the history. Charles Dickens used to walk to the village from his house at Gads Hill and the Leather Bottle Pub features in the Pickwick Papers.

The walk begins behind Cobham’s 13th flint church. The pavement of medieval bronzes inside is worth seeing, as is the 16th century painted marble tomb with Lord Cobhan and his wife atop.
Cobham Church 

One of the Medieval Bronzes in Cobham church (themcs.org)

For me the highlight of this walk is field after field of apple blossom (at the beginning of May) on the outskirts of Cobham. They may not be the oldest gnarliest trees, but their number gently scents the air and makes it worthwhile. You enter the orchards by turning a sharp right after the ‘alleyway’ behind the church.
Blossom in Cobham's Orchards

A mile and a half later you suddenly hit the rolling chalky North Downs.

North Downs before Luddesdown

At Luddesdown it’s worth making a small detour to visit the church which originally belonged to the Norman house behind and was recorded in 1086 for the Domesday book. 
Luddesdown Church 

Some of the gravestones are so old only the tips are showing. The church is renowned for its wall paintings.

Gravestones in Luddesdown Church Yard 

After crossing a few fields you spend a mile going up and down through the ancient woodland of Rochester Forest, which supplied the timber for the Medway Towns shipbuilding. 

Rochester Forest  

You then turn onto the North Downs Way an easy ridge walk and at the right time of year carpeted with blue bells. 

It’s then down into valleys and up again over the hills, passing some lovely houses

Medieval Wealden Hall House. 

and eventually up to the 18th Century Darnley Mausoleum, which cost the equivalent of 
£1 millon in today’s money but never used for its intended purpose.

Darnley Mausoleum

It’s then an easy straight walk back to Cobham.