First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
None of the Chiltern counties north-west of London is richer in beechwoods, chalky hollows and flinty ridges than Buckinghamshire. On a cold dank day in town you can feel those misty valleys beckoning you away from what you ought to be doing. We didn’t even try to fight it. We got our walking boots on, and set out before the clock struck midday from the Black Horse Inn, just outside Chesham where the Metropolitan tube runs out of line.
This is horse country, a land of paddocks and hay mangers. At Bower Farm the wind-vane figure was a polo player in mid-chukka. Nags caparisoned in thick winter blankets came to the field gates to see what we were up to. Up on the ridge above White Hawridge Bottom we trod heavy clay fields seeded with millions of flints. The rough nuggety soil had been the ruin of many Victorian ploughshares, whose snapped-off fragments lay rusting in the furrows.
The fine 18th-century farmhouse of Hawridge Court stands on the site of an early medieval manor, itself built inside an oval earthen bank that might date back a thousand years or more. The hedges in the valley bottom are thick and venerable, the beech woods ancient.
There’s a sense of long continuity in these Chiltern hills and hollows. The local clay has gone to make good bricks for hundreds of years, and the craft still flourishes at the brickworks of HG Matthews on its saddle of ground above the woods. There were stacks of red bricks in the yard, and a good sour smell of baking brick from the wood-fired kiln beyond the sheds.
We passed the cottages at Bellingdon Farm where DH Lawrence lived briefly in 1914 while writing ‘The Rainbow.’ Compton Mackenzie paid him a visit there, and was amused to find the great writer on his knees scrubbing the kitchen floor.
The homeward path lay along a beautiful hillside and up between the blackly twisted beech roots of Captain’s Wood, where goldfinches flirted from tree to tree and a ghostly silver sun slipped briefly out between one drifting cloud and the next.
Start: Black Horse Inn, Chesham Vale, Bucks, HP5 3NS (OS ref SP 963045)
Getting there: Chesham is signed from A41 between Hemel Hempstead and Tring. At Chesham, follow ‘Hawridge’ for 1 mile to Black Horse.
Walk (6½ miles, easy underfoot, OS Explorer 181): From Black Horse, right along road. In 150m, right (fingerpost/FP, stile) up path. At gate at top of rise, right (961045, stile, arrow). Bear right along hedge, following yellow arrows/YAs; then through 2 large fields for ¾ mile. Opposite Hawridge Court, go through kissing gate/KG (950058); immediately left downhill (YAs, KGs) to valley bottom (948056). Right (KGs, YAs); in 400m cross Hawridge Lane (945059); on through 2 fields (YAs) and into woodland (941064).
In 300m, left at waymark post (939066, YA); cross valley bottom; up through woods to pass brickyard. At building across path, left (937062, YA) along field edge with hedge on right. In 250m, right past house (939061); in 100m, left (‘bridleway’ fingerpost). In ¼ mile, right down Hawridge Lane (942057) past Bellingdon Farm to road (940055).
Left; in 100m, right (fingerpost) down Two Gates Lane. In ¼ mile, left (940051, KG, YA) across 2 fields. Go through 5-barred gate under large oak (942051, YA) and on with hedge on left (gates, YAs). In ¼ mile, at end of 3rd field, through KG (946048); right along lane. At left bend, ahead (KG, YA) on fenced path. At field, left (YA) along hedge above valley.
In ½ mile enter Captain’s Wood (949040). Keep ahead. In 200m, left (950038, stile, YA) through paddocks (gates, YAs) into drive; ahead to cross road (952039). Through KG (fingerpost); left along track. In 300m track bends right (952042), then snakes left/right over stile (954043, YA) into Ramscourt Wood. Follow YAs through wood and down slope to bear right in valley bottom (958045) along track. In 250m, left by house (960043, YA, stile) up fenced path. Right over stile at top (961045); retrace steps to Black Horse.
Conditions: Some slippery stiles.
Lunch: Black Horse Inn (01494-784656; theblackhorsechesham.co.uk)
The January Man – A Year of Walking Britain by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday, £14.99). For 30% off, call 01206 255 777, quoting TIMES302017.