First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
There weren’t too many leaves on view in ‘leafy Bucks’ this beautiful sunny morning towards the end of winter. But everything else spoke of the crack of spring; blackbirds and goldfinches loud in the woods, rook nests ready in the forks of the beeches, and a golden spatter of celandines in the hedge banks as we followed Slough Lane out of Saunderton.
This outer sector of the Chilterns is steep country, the chalky ground folded and sculpted into long valleys trending north-west. The path leaped across them like a hurdler, up and down, up and down; and we leaped with it, or that’s what it felt like, with springtime putting itches in legs stiffened by the long winter’s sloth.
From Bledlow Ridge we plunged down steep steps through hazel coppice where primroses and violets were already pushing up out of the leaf mould. Across a broad valley and up where a dozen circling kites built an aerial tower of red and white wings. Down from the next ridge to the bridleway at the bottom of Bottom Wood, a lovely stretch among leafless beech trees. ‘Doesn’t matter which path you take,’ said a man with a dog, ‘they all end up in the same place.’
So they did, down among the barns and sheds of Ham Farm, an ancient holding. Steeply up again, kicking the complaints out of our legs through pastures of fat white sheep, up to a blowy ridge, over and down again along a flinty holloway to Chorley Farm.
Crossing the ploughlands by the half-timbered farmstead, we caught a glimpse of the tower of St Lawrence’s Church, high above West Wycombe down the valley. The golden globe moored atop the tower was once the gambling and drinking den of the Hellfire Club. Rich bored men with too much time and money on their hands, perhaps; but those randy Georgian rakehells left an enjoyable whiff of sulphur behind them all the same.
We climbed steeply up through the rough chalk grassland of Buttler’s Hanging nature reserve, and followed the ridge path back to Saunderton through beech-woods ringing with the songs of birds getting ready for their springtime manoeuvres in the great mating game.
Start: Saunderton Station, near West Wycombe, Bucks HP14 4LJ (OS ref SU 813981)
Getting there: Rail to Saunderton. Bus X30 (High Wycombe-Princes Risborough).
Road – Saunderton is on A4010 between Princes Risborough and West Wycombe.
Walk (7½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 172, 171): Right up Slough Lane. Pass Slough Bottom Farm entrance (811975); round left bend; right up green lane (fingerpost). At top of rise, right (805970) along Chinnor Road. In 650m, left (801974, fingerpost) by playground. From bottom right corner of field (799972), on down green lane. Pass farm; steeply down steps through wood to Bottom Road (798970). Left; in 300m, right (800968, fingerpost) across valley, up to road (793962). Left; in 100m, right (fingerpost) through wicket gate.
Across paddock; white arrow/WA across drive; right of barn at Ashridge Farm; through gate; green lane. In 200m ahead through gate (792958, yellow arrow/YA), down into Bottom Wood. Left along bottom bridleway (792957) for 1½ miles to Ham Farm (807944). Left between barns; stiles/YAs uphill. Just beyond summit, right over stile (810949, YA); left to go through hedge gap; right along hedge, down through Chawley Wood to Chorley Farm (816955).
Cross Bottom Road (stile, fingerpost) and fields; cross Loxboro Hill road (817957). Path across field; cross Slough Lane (817958). Green lane/path up through Buttlers Hanging nature reserve. At top, gate into Hearnton Wood (819961). Up steps; fork right at top; in 150m cross grass track; keep ahead through trees for 200m to meet ridge track (821962). Left for 1¾ miles to Saunderton.
Conditions: Steeply down to Bottom Road; steeply up through Buttler’s Hanging Nature Reserve.
Lunch: Golden Cross PH, Saunderton HP14 4HU (01494-565974, goldencrosspub.co.uk)
Accommodation: George & Dragon, West Wycombe HP14 3AB (01494-535340, georgeanddragonhotel.co.uk)