First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A cold blue morning over South Buckinghamshire, the train rattling away from Denham station, and the path across Bucks Golf Course frosted between its wooden fences. Clever landscaping of fairways and bunkers made the surroundings look like an undulating grassland, through which the golfers trundled their carts obediently from lie to lie.
Beyond the clubhouse lay the tangle of rivers and canal that forms the backbone of the Colne Valley Country Park. We crossed the River Colne and headed north from Denham Lock up the broad, quiet waterway of the Grand Union Canal.
Walkers, runners, gongoozlers and strollers lapped up the winter sunshine like thirsty camels at an oasis well. ‘So lucky, aren’t we?’ was the greeting of the Hillingdon Heath Walkers who were stumping along thirty strong and very cheerful.
Moorhens flew across the canal, patting the dark water into sparkles with their long green toes. A swan came in from the flooded gravel pits alongside, skimming low, as white and dramatic as a Sunderland flying boat, with great clapping beats as its wingtips smacked the surface of the canal.
We passed below the flattened skew arches of Denham railway viaduct, a workaday structure, yet beautifully patterned by its Victorian designers, light brick contrasting with dark, a lip of raised beading emphasising the graceful shape of each arch.
Up at Widenwater Lock we crossed the Grand Union and set back along a parallel path beside gravel-pit lakes where a pair of great crested grebes flirted beak to beak, shaking their heads at each other in a dream of courtship still a couple of months off.
Back at Denham Lock we followed a grassy path towards Denham village. A couple of dogs dug enthusiastically for treasure in the bed of the shallow River Misbourne. In the village street, every prospect pleased. Curly Dutch gables, mellow brick walls, red pantiles, immaculate gardens – it was as though the judges for ‘Prettiest Village In Buckinghamshire’ were due at any moment.
We followed the narrow lane intriguingly named The Pyghtle back to Denham Station. Green snowdrop spears were already pushing up along the verges, and under the flaky bark of sycamores a secret world slept the winter away – tiny beetles, immovable flies, and silk purses of spider eggs in waiting.
Start: Denham station, UB9 5ES (OS ref TQ 042877) or Colne Valley Country Park, UB9 5PG (048864)
Getting there: Rail to Denham. Road: Colne Valley/Denham Country Park is signed from A40, Jct 1.
Walk (7 miles, easy, OS Explorer 172): Down steps by station ticket office; right through tunnel; in 100m ahead through kissing gate. Follow fenced path across golf course. Opposite church, left (045870) to club house (050868). Right down drive; through gates; left (049860, ‘Grand Union Canal’ fingerpost). In 400m cross footbridge (052862); left up canal for 1½ miles to Widenwater Lock (050887). Right across bridge; in 250m, right (051888, ‘Colne Valley Trail’/CVT, ‘London Loop’/LL), In 20m ignore barrier/path to right; ahead to turn right along CVT. In ¼ mile, right along road (054884); in 50m don’t fork left along LL, but follow road/CVT to right. In just over a mile, right across canal (053867); retrace steps to golf club drive near gates (049864). Ahead (‘Circular Walk’ fingerpost) past Colne Valley Country Park visitor centre, following ‘Denham Village’ and ‘South Bucks Way’ to road (043869). Right through Denham; at left bend, right (040871) along The Pyghtle to station.
Lunch/Accommodation: Falcon Inn, Denham UB9 5BE (01895-832125, falcondenham.com)