First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
After a morning of downpours, rags of blue sky and great anvil-topped thunderheads of cloud were contesting the heavens over the Chiltern Hills.
This part of south Buckinghamshire is gloriously rich in woodland, perfect for a walk among autumn scents and colours especially after rain, when the black earth of the forest floor smells rich and every turning leaf gleams as though polished up for parade.
Horses flicked raindrops from their tails in paddocks still wet and glistening. Green lanes and hedge paths led us through the beech woods where squirrels leaped among the twigs, shaking down showers of raindrops. We walked pathways paved with fallen beech leaves, gold and lemon.
Two big woods, Common Wood and Penn Wood, are the particular pride of the neighbourhood. These are ancient woodlands, where Roman ironmakers collected wood for their furnaces, Saxons and medieval Londoners hunted deer, and Georgian chair-makers and wheelwrights harvested the beech-wood for their specialist trades.
Now they lie open for walkers, crisscrossed with permissive paths dedicated by Penn Estate. In Common Wood hornbeam and hazel, holly and oak made variegated patterns among the predominant beech, against a sky where thunder grumbled and rain showers came pattering by. We found tiny creamy fungi on stout black stalks, with gills as delicate and transparent as mother of pearl.
The path branched north towards Penn Wood past the rough pasture of Farther Barn Field, where a bunch of British White cattle with shiny black noses lay chewing the cud on the dry patches of ground they had reserved when the rain began. One cow had a pair of magpies perched on her back; she seemed entirely at ease with them.
Up in Penn Wood a patchy blue sky was breaking overhead as we turned for home. By the path a purple leaf beech, encased in a stout tree guard, carried a plaque. It had been donated by Prince Charles and planted in 2000 by Earl Howe, to commemorate the successful campaign waged by determined locals to prevent the wood being ‘developed’ as a golf course.
A strange and welcome irony, since it was Earl Howe’s ancestor who had enclosed the common here in 1855 and deprived the local commoners of their immemorial rights.
Start: Winchmore Hill, Bucks HP7 0PH (OS ref SU 933949)
Getting there: Bus 73 (Amersham)
Road: Winchmore Hill is signed off A404 between High Wycombe and Amersham
Walk (5½ miles, woodland paths, OS Explorer 172): From left corner of playground on village green, follow ‘Chiltern Way’/CW. In 300m cross road (929949); follow CW among trees. In 500m, left along tarmac road (927945); in 300m, on left bend (926942), CW forks right. Leave trees; anticlockwise round field edge, down to road (923939). Right; left up Noaks Lane; in 40m, right (922939, CW) along Penn Bottom. In 300m, right off CW up field (918940); through Brook Wood; cross road (919946) into Common Wood. Left along wide ride, forking right in 250m (‘Penn & Common Wood Long Trai). In 1 mile, in clearing with slatted ‘Common Wood’ notice board 50m on left, right downhill (904953, red stripe post) through Gravelly Way Plantation. Cross road (906959) into Penn Wood past gate (info board on right). Follow broad ride east for 1 mile to junction (921959); right to road; left into Penn Street. At junction, ahead (‘Amersham’); in 30m, left by The Cottages (923957, fingerpost); follow yellow arrows for ¾ mile across fields, through Priestlands Wood to Winchmore Hill.
Lunch/Accommodation: Potters Arms, Winchmore Hill HP7 0PH (01494-726222, pottersarms.co.uk) – lunch booking advisable