First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A cool misty morning, muted and grey across the Chiltern Hills, the grass of Great Hampden’s village green striking cold through my boot soles. The muddy track leading south through Hampden Coppice was carpeted green and gold with fallen beech leaves.
In Monkton Wood walkers had trodden a path through the copper-coloured bracken to avoid the stodgy dark mud of the bridleway. A typical autumn walk in the beechwoods, all glorious colour at eye level, all black and sticky down where the boots go squelching.
It was quiet and chilly under the trees. A great tit and a robin sang out, each asserting sole ownership over the forest, the tit with its two-tone call as clear as a glass bell, the robin with treble bursts of musical chatter. Round a rotting beech trunk clustered a host of parasol fungi, perhaps a thousand of the tiny grey umbrellas.
The path led steeply down to the old lane of Highwood Bottom. At the corner two big ragged chunks of puddingstone stood in the hedge, markers for the resting place of John Cooper, a highwayman buried here together with his bulging treasure bag – so stories say.
Whimsy hereabouts is not confined to hoary old tales. A rope ladder in a holly hedge led up to a little wooden house. ‘Elf lookout’, said the nameplate. ‘little people very welcome.’
On the outskirt of Lacey Green stood the village windmill, white sails akimbo, smock body black and tall, the oldest of its kind in Britain. Skylarks sang over the maize stubble. The woods exuded a rich earthy smell as I followed the Iron Age embankment known as Grim’s Ditch through the trees towards Hampden House.
The Hampden family lived on this spot from pre-Conquest times for a thousand years. One of their 14th-century scions, more choleric than wise, forfeited lands and favour at court by punching the Black Prince in the face during a bout of jousting. Another lost most of the family fortune in the South Sea Bubble investment scam of the 1720s.
Their ancient house stands among great cedars and beeches, a house with a weighty history, but a twinkle in its eye.
How hard is it? 5½ miles; easy; well-marked woodland paths
Start: Village green, Great Hampden, HP16 9RQ (OS ref SP 846015)
Getting there: Buses 333 (High Wycombe, Tue & Fri), 334 (High Wycombe, Mon-Fri)
Road: From A4128 (Great Missenden–High Wycombe) follow ‘Bryant’s Bottom’, then ‘Great Hampden’
Walk (OS Explorer 181): From bus stop, walk down right side of village green; stile and yellow arrow/YA into woods; straight ahead for ¼ mile to road (844011). Right to crossroads; bridleway opposite (fingerpost/FP) straight ahead for ¾ mile to Highwood Bottom (833005). Right (‘Restricted Byway’); in ½ mile beside gates of ‘Datcha’, right (826004). In ½ mile at metal gates (822006), left to road (821005). Right; at bus shelter, right (819007, kissing gate/KG) on Chiltern Way/CW. In nearly 1 mile at Lily Bank Farm (831015), dogleg left/right across drive and on. In 50m, at 4-finger post, fork left (CW); follow CW through trees, crossing 2 roads (833019 and (835022). Ahead (‘Whiteleaf, Redland End’) along lane. At next road at Redland End (835022) cross into hedge; left; in 30m, through KG; follow CW (white arrows) through trees and over field to Hampden House (848024). At church, right through churchyard and south gate; path south (YAs) for ½ mile to Great Hampden.
Lunch: Hampden Arms, Great Hampden (01494-488255, thehampdenarms.co.uk)
Accommodation: Nag’s Head, Great Missenden HP16 0DG (01494-862200, nagsheadbucks.com)
Info: High Wycombe Visitor Information Service (01296-382415)