First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
It was a glorious sunny morning in the Oxfordshire Chilterns, with a slight nip in the air and the prospect of a day’s unbroken blue sky. A green woodpecker’s cackle followed us down the lane.
Behind a screen of trees stood the ruin of St James’s Church, its narrow Romanesque windows blank and open to the wind, Saxon doorway arches rising from a nave strewn with nettles. Fat 18th-century brick buttresses bore witness to the centuries-old struggle to prevent the church collapsing before its final closure in 1874.
From the church the rutted track of the Chiltern Way Extension bore away west between flinty fields and among the beech trees of Wellgrove Wood. Strong sunlight silvered the beech trunks and cast a green glow on box bushes, but nothing could penetrate the pink-grey gloom of the yew grove on the slope before Nettlebed.
A lively place, Nettlebed, a village of immaculate houses and gardens, with a famous folk club whose fixture list reads like a Who’s Who of musical heroes.
This area of the Chilterns is a patchwork of farmland and woods interspersed with old stretches of common land, some still carefully tended by people who enjoy common rights, others neglected and run wild. Primroses and cowslips grew in the mossy verges of Nettlebed Common, where a tree creeper scuttled up a beech tree with bowed back and bent head, intent on levering insects out of hiding with its sharp hooked beak.
There were bluebells under the trees of Berrick Trench, and a dark-edged bee-fly, like a bee with a long sharp proboscis, busy pollinating the primroses. Steeply up to the grassy saddle of Russell’s Water Common, and then down through the quiet glades and flowering slopes of Warburg Nature Reserve.
Warburg is an absolute jewel in the Chiltern crown, a clutch of sheltered chalk valleys where orchids flourish, rare gentians bloom in autumn, and herb paris with its sinister black whiskers grows under the trees in spring. The three Wildlife Trust members we met were installing deer fencing; they had been coppicing and weaving hazel hedges earlier in the week. Such voluntary labour and skill safeguards and enhances this wonderful remote spot.
How hard is it? 6 miles; easy; field and woodland paths
Start: Warburg Nature Reserve car park, Bix Bottom, RG9 6BL (OS ref SU 721878)
Getting there: From A4130 (Wallingford-Henley) to Bix village (signed). Left along Rectory Lane; follow ‘Bix Bottom’, then ‘Warburg Reserve’.
Walk: Back along road to pass St James’s Church ruin (727869); right (‘Crocker End’) for 1 mile to Crocker End (711868). Ahead along road, then left side of green for ⅓ mile to road (706868). Ahead into Nettlebed. Right along Watlington Street (702867); in 100m fork right (Mill Road). At electricity substation (703872) left into trees. Follow white arrows to 2 houses (703876). Right before first one (yellow arrow/YA). In field beyond pond, half left to gate (704880, YA). Ahead through trees. At Westwood Manor Farm, cross byway (708883, YAs); across hill to metal gate (708887, YA). Through trees; across byway (708889); right up hill (kissing gate/KG, YA) to road (711890). Right past 5 Horseshoes, then Russell’s Water Common. At left bend, ahead (718886) beside hedge, then along track. Opposite Lodge Farm Cottage, right on track (723882, unmarked). In 25m, left (KG, YA, ‘Nature Reserve’). In 400m at gate, ahead (722881) downhill to car park.
Lunch: 5 Horseshoes, Maidensgrove RG9 6EX (01491-641282, thefivehorseshoes.co.uk) – closed Mon, Tue.
Accommodation: White Hart, Nettlebed RG9 5DD (01491-641245, thewh.co.uk)