It was a bleak and blowy winter’s day over north-west Berkshire, with a sky full of those bruised-looking clouds that foretell a hell of a lot of rain before you’re much older.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Even the charms of Cuddington – thatched houses of silver-gold stone, an excellent village shop and a gorgeous church on a knoll – couldn’t hold us. We longed to be out in the subtle, low-rolling landscape, walking off sloth, that insidious old enemy, before the Clerk of the Weather should spy us.
The River Thame was bubbling full of snowmelt floods. It raced under its flimsy footbridge and lapped into the fields around Old Mill. Out along the Thame Valley path swans paddled in the flooded aspen groves, and a big red kite went balancing over them, adjusting crooked wings and forked tail to each nuance of the wind.
The whole land lay muted, still and beautiful. This was a countryside swept and sailed through by winter. Giant old oaks stood stark and bare in the fields of winter wheat. The close-shaven hedges guarded ditches brimming with brown water. The field paths clogged and bogged us so that we wore two pairs of boots apiece, our Brasher Supalites encased in huge clown boots of mud and flood-scattered straw.
Up at Eythrope Park the river surged with a soft roar under the bridge beside a fabulous fantasy house of carved wood, fishtail tiles and Tudor chimneys. The splendidly individualistic Alice de Rothschild had it built in the 1870s as the lodge for her nearby country house, The Pavilion. She laid her hand decisively on the stable block along the drive, too, with lashings of half-timbering, bright red brick and candlesnuffer roofs.
Long paths through parkland and fields brought us up to the church and manor house at Upper Winchendon, down again over ridges and silent little dells to church and manor at Nether Winchendon. What a contrast to the garish gloriosities of Eythrope, these settled and graceful old compositions of house, church, gardens and trees. If you wanted to show visitors from Xiaoquandong the essence of England, you’d probably show them Nether Winchendon.
Back across the eddying, still rising Thame; back over the fields to beat the rain into Cuddington by a short head, with the lights of the Crown shining through the dusk like welcoming beacons at the harbour mouth.
Start: Crown Inn, Cuddington, Bucks HP18 0BB (OS ref SP 738111)
Bus: Service 110 (www.arrivabus.co.uk), Aylesbury-Thame
Road: Cuddington is signed off A418 between Aylesbury and Thame
Walk (9 miles, easy grade, OS Explorer 181): From Crown Inn,
down Upper Church Street. By church, left down Tibby’s Lane. Past
cottage, left (yellow arrow/YA), then right along hedge. Cross River
Thame (737120). Right by Old Mill; follow Thame Valley Walk for 2
miles to Bridge Lodge (767135). Left up drive (‘Bernwood Jubilee
Way/BJW’; blue arrow/BA). Right by Beachendon Cottages (‘Swan’s
Way’); left by Eythrope Park gate (770140; fingerpost). Follow
Swan’s Way for 1 mile to North Lodge (760151). Left (BA) for ½
mile. At post 100 m before drive, right (754148; no arrow) up bank;
YAs to cross road (752150; fingerpost). Though trees; right along
drive, and follow it for ½ mile. On right bend, left through gate
(745156); YAs across 3 fields, heading south for ⅓ mile to newly
planted avenue (744150). Left up avenue. Pass pond on right; in 50 m,
aim right of church to bottom right corner of wood (745145). Through
gate; left and over stile; right across field (YA) to cross road in
Upper Winchendon (744141; fingerpost). Pass to right of cottage; over
stile; along top of bank to stile/YA (746139); bear half right across
field; follow stiles/YAs for 1¼ miles across fields (743133 –
742129 – 741125) to Old Mill. Right along drive (BJW) to road
opposite church in Nether Winchendon (733122). Left past Manor Farm;
in 50 m, left (731120; fingerpost) on paved footpath for ¾ mile to
NB: Online maps, more walks: www.christophersomerville.co.uk.
Refreshments: Crown Inn, Cuddington (01844-292222;
www.thecrowncuddington.co.uk) – warm, friendly, welcoming.
Information: Aylesbury TIC, off Market Square (01296-330559);