The sun had just risen over Hatchet Wood as we left the Frog Inn, pursued by the raucous ‘Get-up-and-at-’em!’ of Skirmett’s alarm-cock.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Blackthorn and field maple, bramble bushes and wayfaring trees edged the track that climbed Elmdown to reach the skirts of Great Wood. Here we sat on a fallen beech, its trunk rotted and eaten by insects into bare sinews of black and brown, to watch two red kites circling and talking to each other with staccato, kitten-like mews.
The long, narrow valley of the Hamble Brook, running north-to-south to meet the River Thames near Marlow, is thick with beautiful mature Buckinghamshire woodland, easy to get lost in if you don’t keep your wits (and your Satmap GPS device) about you. Roe deer haunted the trackways of Great Wood, slipping away into the shadows as soon as glimpsed. Between beech trunks streaming with dusty sunlight we caught glimpses of the crossed sails of Turville Windmill, high and mighty on a sharp-cut ridge. Great tits went chasing through the pines, and at the edge of the wood a burst of feathers edged with blue and black showed where a jay had come to a sudden full stop – fox, peregrine or shotgun.
We emerged at last from the woods to a superb prospect over Hambleden and its valley – pale chalky green-and-white of ploughed fields, green pasture in squares and lozenges, the hanging woods above, and the red brick walls and tiled roofs of the village clustered round the grey church half hidden among its trees. If you ever have to illustrate ‘essence of rural England’ to a Martian, here’s the view.
Down among the half-timbered Arts & Crafts gables, terracotta chimneys and flint cobble walls of the village, a herd of pedigree cattle stood under a massive beech. I put my hand over the fence, and one of them licked it with a pale muscular tongue as abrasive as sandpaper. Out along the Hamble valley, red kites had gathered over the pastures; we counted 18 in the air at the same time, their red, white and chocolate forms brilliantly lit in strong sunlight. Under these fork-tailed guardian angels we followed the field paths back to Skirmett.
Start & finish: Frog Inn, Skirmett, Nr High Wycombe, Bucks RG9 6TG (OS ref SU775902)
NB: Alternative start: Hambleden (more parking). If starting from Frog Inn, please ask permission, and please give inn your custom!
Getting there: M40 Jct 5, and minor roads via Ibstone; or A4155 (Henley-on-Thames to Marlow) to Mill End, then minor road.
Walk (9 miles, moderate, OS Explorer 171) NB: Many unmarked paths in woods. Use these detailed instructions, and take Explorer map/GPS/Satmap to help you!:
From Frog PH, right along road (take care!). Round right bend (776899; ‘Hambleden’), then left bend. In 30 m, right (775898) over stile, up hill path. At top of rise, follow path to right along ridge. In ¾ mile it curves right to top of ridge (766897), then begins to descend (footpath sign on tree). In 200 m, at fork with footpath sign, keep downhill. In 200 m path forks (766900); keep ahead, (not left downhill). In 150 m, where track bends sharp left along bottom of wood (766901) keep ahead, forking immediately left (yellow arrow/YA) across open field. Through woodland to road (765905). Left for 100 m to bend, left (‘bridleway’) along wood bottom.
In 1¼ miles, just before green ‘Bridleway Users’ notice and wooden railings (757891), left uphill (YA) through Gussetts Wood. Cross stile (758889) and field to road junction (758887). Ahead downhill for ¼ mile. At Upper Woodend Farm, left (578883; bridleway fingerpost) up driveway (ignore ‘Private Road’ notices). In 150 m, before gate, right (759882; bridleway blue arrow/BA) down hedged green lane between fields. In 150 m cross footpath (760881); continue on bridleway. In ¼ mile it re-enters wood (762878); follow it as a hollow way, then a path, close to wood edge. Follow path and hollow way down to major track crossing in wood bottom (767877). Go over crossing (uphill) on path which bends right.
Now follow ‘Shakespeare’s Way’/SW arrows. In 500 m pass a yew grove and fork right (772875; white arrow/WA on tree). In 100 m fork left (SW). In 300 m, reach track crossing (773872); turn left out of wood, on path across field and down left side of wood (SW) to track at bottom (778871). SW crosses it, but you turn right (WA on tree) on bridleway which bends immediately left to run inside wood edge. Follow BAs. In ¾ mile path bends right (782860); go left here (bent BA) on bridleway. In 50 m, left (YA) on path. Descend to cross road (783864) into Hambleden.
Cross churchyard; leave by far left (NW) corner; follow road. In 100 m, right through kissing gate/KG (783867; fingerpost). Cross 3 fields (KGs), then hedged path past Pheasant’s Hill, then 4 fields (KGs) to road at Colstrope Farm (782881). Forward to bend; forward here along Chiltern Way/CW (782882; ‘bridleway’). Cross road at The Hyde (781887); forward on CW (YA) for 5 fields (KGs) to road (777899). Left, then right to Frog Inn.
Lunch: Stag & Huntsman Inn, Hambleden (01491-571227; www.thestagandhuntsman.co.uk)
Lunch/accommodation: Frog Inn, Skirmett (01491-638996; www.thefrogatskirmett.co.uk) – friendly, cheerful and helpful place
Information: Henley-on-Thames TIC (01491-412703)
Readers’ Walks: Come and enjoy a country walk with our experts! Dates, info etc.: http://www.mytimesplus.co.uk/travel/uk/1867/times-walks.
Next walks: Lindisfarne, Northumberland, 13 May; Scottish Borders, 10 June; Northern Ireland, 8 July