First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Parsonage Wood in the last throes of winter. Chiff-chaffs were sending out their two-tone spring call sign from beech trees as yet innocent of leaves. There were hard green buds at the finger-ends of the branches, however, and violets tightly coiled out of the chilly air among the tree roots. It was hard to believe that, ten minutes before, I’d stepped out of a tube train. Nothing here in the Buckinghamshire woods and fields at the end of the Metropolitan Underground line held even a breath of London.
Below the wood, Amersham Old Town lay along the River Misbourne’s shallow valley, a handsome old market town in red brick and terracotta tiling. My cheerful cousins Vicky and Tone were waiting for me there, along with my long-striding sister Lou. We climbed away up the far slope of the valley, through the corner of mossy Rodger’s Wood, and on by Quarrendon Farm where a sky-blue tractor made the only splash of colour in a muted palette of greys, reds and olive greens.
At Upper Bottom House Farm a horse came to sniff us over, nodding his long head sagely as though to say: Yes, I thought so, not an apple between you. ‘Apples?’ said Lou. ‘Listen, that’s a Buckinghamshire horse. He won’t accept anything less than a tarte tatin au coulis de calvados.’
Down in Chalfont St Giles we found the modest brick-and-timber cottage where in 1665 John Milton came in flight from the Great Plague of London. Here, blind and infirm, he finished his masterpiece Paradise Lost, while keeping his head down and his mouth shut – King Charles II had not long been restored to the throne, and Milton had been an enthusiastic supporter of the much-despised Commonwealth and its instigator Oliver Cromwell. What would the poet have made of the great juggernauts that now thunder past his front door? Doubtless he’d have consigned them with the fallen angels to the fiery lake of pitch.
The church of St Giles holds wonderful 14th-century frescoes of Creation, Eden and the Crucifixion, but they lay – frustratingly – behind locked doors. So we turned back along the South Bucks way, a muddy path through willow groves and along the gin-clear waters of the River Misbourne. Rain-pearled pussy willow buds, bluebell shoots and the ecstatic trilling of larks over the flint-strewn fields told us that spring was not stillborn, only temporarily suspended.
Start: Amersham station, Amersham-on-the-Hill, Bucks HP6 5AZ (OS ref SU 964982)
Getting there: Rail (Metropolitan tube or main line).
Road: M25, Jct 18; A404
Walk (9 miles, easy, OS Explorer 172): From station, left to main road; left under 2 bridges; immediately right (footpath fingerpost) along path beside railway. At road, left (962982); in 50m, left on path along upper edge of Parsonage Wood. Leave trees (960977); on down field path to St Mary’s Church and Old Amersham High Street (958973). Left to cross A355 (961972); in 50m, right (fingerpost) past Bury Farm, then under A413 (963969). Follow yellow arrows/YA, up through corner of Rodger’s Wood (968962). Half right across field to hedge corner (969961); on with Quarrendon Farm to your right; on along ridge edge of Day’s Wood. From waymark pole (974955), diagonally across field, through gate (974951); descend beside fence, through farmyard to Bottom House Farm Lane (976948). Right for 50m; left (fingerpost) up track; in 250m, left to road at Hill Farm House (978943). Forward (‘Chalfont St Giles’); follow road for ½ mile to crossroads (984938). Go over, and on for ½ mile to road in Chalfont St Giles (990935). (NB to visit Milton’s Cottage and avoid busy road – 50m before reaching village road, turn sharp right uphill (‘footpath’ fingerpost) past Scout Hut, then school, to descend to road opposite Milton’s Cottage – 989934).
From village road (St Giles’ Church opposite), turn left along lane (‘South Bucks Way’/SBW). In 300m pass gate; in 50m fork right (989938; YA). In 300m at Chalfont Mill (987941) dogleg left and right across lane, and on for ¾ mile (‘SBW’) to cross Bottom House Farm Lane (983953). In another mile, at waymark post (973964), bear right to cross River Misbourne (972965, YA), then left along river bank. In ½ mile, go under A413 (966969), then cross A355 (964971). Pass down right side of ‘Ambers’, through car park and up path to cross A416 (964972). On along field path beside river to end of field (961974). Right here, diagonally up across field (‘Martyr’s Memorial’). At far side, through hedge beside fingerpost (963975); left to Martyr’s Memorial. Back to fingerpost; right up field edge, into Parsonage Wood (963979). Keep same direction past waymark post (YAs), on through wood. At road (962982), right along path to return to Amersham station.
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Lunch/accommodation: Saracen’s Head, Amersham HP7 0HU (01494-721958)