First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
At Quainton in the Buckinghamshire lowlands, the sails and white cap of a windmill overlook the sloping village green. On a cold cloudy afternoon, jolly chat and laughter came spilling from the George & Dragon.
Leaving the village on the North Bucks Way, we climbed the nape of Simber Hill. Somnolent cattle lay chewing the cud with eyes half closed in what looked like a state of transcendental bliss.
From Quainton Hill beyond, the views were remarkable, south to the long dark barrier of the Chiltern Hills, west and north over lower ground where whaleback hills rose from pasture striped with hedges. These green undulations looked beautiful from up here.
Down at the foot of Conduit Hill we passed between the shallow hummocks of Fulbrook, one of several deserted medieval villages hereabouts. Fulbrook probably lost most of its population during the Black Death pandemic of 1349, and the Duke of Bedford finished the job eighty years later when he converted the land into a deer park.
We followed a path across tussocky pasture and fields of dark grey plough to reach the road to North Marston. In a lane below the church we found a covered well with an old-fashioned pump. A sculpture of a boot stood attached to the stone trough.
Towards the end of the 13th century the rector of North Marston was Sir John Schorne, a renowned healer and miracle worker famed for capturing the Devil and imprisoning him in a boot. Sir John discovered the holy well during a deadly drought, and its water was said to cure gout and toothache. Judging by the agonised expression and contorted body of the rector’s icon at the well, he himself might have suffered from both afflictions.
The homeward path followed Matthew’s Way, a rural route dedicated to the memory of ‘a very special little boy’. His round infant face looked out of a photo placed beside the way, and we carried that image in our heads across the sheep pastures.
Under the grey cloud cap the western sky showed a crack of silver. As we approached Quainton a brown hare sprang up and darted away over the corrugations of medieval ridge and furrow, a lithe wild shape in this well-ordered landscape.
How hard is it? 7½ miles; easy; well marked field paths
Start: Village green, Quainton, Bucks HP22 4AR (OS ref SP 747201)
Getting there: Bus 16 (Aylesbury – Marsh Gibbon)
Road: Quainton is signed from A41 (Aylesbury – Bicester) at Waddesdon
Walk (OS Explorer 192): At top of green, left. By playground, right (745202); follow North Bucks Way north towards Quainton Hill. In ¾ mile, at top of rise with gate and blue arrow on right (750215), left to skyline gate; fork right down Conduit Hill. Cross road (752225); half right, following Outer Aylesbury Ring/OAR) across fields. In ½ mile, under power lines, right (761228, kissing gate/KG); aim for shed and stile to road (764228, OAR). Left into North Marston. In ¾ mile, right at T-junction (774228); fork left in front of Pilgrim PH; follow lane to church (777227). From south gate, right; left along Schorne Lane; fork left by well (777225). In 30m, right (KG),;follow well-marked Matthew’s Way for 2¼ miles across fields to Carter’s Lane (765202). Right; in 400m at Quainton Dairy, left (764205) on farm drive, passing Denham Hill Farm (759204), gates of Ladymead Farm (758202) and Denham Lodge (753204). Cross cattle grid; in 100m, left to road (751202); right into Quainton.
Lunch: George & Dragon, Quainton HP22 4AR (01296-655436, georgeanddragonquainton.co.uk)
Accommodation: The Lion, Waddesdon HP18 0JB (01296-651227, thelionwaddesdon.co.uk)