The Hampdens and Whiteleaf Cross

A superb walk today, one of the best I’ve ever done in the south of England!

I parked in a small car park immediately south of Pulpit Hill, about 2 miles NW of Princes Risborough. I took a bridleway going south through woods, then turned almost east, following a hedgerow beside a series of ploughed fields. A Red Kite, the first of several I’d see today, flew low overhead at one point. The path eventually joined a tarmac farm drive which led through woods again to a road.

I took another farm drive almost opposite, then followed a permissive path to avoid going through the gardens of the former farm house. The path went steadily uphill (I saw a Buzzard here), and entered another wood, still heading roughly east. The path left the wood and followed a hedge though a couple more ploughed fields (there was a burnt out tractor here!). I went a short distance through another area of woodland, then turned right at a path junction, reaching the remote and tiny village of Little Hampden after a couple of hundred yards.

I was here just 8 days ago on my walk from Coombe Hill, but I took a different route out of the village this time, a path descending steeply eastwards through the lovely beech woods. Near the valley bottom, I emerged from the woods and followed a hedge betweeen two ploughed fields. I entered a wood on the other side of the valley, where a path led quite steeply uphill. Near the top of the hill I turned right at a crossing of paths – I now had a delightful walk through the trees on a level path, with occasionally an attractive view across the valley now on my right.

I soon crossed the Chiltern Way (between Little Hampden and Cobblershill on my left), as I continued on this fairly level path between the trees for about 3/4 mile until I reached a lane. I followed it to my right, heading south – it was very narrow and I had to squeeze into the hedge when a car came along. Where the lane ended at a road, I took a woodland path almost opposite. This took me steadily uphill through the trees, then I turned right and crossed a large ploughed field (nice views again) to reach a minor road.

A dog barked fiercely from the other side of a fence as the next footpath took me through the grounds of a house, then I followed a hedge on my right through yet another ploughed field – yet more stunning views when the hedge ended. I was soon back in more attractive woodland, then a short road walk and a private road took me to Great Hampden.

Here there was the church, an impressive building called Tower House and the manor house, Hampden House, which was the home of John Hampden, the leading parliamentarian in the years leading up to the Civil War. I took a path running south from the church which lead across a sequence of fields to the village of Hampden Common. From here I took a path beside the cricket pitch, which then went through yet another wood to reach a road by a crossroads. A path continued SW from the crossroads, still in woodlands – this was a bridleway runing alongside a wire fence, with signs indicating that horse should keep left of the fence, walkers to the right.

On the far side of this wood, the bridleway continued a short distance between hedges. At crossroads of tracks I turned right onto Lily Bottom Lane (a RUPP, or Road Used as Public Path) which was very muddy in places. I passed Lily Farm and then Lily Bottom Farm, where the track became a tarmac lane and I recrossed the Chiltern Way. I continued along the lane a short distance (seeing a muntjac deer emerge from the hedge just a short way in front of me before turning and running back the way it came) to reach Parslow’s Hillock by the Pink and Lily pub, famous for its connection with Rupert Brooke, the poet.

I was now close to the northern escarpment of the Chilterns again, and as I followed another woodland bridleway northwards, I occasionally had views out over the Vale of Aylesbury. A memorial seat, carved in a tree trunk, was positioned to take advantage of one such view, and I stopped here for my lunch about 12.50.

The bridleway ended at a road were I went a short distance left, then rentered the woods on the far side – the next path was the only one all day that was slightly unclear in places, though this wasn’t a problem as I needed only to keep close to a field to the left of the wood. I soon reached a path junction where I turned left on a bridleway. At the next junction I turned right,  then left again- this path now passed through some nice areas of tall beech trees, with the wood dropping away steeply into a valley on my right, and more fields just yards away to my left.

Eventually I met a well-surfaced track, part of the Ridgeway, where I turned right (northwards) and soon reached the neolithic barrow on top of Whitleaf Hill. Carved in the steep slope below the barrow, is Whiteleaf Cross, a chalk figure of a cross on top of a large triangle. There were good views out over Princes Risborough below and across the Vale of Aylesbury. There were 21 panels telling the history of Whiteleaf Hill (I didn’t have time to read all of them, but noted that the barrow dated to about 3700BC).

I followed the Ridgeway northwards as it descended very steeply through yet another beech wood to reach a pub on the edge of Cadsden. I continued on the Ridgeway as it skirted the eastern slope of Pulpit Hill (I remembered coming here to look for wildflowers this summer). I reached the signpost where the North Bucks Way sets off for Wolverton, 35 miles away, but almost immediately afterwards I left the Ridgeway and followed a rising path that went round just to the north of the top of Pulpit Hill.

As the path levelled out then started to descend, I came to a crossing path, where a sign indicated the hillfort on top of Pulpit Hill was to the right. I’d seen the fort marked on the map and had often wondered what it was like, but the map doesn’t show any paths to it. Anyway I went right, and after 1/4 mile reached the iron age hillfort – not as impressive as Cholesbury fort (see Day 6 of my Chiltern Heritage Trail walk), but the remains of a ditch and bank were still clearly visible. I returned to the path  crossroads, and took the path now on my right, which went steeply downhill back to where my car was parked.

This was a glorious walk, one of the best I’ve done in the Chilterns – I’m struggling to think of a better one. It had everything I’d want from a Chiltern walk – probably over 50% was through woods, there were several short but quite steep ups and downs as I crossed the rolling hills and valleys, there were small and attractive villages, I saw buzzards and red kites, there were good views over the woods and fields, more good views from the escarpment over the Vale of Aylesbury, and there were several places with historic interest – a neolithic barrow, an iron age hillfort, the home of a leading ’roundhead’ and a pub associated with a poet who died during WWI. This was a walk I’ll remember for a long time!

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