Christmas Common and Ibstone

Wonderful walk today, in an area of the Chilterns spread across the Oxfordshire/Buckinghamshire county boundary southwest of Stokenchurch. Just driving to the walk, I could see the trees were more advanced into their autumn colours, with some brilliant yellows and golds, with occasional reds for variety.

I parked at Cowleaze Wood, where there is a sculpture trail which I’d see on my way back. The walk got off to a great start when I saw two Red Kites as I crossed the first field of the day. I then followed a fairly steep path down the escarpment of the Chilterns, with Didcot Power Station straight ahead in the distance, out in the Oxfordshire plain. The path went left along the foot of the wooded hills – a third of a mile away across the ploughed fields was a section of the Ridgeway path that I walked recently on my Swan’s Way walk. I saw three Fallow deer as I walked along here.

I turned left on a private road – this was part of the Oxfordshire Way, a long-distance path I’ve come across before but not walked myself (most of it is too far from my home). At the end of the road I continued on the Oxfordshire Way, going quite steeply back up the escarpment (I saw another eight Fallow deer here) and then across a couple of small sheep pastures to a road in the quaintly named Christmas Common. I followed the Oxfordshire Way through the village, passing the attractive old Fox and Hounds pub. I took a slight detour to see the church (marked on the map), but it has been converted into a private home (with gravestones in the garden!).

I went through a small wood, along another drive, and then onto a bridleway going through a wood. I followed the bridleway for about two miles, sometimes in quite a large wood, sometimes in a fairly narrow belt of trees – it was always a delight, with the trees in their gorgeous atumn foliage. Eventualy the bridleway left the trees and soon passed a farm in a pleasant valley, then continued alongside a hedgerow. A farmer was ploughing a large field to my left, with woods on the far side. I noticed one or two Red Kites here, then suddenly there were about 10 of them!

I turned left on a path going uphill between ploughed fields. There were good views to my left back along the valley I’d just walked down, and further up even better views to my right along the Stonor valley – I could see where I’d crossed that valley on the Chiltern Way earlier this year. I saw a buzzard fly out of a tree here. I then followed a path to Turville Heath, from where I took a bridleway downhill through another beech wood. Across a lane, I went downhill across a meadow with good views all around of a lovely wooded valley. The path went quite steeply up the opposite slope, joining a bridleway that became a tarmac lane leading into Ibstone.

I followed the edge of the large common here, detouring to look at a large stone in the middle of the long grass (there was no plaque or anything saying what it was for) and had my lunch on a bench by the cricket pitch. I then went back into the trees, briefly following part of the Chiltern Way as I descended a long way into the Wormsley valley. Here I saw the cricket pitch where the late Paul Getty used to arrange matches when he owned the Wormsley estate. I followed a bridleway that started as a track between hedges, then joined the drive through the estate.

There was quite a commotion in the sky above me as I followed the drive past a tall and colourful beech tree – rooks, jackdaws and pigeons were flying about, and then I saw two buzzards come out of the tree and start circling. Just beyond a farm, I turned left on a bridleway that went steadily uphill into more woods -again this was a really colourful and attractive part of the walk. At a path crossroads I went left, quite steeply downhill, emerging from the trees to cross a small meadow down to another farm.

It was then a long climb back up the other side of the valley, through a large empty sheep pasture. Near the top of the slope I re-entered Cowleaze Wood, and followed the path back to the car park, passing one or two ‘interesting’ sculptures on the way.

My feeble description hardly does the walk justice – it was one of the best I’ve ever done in the south of England, probably even better than my recent walk at Little and Great Hampden although it didn’t have the sites of historic interest that that walk had. It was a lovely day today, cool but not cold, with several large white and grey clouds in the sky but generally bright. The walk was very up and down, lots of it through delightful woodland, there were some very nice views, and I enjoyed every single section of the walk.

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