Chiltern Chain Walk – Walk 10

Below is a draft copy of my journal entry for Walk 10 of the Chiltern Chain Walk, which I did yesterday.

Walk 10 19/05/08 – Old Amersham and Little Kingshill (11.8 miles approximately)
Parked in Pay-and-Display car park in centre of Old Amersham.

As I started walking at about 9.50am, it was cool and cloudy – not overcast but more clouds than blue sky, the way it would remain for most of the day. I turned right out of the car park into the attractive High Street with its numerous old and characterful houses, with the market hall ahead of me. Before reaching it, I turned left into Whielden Street, which also contained attractive old houses. I soon turned left again into Whielden Green, a cul-de-sac mainly of modern bungalows. Near its end, I turned right on to a footpath into an L-shaped meadow, extending in front of me and then going to the left. I followed the left-most of two paths through the grass here, which led slightly uphill to path junction in a hedgerow, where I turned right, between the hedge and some garden fence on my left. At the end of the hedge I emerged back into the meadow, where I went left for a few yards and then joined a surfaced path between the meadow and some houses on my left. I soon came to a path junction, where I turned right to reach a bridge over the Amersham bypass. If I’d taken the rightmost path when I first entered the meadow it would have brought me straight here, but I chose to stick to the official right-of-way shown on the map – if the meadow was an Open Access area, it might have been different.

Across the footbridge, I spotted some Dovefoot Cranesbill. I soon turned right, along the edge of a huge corn field, initially with gardens to my left. Where they ended, the path continued beside a wide ditch on my left, very gradually going uphill. The path was familiar to me, as it is part of the Chiltern Heritage Trail which I would be following for much of today’s walk. After a third of a mile or so, I turned right on a path that led to the start of a small embankment running through the corn field. The path continued to the right along the top of the embankment (though the map shows the right-of-way going along the bottom). After a few hundred yards I reached the end of the embankment, and at last came to the end of the huge cornfield and the top of the hill. I went through a gap in the hedgerow ahead of me, and continued into a large meadow. On reaching a massive pylon, where there were nice views ahead, I turned left through the hedge, and followed a fence on my left through a small meadow or paddock, where I met a man using a metal detector. The path continued on and down a farm drive to reach a road on the edge of Coleshill.

The Civil War poet Edmund Waller lived in the manor house at Coleshill. His family had lived there since the early 1500’s. He used to write his poetry under an oak tree, which is thought to date back to the Norman Conquest. There is a house called Waller’s Oak, and another house, Stock Place, incorporates a wing of the old manor house (Stock was the name of the village in the middle ages). The parish church has a modern Lych Gate, made of English Oak on a brick base, with a tiled roof.

I turned right and followed the road for about half a mile through the village. Opposite the Red Lion pub, I turned right beside the church – the Lych Gate here is one of the Millennium art works created along the route of the Chiltern Heritage Trail. I was now also joining the route of the Chiltern Way, so the next section as far as Winchmore Hill was very familiar to me. At the end of the alley beside the church, I crossed a road and continued down a gravel drive between houses. The path continued beside a small field on my right and reached a fork, where I went left on a path between a hedge and a fence on my right beside another small field. The path then went over a stile into a large meadow, with nice views across the woods and rolling hills to my right. I followed the path half-left, passing a clump of trees on my right – I saw a buzzard ahead of me over a wood, but it was soon chased off by a crow. I passed through a narrow section of the wood on a wide and rutted track, and continued on beside a hedge on my left. I could see ahead to some cottages in Winchmore Hill and across the fields to my right I could see the spire of the church at Penn Street rising above some woods. The path eventually became a track between hedges, where I saw Yellow Archangel, Herb Robert and Bluebells, and emerged in Winchmore Hill opposite a Methodist Chapel.

Winchmore Hill is a hamlet in the parish of Penn. It is often confused with another Winchmore Hill, not too far away in North London.

I turned left along the road, and soon came to a junction where I turned right, with the large village green on my left. When another part of the green started on the right of the road, I followed its right edge down to another road (I passed a gentleman with a fork other his shoulder, obviously on his way to the allotments on the other side of the road). I’d now departed from the Chiltern Way but was still on the route of the Chiltern Heritage Trail. The path continued between hedges, with the allotments to my left and further on a corn field to my right. It then crossed a grassy field and continued through a wood. I saw some Wood Speedwell here, as the path continued close to the left edge of the wood. Further on, and area of the wood had been felled and replanted, the young trees still surrounded by plastic tubes to protect them from nibbling deer. Beyond the wood, the path went slightly to the right, across another large corn field (this had been rough grass when I did the Chiltern Heritage Trail, and the previous field had then been a cattle pasture). The path then passed through some bushes, where I saw some Cuckooflowers, and along a broad drive between houses to reach a road in Penn Street.

Penn Street is situated on part of the former Wycombe Heath, and probably dates back to the thirteenth century when the Penn family established a manor house here, having moved from Penbury. The oldest house dates to the fifteenth century, while several others go back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with most of the village lying within a Conservation Area. The church is relatively recent, having been built in 1849.

I had a look at the pond on the opposite side of the road, on the large green here. When I was here before, I thought the pond looked newly dug, but an information board said it was an old one. I turned left along the green, where there were more Cuckooflowers amongst the Buttercups. I passed the village War Memorial and continued along the edge of the green towards the village cricket pitch. At a road junction I turned right, and soon came to an entrance into Penn Wood.

Penn Wood is one of the largest areas of ancient woodland in the Chilterns AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). From before the Norman Conquest until the middle of the nineteenth century it was a wood pasture common. In the 1850’s it was enclosed and converted to ‘high forest’. It became an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) in 1950, but in subsequent decades almost half the wood was felled and it lost this status in 1979. More felling took place in the 1990’s in preparation for a proposed golf course, but this was vigorously and successfully opposed by a group of locals. The wood is now managed by the Woodland Trust (this external link opens in a new window).

I took the leftmost of two paths starting here, and followed it for about half a mile through the wood. I recognised beech, oak and silver birch trees as I went along – the path was broad and straight, but I had to weave in and out to avoid muddy patches. On the far side of the wood, I crossed a main road and went down the minor road opposite. I soon came to a junction where I forked right into Beamond End Lane. After 50-100 yards I went right again along a private drive, and continued on a path between fences and hedges at its end. This took me to a gate and a grassy field, part of which to my left had been ploughed up. On the far side I went through another metal gate into Toby’s Lane, a hedge-lined track. I followed it to the left – it was very muddy in places, in fact it had been almost impassable when I last walked here a few months ago. After a few hundred yards I turned off it, turning left onto a footpath – here I finally left the route of the Chiltern Heritage Trail which I’d followed since Amersham.

The path ran between a hedge and the high wooden wall of a farmyard on my right, and soon ended at a lane (Beamond End Lane again). I crossed over and continued on a footpath opposite through another grassy field. Where the hedge on my right turned right, the path continued downhill through the grass to a metal kissing-gate on the edge of a wood. I followed the clear path through the wood, descending slightly further then rising again briefly. I spotted Bluebells, Greater Stitchwort and Herb Robert beside the path here. The path then continued between hedges, with paddocks either side – I saw a very young foal with two horses in one of them on my left. Further on the path had a amature hedge on the left, with the branches of trees overshadowing the path, with a yellow-spattered meadow beyond the fence on my right. There was some Garlic Mustard and Woodruff growing near the end of the path, which ended by running between garden fences to reach Holmer Green.

Holmer Green was originally a hamlet in the parish of Little Missenden but is now a village in its own right. The ‘Holmer’ part of the name was first recorded in the 13th century as ‘Holeme’, while the ‘Green’ refers to the large and ancient green that was here from the 13th century onwards – it had been reduced to a mere 4 acres by 1854, however. The oldest houses here date to the 16th century, when the hamlet thrived on sheep farming. In the 19th century, the poet Christina Rossetti and her poet/ painter brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti visited their grandfather in Holmer Green – it is said that Christina drew poetic inspiration from the surrounding countryside. From about 1850 to 1950 the village was famed locally for its cherry orchards. The entire nature of the village was changed by a wave of building here in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and the population now totals 4000.

I continued on in the same direction along a residential street, and then on a footpath which carried on as the street went right. This very soon came to a path junction, where I turned right and followed the path between garages and a hedge to reach a road. Here I turned left, and followed the road for over half a mile through the large village. I soon passed the Bat and Ball pub on the left, as the name suggests adjacent to the village playing field. Further on I passed the Village Centre (presumably similar to a village hall) and then the Royal British Legion building, both on my right. Eventually I came to a mini-roundabout on the edge of the village, where I turned right.

After a short distance, I turned left on a path along the right edge of another paddock, with a couple of horses in it. In the far corner I went over a couple of stiles in quick succession, with a house close by on the right. I was surprised to see some young calves in the next small enclosure, as I’d thought this was another paddock when I’d been here before. I had to squeeze between the calves and their anxious mothers, who were looking over a gate into the adjacent field on the right. Over another stile, I followed a hedge on my right through another couple of paddocks, descending into a slight valley. I crossed another couple of stiles in quick succession, and then walked round two sides of another grassy field, following hedgerows on my right.

There was then another pleasant walk through a wood, the path descending at first into another slight valley, then turning left with the edge of the wood just feet to my left. On the far side of the wood I came to a T-junction of paths, where I turned right, initially alongside the wood. The path continued between hedges and fences, with meadows and small enclosures (one containing goats) either side, passing the Baptist Chapel in Little Kingshill to reach a road.

Little Kingshill lies in the parish of Little Missenden, though it is larger than its parent village. The ‘King’ in the name is thought to be King John.

I turned right, and had another half mile of road walking through the village – not the most interesting part of the walk, especially as I’d done it before on both the Chiltern Heritage Trail and the South Bucks Way (which I’d now be following most of the rest of the walk, apart from a slight diversion through Little Missenden). But it was soon over, and as the road turned to the left, I continued along a footpath going on ahead. This passed through a small area of trees and continued across another huge corn field, with an impressive view ahead over Little Missenden and the Misbourne valley. It took some time to cross the field, descending slowly on tyre tracks through the green crop. On the far side, I went through a hedge gap and continued through another corn field, still going gently downhill and still admiring the view ahead. The path was soon running alongside the edge of the field on my left. In the next field corner, I stopped to eat my lunch on a stile, as it was now about 1pm. I then carried on, across another stile the other side of a hedge-lined path, and across a large paddock, yellow with wildflowers. In the far corner I went over another stile, to reach a lane on the edge of Little Missenden.

Little Missenden lies in the Misbourne valley, about three miles west of Amersham. The name ‘Missenden’ comes from the Saxon for ‘valley where marsh plants grow’, and the village church dates back to the time of the Saxons. It contains some mediaeval wall paintings, and is well worth a visit. The village is quaint and attractive, and has been used as a setting for films and TV.

I turned right, and walked for about half a mile or so through the charming village. I passed the historic church on my left (which I visited when I walked the Chiltern Heritage Trail, see Day 5 of my journal for that walk), and went by several attractive houses and cottages. I was quite happy to do this bit of road walking, as Little Missenden is one of my favourite villages. I passed a wooden fingerpost on the right, and then the first of two pubs. Just after the second pub, the Crown, I took a path on the right, initially along a gravel track. There were meadows to my left, and I could occasionally glimpse the small river Misbourne running through them. There were Canada Geese, Mallards and Moorhens in one of the meadows.

Where the gravel track turned left, the footpath carried on along the valley, now on a stony track beside the right-hand hedge of a long narrow valley. A man taking photographs here came over and asked, in a foreign accent, what was beyond the trees he could see ahead of him – he seemed disappointed when I told him it was the village of Little Missenden. The track carried on beyond a gate, now in what was obviously parkland, with some mature trees dotted about the grass. I noticed a large amount of the dark blue Germander Speedwell growing here. The sun came out very briefly around this time, and for a few minutes I walked in bright sunshine for the only time today. The stony track eventually turned left to go uphill, but I continued ahead on a path through the grass. The path continued along the valley, edging closer to the river on my right. Soon the river opened out into a small lake where it had been dammed – obviously for the benefit of the owners of Shardeloes, the grand white house on top of the hillside to my right. There were Tufted Duck and Coots on the lake.

A bit further on, the path left the parkland and reached an impressive cricket ground, with two pitches and several nets set up. I went round the right edge of one pitch, then behind the clubhouse and along the drive (there were no signs or waymarks, I think the actual right-of-way may be straight across the second pitch). I went through a gateway and along a short section of drive, then took a surfaced path that went between bushes and followed the river under a road bridge. The path then went right, and followed the main road for about a hundred yards before veering left through some bushes to reach the old road into Amersham. A short distance on, the road became the start of the High Street in Old Amersham. Again, it was a pleasure to walk down this long street, with several old coaching inns and numerous Georgian and older houses either side. Unfortunately, the effect of this grand street was as usual marred by the large number of cars parked either side and even down the middle. I took one or two photographs, and passed the Market Hall as I made my way back to the car park where I’d started.

This was an unusual walk for me in one respect – it started and finished in the town of Old Amersham and passed through no less than six villages, so there was a lot of walking along streets, interspersed with short stretches of no more than two miles through countryside. But it was still an enjoyable walk, only the lengthy stretches through Holmer Green and Little Kingshill being a bit dull. There were some nice views over the Misbourne Valley and over the rolling Chiltern Hills, and some nice stretches through woods to add variety to the numerous field paths. The church at Little Missenden is well worth a visit to those interested in history, and the walk probably saved the best for last, the walk along the section of Misbourne Valley being very pleasant indeed.

Total distance: 120.9 miles

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