Circular walk from Cowleaze Wood

Yesterday (Monday 2/3/09) I did a roughly 12-mile circular walk from Cowleaze Wood, near Christmas Common on the Bucks/Oxon border in the Chiltern Hills. It was a walk I first did about 18 months ago, and a slightly extended version of it became Walk 16 of my Chiltern Chain Walk. I was really looking forward to this walk as it goes through one of the very best parts of the Chilterns. I had chosen a lovely day for it, as there wasn’t a cloud in the sky as I drove to the start of the walk.

I started walking from the car park in Cowleaze Wood at about 9.50am – straight away I could see some Red Kites nearby. Across the road I took a footpath that went diagonally across a large empty pasture and downhill through a belt of trees. The next section was one of my favourite paths in the Chilterns. The path gradually descended down the side of Shirburn Hill, with a glorious view ahead over the Oxfordshire Plain. About half a dozen Red Kites flew low overhead as I went downhill, and near the bottom of the slope I saw three Buzzards and a Kite together.

The path then folowed the foot of the steep Chiltern escarpment, with flat ploughed fields beyond the fence on my right. The slopes on my  left were wooded, initially with mainly coppiced Hazel, later with Beech. The path then went through some scrubby bushes to reach the route of the Oxfordshire Way long-distance path near Pyrton. I turned left, and followed the path steeply up Pyrton Hill. Near the top of the slope I forked right across a couple of sheep pastures to reach a road leading into Christmas Common.

I turned right and walked through part of the attractive village. After pasing the pub on my right, I took a path on the left beside the former church. This path took me through Queen Wood to Hollandridge Lane on the edge of the village. I followed the lane for a couple of hundred yards, but then took a bridleway on the left (again part of the Oxfordshire Way). This descended through Beech trees into a valley, where I forked left at a junction, to follow a bridleway along the valley bottom for about two miles.

The valley was wooded, in some parts with broadleaved trees such as Beech, but more often it was mixed woodland, with a mixture of Beech and Fir or Pine trees. After some distance I reached a path crossroads where I crossed the Chiltern Way (the Oxfordshire Way went right here). The bridleway continued down the valley – at some point I heard and saw a Buzzard overhead. eventually the bridleway left the woods and followed the valley as it curved right. I passed Turville Park Farm, where there were a large number of tiny calves in the open sheds, and continued alongside a hedgerow. After a few hundred yards the track switched to the left of the hedge, with ploughed fields either side.

At a path crossroads, I turned left and headed steeply uphill, following tractor tracks between a ploughed field on my left and a field of young grass on my right. As I neared the top of the hill, I saw about 20 Red Kites in the skies ahead of me. There was a bench sited near the top, and no wonder – there was an excellent view to my right over the Stonor valley, and more views behind me, towards Maidensgrove and back along the valley I’d been following.

I continued along a farm track, then branched left onto a path across a sheep pasture. The path continued through another pasture where there were some Jacobs sheep, including a ram and the first lambs I’ve seen this year. The path then approached the gardens of a house, where I had to brave a black Labrador that sat barking next to the path (I knew from previous experience that it barked but didn’t bite).

I crossed a lane in the hamlet of Turville Heath and followed another lane opposite for about a hundred yards, before turning left and crossing the common that gives the hamlet its name. I passed some more residences in the hamlet and took a bridleway heading steeply downhill into an attractive Beech wood. The bridleway curved right as it neared the valley bottom, then left the wood and ran slightly uphill between hedges  to reach a lane.

Walk 16 of my Chiltern Chain Walk goes right here, but I went straight ahead. The path descended across a large pasture – along the hedge some distance to my right were some Longhorn cattle.  I was now crossing the Wormsley estate, and I’d seen the cattle before on another part of the estate that is crossed by the Chiltern Way. There were again some marvellous views, along the Wormsley valley to my right and ahead to the steep slopes on the other side of the valley.

I crossed over a drive and started uphill across an empty pasture. Here I met a lady walker, with whom I chatted for a few minutes (she was the only other walker I saw all day, which was surprising considering the fine weather). I’d just spotted a few Red Kites, and as we talked there were about 20 Kites flying above us!

Just beyond the end of the steep pasture, I came to a junction where I turned half-left on a bridleway that continued uphill through a thin belt of Holly and Beech trees. Eventually the bridleway joined a lane running through part of the village of Ibstone. When I reached the start of Ibstone Common on my left, I followed a path going left along the edge of the common (rejoining Walk 16 of the Chiltern Way), then crossed part of the common to reach the village cricket pitch where I sat on a bench to eat my lunch. It was now just after 1pm. Four Red Kites were flying about nearby as I ate my cheese and crackers, and I reflected that the cricket team wouldn’t be too impressed with what a very active mole had done to their outfield!

I crossed over the common, passing the huge standing stone in its centre – I have just discovered a photo on the web that calls it the Millennium Stone, so it’s obviously not the original boundary stone that gives the village part of its name (the village is still on the border of Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire).  In the corner of the common, I entered Commonhill Wood and turned left, heading downhill back into the Wormsley Estate. For a short while I was on the route of the Chiltern Way, but it soon turned left as my path gradually turned left as it descended through the trees to reach the valley bottom.

The path then continued along the valley bottom on a good farm track. Soon there were hedges either side, and I glimpsed the cricket pitch and the big house, Wormsley Park, over to my left. The estate was once owned by the late Paul Getty II, who was fond of staging cricket matches at his private ground here after being introduced to cricket by Mick Jagger.  The track ended at a bend of a drive leading to the house. I continued ahead along the drive, passing some magnificent Beech trees and spotting a herd of some type of deer in a large fenced area of parkland over to my left.

Beyond a farm and an attractive yellow-painted cottage, the right-of-way forked left from the drive, heading fairly gently uphill through the trees of Langleygreen Plantation. I’ve yet to see any wildflowers in bloom this year,but I did spot the leaves of a Primrose here. Along the top of the hill I reached a path crossroads, where I turned left, descending steeply through the trees and then across a small meadow to reach the grounds of Lower Vicar’s Farm. I turned left for a few yards along the drive, then turned right on a footpath.

It was now a long steady slog uphill through a huge empty pasture, a bit of a sting in the tail of this walk. The scenery all around was lovely, so at least I had good excuses to stop and take photos. Near the top of the hill I entered Cowleaze Wood, and I then just had to follow the path for about half a mile through the wood to return to the car park.

I remembered thinking that this was one of the best walks I’d ever done in the Chilterns when I did it 18 months ago, and I wasn’t disappointed with it today. The scenery is lovely almost throughout the entire route, there are very  good views at several points, lots of woodland walking, five steepish ascents (well, by Chiltern standards!), attractive villages at Christmas Common and Ibstone, Red Kites galore and several Buzzards. This area is one of my three most favourite sections of the Chiltern Hills (the others being Great Hampden/Little Hampden and the nearby Hambleden/Turville/Fingest).

I hope to eventually use this blog entry as the basis for an entry on my web site.  In the meantime, there are a few photos on this report I put on the Wild About Britain site (towards the bottom of the page):

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