Start: Chesham underground station, Metropolitan Line, zone 9, Chiltern District, county of Buckinghamshire
Finish: Tring mainline station, Borough of Dacorum
Distance: 7½ miles / 13 km (23,625 paces)
Time: 6 hours (max.)
Map: OS Explorer sheet 181, Chiltern Hills North
[View from the Ridgeway, 1 mile from Tring]
The Chilterns are undoubtedly the best place to go if you want that “getting away from it all” feeling. Just a few minutes walk away from Chesham tube station you can look around you and think “Was I really in London just half an hour ago?” In the words of one radio station:”No fuss, no stress, just chill.” So, come and chill out in the “Chill-terns” Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty! Just put the printout of this route in your bag along with a drink and a snack, and you’re set for the day.
This walk visits some of the lesser known parts of the Chiltern Hills. It goes from Chesham to Tring as the crow flies, visiting one vale and ridge after another, like walking over giant corrugated paper. It incorporates bits of three well-known long distance footpaths: The Ridgeway national trail, the Chiltern Way and the Chiltern Heritage Trail. It takes in chalk downland, farmland, beech woods and country lanes, yet it doesn’t overlap the other Chiltern walks in this blog. (See list at end.)
There are no shops or loos along the way, and only a couple of benches to sit on. The ground is rough in places, making the route unsuitable for wheel chairs and baby buggies. There is a plethora of wildflowers and butterflies in the summer, and red kites are flying everywhere. The route is more complicated than usual in this blog because there are so many paths to choose from, so you’ll have this guide in your hand most of the way. I strongly recommend you take a map with you: I don’t provide one, but OS sheet 181 is pretty good. (2 apparent errors were spotted but they need not concern you: one showed a path that wasn’t there, one left out a path that was there.)
Welcome to one of only two London Underground stations in zone 9 (the other being Amersham, also in the Chilterns). As you pass the attractive station garden, and the loos, on your way to the exit, just feel the pace of life slow down, breathe in the fresh air and listen out for Buzzards (sound like kittens mewing), and Red Kites (sound like puppies whining). Pass along The Backs if you want a supermarket to buy your lunch, otherwise take the first left down Station Road. In the semi-pedestrianised area at the bottom of the hill there are other food and coffee outlets. Turn right then left before the war memorial into The Broadway, which has loos on the left.
At St Mary’s Way, the busy main road in front, notice a pond in Lowndes Park on the left. As you enter the park, keep to the right of the water and head uphill past yet another loo. (When you want one you can never find one – when you don’t need one, three come along at once!) Walk parallel to the road on your right and pass the zip wire on the left, aiming for the trees at the top. There are a couple of benches in the park, but if you need a rest already, I think you should ask yourself whether you are really up to a seven and a half mile walk. At the top there is a fence marking the edge of a college hidden in the trees; turn left and go to the corner.
At the corner turn right and follow the line of the fence along the crest of the hill. There is a bench where you may legitimately sit and watch the kites or just look at the green valley down on the left. Eventually the path reaches a wire netting fence where we are forced downhill into a wood full of roots which constitute a trip-hazard. Turn right at the T junction and continue in the same direction we were just walking in at the top of the hill.
On emerging from the trees fork right and at a kissing gate, the first of many, go right uphill. Notice the flowers growing on the chalk. Pass wooden fences and turn right uphill to a tarmac drive leading to Chartridge Lane which we cross. Turn left and join Berkeley Avenue which comes in from the right. Look out for a finger post pointing down a drive on the right, and at the house gates dive into a narrow path on the right. At the end of this ‘tunnel’ between 2 hedges reach a kissing gate and turn left. Take in the view: this is a typical Chilterns valley. At the bottom lies Asheridge Road and across on the other side is Bellingdon Ridge with Captain’s Wood Nature Reserve on top. That is where we are going next.
Head right downhill to a point between the farm and the building on its left. Two small metal gates show the way out into the lane (Asheridge Road). Turn left, keeping on the right hand side so as to face oncoming traffic. Look out for the narrow footpath opening in the hedge on the right. Walk up this path to the wood at the top of the hill. There are fallen logs here to sit on (I had my sandwiches here.) Captains Wood is very narrow; walk straight through it, crossing two other wide tracks on the way and at the final, third, track, just before the field in front, turn left. As you walk along just inside the wood look out for the next landmark – a white farm house. When you are level with it fork left and proceed down a very wide and clear track to an information panel which is well worth reading. More people come here than you would think; it’s a popular dog walking area with the locals. Fork left by the panel and by the ‘Y’ painted on a beech trunk. Don’t go left down into the field, but stay on this contour line, keeping near to the wood on the right. There’s a lovely view of the upper Asheridge valley from here.
As you pass some white farm buildings up on the right where the hedge is cut low watch out for stumps in the path that can trip up the unwary. They should have been cut at or below ground level instead of 2 inches above the soil. The field we are in is full of different species of grass, such as Yorkshire Fog and Cocksfoot, as well as buttercups and less common wildflowers. In May, Small Heath and Meadow Brown butterflies, whose caterpillars feed on grass, were also seen.
Johnson’s Farm is on the O.S. map and must be reached by a footpath on the right which may be obscured when the grass is long in summer. This side track bears off to the right at a point well before the far corner of the field, where the line of the hedge/wood on the right recedes a bit and then returns to its original line. This path is very narrow and runs between hedges for a short way before a fence on the right hand side separates it from a paddock. Go through a kissing gate then left up a broad gritted farm track to Chesham Road. Johnson’s Farm is clear in front of you. Turn right then almost immediately left by a finger post. (If you want too see a tin church divert left for a short distance. Its roof and walls are built of corrugated iron.) Go through a small wooden gate, along a path and left at a brick wall. Join a drive going in the same direction, and pass some cottages. At Hilltop Farm, where the lane turns left, go straight ahead and find a finger post in the corner of a field offering two alternative routes. To get to Tring, we take the right hand path.
Go diagonally right to the corner of the wood sticking out into the field. Follow the straight path downhill into the gully and up the other side. On reaching a hedge don’t go through the kissing gate but fork right downhill between wire fences to 2 metal kissing gates at the bottom. Go left then right uphill just before the next kissing gate. This is quite a steep haul, and you will have earned what you find at the top – a picnic table. Make your way straight ahead through the last meadow to the boundary hedge of Hawridge Court. We are quite close to Cholesbury earthworks, and some smaller earthworks may be visible through the hedge in front of you.
Now for the second hard-to-find path on this walk. It goes between the 2 main buildings in front and out into Church Lane (a cul-de-sac) and Hawridge Church. It is an official right of way and can be reached if you approach the hedge at right angles and turn left, walking slowly until you find the entrance. If you pass the end of the last house turn round and go back and look again – it’s there.
Go down Church Lane and cross the main road, bearing slightly leftwards, to the footpath opposite. Down through the trees and out on to a lane with an old wooden finger post. head left up the lane towards Cholesbury, soon forking right along Hawridge Vale. Pass a hostile notice that threatens cyclists with a £400 fine (that’s more than my bike’s worth!) Go straight ahead ignoring footpaths on the left and right. On reaching a lane go right for 150 metres then left. Pass between farms and fields for about ¾ mile until you cross a road and go into Roundhill Wood where you fork right towards Wigginton. Keep between the yellow top posts and follow the plastic tags with arrows on them till you reach a kissing gate out of the wood into a flat meadow.
Cross the field diagonally and pass through hedges to more fields. In the fourth field veer right and out onto Chesham Road. Turn right for 30 paces then go left through a kissing gate and downhill through some woods. Are there still llamas in a paddock on the left?
Turn left in the lane then right at the first turning off. Two parallel tracks go up the slope. Choose the left one which soon diverges and takes you to a road in the village of Wigginton. Turn right and almost immediately cross over Vicarage Road and Hemp Lane into a quiet thoroughfare with the delightful name of ‘The Twist’. We are getting close to Tring station, and soon there will be views across the valley where the Grand Union Canal winds its slow way from London to Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin. On the other side is the wooded ridge with 2 landmarks: the Bridgewater Monument near Aldbury (a tall obelisk), and, at the left hand end, Ivinghoe Beacon. Well worth exploring if you have the time: there are rare fritillary butterflies in the summer and bluebells galore in the spring, as well as mewing Buzzards and Roe deer all year round.
[Distant Ivinghoe Beacon]
Leave The Twist by the first footpath on the right — the Ridgeway long distance footpath (93 miles from Avebury stone circle to Ivinghoe). It took me 7 days to walk the whole thing. Descend for 1¼ miles crossing a high footbridge over the A41 as well as the old roman Akeman Road, now covered in tarmac. Follow the signposts. At a lane turn left; at a busy main road turn right for the station. Look out for the GUC – its towpath will lead you all the way to Brum (left) or London (right). It took me 14 days to go the whole way. It was flat and peaceful – very relaxing, and I met some friendly people along the way.
Tring village is a mile and a half from their station. When the line was built, the inhabitants of the time refused to have a station in their village, so it was positioned where it is now instead. No wonder it has such a big car park.
There will be a charge for returning to London by train. If you have a Freedom Pass, like I do, ask for a ticket to the boundary of Zone 6. You can rejoin the Underground system at Harrow and Wealdstone (Bakerloo line) or at Euston (Northern line and Victoria line.)
The other Chilterns walks on this blog are :-
8: The Chess valley walk
11: Through the Chilterns from Chesham to Cholesbury
16: Chiltern hill tops and valley bottoms
24: Walking to Wendover along the Chiltern Link footpath from Chesham
“I hope you enjoy this walk as much as I did.”
Peter Turner (July 2018)