Greetings my Fellow Adventurers!
The other weekend Alli and I did a wonderful long walk across the Chiltern countryside from the little Buckinghamshire town of Wendover.
As a guide, we used the Chiltern Society’s book: ‘50 Great walks in the Chilterns’. As I’ve mentioned before, these walking books are a great idea if you want to get off the beaten track and away from it all, but don’t know where to go. We did walk number 34 ‘Grim’s Ditch to Cobblers’ Pits’, which was anything but grim and not at all a load of old cobbl.. you get the idea.
The book stated that this walk had two long ‘climbs’…
…hoping that they just meant ‘steep ascents‘, we left the rope and crampons in Ratty and, starting by the clock tower, headed off down some delightful footpaths that led to the Chiltern link of the Ridgeway national path. We followed the trail out of the town, through the countryside and up into the hills on the first long ascent, eventually entering a lovely series of woods – thankfully no climbing was involved.
After a mile or so through the woods we diverted away from the Ridgeway for a spell to look at Grim’s ditch. It was at this point we fell fowl of the ever-changing landscape. Although the book was only written in 2015, a few things had obviously changed forestry wise and the turns no longer matched those described. Thankfully I’d remembered to bring the walking GPS* with us (I don’t always) and we were able to re-orientate ourselves and get back on route.
Grim’s Ditch is a Iron-age earthwork that crosses Buckinghamshire on and off for over 19 miles. Its original purpose is not known, although it was most likely some form of boundary marker. My personnel feeling is that is part of the same ditch system near Cholesbury that marks the edge of the ancient Catuvellauni tribe’s territory. Whatever it was there for, it is very atmospheric and was well worth the walk to see.
After the ditch we carried on across beautiful fields and through sun-dappled stretches of woodland, thankful as the day passed and the temperatures rose (it was reported to be as high as 32’C) that were following a mainly shady route.
Starting downhill into another valley where the farmers were busy bringing in their crops we wandered down a magical ‘hollow way’; an ancient pathway cut downhill through the woods. Alli loves these paths – we had a wonderful sense of the past few thousand years all around us.
Crossing farmland at the bottom of a valley we then headed up the second steep ascent hill into Wendover Woods, again, thankfully without the aid of climbing gear. Eventually we reached Boddington Camp. This large oval hillfort has been dated from as far back as the late Bronze Age, and although the banks and ditches are mostly obscured by trees, it is still a really impressive site. I’d love to have seen it in it’s heyday.
Finding a nice fallen tree in the centre of the camp, we sat and munched our picnic and wondered if our ancestors had once sat in the same spot to eat theirs. It’s a nice thought and a simple way to make a connection to the past, although I doubt they had an Indian spiced beetroot veggie wrap with falafels and mint sauce!
Suitably fed, we walked deeper into the woods in search of a cup of tea. The Forestry Commission has a big visitor centre in the woods, with a cafe, a ‘Go Ape’ climbing thing, information office and various other ‘family’ activities to do in these woods – with a humongous car park to go with it. As a direct contrast to how quiet the woods had been so far, the area around the Forestry Commission bit were full of what I like to call ‘Car-park people‘. These are people that go somewhere to get away from it all, and then don’t stray more than 50ft away from the car park, have a picnic or a ball game and then go home, saying they’d been somewhere – without actually going there. Once we’d run the gauntlet of disposable BBQs, blankets and the children’s play area, we reached the newly finished café. It was busy as expected, but the tea was nice and after two big ascents (climbs) the rest did us good. The Menu actually looked pretty good so it might be worth a visit someday when it’s quieter.
After tea we took a short walk to the top of Haddington hill (just off the car park) which is the highest point in the Chilterns. Then, leaving the madding crowds behind we followed a lovely long decent down through the other side of the woods to continue our journey. At one point the route had us walking through a golf course where we had a wonderful view looking back across towards Dunstable Downs, Whipsnade and the ancient Icknield Way.
Moving further down we passed through the aforementioned Cobblers pits, a wonderful little woodland that used to contain a reservoir supplying part of the Rothschild estate. There were also some ancient chalk pits and the woods featured yet another lovely hollow way to finish the final bit of the downward leg.
Past the pits we reached the long since abandoned Tring arm of the Grand Union Canal. The towpath took us along through Halton, past the RAF station, airfield and officers mess and back into Wendover – it was this part of the walk where we realised that the advertised 10-mile route, was actually 12! The walk along the canal was lovely with plenty of shade and bird life to see. It is obviously disused as it is very choked up with silt and water-weeds. I suspect if anyone ever wanted to open this up to boating traffic they’d have a very large challenge on their hands!
Once back in the town centre we unsurprisingly headed for a well-earned drink in the Red Lion pub, which, after all those miles in the blistering heat, was very welcome indeed.
What a blooming brilliant walk – Great company, plenty of history and some fantastic scenery to boot.
Farewell my Friends!
*These little handheld walking GPS’s can be really useful little tools. Not always needed on walks, especially ones from a guide book, but very useful if you do get stuck. We have a Garmin Etrex touch 35 with a OS map SD card fitted – not cheap but a godsend if you need it.