Walk of the Month: The Chilterns

Mark Rowe visits the Chilterns for a hiker's view of the countryside under threat from the proposed route of HS2

It's been a busy, and very political, few months in the countryside. As if plans to sell off England's woodlands and cull its badgers were not enough, the proposal for the high-speed rail link, known as HS2, was outlined. Once again, all merry hell has broken out, this time among communities along the route.

We can all envy France and Germany their high-speed rail networks, while China has also recently got in on the act. But what about the countryside, the woodlands, the nature reserves, and the footpaths that the route will go through? In its desire for HS2 to achieve speeds of 250mph, the Government has proposed a direct route from London to Birmingham and Staffordshire that goes more or less arrow-straight through the Chilterns. As a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Chilterns have some formidable defenders who won't let HS2 proceed without a fight.

This walk takes in some of the features that appear to be threatened by HS2 (at least on the blueprint), striking out from Wendover along the edge of the Chilterns. It takes in some of the loveliest views and the ancient enigmatic Ridgeway, along with Coombe Hill, the highest point of the Chilterns.

"This route was suggested by Keith Hoffmeister of the Chiltern Society, which, along with groups such as the Ramblers Association, is heavily involved in the opposition to HS2 in its present form. "We knew we'd get the Nimby argument thrown at us," says Mr Hoffmeister. "Then the Government said it was all about 21st-century rail travel, so we were labelled Luddites. When we saw the planned route we all thought 'oh crikey', it's going through an area I love. When you're standing in some of the ancient woodlands that are going to be felled, you feel quite upset."

Having left Wendover Station and crossed the busy A413 via a bridge we found ourselves in a sweeping field, with views of Wendover Woods. That's the thing about the countryside: you can dismiss roads and towns in an instant. But this field is set to become a building site; a slip road for HS2 traffic is planned to bisect it. Soon the path rose gently to reach Coxgrove Wood. Back to the north-east is Halton House, a former residence of the Rothschilds and one of seven grand designs they had built across the Vale of Aylesbury. The wood is a delight, soft paths underfoot, beech trees and handsome iron gates that enigmatically don't appear to lead – or bar – the way to anything.

Soon we were in Dunsmore, a small village where inquisitive ducks waddled across the lane to greet us. It became apparent why opposition to HS2 in its current form is so strident: apart from the Ridgeway, much of this walk is on local paths, little used by visitors but popular with local people. They may be worried about property prices but they are also genuinely concerned for the impact on their rural backyard.

Heading pretty much due west, we picked up the Ridgeway to pass Chequers, the PM's official country residence. CCTV cameras abound but the route through the grounds is entirely legal. The Chiltern Society is pointedly walking around Chequers daily to reinforce opposition to HS2.

Having skirted Maple Wood and contoured around Beacon Hill, with more delightful views, our route went through the village of Ellesborough and made for Coombe Hill. The hike up the hill is something of a jolt and a reminder that the Chilterns do have escarpments worthy of the name. From the top, you can pick out the route you've just walked. The monument here is to the local fallen men from the Boer War, and is a good place to pause and gauge for yourself what all the fuss with HS2 is about.

The trains will emerge from a cutting below Wendover Woods to the north east and sweep in front of you, whizzing west of Aylesbury along a raised embankment because the Vale of Aylesbury is a floodplain. What that means in terms of disruption and where the soil will eventually go is anyone's guess; and you'll either find such features an imposition or feel that they add an unlikely kind of beauty to the landscape.

DIRECTIONS

Start-finish: Wendover Station

Map: Explorer 181 Chiltern Hills North

Distance: 13km (8 miles)

Time: 3-4 hours

From the station, turn right across a bridge, then left, following footpath pylons. Cross a stile and head half-right across a field. Turn right along a lane and first left. Go through a metal gate, downhill and cross a stile to go half-right to Coxgrove Wood. Follow the main path. After a yellow arrow on a tree trunk, take the right-hand path, later picking up a blue waymarker to Dunsmore. Turn right at the crossroads then left over a stile and take a right-hand fork to Cobnut Farm. Continue through Godmerhill Wood to pass Chequers. Follow the path to Maple Wood. Bear right to a gate and follow right along the edge of the field, later contouring around Beacon Hill. In Ellesborough, turn right and right again. After 300m go left. At the road, turn right, walk 100m and cross the road, following a footpath sign. At the fork in the woods, bear slightly left following a National Trust sign up a steep hill. Near the brow, bear left to Coombe Hill. From the monument, follow the grassy track to a gate, cross a ditch and pick up the Ridgeway back to Wendover.

COMPACT FACTS

How to get there

Wendover is served by Chiltern Railways from London Marylebone station and Aylesbury (08456 005 165; chilternrailways.co.uk).

Suggested Topics
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £32,000 Uncapped

    £22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £10,000 Uncapped - Part Time

    £7500 - £10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness chai...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Digital Marketing Executive (CRM, Eve...

    Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Sales / Customer Service Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: The role is likely to be 4on 4 off, days and ...

    Day In a Page

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea