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
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
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?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick