THE RIDGEWAY NATIONAL TRAIL
Stage 5: Nuffield Common to Princes Risborough
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
This stage of the Ridgeway was quite different from the previous days. The trail heads through the Chiltern Hills, but unlike the first half of the Ridgeway, the path mostly runs well below the tops of the hills, traversing quiet fields and shady woodland on the northern face of the ridge, generally some distance above the villages and towns.
On a bright and breezy morning, I caught the first bus of the day over from Henley-on-Thames, alighting at the bus stop outside the Crown pub on Gangsdown Hill and rejoining the Ridgeway just along the road.
Across the road, the Ridgeway heads through a metal kissing gate and into the small Coneygear Wood. Emerging on the other side of the wood after a couple of minutes, I followed the direction indicated by a signposst, northwards across a recently-ploughed field towards a white post on the far side (picture 1). The route heads through a band of trees (crossing the route of the Chiltern Way, which runs inside the trees), before crossing another field to join a path beside fenced horse paddocks at Ewelme Park Farm (picture 2).
The grassy path soon joins the farm drive, passing by an interesting gatehouse (picture 3) then between a couple of farm sheds before turning right to follow a wide path through a small patch of woods with autumn leaves rustling underfoot. In the open again, the trail follows a curving path along the edge of a field before heading through Cowleaze Copse (picture 4).
The path through the copse descends fairly steeply to a metal kissing gate on the far edge of the trees, then across a narrow field and through another gate, where the route turns right along a farm track towards the hamlet of Swyncombe (picture 5).
The track runs alongside a long wooden fence to pass by the 11th-century Parish Church of St Botolph (picture 6) before following Rectory Hill the short distance up to its junction with Church Lane. Here the Ridgeway continues ahead, leaving the road to cross a shallow valley (picture 7) before climbing again and entering Dean Wood (picture 8).
The path through the woods emerges after about 500 metres to follow the edge of a large field down to North Farm (picture 9), passing just to the right of the farm buildings and then turning right on a hedge-lined farm track between fields.
The straight track is followed in a north-easterly direction, becoming more shady and enclosed a short distance after crossing a country lane below Britwell Hill (picture 10). After a little over a kilometre, an alternative grassy path runs parallel to the main track for about 500 meters at Lys Farm, giving views ahead to Watlington Hill (picture 11).
Rejoining the main track as it crosses the B480 Howe Road, the Ridgeway keeps ahead for another kilometre to reach Hill Road, which comes up from the town of Watlington and passes over Watlington Hill. At this crossing I left the Ridgeway temporarily, turning left down Hill Road for the 15-minute walk into the centre of Watlington in search of some lunch. Having acquired it, I found a seat by the War Memorial on the High Street (picture 12).
After making the trek back up Hill Road to rejoin the Ridgeway, I followed the path as it heads north-east along the foot of the Chiltern escarpment. After about a kilometre, the path crosses the surfaced Station Road, where half a dozen concrete blocks, resembling giant Lego bricks, prevent motor vehicles from using the path (picture 13).
For the next three kilometres the mostly tree and hedge-lined path continues straight ahead across rolling farmland, first passing below Pytton Hill (picture 14) then over the end of Shirburn Hill (picture 15) before the view opens up ahead towards Beacon Hill (picture 16), which lies beyond the M40 motorway.
Heading downhill again, the path crosses the second Hill Road of the day and reaches a pedestrian tunnel under the motorway 200 metres later (picture 17). Beyond the motorway, the path skirts around the lower slopes of Beacon Hill (picture 18) for the next kilometre, with some good views across the countryside to the left (picture 19) as the path gains a little height before crossing over the A40 Aston Hill. The path beyond the road crossing is a bridleway and is guarded by a barrier designed to prevent vehicle access but to allow horses to pass (picture 20).
A short distance beyond the road crossing, the Ridgeway joins the route of a dismantled railway branch line that ran along the foot of the Chiltern Hills between Princes Risborough and Watlington until 1957 (picture 21). The railway is followed for about two kilometres before the Ridgeway bears right to leave it on a track below Crowell Hill (picture 22). A 5.6 kilometre section of the old railway east of this point was reopened in 1994 as a heritage railway; The Chinoor and Princes Risborough Steam Railway.
A little further along the gently climbing path I passed by a farmer ploughing a field beside the path (picture 23), beyond which there were good views northward to the village of Crowell (picture 24).
For the next one and a half kilometres, the path passes between several large former chalk pits, now mostly flooded, but these are fenced off for safety reasons and very little is visible from the path due to the dense foliage on both sides (picture 25).
Just beyond the last of the chalk pits, the path passes a small carpark and crosses the third Hill Road of the day. This one comes up from the town of Chinoor, which can be seen from a little further along the gently rising path (picture 26).
The views don't last long however, as the path becomes tree-lined again after passing by a large house. The shady path climbs gently up through the woods to reach the small group of houses that form the hamlet of Hempton Wainhill on the summit of Wain Hill. The path briefly emerges from the woods on top of the hill with a view ahead to the town of Princes Risborough (picture 27), still a couple of hours walk away as the Ridgeway reaches it by a rather indirect route. The path bends right, around a two-storey brick house, and crosses the boundary between Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, taking a broad path inside the edge of the woods (picture 28), which winds it's way across Wain Hill for almost a kilometre.
On the far edge of the woods, a signpost on the right points through a kissing gate and out across an open, rolling pasture to the right of a row of trees separating the pasture from a crop field (picture 29). Just before reaching the corner of the pasture, the path uses another kissing gate to switch sides of the fence. From here the white sails of the Lacey Green Windmill on the hill in the village of Loosley Row was clearly visible (near the left of picture 30), about four kilometres to the east.
Follwoing the wire fence along the right-hand edge of the field leads to a metal kissing gate in the hedge on the edge of Wigan's Lane and another on the other side of the road takes the Ridgeway onto a path across the middle of three fields towards the foot of Lodge Hill (picture 31). A kissing gate at the far edge of the third field takes the trail onto a fenced path that climbs around the right-hand edge of a grassy pasture before heading into the woods and climbing more steeply on a path that was carpeted with autumn leaves (picture 32).
The path soon emerges into a clearing on the flat top of Lodge Hill with expansive views off to the north (picture 33). At the far end of the clearing, the path goes through a wooden gate under a stand of beech trees (picture 34). Before long, the path bears a little left and begins to descend steeply through scrub into the valley ahead (picture 35).
Part of the way down the hill, the path leaves the scrub and follows the right-hand edge of a field down to Lee Road. Across the road the Ridgeway joins the fenced drive of Longwood Farm (picture 36). At the end of the drive, a fenced footpath passes to the right of the farm buildings and then heads out across the small farm to the edge of the Princes Risborough Golf Club.
Now lined with low hedges, the path cuts across the middle of the golf course for about 200 metres to reach a kissing gate beside the northbound track of the Chiltern Main Line. The Ridgeway crosses the track (picture 37), before climbing steeply over the hill ahead, which the southbound track passes beneath in the Saunderton Tunnel. It fairly unusual for the up and down tracks of a railway to be separated in this fashion.
After passing through a band of trees above the tunnel, the path continues ahead, crossing a field diagonally to join a country lane called Upper Icknield Way, which is followed ahead to a junction with the busy A4010 Wycombe Road. The Ridgeway crosses over at a pedestrian refuge and turns left along the pavement beside the noisy road (picture 38), following it for 700 metres up to the edge of Princes Risborough.
Just after passing a sign welcoming one to the town, the Ridgeway takes the first turning on the right, a track once again called Upper Icknield Way. The mostly hedge-lined track allows the Ridgeway to bypass most of the town, running past a few houses before heading between fields and then past a school to reach New Road (picture 39). Here I left the Ridgeway for the day, with my GPS showing 28.8 kilometres walked for the day so far, 25.7 kilometres of that on the Ridgeway.
About 500 metres to the left down New Road, I reached a roundabout in the town centre. A left turn here, then a right, lead to the High Street, where the town's 17th-century Market House stands (picture 40). The tiny upper storey of the Market House was used as the town's council chambers until 2001.
From the town centre it was about 15 minutes walk to reach the railway station on the western edge of the town, where I caught a train back to London on the railway line I had walked across earlier.