THE RIDGEWAY NATIONAL TRAIL
Stage 6: Princes Risborough to Tring
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
I began this stage of the Ridgeway where the route, following a rough track called Upper Icknield Way, crosses New Road on the south-eastern fringe of the town of Princes Risborough in Buckinghamshire.
Leaving the road, the Ridgeway follows the tree-lined track between houses and then between fields (picture 1). After 300 metres, the Ridgeway bears left off the track and along the edge of a field to begin a fairly steep climb up Whiteleaf Hill (picture 2). Looking back before entering the trees at the top of the field there was a good view back over the town, where the spire of St Mary's Church in the town centre was quite prominent (picture 3, zoomed). The climb through the trees is quite a steep one, but there are steps built into the hillside to make it easier (picture 4).
The path soon climbs out of the woods and across a clearing towards a weathered stone cairn with a topograph on top showing distances to various landmarks visible to the north and west, and indicating that this point is 246 metres above sea level. At the edge of the clearing a gate leads into the woods of the Brush Hill Local Nature Reserve, where the path soon drops down to cross Peters Lane before heading through the next section of the woods.
In the next clearing the path passes by a Neolithic burial mound dating from around 3,500 BC. Just down the hill, but not easily visible from the path, a large figure of a dome topped by a cross is carved into the chalk of the hillside. Much easier to see from this point is the superb view to the west over Princes Risborough and far beyond (picture 5).
From the clearing the route turns right, following a path downhill through Giles's Wood to eventually emerge at the back of The Plough pub at Lower Cadsden (picture 6). Heading down the pub's driveway, the Ridgeway briefly follows Longdown Road before turning right to take a rather overgrown path through trees and into the Grangelands and Pulpit Hill Nature Reserve. The path through the reserve runs beside a high bank (picture 7) then along the edge of Pulpit Wood before branching right to climb through the next arm of the wood (picture 8).
In the next clearing a worn path follows the contours of the hillside (picture 9) to reach a gate at the corner of Maple Wood on the edge of the Chequers Estate (picture 10). Five or six hundred metres ahead, the large 16th-century house in the middle of the estate (picture 11, zoomed) has been the official country residence of the British Prime Minister since 1917.
The Ridgeway doesn't go any closer to the house but instead turns right, along the edge of Maple Wood, on a rather muddy path. About 600 metres later, at the next corner of the wood, the path turns left, following a right-of-way downhill across a grassy field at the front of the estate (picture 12), through the avenue of trees that line the main driveway to the house and across another field to reach a gate on the far edge of the estate by Missenden Road. While this path is still a long way from the house and there are regular signs warning walkers not to stray from the path, it is still pleasing to see that even the Prime Minister is not above the right-of-way laws that make the British countryside so accessible.
Leaving the Chequers Estate, the Ridgeway crosses the road and takes a track to the left of a house, climbing up into Goodmerhill Wood (picture 13). In the middle of the wood the path turns left and winds its way in a generally northerly direction through the adjoining Linton's Wood to reach a lane near the entrance of the Lodge Hill Game Farm.
The route follows the road to the right for a short distance to a signpost that points left inside the edge of another wood on Coombe Hill. The path soon emerges on the other side of the wood with superb views north and west across the Vale of Aylesbury (picture 14), including to the town of Aylesbury itself.
The path continues northwards along the ridge, still climbing steadily (picture 15). At the summit of the hill, 260 metres above sea-level, stands a monument to the men of Buckinghamshire who lost their lives in the Boer War in South Africa between 1899 and 1902 (picture 16).
Beside the monument is a topograph (picture 17) showing directions and distances to a number of landmarks on the horizon, including Ivinghoe Beacon where the Ridgeway ends, about 14 kilometres as the crow flies from Coombe Hill, but a rather longer distance for the walker.
From the monument the Ridgeway turns to a more easterly course, still following the edge of the Chiltern escarpment across Bacombe Hill, with views towards the town of Wendover at the foot of the hills (picture 18). A long and fairly easy descent leads down to a disused chalk pit near the bottom of the hill, now a nature reserve, and the path heads straight through the middle of it (picture 19), before reaching Ellesborough Road.
Three hundred metres along the road, a bridge crosses above the noisy A413 road and a railway line to reach the edge of Wendover. The first building on the left is a pub called the Shoulder of Mutton (picture 20). Just in case I needed any encouragement to go inside, a sudden and rather heavy rain shower arrived with perfect timing and I hastily headed inside for a pint and a nice lunch.
When I emerged about 40 minutes later, there was bright sunshine again and I headed off down Wendover's High Street. The route of the Ridgeway turns right off the High Street, just before it ends at a mini-roundabout in front of a clock tower that serves as the town's tourist office (picture 21). The route follows Heron Path between fences then along the edge of parkland beside the disused Wendover Arm of the Grand Union Canal (picture 22).
After passing by a large pond the path comes out onto Church Lane, facing St Mary's Church (picture 23). The Ridgeway follows Church Lane as it swings round the left side of the church and then continues on its way past a few houses and then out of town. At a crossroads, the route continues ahead on Hogtrough Lane, which soon degenerates into a narrow and sunken vehicle track (picture 24). The name suggested that there might be a piggery somewhere along the lane but I didn't see one.
When the lane ends at a metal gate, the Ridgeway bears left into Concord Wood. A well-signposted path climbs very gently through pleasant woodland for the next two kilometres, passing through Concord Wood (picture 25), Barn Wood (picture 26) and Hale Wood (picture 27), before reaching Hale Lane next to a lone house called Uphill Lodge (picture 28).
Across the road the path continues into Hengrove Wood and soon drops down into a deep ditch (picture 29), turning right to follow it through to a lane that runs along the far edge of the wood. A gate hidden in the hedgerow on the other side of the lane leads into a field and the route runs along the right-hand edge and then diagonally across the next field towards a radio mast in an enclosure beside Bottom Lane.
Just to the left of the radio mast, a path heads into Northill Wood (picture 30) and on into the adjoining Pavis Wood. After a little more than a kilometre, the path emerges on Gadmore Lane, which runs up to a crossroads in the middle of the hamlet of Hastoe. Continuing ahead on the hedge-lined Church Lane (picture 31) the route reaches a T-junction and turns left up Marlin Hill. Shortly after the road heads into woods, the Ridgeway turns right through a wooden gate into the Woodland Trust's Tring Park (picture 32).
A straight and fairly level path heads north-east through the park for almost two kilometres along the edge of the thickly-wooded escarpment. A brief gap in the woods to the left of the path gives a view over the lower section of the park and beyond to the town of Tring (picture 33) before the woods close in around the path once again (picture 34).
When the path is eventually blocked by a wide wooden gate, the Ridgeway turns right, soon leaving the woods and meeting Fox Road on the edge of the village of Wigginton. The village stretches away down the hill to the right, but the Ridgeway crosses the road and goes through a gate to the left of the last house, heading along the top edge of a sloping meadow from which I got my best view so far of my goal, Ivinghoe Beacon (picture 35, zoomed).
After passing by a concrete trig pillar standing right next to the path, the route circles around the right-hand edge of Langton Wood to meet a minor lane called The Twist. A few metres along the tarmac to the right a signpost points through a metal gate on the left and the path begins a steady descent towards the growing roar of the A41 along a fenced path under a line of trees between fields (picture 36). I had just closed the gate when I found myself hastily digging in my backpack for my waterproofs as it began to rain again.
The path soon reaches a long, sloping footbridge across a cutting carrying the A41 (picture 37). At the end of the footbridge an enclosed path leads to the side of the A4251, which the route crosses at a pedestrian refuge a short distance along the road. To the right of a lone house, the path goes through a gate onto a fenced path that descends past the edge of the small Chestnut Wood then between fields (picture 38), to reach Beggars Lane.
The route turns left towards the end of the lane, then right on Station Road, crossing a bridge over the Grand Union Canal (picture 39), Britain's longest canal, which connects the River Thames in London with Birmingham and several towns in between. The towpath beside the canal provides another long-distance walking path, the 235 kilometre Grand Union Canal Walk.
Station Road heads through a small detached section of the town of Tring (the rest of which lies a couple of kilometres to the west), to a bridge over the West Coast Main Line at the end of Tring Station. As the rain was showing no sign of abating, I decided to end the day's walking here, with 22.1 kilometres completed, heading down to the station platform (picture 40) to wait for a train back to London.
The West Coast Main Line is one of Britain's busiest passenger rail routes and is the busiest freight route, carrying 43% of all rail freight in the UK. The line runs from Euston in central London to Birmingham, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh. In the early 2000's I worked on a small part of a very large project to modernise the WCML, enabling trains to run at over 200 km/hour and cutting the journey time between London and Glasgow to around four and a half hours. Being based in Brisbane, I'd never gotten to ride on the line when I worked on that project, so it was pleasing to finally get a chance to be one of the 80 million passengers who travel on the line each year, with a few thousand lines of software code that I wrote on the other side of the world helping to make their journey a safe one.