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Stage 4 - Bourne End  to  West Wycombe  (10.7 miles)

Start: Grid Reference SU 89467 87256  Post Code SL8 5QH  StreetMap (Details are for Bourne End Railway Station)

If you just want to print out the "Route" instructions of stage 4 of this walk, without all the blurb on the website, you can download this as a Word Docx by clicking on the link.

 

To get to the start of the stage from Bourne End Station. On leaving the station turn right, then right again past an auction room and through the station car park. Go through a gate onto a footpath next to the railway. Then down some steps to the river. Turn right under Bourne End Railway Bridge and continue straight on along an enclosed path (signed Thames Path).

ROUTE DESCRIPTION

The first 2 miles are flat, following the Thames Path and then through Spade Oak Nature Reserve to Little Marlow. The rest of the stage is tough and very hilly with many steep climbs and mostly off-road through the Chiltern Hills. The route goes up around the back of High Wycombe to finish just past the National Trust owned village of West Wycombe at Pedestal Roundabout at junction of A40 and A4010. 

The route passes some pleasant dwellings, then comes out onto an open area next to the river with a level crossing away to the right. Continue straight on along the Thames Path, soon crossing a footbridge over the entrance to a small marina. And follow signs for Thames Path.

At times the path becomes enclosed between houses and their small riverside gardens. This eventually leads to an opening next to the river (at 0.62 miles).

Bourne End Marina was redeveloped during 2003/4. It contains a first-floor restaurant (closed as of June 2019) with a balcony and views over the river.

The riverside at Bourne End is a mixture of old and modern buildings, many squeezed in between the railway and the Thames. The river is wide here and the area is very popular for rowing, sailing and motor boats.

We soon pass Upper Thames Sailing Club. It was founded in 1884. To mark the occasion of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, in 1887, the club founded a sailing regatta and since then continues hold the Bourne End Sailing Week in June each year. According to the club's website:

"In 1893 HRH the Duke of Connaught, third son of Queen Victoria, accepted the Presidency of Upper Thames Sailing Club and in the same year the Queen presented to the club a challenge cup for the First-Class Boats. Whilst such "Queen's Cups" are not unusual among the coastal-based "Royal" sailing and yacht clubs, Upper Thames is believed to be unique in that it is the only inland club to be so honoured."

On reaching the open area next to the river, it does feel like a breath of fresh air. There are usually a few boats moored at the riverbank. In summer this is a popular spot with picnickers, walkers and people paddling in the river. At the upstream end of this open area the Thames Path continues through a kissing gate and around a large riverside meadow (we don't). There are benches in the meadow, along the path to sit and enjoy the views across the river to Cock Marsh and Winter Hill. However, a sign next to the kissing gate blatantly states "Beware of the Bull" and next to this another sign shows the "flood mark" from 1947. A week before I wrote these lines, I visited this area. It was late July 2007 and the river was in flood. It was a beautiful sunny day, the huge meadow was completely under water with only the tops of the benches in view, the bull and cows were nowhere to be seen, plus the 1947 flood mark was still about 4 feet above that day's water level.

The enclosed path between the houses does go through gates at times and soon resembles an unmaintained lane, with houses to our right and their gardens to our left and adjacent to the river. You'll also notice most of the houses are elevated with many on stilts. This is help protect them from flooding.

Up to then the route had always continued along the towpath through the meadow, past the bull and just into the next field. There it turned right on a footpath next to the hedgerow, away from the river and over a level crossing to a lane past a sewage works and into Little Marlow. As for the bull, he always appeared very sedate, possibly due to the number of cows he has to occupy him.

Due to many complaints over the years about the bull, the floods (see a later photo of kissing gate and meadow, from February 2014), plus the smell of the sewage works, since 2008 the course follows a new route to Little Marlow. It was suggested to me by Phillip Emmet, owner of Wilton Farm and Emmett's Farm Shop at Little Marlow. Like most others met on this journey around London through the years, he has been very supportive of this project and good at suggesting alternatives routes. I found the change was a great addition as you might read below.

A ferry ran from here for hundreds of years and an old Ferry Cottage still sits across the river. Though this was probably not the original cottage. According to Discover Britain website:

"There was a wharf here as long ago as the Middle Ages when it was run by the Benedictine Nuns from the Priory at Little Marlow. This is also one of those places where the towpath switched banks but it was not until 1824 that the Thames Commissioners provided a horse ferry. Mr Rose of Spade Oak Wharf had the exclusive right to tow barges from here to Marlow. He even made a charge to barge owners who used their own horses. The ferry was located about 50 metres upstream and crossed to the white cottage on the opposite bank. Across the river is a large flat meadow called Cock Marsh. This is on the inside of the river as it sweeps round a large bend. The marsh has been used for grazing animals since medieval times but a number of burial mounds from the Bronze Age are evidence of even earlier use. Cock Marsh now belongs to the National Trust and is a popular place for people to walk and enjoy the riverside. The ferry was still in operation when Enid Blyton was writing in the 1930s and it features in some of her books. It was particularly popular at weekends and Bank Holidays when thousands of people would use it to reach Cock Marsh. The ferry became uneconomic and was discontinued in 1956. It was then almost 40 years before the towpaths were linked together again to create the Thames Path National Trail. This was achieved by attaching a footbridge to the side of the railway bridge in Bourne End and extending the path on this side of the river."

If you enjoy train journeys you can watch through the window of the train as it goes from Marlow back to Bourne End at YouTube. The video wasn't taking at a time of flooding, but as you will see, parts of some fields are under water. The train from Marlow to Bourne End is known as the Marlow Donkey as it does not travel at speed. It also makes no noise, so be very careful as I once almost walked out in front of it as I couldn't hear it coming.

At the open area, next to the river, turn right, through a metal pedestrian gate, over a level crossing (with great care) and straight on along a road (Coldmoorholme Lane) past Spade Oak Farm to your RHS.

Spade Oak Farm is a scattering of old and modern buildings. The farmhouse is 17th Century and is grade II listed. All the buildings have now been converted to residences.

Continue along the lane, soon past a car park, next to a wooded picnic area, and then past the Spade Oak Pub.

Just past the pub is "Old Thatch" a 17th Century thatched cottage. This was once a beer house called the Rose and Crown with stabling and rooms for the night. One person who is said to have stayed a several times is highwayman Dick Turpin (1705 -1739). From here, he would ride out on his horse Black Bess and rob coaches on the nearby London to Bath road.

It became a private home in the 19th Century, and from 1929 to 1938 it was home to the well-known children' novelist Enid Blyton, she described the house as "perfect both outside and in" and "like a house in a fairy tale".

According to Discover Britain:

"The landscape around here was to be a big influence on Enid Blyton's writing. While she lived here she wrote 16 books known as the Old Thatch Series, one of which was called 'Tales of Old Thatch'. Enid Blyton later moved to Green Hedges in the nearby town of Beaconsfield and it was there that she wrote her Mystery Series of books. Anyone who has read these will know that they are about five children called Fatty, Larry, Daisy, Pip and Bets and a dog called Buster. They are the five Find-Outers and they have fun investigating crimes in a riverside village called Peterswood. This is the fictional name Enid Blyton used for Bourne End where we are now. It is possible to identify many places round here from the stories. The river and railway appear frequently and the pub next door featured in one of the books. It is now the Spade Oak but it was once called Ye Ferry Hotel. In 1895 it was advertised as "a riverside hotel for boating, fishing and launch parties"".

By the 1990s the house and gardens had fallen into decay. However, the house was bought by garden designer, Jacky Hawthorne and her husband David in 1994, who lovingly redesigned the surrounding gardens to reflect the history and peacefulness of the setting. The gardens featured on BBC Gardeners' World and gained publicity throughout the world. You can see very little from the road by looking through the lychgate (it's almost secret). Up until 2015, when the property up put up for sale,  the gardens and cottage with its small tea room were open to the public on certain days throughout the summer.

Immediately opposite the entrance to Old Thatch turn left onto a path through the trees and a metal kissing gate and across a small field to another kissing gate. Go through and over a footbridge to enter a nature reserve. Turn right to follow a path around the edge of what was an old gravel pit and is now a lake. After another 550 yards turn right onto a path which goes away from the lake and through a wood. Be careful not to follow the main path which continues around the lake as it is only used by anglers and soon reaches a dead-end. Follow the path through the wood to cross a footbridge and out into a large field. Turn left along the edge of the field.

According to an information board, Spade Oak Lake started life as agricultural land belonging to Spade Oak Farm. In 1966 excavation of 33 acres of this land was began by, local company, Folley Brothers. Aggregates from here were used for the extension to the M4 and M40 motorways. In the 1990s the lake was acquired by Lafarge Aggregates. In recent years they have only used it for the storage and washing of aggregates.

Since extractions stopped a wide variety of plants and trees have grown, which in turn has attracted much insect and bird life. This has been encouraged by the Buckinghamshire Bird Club who maintain the main habitat areas and manage the five Tern nesting rafts which it funded. The footpath around the lake was Little Marlow Parish Council's Millennium Project and was inaugurated in 2001, by the then, Lord Lieutenant of the County, Sir Henry Aubrey-Fletcher.

Spade Oak Nature Reserve is a great place for bird watchers, especially around the lake. Also, birds of prey are often seen hovering above the lake and the large open fields to the north. The paths around the lake are popular with ramblers. Marlow Angling Club have negotiated fishing rights. Recently there has been a lot of work here to improve the paths through the Nature Reserve. It's a beautiful and secluded place.

Updating this in May 2020, I have read Wycombe District Council acquired Spade Oak Lake in August 2019. Also, since 2020 there have been plans to develop a Little Marlow Lakes Country Park. The area includes seven ex-gravel pits which are now lakes and bounded by Coldmoorholme Lane, the River Thames and the A404. There are a lot of proposals including more access, cycleways, parking, accessibility, sports, etc. Let's see what happens. 

Follow the path as it enters another field and continues straight on. At the far end of the field, cross over a road. There are also a few industrial buildings to the left owned by Lafarge Aggregates - a gravel extraction company. The road has no public right of way so cross straight over, and if a weekday be careful of the large trucks.

Continue straight on along the edge of a third field, with a small stream on your left, for 170 yards. Turn left to cross a wooden footbridge over the stream and then along a path above next to a stream / marsh. After 150 yards cross over another wooden footbridge and then follow the path around to the right, through a meadow and then some trees.

To the right is an attractive old house with a well-manicured lawn with a pond and a stream flowing through the grounds. This is The Old Vicarage. The tower of Little Marlow Church is also visible above the hedgerow.

Where the path comes out onto a lane (The Moor) turn right towards Little Marlow, soon past the church to your LHS and stay straight on through the village.

Thanks to Phillip Emmett' suggestion, the danger from the bull and the smell of the sewage works have been avoided. However, with the floods of 2007 the changed route was usable, but the higher floods of 2014 no route would be usable. It is worth a mention that both the sewage works and the Lafarge Aggregates sites were used as locations in the making of the Dr Who story "The Ambassadors of Death" in 1970. In Norman times and the early Medieval period, the area around the sewage works were used to cultivate vines, although it seems there wasn't always a successful harvest.

When I originally went to check Phillip Emmett's suggestion on the route through the nature reserve, I didn't have a map of the paths, However, a delightful young lady accompanied by two children dressed in pyjamas entered the nature reserve at the same time. I ask her about the path to Little Marlow and she replied, just follow us. I owe her a debt for showing myself and two friends the route from Spade Oak to Little Marlow. It was late July 2007 and a hot sunny day. We found it tough to keep pace with them as they seemed to be in a hurry and I enjoy taking photos of the route. We last spoke to them as we entered Little Marlow and I thought they must have been local. However, after taking a few more photos and rejoining our driver in the car we saw them again, this time about a mile from Little Marlow and on the pavement along the main road heading towards Marlow, and still at speed. I'm still confused to this day why they had come so far and still seemed to have so far to go in such a hurry and why the children were dressed in pyjamas. 

The peaceful village of Little Marlow is off the beaten track and most of it designated a conservation area. It is laid out in the form of a cross, being mainly based around Church Road, running north from the church to the A4155 (Marlow Road) with two roads, Pound Lane and School Lane, going off to the west and east from the centre.

On entering the village, the route passes a few cottages on the lane and come out into an area around a small green with a chain around it and a bench in the centre. On the south side is a 17th Century black and white manor farmhouse. To the right is the Old Vicarage built in 1770 and to the left is the Church of St John the Baptist. On the wall in front of the church is the small war memorial, and on the right of this are the gates to the Jacobean manor house once home of the Earl of Ronaldshay. On the Francis Firth website you can see old photos and maps and read some wonderful childhood stories of people who lived here or visited the village. One such story tells of visits to the Earl of Ronaldshay by Queen Elizabeth II and the winning England world cup soccer team in the 1960s.

The Church of St John the Baptist is of Norman origin and originally built in the late 12th Century. It was mostly rebuilt in the 14th & 15th Centuries. The tower dates from the 14th Century. The church is a popular location for film companies and has featured in many TV series including, Poirot, Miss Marple, Midsomer Murders and Lewis. 

Edgar Wallace (1875 - 1932) the novelist, playwright and journalist is buried in the churchyard at Fern, a hamlet of Little Marlow and just north east of the village. He died in Los Angeles on 10th February 1932 whilst working on the film King Kong. Thousands of people plus the world press lined the streets of the little village for his funeral. You can visit the official website of Edgar Wallace for more information.

In September 1998 the world's attention once again focused on Little Marlow and the Church of St John the Baptist. This time it was for the wedding of the Spice Girls group member Melanie Brown (aka Mel B) and dancer Jimmy Gulzar. Many celebrities attended the wedding at the church and the reception next door at her then home the "Manor House". Although many turned out to get a glimpse of the happy couple and guests, they saw very little, for the whole occasion was conducted under a shroud of privacy as OK Magazine had paid for exclusive rights to the publicity.

The village has many other interesting buildings and things to see, including the remains of a 14th Century Benedictine Nunnery of the Virgin Mary. There are two inviting old English country pubs, the 16th century Queen's Head, in Pound Lane and the 17th Century King's Head at the north end of Church Road. The Queen' Head was used in the last episode of TV series Inspector Morse. It was the last pub Morse would ever visit in the series. The pub has the rebuilt "village pound" opposite it and calls itself "Marlow's Little Secret".  The King's Head holds its own dark little secret as you can read below.

In October 1920 the body of Kate Bailey, age 22, was discovered in Barn Cottage, in Little Marlow village. The famous Home Office pathologist Dr Bernard Spilsbury was called into the investigation and concluded the cause of death was cyanide poisoning - the inquest was conducted in the King's Head. Police soon arrested a suspect, George Arthur Bailey, the woman's husband, well-known in the district as the whistling milkman. Bailey's trial dominated the local and national press during the following months, and was of legal significance in that it was the first occasion on which women served on a jury at a murder trial. Despite a history of mental illness Bailey was found guilty of murder and was hung at Oxford jail in March 1921, Little Marlow village once again relapsed into uneventful tranquility and it was to be over 10 years before the press were once again out in force in this rural back-water.

Another famous resident of the village was Ivor Novello, the Welsh composer, singer and song-writer who lived at Walnut Tree Cottage on the north of Church Road.

Little Marlow won Bucks best kept small village in 2012 and has got to the final many times. For lots more information and to find out what is presently going on in the village, visit the Little Marlow Parish Council website. Also, for a full history of the village, see the entry for Little Marlow at British History Online and the Little Marlow (and Marlow) entry in the Domesday Book of 1086.

After passing the King's Head Pub at (2 miles), cross straight over the busy A4155 (with care) into Wilton Farm and past Emmett's Farm Shop

If time permits, why not divert slightly off course to Marlow (see map for a scenic and short route). Marlow is a pleasant Thameside, Georgian town with a white suspension bridge, built by Tierney Clarke between 1831 and 1836. There is much more to see including, Shelley's house in West Street, where his wife Mary Shelley, created Frankenstein and where he wrote "The Revolt of Islam".

"Emmett's Farm Shop" has produce from the farm, and lots more local produce, is on display and for sale.  Philip Emmett, owner of Wilton Farm, is always obliging, a wealth of suggestions for the path and gave permission for many years to park marshal's cars in the car park and start a stage of a long-distance run, I used to organise. Recent additions to the farm have been a butcher and fishmonger, a sports store, plus "Home Barn Vintage Treasures" selling furniture and antiques. 

Go directly north (away from the main road) through the farmyard and onto a track uphill along the right edge of a field. After 800 yards the track veers slightly left past a barn and across a field to veer right again, with the edge of the field now to the left.

There are good views behind and to the left over the Thames Valley, the surrounding countryside and the town of Marlow.

On reaching a metal kissing-gate, on the left, go through it and then turn right with the hedgerow now to your RHS. Follow the well-defined path along the edge of the field into Bloom Wood / Warren Wood. After 400 yards (at 3 miles), and as the main track goes straight on, veer left along another path, then at next junction, turn left onto a signed path (Chiltern Way). Continue on this path through the woods and eventually down a very steep hill to come out onto Winchbottom Lane.

Note: This steep downhill is really steep (about 25%). If wet it can be dangerous, but there is an alternative by using a wide path to the right (just before reaching the steep hill) and after about 100 yards turning sharp left.

The main track through Bloom Wood leads to and past the aptly named Hard to Find Farm - I have never been able to find the farm, but we don't really need to.

On the right just before the steep hill down is a circular bank and ditch. This is believed to have been a medieval enclosure for animals and a noticeboard placed here by "The ROMADAM Project" (The Recording of Marlow and District's Ancient Monuments) give some information on the Warren Wood Earthwork.

It's also along this path from Bloom Wood to Winchbottom Lane where we join up with the route of the Chiltern Way. This is a 134 mile circular walk through the Chiltern Hills and was created by the Chiltern Society as its Millennium Project. We follow the Chiltern Way for the next two miles and rejoin it again later, just after Flaunden Village on stage 6 of this walk.

On reaching the lane turn left and follow, gradually downhill, for 600 yards.

Winchbottom Lane is quiet, wooded and hilly on both sides. Be wary of cars as it is very narrow with only a few places for cars to pass each other. 

Turn right past a metal barrier, signed Chiltern Way, and straight on along the LHS of a car park. The path goes straight on through the woods and after 700 yards comes out onto a lane (Monkton Lane - at just over 4 miles).

Turn left along the lane and after 350 yards the lane passes under the A404. 125 yards later turn right, off Monkton Lane and onto a narrow lane, to Wood Barn Farm, signed Chiltern Way.

Apart from the A404 being so close and the hum of the traffic on the dual carriage-way, this is a lovely and peaceful backwater. Wood Barn Farm has some beautiful buildings and an interesting Facebook page and website with live camera feeds of the animals.

After passing the farm, to your LHS, stay straight on for 200 yards. Then turn left on a path between fields and after another 310 yards out through a wooden kissing gate onto a road (Pump Lane). Turn right along the lane.

There is no pavement along Pump Lane, but it's a quiet country lane with very little traffic. Note: To the left, a quarter of a mile, along the lane is an award-winning, family run vineyard, Harrow & Hope.

After 220 yards Pump Lane leads to a T-junction with Wycombe Road. Stay on along the RHS for just a few yards, then cross the road onto a footpath going straight across a crop field, signed Chiltern Way.

Just to the left, at the junction, is the Three Horseshoes public house. It dates from the 1840s and serves locally brewed beers. The real ales come from the Rebellion Brewery which is just half a mile south along Wycombe Road. The brewery was opened in 1993 and uses the chalky waters of the local Chiltern Hills.

At the other side of the field turn right along an enclosed bridleway (at 5 miles). Follow the bridleway, in a northerly direction for 1,450 yards out onto a lane (Ragmans Lane).

The enclosed bridleway can get overgrown in places. The route is mainly north, but a few degrees west of north. It also climbs over 200 feet before reaching the lane. Half way along the bridleway we pass an isolated property named Wymers Lodge to our LHS. This old bridleway was investigated by Marlow Archaeology in 2010 looking for evidence of a Roman Road. You can read more at the link.

On reaching Ragmans Lane veer slightly right, then straight on along the lane. Be careful as it is a very narrow road.

On maps, in the field to the left of the lane, is marked Ragman's Castle. I can find very little about its apart from the fact it's mentioned in the 1851 Buckinghamshire census. There is an old isolated house, 40 yards along the lane to the left, where we come out onto Ragmans Lane. Also, at the high point of this area and near the western edge of the field is a spinney of trees clustered around a pond or moat. It can be seen from the lane through double gates 100 yards after joining the lane.

After 190 yards, and as the road turns sharp right, stay left onto a gravel lane. After just a few yards, stay right, past an isolated farmhouse to your RHS, and onto an enclosed track (at 6 miles).

The track goes downhill between trees and becomes a path between fields. Follow it straight on towards the motorway (M40) in the distance. On approaching the motorway follow the path as it turns right and then left through a conveniently situated tunnel under the M40.

The motorway and gaping hole under it can be seen from a long way away. The tunnel is a bit of a lonely place and much too large to have been built as a path, it's big enough to allow large agricultural machinery to pass through it. The area along the path and around the tunnel does not seem to be looked after by the local council as it's obviously used as a bit of a dumping ground.

After passing through the tunnel a steep path straight ahead leads up to a service road at the back of a large ASDA. If you feel you need provisions or a break, just climb up, then turn right and uphill along the road for a short distance to the entrance to the car park. Turn left into the car park and the entrance to the store is just to the left.

The route from here skirts around the town of High Wycombe. It does have a lot of history which dates back over 2,000 years, with Roman, Saxon, Domesday Book, English Civil War, furniture making, World Wars and more. However, there is no scenic route through. You can read about High Wycombe by following the link, but one tradition of the town is well worth a mention, "Mayor Making". When a new mayor is elected to office they are weighed-in in front of the townsfolk. After serving their year as mayor they are weighed-out. If they have gained any weight it is decreed they have done this at taxpayers' expenses and are jeered and pelted with rotten fruit. The tradition dates back to 1678 when the then mayor, Henry Shepard was reported as being drunk and misbehaving himself.

After passing through the tunnel, turn left and uphill along a path. At the top go straight on past a bridleway going off to the right. For the next 0.7 mile follow the path (now classified as a bridleway), mainly straight on, and parallel to the M40, only yards away from the speeding traffic.

The modern out of town shopping park to the right has a couple of major supermarkets, a multi-screen cinema, a hotel and a few large American restaurants. Considering the path is surrounded by the hustle and bustle of modern day society and at points the people in their cars seem close enough to reach out and touch, it still feels peaceful and isolated from its surroundings.

The bridleway soon passes the back of a large John Lewis store and then narrows, but keep the motorway to your left.

After another 375 yards the path/bridleway turns right. But just after just a few yards and at a junction, turn left onto an enclosed bridleway which continues parallel to the motorway. Soon to the right a large seemingly lifeless office block gives the feeling of being looked out on from its modern square glass fašade. The tree-lined bridleway continues uphill to come out on a grassy area next to Cressex Road (at just over 7 miles). 

Here intermittent small airplanes look as if they are dive bombing the motorway. However, they are on their final approach to the Wycombe Air Park which is just across the motorway.

At the road, cross straight over into Horns Lane. Continue straight on along the verge on the LHS of Horns Lane and after 420 yards turn right to cross the road and onto a narrow lane (Booker Common). Soon there are houses to your RHS and an open common to your LHS. 

After 340 yards, at a junction, turn left into Willow Avenue. In another 80 yards, at a Y-junction, veer left along a lane (signed public bridleway). 

After 260 yards (and soon after some wooden bollards) turn left, through bollards, onto a wide path into the woods, signed public footpath. The path is not well-defined as there are a few options. However, veer slightly right and gradually downhill.

After 80 yards turn right onto a path which gradually leads downhill. Then after another 200 yards, on reaching a Y-junction of paths turn sharp left and continue downhill.

At the bottom turn right, and almost immediately right again, onto another path, still in the woods and running parallel to a road on your LHS.

There is a more direct route through these woods, with severe declines and inclines. However, this has been blocked for a few years now by a fallen tree. Luckily there are many paths through and this has not proved to be much of a hindrance.

Whilst updating this (in 2018), I have discovered The Booker Common & Woods Protection Society has recently done much work here. They have cleared paths, created a figure of 8 walk, placed information boards around the common, and more.

The path parallel to the road is almost flat. Follow it for 200 yards, then turn left onto a very narrow path (this is not obvious) for just a few yards to reach a road (Lane End Road). Cross straight over the road and past a metal barrier, onto a wide track, signed public footpath. Follow this path / wide track, directly away from the road and steep uphill.

The path uphill leads through Spring Coppice to High Barber's Wood and eventually Sunter's Wood. All three are beautiful, and peaceful, but do feel very lonely. They seem to be protected by the council yet underused by the locals as in many years of going through here I have never come across anyone.

The route through is fairly direct. However, pay attention to the instructions as there are many options to stray off course. Another event must follow the same route as shown by painted white arrows on trees. Again, take care as many of these have faded with age.

The paths through the woods have some sharp descents and climbs as not much around here is flat. Underfoot is rough, with flint-stones making it uneven in places.  When wet, these stones can be very slippery and a lot of care needs to be taken.

At the top of the climb, at a Y-junction of paths, go right and follow this for 450 yards to a T-junction of paths - at first this path is flat, but before the T-junction there is a steep decline, immediately followed by a steep incline. At the T-junction, turn right. After 60 yards, at another junction, take the left path and follow it through the woods, always keeping a large open field away to your left. The path winds its way through the woods and after half a mile, turns right and descends steeply.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Sometimes after the T-junction, mentioned above, is easy to go off route. However, if you follow some orange and white arrows painted on trees and use the rule of keeping a field to your left visible through the trees, you will stay on course until the steep downhill and exit from the woods to the large field.

Near the bottom turn left and through a gap, with signs of what was once a wooden gate, and into a very large field. Go straight across the field on the well-defined path, signed public bridleway. Note: The broken gate may have been fixed since I last visited.

Civilisation does not seem to extend to this place. The rolling field of crops goes on for an age in both directions and is surrounded by woods on all sides. However, many years ago I was amazed to see a huge ditch had been cut the length of the field. There were lots of construction equipment and workmen in hard hats. On investigation I had a pleasant conversation with an Irishman who informed me they were laying a service pipe. What service I forget, but a year later there was no sign of them ever being there and the only scar through the field now is the well-defined path which we follow and where the farmer plants no seeds.

After crossing the field, turn right onto a tree-lined, sunken bridleway going uphill (the actual point you join the sunken bridleway has at times changed over the years, so be careful). This climbs steadily for 600 yards up to Druid's Hutt.

The track seems old and is enclosed with banks on each side. Above the bank to the left is a wood and on the bank to the right is hedgerow and trees with the odd gap to give views to the field and industrial estate below. It seems to be used by horses from time to time as hoof prints are visible in the ground. Half way up look down to your right, and in the distance into Adams Park, the ground of Wycombe Wanderers Football Club. This was also home to Wasps Rugby Football Club from 2002 to 2014.

At the top of the climb the track widens and eventually leads to a lane. On passing a house on the right, with usually a noisy dog, although I have never seen it, follow the lane as it turns left.

Along here is very private and well off the beaten track but it is also a public right of way. The route passes a few intermittent tasteful dwellings to the left and then to the right is a great view, at a break in the trees, to a statue of a Roman emperor on horseback and through the grounds to West Wycombe House in the distance. According to the National Trust, the statue "is made of fibre glass and was purchased by the late Sir Francis Dashwood from Pinewood Studios for the price of a crate of champagne".

After 350 yards follow the main lane (Toweridge Lane) as it turns right. Then after 50 yards stay straight on, past a road / signed bridleway to the left, and downhill.

The lane as it sweeps downhill is lined on both sides with hedgerow and trees and goes on for almost half a mile with wonderful views of the rolling hills of the Chilterns in the distance.

At the bottom of the lane, cross straight over the road (A40, Oxford Road) and turn right along the pavement. 

After 200 yards stay on the pavement next to the A40 as it crosses a road, then along a small green and a second road and into West Wycombe High Street (opposite the entrance to West Wycombe Park).

During most of the 18th Century, West Wycombe House and Park was the home of Sir Francis Dashwood (1708 - 1781). He was born in London in 1708 into a wealthy family and educated at Eton. His father, also Francis (1st Baronet Dashwood), made the family fortune through dealings with the Ottoman Empire trading in Turkey and China. He was an only son and thus heir to the fortune. His mother died when he was two and his father when he was sixteen, thus he inherited the family fortune at a young age. If you read the link below to Sir Francis' life by George Knowles you can see, like most wealthy young men of the time, he travelled a lot. This was known as their "Grand Tour". Dashwood took two Grand Tours and met many influential people around the royal courts of Europe. His time in Mediterranean countries, especially Italy, was to have a great influence on him and lay the foundations of what he got up too in later life. It also was to have a major effect on the layout of the grounds and the buildings here in West Wycombe.

Although brought up a Catholic he rebelled against his religion. He became a Member of Parliament and through his contacts, wealth and personality he reached the high post of Chancellor of the Exchequer. Other titles he also held included Master of the Great Wardrobe, Lord Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire, Postmaster General and Baron le Despencer.

In 1734, Dashwood was one of the founders of the Dilettante Society and its first leader. This was a group of Noblemen who appreciated, studied and sponsored the recreation of ancient Greek and Roman art. In 1746, or shortly afterwards, Dashwood formed a secret male society called the "Order of the Friars of St Francis at Wycombe" (also known as the Hellfire Club). It consisted of many leading politicians, royalty, writers, artists and other wealthy men of the time. They all claimed to be lovers of the classical arts, but behind this were also a love for the immoral, strange rituals, lots of alcohol and ridicule for religion. Their motto was in Latin and translated to "Do as You Please". Members included the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Queensbury, Sir John Stuart (later Prime Minister), the Earl of Sandwich, William Hogarth, John Wilkes, George Selwyn, Robert Lloyd and Charles Churchill. American politician, Benjamin Franklin is also supposed to have attended as a guest. Some of the original meetings were held at West Wycombe House. However, as this was the family home. Dashwood soon acquired Medmenham Abbey, just 6 miles away on the Thames near Marlow. Through great expense he refurbished the old abbey to form a base where he and his wealthy friends could act out their desired rituals. Dashwood as leader of the sect was referred to as the Abbott, other members were known as monks, and the prostitutes, or any high-class ladies who were willing to partake were called nuns.

As a member of the government one of Francis' main objectives was to improve the road structure. He had the caves at West Wycombe extended, originally to provide work for the villagers after three unfruitful harvests and to excavate chalk for the building of the new road from High Wycombe to West Wycombe, but eventually also extended much greater to be used as a place for the club's meetings.

On West Wycombe Hill, above the caves, Dashwood remodeled the old Norman Church of St Lawrence. The interior emulates an Egyptian temple with Corinthian columns, marble floor and highly decorated ceilings and walls. He reconstructed the tower and above it added a gilded hollow ball with an entry, seating for six and viewing holes so he and a few selected friends could meet and enjoy themselves in private. The church and its grounds are within the confines of an Iron-Age Fort with the embankment still very visible. He also built an impressive hexagonal, open top mausoleum next to the church to house the urns which contain the ashes of the family.

During his years at West Wycombe, Dashwood had the house and park redesigned in an Italianate and neo-classical fashion. Many architects were consulted and employed including Robert Adam, Nicholas Revett and John Donowell.

Although a person who seemed to enjoy life to the full, Dashwood did leave a legacy at West Wycombe most of which we can still see today. In later life he dedicated himself to charity work, but will always be remembered more for his rituals as founder and leader of the notorious Hellfire Club. He died in 1781.

West Wycombe House passed through generations of Dashwoods but was given to the National Trust in 1934 by Sir John Dashwood (10th Baronet) as it was proving too expensive to maintain. Although the structure is owned by the National Trust, the house is home to Sir Edward Dashwood (12th Baronet) and his family, who still own the contents. The house as it exists today is very much as Sir Francis Dashwood (link written by George Knowles) redesigned it in the early 18th century, is Grade 1 listed and considered to be one of best examples of Palladium architecture in Europe.

The grounds were also mainly laid out in the mid-18th Century by Thomas Cook, a pupil of Capability Brown. Twenty years after Francis' death landscape gardener Humphry Repton was employed to make minor improvements. The gardens are considered to be one of 18th Century's best landscaped parks in the UK. There is a man-made lake in the shape of a swan, formed by damming the River Wye. Many temples, follies and statues with sexual innuendos add to the scenery. During the last weekend in June the park used to host the two day West Wycombe Music Festival. However, this stopped a few years ago. To see a list of future events visit "What's on at West Wycombe Park, Village and Hill".

The current Dashwood Family run the estate as a business for filming, private events and corporate functions. Recent films made here include: "The Duchess" (2008) starring Keira Knightley & Ralph Fines, "The Importance of Being Ernest" (2002), starring Colin Firth & Judy Dench, and "White Hunter Black Heart" (2000), staring and directed by Clint Eastwood, plus many more. TV programmes have included, Dr Who, Midsummer Murders and Top Gear. For a list see Wikipedia.

Opposite the entrance to West Wycombe Park the Chorley Road goes north-west with West Wycombe Hill branching off north east and uphill to the entrance of the Hell-Fire Caves and eventually leading to the Church of St Lawrence and the mausoleum at the top of the hill. The caves have a cafe and gift shop, are owned by the estate and open to the public from April to October. From November to March they are open at weekends and during school holidays.

The A40 narrows as it goes directly through the village along the High Street. This is the old main road from London to Oxford and extends in total for 256 miles to Fishguard in south-west Wales. The village provided homes for the estate workers and was an important stopping off point during the coaching period. There were numerous coaching inns along the High Street and many of the carriageways on buildings are still visible. A map dated 1767 shows seventeen public houses in the village. 

With this passing trade other business grew up in and around the village. From the 18th to the 20th Century one of the main industries was chair making. This started as a cottage industry, with turning or "bodging" occurring in the surrounding beech woodlands, assembly and polishing took place in the village. By 1900 small factories in the village were employing hundreds of men. Women were employed for caning and rushwork. Today both these industries are still visible here, but on a much smaller scale. One current furniture maker is Browns of West Wycombe.

The village was acquired by the Royal Society for the Arts, Manufacturing and Commerce from the Dashwood Family in 1929 (see plaque). At this time many of the buildings were in bad repair and the village was up for sale in 60 lots. They Society carried out much restoration work over the next few years and in 1933 they handed ownership over to the National Trust (this link has so much information about the house, the grounds and the village). The buildings date from the 15th to the 19th Centuries and thanks to the Trust, are superbly maintained. It's such a shame a village this unique does not seem have a guide to stories about every building like so many other old villages (Laleham on stage one is a great example). However, Wycombe Council have produced a page entitled "West Wycombe Area Conservation Area Character Survey" with links to documents which give an in depth write-up of the local history, layout, geography and industry, including some very good photos.

The High Street still has three pubs The Old Plough (or The Plough Inn) (1727), The Swan Inn (18th century) (photo) and the George and Dragon Hotel (18th century). The latter is an inn which holds many stories and is still a place to get a bed for the night. It is said to be haunted by a few ghosts, but the most famous story is of a local girl called Susan (or to her friends, better known as Sukie). She was a barmaid who worked in the inn during the 18th Century and had the attention of many of the local young men of the time. However, she had great expectations hoping to meet a wealthy man who would take her away and give her a lavish lifestyle. One well attired man in particular came to her attention and with often visits to the inn gave her a lot of time, and she made obvious her interest. Three local lads feeling a bit aggrieved by this sent her a note, pretending to come from the wealthy gentleman. It asked her to meet him in the caves. Happy with this Sukie packed her bags and as instructed dressed in white, hoping to be taken away to be wed and a better life. On reaching the caves it soon became apparent that she had been tricked and things all went wrong. When she found out she got very angry and either through tripping over, or in a rage, or being hit accidentally by a stone, took a fierce blow to the head. She was taking back to the inn but died soon afterwards from the injury. There have been many reports since then about seeing the image of a young lady in white sometimes with a bandage and blood on her head by staff and visitors to the George and Dragon. Some sources refer to an old tunnel which runs from the inn to the caves and some claim that the caves are also haunted. On YouTube you can watch a programme on the caves from "Most Haunted", also follow the links to Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 to see the whole programme.

The oldest surviving building in the High Street is the "Church Loft". This is 15th century timber framed and was a rest house for pilgrims. The overhanging first floor is one large room and was where the pilgrims slept. The clock is original and was added in 1668. On its left-hand side is an open carriageway which leads to Church Lane and contains the village lock-up and whipping post. Next door is another overhanging building dating from the early 1600s. It was once the Coach & Horses public house and is now The Traditional Sweet Shop, claiming to have one of the largest selections of confectionary in the UK and still sold from jars. Neither of these two buildings have foundations. 

Continue along the A40 westwards and out of the village to Pedestal Roundabout, named after the pedestal erected here on the north side of the A40 to commemorate the construction of Sir Francis' new road from High Wycombe.

Peter Goodearl's website has some excellent photos of the West Wycombe Village and Park. For more information on the area see the British History Online website which gives a detailed history of the Parish of West Wycombe. The National Trust website Explore West Wycombe Village. To see a full list of films and TV programmes made at West Wycombe see Wikipedia. 

There are many videos of West Wycombe on the Internet. Ill put links to a few I enjoyed:

John Betjeman's Buckinghamshire

Hellfire Caves - this includes and interview with Sir Edward Dashwood 

West Wycombe Park and Hell Fire Caves - searching for Labyrinth magic!

Turn left onto the Bradenham Road (A4010) and almost immediately then right to cross over and finish next to a filling station / car showroom.

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