Chiltern Way Day 10 - Princes Risborough to Champneys
It's lovely walking more than one day at a time. It has much more the feel of an adventure, even though today I was never much more than half an hour away from home. Today has been a great day, mainly because of the people I've met, but also because I've seen some pretty good places too.
I left Bernadette's house after a hearty bowl of porridge (you can take the girl out of Scotland....) and made my way into Risborough. The locals drop the 'Princes' in their nomenclature. They're all about the proletariat.
I grabbed a coffee whilst waiting for M & S to open. Because I was going to possibly not have a cheese sandwich for my lunch today.
It was a 2.5 mile walk back to the Chiltern Way from the village. There was the typical Sunday feeling of sleepiness combined with vigorous activity, walking down the quiet high street and then up towards the fields past the enthusiastic sports grounds with three different football matches and a rugby training session going on.
Having come down the steep hill from the ridge above the village yesterday, I knew exactly what was coming on the ascent. But if I'd forgotten, the incline on the app demonstrated quite clearly how intense the slope was.
I could have maybe done a detour which would have cut out a bit of the hill, but that would have meant missing out a section, which was not an option. When I was doing LEJoG I wasn't precious about whether I took shortcuts, as the objective was just to get north. On a Way, it's more important to me to feel I've done it all. When we did the Ridgeway I amused (or was it annoyed?) my friends by insisting that when returning a couple of weekends later to continue the walk that we started from the very stone we had left it at. The day was muggy and warm, and by half way up the slope my heart was hammering frantically. I had to gasp for a long minute leaning against a tree for support, before I could feel my legs again and could continue.
Coming out of Hillock Wood (felt like more than a hillock, frankly) the sky was still overcast but there was a shimmering of a heat haze, weird for October. There was a chestnut tree that made up with nuts what it lacked in symmetry confidently occupying the centre of the field, and across the other side I could hear a church bell repeating the chime of mi-re-do.
This came from the church by Hampden House, and it appears to be well attended on a Sunday. The road was crammed with the cars of people emerging from the thirteenth century building. The house itself has been changed often over the centuries, and is now a rather surprising peach colour, which rather detracts from its grandeur. I wonder what John Hampden, the cousin of Oliver Cromwell, would have made of it now.
I enjoyed the laurel hedge that was determinedly not fully succumbing to the neatening effects of the shears, and passed through the wood to emerge into a sunnier aspect looking down over the fields.
Maintaining my policy of not passing up the opportunity to sit down if one presents itself, I enjoyed the first half of my lunch on an ancient bench. I was feeling tired this morning, the closeness of the weather was sapping, and my back was stiff. I can report great excitement in the sandwich front. It was indeed cheese, but this was a mozzarella, sundried tomato, spinach and pesto wrap with pine nuts. What a triumph.
A faint breeze had started too, which quite set me up. I listened to my latest audio book, this time the fourth Richard Osman, excellently read by Fiona Shaw. I was diverted, and set off again with a spring in my step.
A little while later I approached Little Hampden. This is described as the most remote village in the Buckinghamshire Chilterns. On the outskirts I met Nick and Nikki. They were having a break half way through their walk to train for the Inca trail. They were great company, and we shared stories of adventures, including both staying at the wonderful Crask Inn in the flow country. I hope they have a wonderful time in Peru.
The Union Jack hung limply in the centre of the village, but more impressive was the tree planted for QE2's accession, and then the bench for her diamond jubilee.
Emerging from the woods, I could hear a lot of talking and general hilarity. I then could see a group of 20 or 30 men having a break from their walk. They were very friendly, and introduced me to the leader of the group, John. He runs Trek/Fit, organising hikes and fitness classes for London's LGBTQIA community. We had a chat about how important he feels it is for there to be outdoor activities for the people in his community, and he consequently leads hikes within striking distance of London every weekend. We also had an encouraging conversation about how his experience of homophobia when leading these walks is much less than he might have expected, indeed he feels there's a seismic shift away from such behaviour. I walked on uplifted by their friendly enthusiasm, and glad that dogs and allies are welcome too. And they always carry a flag for a photo opportunity.
Despite the brighter day, entering into Cockshoots wood was properly murky. The camera doesn't capture how forbidding it felt. But again I was cheered by the sound of voices. I love meeting Duke of Edinburgh groups, and the Year 10s from Wycombe High did not disappoint. They were charming and hilarious, and gave me permission to take their photo, although they felt they were looking rough because of camping the day before. They were definitely not looking rough. They were glowing with youth and energy and a commendable confidence in map reading.
Sadly this was misplaced, as a little while later I heard them calling my name whilst they were trudging from the wrong direction. But if anyone knows what that feels like, it's me. We decided that it wasn't cheating to use my GPS, they had only been told not to use theirs. I put them on the right track, and didn't share with them that I had gone wrong moments earlier. They had been impressed with my poles, my walk and my phone, and I didn't want to ruin the moment.
I'd enjoyed the rest of the excellent wrap in the woods, and was feeling strong and cheerful as I came down towards the A413 just south of Wendover, a road I've driven so many times. But I was stopped in my tracks by the scar that the HS2 work has made on this beautiful place. Many of the footpaths have been closed, but great credit to the Chiltern Society for working to maintain a route around the construction.
Part of the reroute involved a sprint across tte main road and then a gymnastic leap (or perhaps clamber) over a fence before walking up the hill to the side of the works. The path then went onto Bowood Lane, which is mainly closed to traffic. I guess this must have been the case for three years or so, and it was amazing to see how the greenery had started to reclaim the road. To the left of me nature was being ruined, but here it was making headway.
I had to cross the huge site, involving two construction workers escorting me across the area for my safety, even though nobody was working there today. I've not been so near it since last summer in the Midlands. I don't feel any happier about it.
I continued past the village of Lee, the name of which comes from the Saxon 'Leah', meaning clearing. The most notable thing I saw was derelict farm buildings with a series of sinister nooses hanging from the ceiling.
My route was supposed to take me diagonally across a field towards a pub. I was pleased about that, as I had stupidly not replenished my hydration system this morning and was thirsty. I was stopped in my tracks though by a group of cows. They were in a gang in the middle of the field, jostling each other and looking a bit dodgy. My friend Sophie's husband has recently had a very scary sounding episode with aggressive cows and that was very much in my mind as I turned tail and did a detour.
Fortunately I still got to go to the pub, where an unfortunate youngster on his first ever shift was finding it very tricky to work out how to pour me a glass of water. He was roundly teased by everyone, except me. I wanted to give him a hug.
Down over Arrewig Lane. Disappointingly, this word is not some bastardisation of Earwig, which had given me an image of the great earwig infestation of 1200, but in fact means the more prosaic 'way to the arable fields'. On the way I approached a kissing gate as a man came from the other direction. I suggested that he came through before I ventured in, as my rucksack has been known to pin me to the sides of these. He said 'it's because you think my belly's too big to get through, isn't it?' As I laughingly protested, his wife said 'well, if you did a bit more hiking like her then you wouldn't have it, would you?' I moved on, as hastily as the stuck rucksack would allow me.
At about 12.5 miles I always get grumpy and tired. My legs tell me it's time to stop and my energy levels plummet. My phone was similarly running out of power. I sat in Drayton wood, and restored my phone with the dregs from my power bank and me from my thermos and a protein bar. Hopefully we'd both get to our destination tonight.
The last notable feature of the walk was a long straight section along Grim's Ditch. This is an ancient earthwork of unknown origin, believed to possibly date from the pre-Saxon period. It's an atmospheric place, made more dramatic by the sculptural trunks of the beech that surround it.
I was counting down the distance to my destination, and with good reason, as hilariously tonight I'm staying in Champneys, the spa hotel. It was the only place near here with space, honest, and it was an excellent deal, including all the spa facilities and dinner. But it also just felt really great to spoil myself. I don't think they've had many people walk there, they're perhaps more used to people arriving in helicopters. But I fronted their puzzlement out, and was soon loving the fluffy robe and jacuzzi vibe.
Distance travelled: 15 miles
Total ascent: 1471 feet
Calories burned: 2122 (no wonder I felt like I could eat my arm by dinner time!)
Video of the day