Chiltern Way Day 4 - Pullingshill Wood to Stonor
Although walking in fine weather might seem more appealing than walking in the rain, I think walking in a heat wave is harder than getting wet. Last summer I was compelled to walk in the desperate temperatures which reached 40 degrees, as I had accommodations booked, and had to get to the next place or give up the enterprise. That led me to some very unpleasantly early starts, so that I could get five hours of walking done by 10am, when the heat became unbearable. This week has not been nearly as hot as that episode, but still a record breaking heatwave for September, and walking in anything around 30 degrees is still something to avoid if possible. But equally, I really wanted to walk. So as yesterday was forecast to be cloudier, I thought I'd take the opportunity to do the next leg of the Chiltern Way, hoping that the sun would stay masked.
I lived up to my reputation for poor sense of direction from the outset, by confidently setting off back on the path from which I'd arrived on Tuesday. This was after I'd parked in the wrong place, taking a little time to recognise that I was not at the Chiltern Way at all. Despite two summers of navigating, my internal compass is still missing. Once on the correct path and heading in the right direction, Pullingshill Wood was everything you'd want on a hot day, with the overlapping tree crowns creating cool shade. I resisted the temptation to have a go on the rope swing.
The blackberries are still flourishing, with many more to come. I remembered the issue that Magda and I had with over consumption, and was a little more circumspect with eating them today.
The path today aligns with Shakespeare's Way, a long distance route set up to raise funds for Shakespeare Hospice as part of the stable of MacMillan Way walks. I was looking out for the logo, which is of the Bard's head, and in addition was offered a very complex one of what looks like herons and swords, but with no identifying text. I spent the good part of an hour once home trying to work out what it represented, with currently no luck. Good to have a hobby.
Again the phone signal was almost non-existent, despite being only a few miles from Marlow. I felt a bit uneasy about being out of contact, as we are all still very worried about Tasha's lovely cat, but in other ways it felt liberating to return to having no responsibilities for a little while.
After a section in fields, I passed through Homefield Wood. The pine trees here didn't provide as much shady shelter as the broad leaved ones earlier, but they did remind me of Scotland. Venturing out again, my optimism about today being cooler was proved wrong, as the sun had burnt off the hazy cloud, and the temperature had risen noticeably. The fields looked parched, though I'm sure the sweetcorn was benefiting from the heat, and the pheasant that scuttled away from me were the only things that appeared to have much energy.
Hambleden is one of many extraordinarily picturesque villages round here. Almost like wandering into a film set, with little cottages, old fashioned shops and an ancient church, it has indeed been used for many film and TV backdrops. IMDB comes up with 50 location credits for starters, including many episodes of Midsomer Murders. A number of years ago, I concocted a Midsomer Murders day out for my friend Philip, who is a massive fan of the series. We drove round lots of the places used as locations and had tea and cake too. I don't watch it, but was delighted to see how pleased he was to visit the backdrops to the programme. Walking into Hambleden reminded me of that very happy day.
Even though I'd only been going for two or three miles, I was already really hot. I reckoned the only way to get as far as I was hoping to today would be to drink as much as possible whenever possible, so I stopped at the little shop cum cafe for a cold drink and an enormous cinnamon bun. For safety reasons. The shade was receding, which meant I shared the shelter by sitting very near a cyclist who was similarly recovering. We ended up chatting for half an hour about long distance walking and other adventures. I didn't take his name, but the encounter reminded me as strongly of Scotland as the pine forest had. I have missed these sorts of random encounters.
Moving out of Hambleden I walked through a field in which were 20 horses, including some beautiful greys. That led to today's ear worm of the theme tune of the 1960s TV programme 'The White Horses'. I loved the music to this, and I was a very horsey child, which probably added to the appeal. The horses were wilting, but had more oomph than the sheep, who were huddled together in the shade of an oak tree. Some were prepared to move away as I passed, but most just looked at me resigned, too hot to get into a panic. A kite soared past me, maybe the breeze on its wings compensated for the energy expended.
A little further on was the most imaginative piece of topiary that made me laugh, and then on through the sunshine past the intriguingly named, (but appropriate for the heat) Arizona farm. More googling time was spent on why it would be named this, again to no avail.
The path turned steeply uphill at Skirmett, passing a big communications tower which sadly had no resultant improvement in mobile signal. The hill was a challenge in this weather. I didn't make it to the top before feeling that I needed to have another breather. There was a considerately placed cool stone bench in the shade, and I sat gratefully, eating my (egg!) sandwich and studying the insects busying themselves in the leaf mould around my feet. The heat was sapping, and the little wood was so quiet. Which was fortunate, as it meant nobody saw me with my t shirt off, using my drying sweat to try to reduce my temperature.
Walking on, Adam's Wood is clearly about to have work done, many trees were marked to be cut down, including one dramatically fallen across the path, balancing by a thread next to a sturdily constructed wooden teepee.
The path came out of the wood temporarily, affording me a lovely view across the fields to the little village of Fingest. It's not got drama like the Lakes or the Peaks, but this felt like it couldn't be more typically English. I am consciously trying to appreciate this gentle loveliness.
Walking down the hill towards Fingest I noticed that my pace had reduced from my normal 3.4 miles an hour to a much more leisurely 2.9. There wasn't the energy for brisk today. I stopped at the Chequers pub, and sat in the coolest spot of their garden to have my drink, together with a litre of water that the landlady brought me unbidden. I could feel the liquid coming out of my pores as quickly as I was pouring it in. My friend Sophie was doing a long distance walk this week, and had to pull out because of the heat. She was very wise to do so. I was finding this enervating, and I was only going to do 10 miles or so today, and had various places that I could stop for extra cold refreshment. She was going to have to carry all her water and wild camp, a hugely tall order.
Coming out of Fingest and walking along the side of Turville Hill, the iconic Cobstone windmill was increasingly visible. Famous from 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang', it was a working mill till 1873.
The Chiltern Way rejoined Shakespeare's Way (or maybe it had never left it) and eventually entered the Stonor Estate. I was in pine trees again, with the path overgrown with ferns and rhodedendrons. There was the lovely aroma of pine resin, the sound of the bees, the utterly still air and the wonderful shade of the trees. The Chiltern Way is seldom going to be about the discovery of new places, or the adventure and exhilaration of exploration, as much of it is so familiar. Instead it is more about enjoying the actual act of walking. Today has been tiring and verging on too hot for too long, but the joy of this section made it worth it. I celebrated with a cup of tea and a sweaty selfie.
The last section went into the Stonor deer park, where the deer fences were keeping the deer in, instead of the Scottish ones that were keeping them out. I've not been to Stonor Park before, and so was very impressed by the sight of the house gradually coming into view as I walked along the hill opposite. Dating from medieval times, it is the most imposing and architecturally satisfying building. According to the website, 'the fortunes of the house and chapel are strongly tied to the travails of the Catholics in Britain'. I was strongly reminded of our time in Traquair House in Scotland, and the similar travails that they had faced.
Walking into Stonor, I passed a group of walkers who looked like they'd not been going long. I was delighted to see David in the air conditioned car ahead of me. As one of the group noticed me greeting him, she said 'oh, you're cheating, you've got a lift!' My less than thrilled reaction to the implication that today's ten hot miles were anything like cheating precipitated her to hastily tell me it was 'just a joke'. I wonder how far she got today.
Distance travelled: 10.5 miles
Total ascent: 1111 feet (what a satisfying number!)
Calories burned: 1567
Video of the day