Chiltern Way Day 8 - Ewelme to Stokenchurch
The morning started how the best mornings did in the summer, chatting to my landlady and finding out a bit about her life. Her family has lived in her farmhouse since the eighteenth century, but as she has no children, she thinks that she will be the last of the line to live there. She described herself as 'very old' but I felt that she had enough zest for three. We talked about the worry that poorly animals can bring, as we looked at her sad young retriever that had just had an emergency operation. I really hope that her lovely dog pulls through and goes back to giving her owner the comfort that she clearly had been providing.
Ewelme has an excellent community shop, supported by the village through their purchasing power as well as their volunteers. They used to also run post office services, but stopped as the PO was charging them £1000 a year for the privilege. They made sandwiches to order, and for my lunch I was optimistic about having a smoked salmon sandwich with watercress in, due to the historical industry of the village. I was both surprised and disappointed to hear that the Ewelme watercress farm was no longer allowed to sell watercress. This is due to ground water pollution, making it unsafe to eat. After having seen an ancient sign last night about the threat of prosecution to persons 'allowing anything injurious to health' to run into the Ewelme brook, it made me sadly reflect on how things have not changed for the better as far as water management is concerned. And then the shop had run out of smoked salmon too. So a cheese sandwich it was then.
Whilst it was being made, with a couple of slices of cucumber for novelty value, I had a great chat with a cyclist who was enjoying a delicious early piece of cake outside the shop. We were told by the shop manager that they provide very good Christmas cake in the season, so my cyclist friend decided to make a special journey to collect one in December. I then told him about Pierreponts cafe's stupendous cakes, and I left him making plans to cycle to Goring as well. He described himself as a man who liked cake.
After the annoyance of the OS maps app failing on me, I reverted to a different one (Outdoor Active, for those interested in such things) which fortunately appears to do the job it was set up for. This leg was going to be more energetic, with a lot more climbing than in previous days, so I wasn't unhappy that there was a bit of mizzle in the air, and the temperature was cool. I walked up alongside Ewelme church, looking over the school which is in a fifteenth century building, believed to be the oldest primary school building in the country. It must be a nightmare teaching in a school that's also a grade 1 listed building.
After the first hill of the day I was out on the fields with a moody looking sky and flocks of incongruous seabirds mixing with the red kites and buzzards.
I was now back on the main Chiltern Way, and off the extension I'd been walking for the last couple of days, though still a bit puzzled as to which bit was which. Out on Swyncombe Downs there were views that many would have been delighted with, big and open and I was walking on some of the last remaining sections of downland in the Chilterns. But they're not Scotland, they don't have the grandeur and the power of that wildness.
I've spent a lot of time today thinking about how I need to be more grateful for the beauty of what I have nearby, and how many people would have loved the scenery that I've seen today. I don't like feeling that I'm unappreciative, but I guess it all felt a bit familiar, and similar to my daily walks around my home. I tried to put myself into a different mindset, to look for the unexpected.
After temporarily joining the Ridgeway, I passed the hamlet of Swyncombe. I have finally got hold of the Chiltern Society guidebook to the walk, and it tells me that Swyncombe is an example of a 'closed village', where the ordinary villagers were forced by the Lord of the Manor to live around commons on the edge of the parish, or driven out entirely. In this case, they lived in Cookley Green, the next village, presumably so the sight of the working man's houses didn't contaminate the views of the parkland for those living in the manor house or the rectory. This knowledge put my hackles up a bit.
However, my mood was elevated by the surprising addition of a discarded jumper and some cool green sunglasses on the welcome bench on Cookley Green. Whilst eating my exciting cheese and cucumber roll, I wondered what event precipitated the sudden abandonment of these items. I considered trying the sunglasses on, but a couple of ladybirds had made a home on them, and so I thought I'd leave them be.
Walking away from Cookley Green, down an ancient lane that was overhung with tree branches, it was interesting how much less inviting this type of tunnelled walkway was on a murkier day. Maybe it was the greyness of the skies that was sitting on my joie de vivre today.
I said hello to the ducks on Russell's Water. This is a village named after a local brickmaker and his pond. I rather enjoyed what Russell had brought to the area. Or perhaps he was Mr Russell, or maybe even Mr Russell Russell. History does not relate.
The route continued to be hilly, with many undulations, particularly through woodland. Much of this appeared ancient, with stands of broad leafed trees, especially the beech, still brightly shining green. There were fewer pheasant today, though I did meet one that appeared lost in thought as I approached him, allowing me to get really close before he shook himself out of his reverie and rushed off.
Near Northend, named after its location at the northern end of Buckinghamshire (though now actually in Oxfordshire), I passed a sign for the Wormsley Estate. For 400 years this was in the hands of the Scrope family. That's not a name one forgets, and I had heard it only last weekend, when the choir looked round Bolton Castle, near Leyburn in Yorkshire. That was built by Sir Richard le Scrope, the Lord Chancellor to Richard 2nd. One of his distant relatives then inherited the Wormsley estate here in Buckinghamshire. Those Scropes (pronounced Scroops) get everywhere. I wait to hear whether I'm also related to them!
The estate is now owned by the Getty family, and amongst other things is the home of Garsington Opera. After making a rather slippery and perilous descent through a section of woodland in which there had been some forestry work done, I walked alongside the outer wall of the estate, and past a number of signs on the roads firmly telling me I wasn't welcome. Plus ca change.
Walking across a big open field, I could see the Stokenchurch communications tower that is a feature when driving down the M40. It was surprising that this didn't help the extremely poor phone signal round here. It's been a very quiet day today, with few other walkers to talk to and little opportunity to talk to friends. Maybe that is also why I've been feeling so reflective, like my pheasant friend.
I did a final steep climb, heart pounding and calves complaining, up through the woods towards the motorway, and then through another weirdly un-graffitied underpass before approaching Stokenchurch.
The centre of the village has always been dominated by the Kings Hotel. I've not been here for a couple of years, and so was really surprised to see that it has burnt down and was sitting derelict. A really dispiriting end to the walk, especially as I understand the fire was in 2021, and nothing has been done about it since.
Feeling a bit gloomy, I then rounded the corner to the cafe on which I had pinned some considerable cake hopes, only to find it had closed moments before my arrival. However, all was not lost, as the owner saw my desperation, and sold me a brownie that I could eat on the green whilst awaiting David to take me home. A greatly appreciated kindness that perked up the end of the day.
Distance travelled - 13 miles
Total ascent - 2241 feet (my new app tells me I spent over an hour walking uphill, no wonder my calves were aching!)
Calories burned - 1996
Video of the day - https://www.relive.cc/view/vKv2Yzzo54q