Chiltern Way Day 9 - Stokenchurch to Princes Risborough
Updated: Nov 14
Less than a week since getting to Stokenchurch, I unexpectedly have time to do more of the Chiltern Way. Sadly, our plans to spend the weekend with friends and going to the theatre have been upturned by illness of various types, but I've been temporarily at least spared from catching the bugs. So I thought I'd do the whole lemons/lemonade thing, and take the chance to walk. I wanted to try to get some of the joy back after a less than exhilarating walk last time.
Tasha very kindly drove me back to where I finished, and I called in at the cafe which was closed last Sunday. Very much open today, it was buzzing with families, walkers and cyclists. I grabbed a coffee whilst they made me a sandwich. My excitable sandwich followers will possibly be hoping for a revelatory moment, perhaps grilled vegetables with pesto on sourdough? Nope. Cheese again. With a groovy bit of tomato.
I set off in a fleece for the first time, the weather was fair but cool. The initial rather scruffy field outside the village soon made way for something far more lovely. There were open views with a grass path mowed through the field, and the sun was working it's way through the clouds. I could feel the tension melting out of me, I was back.
Quite a few animals have crossed my path today, from stroppy looking sheep to bored goats, roosters and unidentified fowl. Maybe they were young turkeys? Do I have any fowl identification experts on here?
The spiders have been out in force today too. One of my rabbit holes of internet watching has become the work of an Alaskan outdoorsman and his ability to construct shelters in the snow. He has many other skills though, such as the technique of using his walking poles ahead of him at head height to combat excess spiders' webs and prevent them from covering his skin. Very effective it was too, I was far less sticky than last weekend.
There were four hills today, far fewer than last time, and mainly they were worth the effort. The first though had the additional challenge of a lovely blue flower whose stalks attached themselves to my poles at the slightest provocation, pulling me backwards as I tried to move forward. Once I'd disentangled myself the first big view was my reward, looking across the patchwork of hedges and fields.
At Radnage I thought I'd pop in to the church, as my guidebook spoke of it highly. Sadly it was locked. I then had a similar experience at Bledlow and Saunderton. This saddened me, as in all my walking I have found churches a really welcome respite from the heat or the wet, and their calm and ancient stones have been very comforting on a long journey. For them to be closed was disappointing. I'm sure there are very understandable reasons to do with security or heating, but it was a shame nonetheless.
Bledlow Ridge gave me the first really open landscape, and shortly afterwards the path dived into a tunnel of trees. As I entered I was surprised to hear the sound of heavy rain, given the skies had been clear. On coming out, there was still no sign of dark clouds. I realised that I'd heard the beech nuts falling.
The next view was really something. The mown field was glowing orange, and in the background the striations where the farmer had ploughed were vivid and colourful like bold fabric. It lifted me, and as I was smiling with pleasure a couple who had come on a trip from Milton Keynes to go walking stood and admired it with me. It was just soil and plants, but in that combination and on that scale and in that light it felt extraordinary.
Autumn continues to work her magic. The blackberries are still sweet, and one apple tree in particular was groaning with fruit that looked considerably better than the tired offering I bought in the Stokenchurch convenience store.
One of the pleasures of today was the times that the Chiltern Way and the Ridgeway share a path. Today's path lives up to its name. I remember when we walked it a few years ago being surprised that the first sections were tree lined and enclosed. This bit was much more what I expected, going along the ridge, looking over towards Princes Risborough and to the hill at Whiteleaf that I walked a few weeks ago. It seemed the perfect place for a sit down and my exotic sandwich. This was all much more like it.
Although I've walked this path before it felt new and exciting, and the open spaces never fail me. Having seen a red kite steal a man's lunch when out in Marlow last week, I kept an eye on the birds and didn't let my sandwich rest unattended. Might not be exciting, but it was my lunch and I wasn't sharing.
Coming down the hill towards Bledlow I passed a mother carrying huge binoculars and her preschool son carrying a bucket full of conkers. Both very happy with their respective burdens.
And then passing the closed church at Bledlow I was stopped by friends of ours who were on a tour round lovely Bucks villages in their open topped car. A weird but very happy coincidence that we were travelling the same bit of road together.
Although I couldn't go into the church, I enjoyed Saunderton churchyard, reflecting on the events that might have led a husband to die so soon after his wife. Maybe disease, maybe heartbreak. A tragedy carved into two stones about which we can only guess now.
I fought my way through some spectacularly ebullient horsetail into a nature reserve where I met Sheila and Dave. We shared our mutual life of walking, and then they kindly also shared that they have enjoyed 50 years of marriage, and between them they are 150 years old. If ever one needed a testament to how walking is good for you, look at Sheila and Dave.
Past some impressive teasels and up a final hill to sit for a drink and my disappointing apple on a bench near Saunderton tunnel. The bench was dedicated to the 150th anniversary to Newnham College, Cambridge. The Oxbridge colleges own a lot of land all over the country. I wonder if Newnham has an interest in the farmland near Saunderton.
I crossed over the top of the tunnel, admiring the work of the navvies that created it, and walked into a field that was ripe with fresh manure creating a delighted and appreciative thrusting crop. I was seduced by the appealing path leading through it, and it was probably half a mile later that I realised I'd gone in the wrong direction. Always good to add an unnecessary mile to a walk. When finally on the right track I enjoyed watching the seagulls ecstatic appreciation of all the poop.
Lacey Green windmill is quite something. It is the oldest surviving Smock Mill in England. The name comes from its similarity in appearance to farmers' smocks. It dates from 1650, and was rescued and repaired by the Chiltern Society who maintain the Way. Very soon after there was a pylon in the field. I rather enjoyed the two forms of containing energy from different generations.
I tiptoed through a couple of cow fields and then past Widmer farm with its complex fences and different livestock. I had a weird feeling of deja vu before realising that this had also been part of my walk a few weeks ago, but in the opposite direction.
Into Hillock Wood, loving being in the beech forest again. Trees are very much part of this Way, both living and dead. There was a large fallen tree that had taken out others around it, creating quite the obstacle for a walker. It made me think so sadly about the destruction of the beautiful tree at Sycamore Gap on Hadrian's Wall. I walked past that tree the day before my walk stopped so hurriedly last summer. Even just seeing it briefly it meant something to me. I will never understand that sort of mindless vandalism.
There was a steep and slippy descent out if the woods and into the fields approaching Princes Risborough. This is not part of the Chiltern Way, but a means to have somewhere to stay tonight. A good additional extra though, as it gave me an encounter with a deer, so still and alert. We gazed at each other for a long time before he decided he'd have a change of scene. It reminded me of my otherworldly meeting with another deer on the West Highland Way.
Then through the town of Princes Risborough, making my way to the Airbnb that I booked yesterday. Unlike others I've used in the past, which have been self contained apartments, this is a very comfortable room in Bernadette's house. She allowed me to treat her home as my own, and she and I had a lovely evening together, with some great conversation. Today has been full of all the things I love about walking - views, effort, space, new places and new people. And there was a bath at the end of the day too!
Distance travelled - 13.8 miles
Total ascent - 1397 feet
Calories burned - 2045
Video of the day