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13 May 2017: Highest point in Bucks

Event designed by Martin T and Peter O in 2015, led by Martin T.
Attendance: 14 men, 2 dogs
Distance: 9.7mi
Time: start 11:10, end 15:58, lunch 42 minutes
Terrain: pavement, grass, woodland track, canal towpath
Elevation: start 137m, high 273m (according to Google Earth, 267m according to Ordnance Survey), low 120m
Weather: overcast, dry, 15°C, cool breeze south-westerly.

This was a 9.7 mile circular walk from Tring, S to Tring Park, SW to Wendover Woods, NNW to the Grand Union Canal Wendover Arm, ENE to Buckland Wharf, ENE to Drayton Beauchamp and ESE to Tring.  The walk aimed to visit the highest point in Bucks, to cure the trauma we suffered from the anti-climax of Herts’ highest point of GOC’s 40th anniversary in June 2014.  It turns out that Bucks’ highest point is only 1½ miles from Herts’ highest point, on the boundary between the two counties.  Three years later we hoped to improve on the experience!

Tring is lovely little town in west Herts.  It feels more like Bucks than Herts, because it looks tidier, more ordered and better looked after, like the locals care about their urban environment without needing to be told to care.  At the start of the walk, we had a small taste of the town centre, with an impressive example of a late Victorian front-range mansion house (pictured).

Tring held a farmers’ market on the morning we were there.  It was smaller than we had expected.  It sat on 30m² of pavement immediately in front of the church.  One member commented that “It can’t be a farmer’s market; it sells no vegetables!”

We walked for less than 100m in Tring Park.  Originally an objective of this walk, it proved to be too difficult to keep it in this route, so has fallen back onto the “to do” list for a future route.  The Park is managed by the Woodland Trust.  Our brief view of it was rather enticing.

After a rather severe uphill gradient - severe by Herts’ standards, an average of 6.6% over 1km, with a maximum gradient of 17.3% - we stood of the northern edge of the Chiltern range and were able to look back over the top of Tring, northbound as far as 10mi (16km) to the nearest ridge of hills north of the main Chiltern range.  This included a view of Ivinghoe Beacon (next month’s walk) with its distinctive single, windswept tree poking up from the top third of the hill.  Within 10mi of the view point is the eastern edge of Aylesbury.  Hidden behind hills would have been Leighton Buzzard.

We made our way into a series of connected woodlands: Stubbing’s Wood, Grove Wood, Pavis Wood and Northill Wood.  The woods were beautifully green with spring beech leaves and rich with bluebells.  A short section of the route here followed the Ridgeway Trail and the Icknield Way Path.  We then crossed some pasture fields before reaching Wendover Woods.

Wendover Woods is run by the Forestry Commission and forms part of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  The woods appear to be well managed and have even managed to accommodate interest for small children, including a “find the Gruffalo” path.  We found the Gruffalo - mainly by cheating - and the evidence is one of our two group shots.  After lunch near the woodland café, we found the cairns that mark the highest point in the Chiltern Hills, which is also the highest point in Bucks.  The high point, according to Google Earth, is 2m lower than the path leading up to it, and the high point as marked on the OS map indicates similar.  We took a second group shot on the cairns, and then noted that we walked slightly uphill from there.

As we descended from Wendover Woods, we walked into the property of the Ministry of Defence.  It’s RAF Halton, a big posh house whose ornate roof is just about visible from behind the well developed trees.  All top secret.  Nothing to see here, move on.  But here is the RAF’s official website for Halton station and apparently they accept bookings for visits!

From RAF Halton, we walked  ~1mi alongside the Wendover Arm of the Grand Union Canal.  The Wendover Arm was planned as a water supply for the canal at Tring Summit (altitude 390ft, ~120m), was made navigable, but ceased operating in 1904.  It tended to leak and flooded the dining room of the Sir Anthony de Rothschild.  On the schematic map on the wiki page, our route on the canal started at Harebridge Lane bridge and ended at Drayton Beauchamp bridge.  The canal was watered throughout, but clearly not maintained and unnavigable.  A trust has been established to restore the Arm to full navigation.  Alongside the canal are dwellings, whose gardens have been worked to provide canalside amenity.  Most of these gardens were well appointed and maintained, like an ideal homes exhibition for public consumption.

We briefly deviated from the canalside to visit a church, St Mary’s at Drayton Beauchamp (pronounced ‘Beecham’).  This is a Grade I listed building dating mostly to the 15th century.  Half the group decided to visit the interior, while the rest waited back at the canal.  Shortly after returning to the canal, we left it for the last time and passed through some farms, going uphill again to give us our last views of the walk of mostly flat ground in the far distance.

We returned to Tring, taking the shortest route through the housing estates, noticing that just about every blade of grass knew its place and how to stand upright.  The Grade I listed church of St Peter and St Paul and the Grade II listed gatehouse to Sutton Court were the last sights in Tring before reaching the car park next door.

The optional pub at the end of the walk was at the Robin Hood, owned by the Fullers brewery.  A fine set of ales was on offer, most from Fullers, some guest ales from further afield.  A beer patio is available.  The food is standard pub grub, well portioned and well-priced, potentially a pub to re-visit for a winter lunch.

Words by Martin T and Peter O.  Pictures by Peter O.

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