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14 March 2020: Chipperfield and the Chess Valley

Event led by Khris R
Attendance: 8 men
Distance: 9.55 miles (15.4 km)
Time: start 11:08, end 15:55, lunch 29 minutes
Terrain: gravel track, grass, field, field edge, road on footpath, bridleway and access roads.
Elevation: start 194m, high 200m, low 115m
Weather: initially overcast with showers, then overcast dry, 11°C, light wind, felt like 9°C
Number of sewage works: 1
Number of churches: 3
Number of golf courses: 0

 

This was a circular walk of 9.55 miles (15.4 km) from Chipperfield Common, SW to Belsize then Latimer, then E to Sarratt, then N to Chipperfield Common.  The walk broke into Buckinghamshire. Sorry about that.

The countryside in this area is very plush, with lots of historic manors and houses dotted around the place.  In this walk, we encountered Latimer House and Chenies Manor. We saw the gates to Great Sarratt Hall, which, to be honest, aren't enough to say we saw the Hall.  We encountered 3 churches, two of which were open for a quick peek inside. We do like a holy nose-around.

In between big posh historic piles of bricks, the rolls of the Chiltern Hills offered glorious middle-distance views of neat-and-tidy countryside.  Considering it was mid-March, we also saw a surprisingly large variety of animals. We also recognised the early shoots of many common wild flowering plants.  Spring is on the way.

The churches:

Animals:

  • Wild set: buzzards, red kites, pigeons, magpies, crows, blackbirds, bumble bees (three of them!), jackdaws, blue tits, robins, goldfinches, egret, gulls, mallards, Canada geese, mute swans, coots.
  • Domesticated set: horses, dogs, sheep, alpacas, peacock.
  • Escapee set: rainbow trout!!  We seldom see fish, so this is big news.  In the River Chess, in between two weirs at Latimer House, we saw seven rainbow trout, presumably mulling over the idea of thrashing their way over a rather large upstream weir.  Rainbow trout are not native to the UK, so we speculated that these were farm escapees. There's a pic of these fish in the additional photos section linked below.

Plants of note:

  • Flowering: lesser celandine, white violets, blackthorn, cherry blossom (the last of), dog's mercury.
  • Not yet flowering: lords and ladies, garlic mustard, bluebells.

Bizarre bits:

  • A mysterious dome appeared on the northern horizon as we walked SW towards Latimer.  It turns out that the dome is part of the radar system of the National Air Traffic Service.  On Google Earth Street View, the domed radar station is wholly unmarked (naturally). But, of course, this being Hertfordshire, nothing can be done without some sort of spat about planning law.  And here is the press report of 2010 we found to reveal the truth: https://www.watfordobserver.co.uk/news/8713836.bovingdon-residents-against-national-air-traffic-service-plans-to-build-a-mast-in-long-lane/ .
  • Belsize was "Herts best kept hamlet" in 1989 and 1996.
  • Chenies has been "Bucks best village".
  • Latimer has a really picturesque village green, with beautiful old houses looking onto a decorated village pump.  The village is publess because of an edict from the Ministry of Defence about rowdiness of its workers in the nearby Latimer House (which was commandeered during the Second World War).  The village green has a monument for the Boer War and a burial plot for the remains of a much-loved horse of General de Villebois Mareuil. The General died in 1900 during the war. Major General Lord Chesham brought the wounded horse back to England in 1900.  The horse died in 1911 and was buried at Latimer.
  • The British intelligence services used Latimer House in the 1940s as an interrogation centre.  Their methods of interrogation were astonishingly brutal: they wined-and-dined captured senior military personnel, torturing their victims with something approaching an à la carte menu and a wine list.  The fear of mismatching which claret went with which dish was a clever psychological ploy.  It seemed to have worked, though. No visible scars or bruises.
  • Alongside the River Chess is the Liberty Tomb, a grade 2 listed building, https://britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/101100431-liberty-tomb-beside-path-to-west-of-mill-farm-at-national-grid-reference-tq-0098-9877-chenies .
  • Chenies Manor housed Henry VIII and Elizabeth I briefly, but was never a royal house.  One side of the manor is windowless, because of window tax (!). The windows were never re-instated, which is just as well, because re-instated windows would now look into the church's graveyard.
  • A private house has a number of sculptures which the public can see from the public right of way.  Two gates to this private land were decorated metalwork featuring owls. Deep into the house's garden is a model of an elephant adjacent to which are a series of menhirs and obelisks.

More pictures are at https://photos.app.goo.gl/i86ohWaaqLiWTbEz7.

 

Words by Martin Thornhill.  Pictures by Peter O’Connor.

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