This was a wonderful walk that I thoroughly enjoyed. When I set off from Dunstable Downs in thick fog on March 26th 2007, the Chiltern Way was my favourite of the various long-distance paths that I’d walked in the previous two years – so in a way, it could only go down in my estimation. It didn’t – I enjoyed walking it a second time every bit as much as I had the first time. It remains the best walk I know in the Northern Home Counties. I will certainly walk some sections of it again, and I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of walking it in its entirety a third time – perhaps I’ll do it again one Autumn, when the beech woods are at their spectacular best!
I had a slight trepidation when I set off from Dunstable Downs, that I might lack the motivation to complete the walk a second time. I was doing it purely because I wanted to create a more detailed journal for the Chiltern Way – was that motivation enough to walk all those miles again? Perhaps I would find it boring walking the same route again, and struggle to complete the goal I had set myself. These fears evaporated on the first day of the walk, to Chalton – although by no means one of the best sections of the Chiltern Way, I enjoyed it so much I was immediately full of enthusiasm and really glad that I had decided to walk the Chiltern Way again. This feeling persisted throughout the rest of the walk, there was never a single moment when I regretted my decision to walk the Chiltern Way a second time.
Of course, I was pretty lucky with the weather – April 2007 was an incredible month, one of the warmest and sunniest Aprils on record, and this was a delightful time to be out walking in the countryside. May and early June were a complete contrast, with generally grey and overcast conditions, but there were enough dry days for me to usually achieve my goal of three walks a week (apart from one almost continually wet week at the very end of May). This was the first Spring since I started to get interested in wildflowers, and so one of the delights of the walk for me were the variety of flowers I saw, many for the first time. It was interesting to see different wildflowers come and go as the walk progressed – early on I saw a lot of Lesser Celandine and Bluebells, by the end of the walk Herb Robert and Germander Speedwell were the flowers I saw most frequently. Greater Stitchwort was possibly the flower I saw on more days of the walk than any other
This is my favourite photo from this walk - looking back over Bottom Farm on Day 20
Another enjoyable aspect of the walk for me was to see the expansion of Red Kites throughout the Chilterns. I knew already that these magnificent birds had spread out further through the hills since I did this walk almost two years ago – I myself have seen them nearer to my home in Kensworth on three or four occasions since then. But I was quite astounded to see a Red Kite near Pegsdon on Day 3 of this walk. I certainly didn’t expect to see one there, right at the north-eastern extremity of the Chilterns. It wasn’t alone in that part of the world, as I saw one near East Hyde as I drove home after my walk on Day 8. When I got towards the south-western part of the Chilterns, where they had been originally re-introduced, I saw far more of them, and in many more places, than I did on my previous walk. To see one by Whipsnade church on my last day, at pretty much the closest point on the Chiltern Way to my home in Kensworth, was just the icing on the cake.
I have to put in a word for the Buzzards too. Again I saw far more of them, and in far more places, than I did two years ago. This didn’t surprise me, as I have seen them on so many of my walks over the last two years – they are far more widespread than the Red Kites. Slightly smaller, more wary of humans and not as colourful as the Kites, I still always get great pleasure from seeing them – they were almost non-existent in this part of England when I was a child.
One very slight, and not unexpected, disappointment was that I didn’t meet anybody else that was walking the Chiltern Way. It is such a good route, I really do wish that more people would walk it. I generally only met one or two other walkers each day, apart from the Bank Holiday Saturday at the end of May when I saw about twenty. Several times I didn’t see any other walkers at all.
My copy of the Chiltern Way guide book, looking rather battered after accompanying me for over 780 miles
Not surprisingly, the highlights of this Chiltern Way walk were pretty much the same as last time. The area between Hambleden and Stonor was the best section of the walk – deep valleys and wooded hills, attractive villages with interesting histories and plenty of Red Kites and Buzzards. I’d already been back there once for a walk earlier this year, and I’m sure I’ll go back again. Mapledurham was a fascinating place, in its isolated position on the Thames. There were many other interesting and attractive villages on the route, such as Sarratt, Little Hampden, Aldbury and Radnage. I enjoyed the old churches I visited, perhaps the one at Sarratt being the pick of them. The ruined churches at Minsden and Bix Bottom were also interesting.
It is impossible for any long-distance path to be uniformly interesting over its entire course. There will always be relatively dull sections that are necessary to get from one interesting area to another. But I pretty much enjoyed every mile of the Chiltern Way. I certainly enjoyed each of the 26 walks I did – the three or four that I found less interesting than the rest last time were perfectly fine walks this time round.
So I would definitely recommend the Chiltern Way to anyone who enjoys walking in rolling English countryside of woods, fields, hamlets and villages. If I were to do a circular route on the Chiltern Way, I would follow the Northern and Southern Extensions as I think the extra distance adds to the challenge and as they go through some nicer places than the bits of the original route that they miss out. But a circular route just on the original route would be fine, and at 130+ miles might be a more convenient distance for some people. Another option, for someone who didn’t have the time or inclination to do the whole route, would be to take a short-cut from Dunstable Downs through Kensworth and Markyate to Flamstead, thus missing out the large loop that goes round the Luton and Dunstable conurbation. Finally, for anyone who would just like to sample parts of the Chiltern Way, Nick Moon (the author of the Guide Book) has published two books of circular walks based on the Chiltern Way:
Circular walks along the Chiltern Way: Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire by Nick Moon, ISBN 1 903747 48 1
Circular walks along the Chiltern Way: Hertfordshire & Bedfordshire by Nick Moon, ISBN 1 903747 49 X.
Note: In 2010, a few years after I did this walk, the Chiltern Society celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Chiltern Way by opening a further extension to it, through the part of the Chiltern Hills Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty that lies in Berkshire. Click here to read about my subsequent walk on the 'Berkshire Loop'.