Pete's Walks - The Chiltern Chain Walk

About the Chiltern Chain Walk

The Chiltern Chain Walk is a totally unofficial long-distance path that I have created myself. It consists of 20 circular walks of between 10 and 15 miles, which link together to form a ‘chain’ across the Chiltern Hills of southern England. It starts at Dunstable Downs, towards the north-eastern end of the Chilterns, and stretches south-west to Goring, where the river Thames separates the Chilterns from the Berkshire Downs. It is approximately 240 miles long.

I don’t really expect anybody else to walk the Chiltern Chain Walk, and I don’t intend to do much to publicise it. It was simply a challenge for my own purposes, to plan, design and create a long-distance path and then walk it. However, I have documented the route, by writing reasonably detailed route descriptions for each of the 20 walks. I would hope that maybe one or two people might find some of the walks of sufficient interest that they would do them themselves – indeed, I think that some of the walks are so good that it would be a shame if nobody else ever tried them.

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The Vale of Aylesbury from the path up Aston Hill (Walk 5)

As there is obviously no Guide Book for the Chiltern Chain Walk, I have added a few notes myself to the journal for places of historic or other interest. All such notes have been italicised and indented, like this paragraph, to make them stand out from the text of the journal itself. The information in the notes has largely been gleaned from the internet (a few notes have been copied from previous journals).

All the mileages given for the walks are very approximate - they are the figure given by Google Maps. I suspect they slightly underestimate the distance, as the maps obviously straighten out curves and make no allowance for gaining and losing height.

Here is a very rough map of the entire Chiltern Chain Walk. There are more detailed and accurate maps provided for each of the twenty individual walks.


So why did I design and create my own long-distance path?

I blame that Alfred Wainwright - it’s all his fault! As well as writing his amazing pictorial guides to the Lake District, the great ‘AW’ also devised the Coast-to-Coast path, which I believe is now the most popular long-distance path in the country. In his guide book for that walk, he said that he didn’t just want people to follow in his footsteps walking from St Bees to Robin’s Hood Bay, but he hoped that he would inspire people to create their own long-distance routes too. When I read that, I thought it was a marvellous idea – it is just that it has taken me about thirty years to do something about it!

In the last two or three years I have walked almost all the long-distance paths close to my home. There are only one or two left for me to do now. So creating a new route of my own seemed like a good idea – it would be a new challenge and would provide me with a lot more walking. I would need to do a lot of ‘reconnaissance’ walks to check areas that I might want my route to visit and to check out the existence and quality of footpaths. Then when I was happy with my route, I would walk it and write a journal for it. Oh, and of course, I would probably want to walk the route in both directions, as I’ve done that with almost all the other long-distance paths I’ve walked. So all told, this new challenge would provide me with several months of walking.

The obvious place for me to create a new route was in the Chiltern Hills. I think that they are a delightful area for walking, with rolling hills and valleys, woods, picturesque villages and plenty of historic and other interest. They are certainly far superior for walking than the flatter lands to the north and east of where I live.

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View from near Cobblershill (Walk 11)


So why a ‘chain walk’?

I have pinched the idea of a ‘chain walk’ from the Hertfordshire Chain Walk, which I walked towards the end of 2006. Most long-distance paths are either linear walks from A to B, such as the Greensand Ridge Walk or the Ridgeway, or else they form a very long ‘circular’ route, such as the Chiltern Way or the Hertfordshire Way. A ‘chain walk’ is different – it consists of a number of circular walks that connect to each other, so that on a map they form the links of a chain stretching across the countryside. There are already a number of linear or circular long-distance paths in the Chilterns, so I thought a ‘chain walk’ would be an interesting addition to their number.

Having decided on a ‘chain walk’, I then had to decide on how long each walk (or ‘link’ of the chain) would be. On the Hertfordshire Chain Walk, they vary from 5-9 miles. I normally walk about 15 miles a day, so I initially thought of making them that long. However, as far as I can tell, most branches of the Ramblers Association and most other walking clubs only ever seem to do walks of up to about 12 miles. So I decided to try to make the walks about 12 miles, where possible, just in case other people decide to walk some or all of my route.

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Path heading down towards the Oxfordshire Plain (Walk 16)

So how did I devise the route?

First of all I listed all the places (villages, historic sites, sometimes just particularly scenic sections of rights of way) that I would like the route to include – these were mainly places I’d been on other long-distance paths in the Chilterns, plus one or two other places I knew from other walks. I then used highlighter pens to mark on my maps all the walks I had done in the Chilterns. This showed that there were several large areas that I’d not visited, so I did several ‘reconnaissance’ walks to explore those areas in order to see if I wanted to include them in my route. I also did several similar walks to try out different ways of linking together places that I knew I wanted the route to visit. Some of these preparatory walks were so good that I wanted to include them unchanged in the Chiltern Chain Walk.

I then started to plan out the route on my maps. The obvious starting point was Dunstable Downs - it is very close to my home, is a terrific viewpoint and is the site of the Chiltern Gateway Centre. The equally obvious end point was Goring-on-Thames, sited at the western end of the Chilterns where the Thames separates them from the Berkshire Downs. Starting at Dunstable Downs, I tried to devise 12-mile circular walks linking the places I wanted to include in the Chiltern Chain Walk. I tried not to repeat too many lengthy sections of other long-distance paths, but this was inevitable in some places. I tried to include several of the routes I’d done as ‘reconnaissance’ walks, but inevitably had to adjust them slightly so that they linked in with the other walks.

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Start of the path from Great Chalk Wood to Goring (Walk 20)

Some parts of the route came together quite easily, others were more difficult. In particular, I had to find two ways of crossing the M40 motorway that were close together. I had to reject one good route there as it involved crossing a field with a bull, which I knew would put some people off. There were also one or two problems around the Stoke Row area, somewhere I’d never visited previously. Sadly, but almost inevitably, I had to omit one or two places from my route, either because they were so far from any other place I wanted to visit and were not worth such a long detour, or because I just couldn’t find a way of including them in a 12-mile circular walk that linked with the other walks.

Eventually I came up with a route consisting of 20 12-mile circular walks (it was just chance that they totalled the nice round number of 20). I had walked about 90% of the route, either on other long-distance paths or on ‘reconnaissance’ walks or on some of my local walks. For each of the 20 walks I had to decide whether to do it clockwise or anti-clockwise – this was usually a fairly arbitrary decision, except in areas that I knew well and already had preferences for walking one way or the other. I then set out and walked each of the 20 walks in the ‘wrong’ direction (clockwise or ant-clockwise). This was partly to check the 10% of the route that I hadn’t previously walked, partly to check that my decisions on clockwise or anti-clockwise were correct, but mainly simply because I wanted to eventually be able to say that I had walked the entire route in both directions. In the event, I didn’t change my mind on clockwise or anti-clockwise for any of the walks (many are equally good in both directions), but I did decide to make a couple of slight alterations to the route.

I am very pleased with the route I have ended up with. All 20 of the walks in the Chiltern Chain Walk are very enjoyable. I think it manages to visit the vast majority of the best places I’ve been to on other walks in the Chilterns, without repeating too many lengthy sections of other long-distance paths.