A Christmas walk: Chequers

In the midst of various stages of lockdown, we always remember how lucky we are to live in the Chilterns. And even though the region is now, like much of southern England, within Tier 4 of the latest restrictions, there’s still plenty of opportunity – weather permitting! – to enjoy the wonderful countryside with a walk or two.

(NB: the Government’s information on Tier 4 states: “People can also exercise outdoors or visit some public outdoor places, such as parks, the countryside, public gardens or outdoor sports facilities. You can continue to do unlimited exercise alone, or in a public outdoor place with your household, support bubble, or one other person.” If you try the walk described below, please observe social distancing and follow the official regulations and advice.)

The route shown below is a version of our favourite walk, a family tradition on Boxing Day. Its unique point is that you go past Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country retreat. There may have been a dwelling on the site in the early 14th century, but Chequers as we know it is an Elizabethan house of red brick, tall chimneys, gables and mullioned windows. Just over a century ago, Arthur Lee, MP for Fareham, offered Chequers to David Lloyd George, the then prime minister, as a permanent gift to the nation. Every PM except Andrew Bonar Law has used the estate since then.

Happy walking – and we wish you a peaceful Christmas, and a happy, safe and healthy New Year!

OS Explorer map 181; start at the National Trust car park at Coombe Hill (HP17 0UR), SP851062; 4½ miles; moderate difficulty (some steep climbs and descents, including some steps); allow 2½ hours.

1 From the car park, go through the gate and take the footpath to your left. This will take you downhill through the woods. Take care, as the path is quite steep in parts. At the bottom, you emerge on to a lane.

2 At the junction with Missenden Road, cross, and turn right.

3 After a short distance, take the footpath on the left, which crosses a field. Finding the way on to the path can be slightly tricky as the area around the footpath sign is a bit overgrown, so you need to make a slight detour round the nettles. Once in the field, however, the path is very clear. Ahead you can see the distinctively shaped grassy mound of Beacon Hill.

4 At the end of the field, emerge on to a lane and turn right. At the end of the lane you can cross the road to make a detour to the Church of St Peter and St Paul, Ellesborough, where Prime Ministers sometimes worship.

5 Alternatively, turn left along the road and take the footpath on your left through a grazing meadow. Look back for views of Ellesborough village and church. After passing through a gate, continue uphill and slightly to the right around the side of Beacon Hill. The earthwork to your right is the remains of a medieval motte and bailey castle, known as ‘Cymbeline’s Castle’. While the name is probably of Victorian origin and there is no definite link between the Iron Age King Cunobelinus (Shakespeare’s Cymbeline), Iron Age and Romano-British pottery have been found in the area. There is a small Bronze Age bowl barrow on the summit of the hill. Fragments of a ceramic urn, charcoal, bone and a horse’s tooth were found there in the mid 19th century.

6 Pass through a gate and on to a fenced path through a wooded area – the largest native box woodland in the country. The wood of this slow-growing shrub has a dense texture that was particularly prized for making printing blocks, woodwind instruments and rulers. The path rises steeply here with steps. At the top, continue across a field and into a wood.

7 Ignoring the private driveway, take the path to the left. After a while you will see Chequers to your left.

8 Take the gate on the left and follow the path through the Chequers Estate. Take care to keep to the path – trespassing here is a serious offence. The path crosses the driveway of Chequers and continues through the park before emerging on a bend in the road.

9 Cross the road with care. To your right is Buckmoorend Farm Shop. There is an outdoor seating area to pause and enjoy the view. Follow the signed bridleway (there is an alternative pedestrian route immediately to the left which is a slightly less muddy way of reaching the same destination). Follow the path up through the wood.

10 When you reach a junction, turn left, following the path through the wood.

11 You will emerge on the road. Turn right up the road.

12 After a short while take the footpath on the left. This will cross the path you originally took down the hill.

13 At this point you can turn right to return to the car park, but if you continue straight, you will reach the Coombe Hill Monument, with wide-ranging views across the Vale of Aylesbury.

14 From the monument head south-southeast to return to the car park.

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