This weekend: open spaces to enjoy

As we all try to follow the official instructions and/or guidance about social distancing, it’s great news that some of the open spaces that the National Trust and English Heritage manage will remain open for the public to enjoy.

Our favourites in the Chilterns and Thames Valley include:-

  •  Sharpenhoe Clappers – a beautiful combination of chalk escarpment and ancient woodland. An Iron Age hillfort once stood here and John Bunyan walked in these parts – the views may well have inspired some of the locations in Pilgrim’s Progress
  •  The remains of Berkhamsted Castle – an 11th century Norman motte and bailey construction, later the London residence of Henry III’s brother
  •  The garden and grounds of Hughenden Manor, home to Benjamin Disraeli – including Pleasure Gardens, from which you can glimpse Hughenden Valley, and an arboretum of about 80 specimen shrubs and trees

The National Trust in particular manages many open spaces in this region which offer the prospect of fresh air and inspiring views of this wonderful part of England.

Please do check, before you set out, whether the open space you want to explore is open this week. Some of the smaller spaces may be closed, in order to follow social distancing guidelines.

We wish you a healthy and safe weekend – and hope you’ll be able to enjoy these walks in happier circumstances very soon.

Pictured: Dunstable Downs in Bedfordshire

Faith, hope and reconciliation

Around the corner from the hubbub and excitement of Whipsnade Zoo lies a remarkable landmark, Whipsnade Tree Cathedral.  The site was the original inspiration of Edmund K Blyth, who served in the British infantry in World War I and lost two friends in the conflict, with another wartime comrade dying in a car crash in 1930.  On a visit to Liverpool that autumn, the colour and beauty of the unfinished Liverpool Anglican cathedral impressed Blyth and his wife deeply:

“We talked of this as we drove south through the Cotswold Hills on our way home and it was while we were doing this that I saw the evening sun light up a coppice of trees on the side of a hill. It occurred to me then that here was something more beautiful still and the idea formed of building a cathedral with trees.”

Blyth, who had previously bought two cottages in Whipsnade for use as holiday homes for poor London families, envisioned a cathedral of trees as a fitting memorial to his friends and a symbol of faith, hope and reconciliation.  The cathedral has never been consecrated, but is used for wedding blessings and interdenominational worship and there is an annual service on the second Sunday in June.  The cathedral takes the layout of medieval cathedrals as its inspiration, so you enter through a porch of oak trees into a lime tree lined nave before coming to a chancel of silver birches and yew hedging. Four chapels reflect the seasons with different trees in each, and a garden of flowering shrubs framed by cypresses is the main feature of the cloister area.  Despite the occasional sounds of a strimmer or of small infants running amok, the cathedral remains a beautiful, tranquil space in which to relax and reflect.