A long walk in the Chilterns
This 16 mile circular walk starts at the National Trust’s Watlington Hill site. It drops down and along the Chilterns escarpment then climbs back into the hills. Here you visit pretty hamlets and villages, and the Stonor and Wormsley estates. You also enjoy much remote and unspoiled countryside and woodland. The walk is challenging but hugely rewarding.
This is a long walk which may take up to 8 hours to complete. It is suitable for fit and experienced walkers. We strongly recommend using the local 1:25 000 Ordnance Survey map in addition to these instructions.
National Trust car park at Watlington Hill. Grid. Ref. SU709935
Leave the car park on the path between the large signboards. Walk through woodland, crossing a track then go though a gate into grassland. (For this first section, follow the orange National Trust waymarkers as far as the White Mark.) Bear left, gently uphill on the grassy path ahead. 400m beyond the gate, the path bears slightly right and heads downhill in the direction of Watlington Village below. You pass the White Mark on your left then continue downhill, through a gate then down a track to meet a road.
Watlington Hill is an area of chalk downland perched high on the Chilterns escarpment. It boasts huge views over the Oxfordshire countryside and a wide diversity of habitat and wildlife. It is also a choice place for watching red kites.
Go along the roadside path for 20m then turn left onto the Ridgeway track. Walk along the Ridgeway for 850m until it meets the B480 road. Cross the road then immediately turn left into a field then right to follow the permissive path with a hedge on your right. At the end of the hedge, just past a bench, turn right through a gate to a crossing of tracks.
Turn left along a surfaced lane, heading at roughly 90 degrees to the path you walked next to the hedge. You pass Dame Alice Farm then keep in the same direction until you start following a footpath heading more steeply uphill and marked with white arrows. This path in places follows or runs alongside a sunken holloway. Eventually you emerge onto a surfaced track with the entrance to Woods Farm on your right.
The path up from Dame Alice Farm is, in places, indented 3 – 5m into the hillside. This is thought to have been created over many centuries by commoners collecting wood from the Chilterns plateau and taking their sheep to and from grazing there.
Turn left along the track. After 150m cross a road and bear right along a track signposted to Coates Farm. Bear left just after passing Coates Farm then continue until you enter Cookley Green. When the track meets a road on a sharp bend, turn left along a Scots pine-lined gravel drive (posted as Private Road) with the green on your right. The track becomes a footpath then meets the B481 road.
Cookley Green sits at a meeting point of several ancient tracks. Many of the cottages were established for the farmworkers and servants of nearby Swyncombe Park and its Elizabethan manor house.
Cross the road, turn left for 30m then turn right down a track following the Chiltern Way signpost. This track becomes a footpath winding down through woodland until, 1km beyond the road, you come to a T-junction of paths. Turn left uphill until the path meets a road in Russell’s Water. Turn left along this for about 100m then turn right along a track that bends around the pond, passing a bench. Continue ahead through a gate with a No Parking sign on the right. The track leaves woodland, crosses part of Russell’s Water Common then comes to a farm. Just before a metal gate turn left on to footpath PS23 into woodlands that contain wonderful bluebells in late spring. 400m beyond the metal gate turn sharp right onto path PS20 that soon heads gently uphill. You come to a crossing of paths.
The hamlet is named after a brickmaker who created the pond when he dug out the surface clay to supply the nearby brick kiln, recorded here in 1695. The pond featured in the children’s film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when Truly Scrumptious crashed her car into it - check out the scene on You Tube.
Continue on PS20 over the crossing path to enter a field with a hedge on your right. The path crosses the field and then enters a wood. It goes down and up a dip, then crosses another field and passes between the buildings of Maidensgrove Farm. Continue next to the gravelled driveway leading from the farm then cross a road to join a track with the houses of Maidensgrove on your left. Continue along the track, keeping in roughly the same direction and ignoring joining tracks until, 600m after the road crossing, the track ends at the entrance to Lodge Farm with a Private sign. From here you can enjoy far-reaching views across the Chilterns towards Henley-on-Thames.
Turn left following the Oxfordshire Way sign then after 60m bear diagonally right across the field following the Chiltern Way sign. The path enters woodland then heads downhill across a field to meet the B480 road in Stonor village. Turn left along the road for 300m then, just after the last of the village houses on you right, turn right into Stonor Park through a tall metal gate with a “Private - Deer Park” sign and signposted as path PS10 and Chiltern Way.
Stonor House dates from about 1280 but has been much altered since then to give it the current Georgian appearance. The attached private chapel was built in 1190, soon after the Stonor family first lived here. They still live in the House today. Look out for the large herd of fallow deer in the deer park.
Follow the path uphill, passing Stonor house (and the signposted Pitstop Café – toilets, drinks and snacks) on your left. This is approximately the halfway point of the walk. You pass through another tall metal gate and enter woodland, then eventually come to the road in Southend. Cross the road to join a gravel track which bends right. At the end of the track, cross a stile into a field and follow the path ahead with a hedge on your right. (The signed public footpath takes a right/left dogleg around a clump of trees on the hedge line but many ignore this and go straight ahead). In the corner of the field go over another stile then down through woodland to a crossing track.
Turn left down the track, which winds through mixed woodland. When the track emerges from the woodland turn right along a road. After about 150m you come to a layby on the right with a field gate. When opposite this, turn left through a hedge opening then bear diagonally right uphill across a field. Bear right when you meet a path running next to a hedge. Continue ahead through a gate and join a small lane as you enter Turville village. The road brings you to the village centre with St Mary Church immediately on your left.
Turville is a classic pretty Chilterns village. Its church, cottages and pub cluster around a tiny green, nestled in the gentle folds of surrounding hills and overlooked by a windmill. The village and St Mary Church feature in the popular TV series “The Vicar of Dibley”.
Turn left along the road for 120m, passing the church on your left, then turn right opposite The Old Vicarage onto a footpath between houses. The path enters a field then heads diagonally left uphill into woodland. Keep going uphill and through 3 gates until the path levels out and turns left to follow a woodland edge. Follow the edge, ignoring another path forking right into the wood, until the path bends right into woodland. Just 20m after the bend turn left at a T-junction of paths. After another 150m keep ahead and gently downhill at a branching of paths. When the path meets a road, turn right steeply uphill, then left down a track signed “Private No Through Road – Church and Manor Farm only”. After 60m turn right into the churchyard of St Nicolas, Ibstone.
Church of St Nicholas, Ibstone
Much of the church is Norman, dating from the 12th century. It stands well away from present Ibstone village, possibly because the rest of the original village was abandoned at the time of the Black Death. The very large yew tree in the churchyard is nearly 16m tall and has a girth of 6m. It could well be over 700 years old and is possibly the oldest tree in the Chilterns.
Go through the churchyard at roughly 90 degrees to the track, passing the church on your right, to enter woodland, then immediately turn right along a gently uphill path. Keep straight ahead when two paths join from the right. Nearly 1km beyond the church you go down into a dip and the path swings to the right. Here turn left steeply uphill on a path just to the right of a metal field gate. At the top turn left along a road then, after 30m, turn right on the drive to Gatehill. Bear left along a narrow path between tall hedges. The path emerges into a field. Continue straight ahead across the field, then enter woodland and head steeply downhill into the Wormsley Valley, bearing left then right, then left again. The path crosses a field then re-enters woodland opposite, following white arrows. When the track swings to the left bear right along a footpath. At certain times of the year, the path across a field when you leave this wood can be indistinct – head about 15 degrees to the left of a radio mast on the horizon. You go through a gate with a surfaced estate track on the other side.
Red Kites and the Wormsley Estate
The tall and secluded trees of Wormsley provide ideal nesting sites for red kites. Sir Paul Getty arranged the re-introduction of an initial five of the birds from Spain onto his estate in 1989, their first release in England after they had been hunted to extinction over 200 years ago. There are now an estimated 1000 breeding pairs in and around the Chilterns.
Turn sharp right along a slightly downhill unmade track towards the Stockenchurch radio mast in the distance. After 400m you come to two metal field gates on either side of the track. Turn left though a kissing gate into a field. Cross the field, then an estate track then another field and go through a gate to join another track. Bear right then, after 40m, turn left onto path SH4 through coppiced hazel. Where another path forks left uphill, keep straight ahead on path SH4 and go past a concrete urn on a plinth. Continue uphill for nearly 2km until you meet another path (SH5) at the top, joining from the left.
Turn right then bear right past an area of disturbed ground on your left. At the end of this, turn left on path PY3 then follow the white tree markers to reach a track. Turn right along here to reach the road. Turn left along the roadside into Christmas Common then turn right at a road junction signposted to Watlington. Follow this road until you reach the car park on your left where you started the walk.
National Trust car park at Watlington Hill. Grid. Ref. SU709935
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