From Chilterns Escarpment to Remote Interior
This is a moderately long walk that begins at Watlington Hill with far-reaching views of the Chilterns escarpment and the Oxford Vale. It then leads into possibly the most remote, tranquil and unspoilt area of the Chilterns, with secluded valleys and isolated hamlets. Here you will find it hard to believe you are in southeast England and just a few miles from the M40.
A shorter route can be taken on this walk which brings the distance down to 6.3 miles (10.2km) and the estimated time down to 3 hours.
Start at the National Trust car park at Watlington Hill (Grid Ref SU709935)
From the National Trust car park take the path between the signboards. For the first part of the walk, look out for and follow the orange waymarker arrows of the Watlington Hill short walk. Cross a track then go through a gate into an area of open grassland. Continue ahead keeping the ridge crest on your left with views along the Chiltern escarpment on your right. After Watlington town comes into view the route goes more steeply downhill and bears right. You reach a solid wooden bench on your right, with the top of the White Mark just below.
Watlington Hill is a distinctive promontory on the Chilterns escarpment, with panoramic views over the Oxfordshire Vale. It was donated to the National Trust in the 1940s and is maintained for a variety of habitats, particularly high quality chalk grassland. It is one of the best sites for viewing red kites. The White Mark was cut in 1764 by Edward Horne to give the illusion of a spire on the Watlington parish church from his home.
Turn left and head diagonally uphill (at about 45 degrees to the path you came down) towards a gap in a small line of thorn trees. Go through the gap, watching out for a rabbit burrow, then bear right onto a more distinctive path. This path heads across and down the slope, then continues just below an area of dense, dark green yew woodland. After going through woodland on a partially revetted path, you reach a crossing path with a wooden gate on your right. Go through this gate, leaving Watlington Hill and the orange markers, and follow the path gently downhill between hedges, with fields on either side. You reach a track just after passing a red brick house on your left.
Turn left up the track. After crossing another track, the one you have come on turns right. Instead keep steeply ahead and through a metal field gate to emerge into a grass field, named One Tree Hill. Continue straight uphill, heading towards a break in the trees on the skyline and passing a small, isolated yew tree on your right (the recently planted successor to the original One Tree). At the top of the hill look behind to see magnificent views, with Watlington Hill to the right and the Wittenham Clumps near Didcot Power Station to your left.
Turn sharp left just after going through a wooden gate. Soon you can see the upper stories of Watlington Park house on your right. The path now enters Lower Deans Wood, another National Trust property. After leaving the wood, turn left along a tarmacked drive to meet the road at Christmas Common.
Watlington Park and Lower Deans Wood
Watlington Park was created in the thirteenth century. John Tilson bought the land in 1758 from the Stonor family and built the Palladian house. Lower Deans Wood is predominantly beech woodland. It is noted for magnificent bluebells in the spring.
Turn left along the road then, just after passing The Old Church on your right, turn right onto the Oxfordshire Way footpath. Follow the path marked by white arrows through a woodland, then turn left on a drive to meet a crossing track, Hollandridge Lane. Turn right along here between hedges until you enter woodland.
Just as the lane enters the woodland turn left along the Oxfordshire Way. (As an alternative you could continue down Hollandridge Lane, with fine views to either side, then turn left to rejoin our path at Points 7 or 8.) Follow the path down the slope and then bear right to keep along the valley bottom, ignoring any crossing or joining paths. You are now in the Forestry Commission’s Fire Wood. You come to a crossing of paths where the Oxfordshire Way (path PS4) turns right up the slope.
Alternative, shorter 6.3 mile walk
At the crossing of paths, turn left along path W18 that leads you through woodland and then an open field. Where the track turns left after leaving the field, instead turn right through a metal kissing gate then follow the white marker arrows on the trees to reach the road at Northend. Turn left along the road. Where the houses on your right come to an end, turn right down a lane following a footpath sign. You come to a path through woodland and down a slope to join the main walk at point 13.
Continue straight ahead on path PS24. Eventually the path emerges from woodland and, after it bends right, you pass Turville Park Farm with its large cattle barns. Continue along the valley bottom with open fields to both sides until you reach a crossing of paths near a large Dutch barn.
Turn left uphill, finally leaving the valley floor. At the top there is a bench where you can enjoy views of Stonor Valley. The path now follows a farm track. Where this bends sharply right and heads downhill, instead go straight ahead through a metal kissing gate to the left of the track. Continue through fields until the path enters the grounds of Saviours, a converted late Victorian church. (Other than Turville Park Farm, this is the first house you have passed since leaving Christmas Common some 3 miles back.) You reach the road at Turville Heath.
Stonor Valley is a typical Chilterns dry valley with arable fields in the valley bottom and beech woods capping the surrounding hills. Stonor Park on the left of the valley has a medieval manor house (dating from 1280) within an extensive deer park. From the bench in the photograph on clear day you can see the Hog’s Back in Surrey, nearly 30 miles in the distance.
Follow the road to the right signposted to Turville and Fingest, just past the shelter. While here, notice the elegant avenue of lime trees bordering the road to your left. At the next junction turn left on an unnamed road and head towards Turville Grange in the distance. Turn left again directly in front of the Grange. Soon you reach The Barn café on the right. Continue past The Barn then follow the track to the right. It descends steeply into beechwoods between incised banks. Notice the large chalk pit on the left. After joining the track to Spinney Farm, you reach Holloway Lane.
Turville Heath is an isolated hamlet with a few cottages and two large mansions. One of these, Turville Grange is a handsome Georgian mansion, and was formerly the home of Jacqueline Kennedy’s sister, Princess Lee Radziwill. The Lime Avenue was planted in 1740 with small-leaved lime and some of the original trees are still here. The avenue is now maintained by Lord Sainsbury, the owner of Turville Park. Turville Heath and the surrounding countryside feature strongly in Ian McEwan’s Booker-shortlisted 2007 novella On Chesil Beach.
Turn left to follow the footpath uphill parallel to Holloway Lane. The OS map shows that the footpath runs to the left of the lane but I prefer crossing the road and taking the path to the right as this is a better path and gives you good views into the Wormsley Valley. As you walk up the path you see that the Holloway Lane is incised very deeply below the land on either side, up to 3–4m in places. At the top you are forced to continue walking on the road itself. Just after reaching houses on the left, you reach a road junction.
Turn right here on a track signposted to Northend Farm. Pass through a gate to enter the Wormsley Estate. As you follow the track downhill you eventually begin to see the Cricket Ground in the valley ahead. When the track turns left, instead fork right following the footpath marker on a tree. On reaching the valley floor you meet an estate road. Take a left then right dogleg to join a farm track, keeping the BT Tower at Stokenchurch on the skyline ahead. You reach a path crossing with metal gates to left and right.
Wormsley Cricket Ground
Sir John Paul Getty, the American-born philanthropist, took over the Wormsley Estate in 1986. He was introduced to cricket by Mick Jagger and grew to love the game, creating the cricket ground in 1992 as a replica of The Oval. It has been described as the most beautiful ground in England. International sides often include Wormsley on their tours and many greats of the game have played here, including Viv Richards, Brian Lara and Shane Warne.
Turn left into an open field. Follow the path to cross an estate road then cross another field and go through further gate to join another road. Bear right along the road then turn left onto a path through coppiced hazel. Where another path forks left uphill, keep ahead on path SH4 and go past a concrete urn on a plinth. After climbing through the woods for a while, you are joined by path SH6 coming down the bank from the left.
Continue uphill then turn right at the top when another path (SH5) joins from the left. Bear right then pass an area of disturbed ground, probably old chalk pits, on your left. At the end of the pits, turn left on path PY3 then follow the white tree markers to reach a track. Turn right here then go past the Ministry of Defence communications tower 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.
Finish at the National Trust car park at Watlington Hill (Grid Ref SU709935)
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