Hambleden and Pheasant’s Hill Trail
This circular, 5.0 mile walk starts and ends in the flint and red brick village of Hambleden. The walk initially ascends the east side of the Hambleden Valley; it then descends through the hamlet of Pheasants Hill. After following the valley floor for a short distance, the route explores the west side of the Hambleden Valley, with its beech woods and distant views across the valley and towards Hambleden village below. The walk returns to Hambleden from the south, following the route of the Hambleden Brook: a chalk stream. It then takes you through the village before returning you to the public car park by the Stag and Huntsman public house.
Please always follow the Countryside Code.
Some of the land in this walk is protected by the Greenlands restrictive covenant. This is a legal agreement dating from 1944 between the National Trust and Lord Hambleden which means the land is protected in perpetuity. The land has various private owners, but any changes to the land or the buildings require the prior consent of the National Trust. The route follows public rights of way, including parts of the Chiltern Way.
Public car park at Hambleden Village. Grid. Ref: SU785865
From the car park, head away from the road entrance towards a footpath signpost by a gate that leads to the cricket ground. Here, turn left along the edge of the field towards a gap in the hedge by some benches and in front of Kenricks: a large house overlooking the cricket ground.
Walk through the gap in the hedge then turn left onto a broad track. You will soon meet a lane. Here turn right heading uphill past the entrance to Kenricks. (Ignore the ‘No Through Road Private Access’ sign – this does not apply to pedestrians following the public footpath). As the lane gives way to a footpath, continue uphill through the woodland until you reach a gate at the top of the hill. Continue straight ahead on a track, passing a large farmyard on your right.
Kenricks, a grade II listed building, was previously the manor house at Hambleden. Saint Thomas Cantilupe was born here in 1218. He became Chancellor of Oxford University, Bishop of Hereford and Lord Chancellor of England. He was canonised by Pope John XXII in 1320 and was the last Englishman to be canonised before the Reformation. The former manor house was also the home of Philadelphia Carey, Baroness Scrope of Bolton, a cousin and Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Elizabeth I and to Queen Anne of Denmark. Philadelphia Carey was a granddaughter of Mary Boleyn, the sister of Anne Boleyn, who was executed by her husband Henry VIII in 1536. On Philadelphia Carey’s death in 1627, the house became The Rectory and was considerably altered in 1724 by the Rector Rev. Dr. Scawen Kenrick, who added a substantial Baroque frontage. The original house remains behind this frontage. The house ceased to be the Rectory in 1938 and was acquired by William Henry Smith, 3rd Viscount Hambleden, descendant of the founders of stationery group W H Smith. William Smith renamed the house Kenricks.
Take the next track on your left sign-posted ‘The House’ which takes you past the modernised farm buildings of Hutton Farm on your right. Once you have passed Hutton Farm, continue almost straight ahead at a junction, following a rough lane through a double gate with a hedge on your right and views across the Hambleden Valley on your left. After the track starts to slope downhill and enters a wood, take a sign-posted footpath on your left. The path heads downhill through North Close Copse. Keep right at a fork following the yellow footpath marker and continue downhill until you reach the edge of the wood. Here the path turns right between two fields with views of the Hambleden Valley and the hamlet of Pheasant’s Hill on your left. The path eventually emerges onto a narrow road at Rockwell Hill End. Turn left, and then follow the road downhill into the Hamlet of Pheasant’s Hill. Take great care at this point as you may not be seen by cars approaching from the left.
Pheasant’s Hill United Reformed Church
Pheasant’s Hill is a rural hamlet consisting of a number of houses that cluster along Pheasant’s Hill Lane and around the United Reformed Church. There had been a long history of discontent by Puritans in the area and in 1662, under the Act of Uniformity, the Rector of Hambleden was ejected from the Church of England. He continued holding services in private houses and he is regarded locally as the father of non-conformity in this area. Following the Toleration Act 1689, and the evangelical revival, protestant worship became increasingly popular. The church was built by local people in 1807 as a place of worship for protestant dissenters. The Congregational Magazine of 1818 states that it was Calvinistic Methodist, but by the end of the century it had become Congregational and remained so until 1972 when the United Reformed Church was formed.
Go past the junction with Bottom Hill on the right then, where the main road bears sharp left by the Lower Mead sign, turn right along a short rough lane between houses. After 25 metres turn left onto a downhill public footpath between houses. After another 50 metres turn right following the Chiltern Way sign between a hedge on your right and a private house and garage on your left. You will soon reach a gate, which leads into an open field. Continue until you reach a fourth gate and the quiet lane at Colstrope Farm.
Colstrope Farm is Grade II listed building and a fine, unspoilt example of a mid-eighteenth century farm house, with a knapped flint frontage with brick dressings. The farmhouse is popular with film and television drama companies. It features as the house of the murdered Mrs McGinty in the Agatha Christie's Poirot episode ‘Mrs McGinty's Dead’, and the exterior appeared as Mr Mason’s farm in Downton Abbey in an episode in which some pigs were rescued from dehydration by Mary and Charles Blake. The farm and its extensive outhouses have also been used as locations for Midsomer Murders.
Turn left onto Colstrope Lane. Follow the lane for about 250 metres to reach Skirmett Road.
Taking great care, bear left across Skirmett Road to reach a light blue wooden gate and follow a path diagonally left across a field towards a group of buildings at Bacres Farm. On reaching the buildings, follow the gravel track in front of the farm which becomes a private road to Built Farm (The road is a public footpath). The road soon turns right and uphill within an avenue of trees. Ignore any side tracks and keep to the sign-posted footpath until it enters an area of woodland. When you reach a wooden, four-way signpost at the top of the hill, turn left along a level gravel track, which meanders through the woodland. At the next junction, by a second wooden signpost, turn left again following the track straight ahead across an open area with views into the Hambleden Valley.
The valley and its surrounding hills are in the heart of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The valley is a haven for wildlife and is surrounded by beech woodlands and rolling chalk grassland. It is carpeted in flowers in the spring and summer. The Hambleden Valley is one of the few in the Chilterns that supports a chalk stream. Chalk is a highly permeable rock and rain falling onto chalk hills percolates directly into the ground, where the chalk acts as an aquifer. The groundwater flows through the chalk bedrock, re-emerging in springs in the valley. Chalk streams such as the Hambleden Brook are typically shallow, and due to the filtering effect of the chalk they are alkaline and clear. There are only about 200 chalk streams in the world, and most of them are in the southern half of England. The Hambleden Brook is often dry when the water table is low.
As the track starts to descend, branch right onto a woodland path which runs through woodland parallel with the track (which runs alongside the woodland). Descend the hill on this slightly sunken track. As the path leaves the woodland, turn sharp right and follow the clearly defined path gently uphill, ignoring any private forest tracks. You will catch regular glimpses of the Hambleden Valley and Hambleden village on your left. You will also pass through a recently restored historic avenue of Wellington trees, which appear to align with the church in Hambleden Village. Follow the path for about 1.3 km until the path curves to the right. Look out for a downhill bridleway on the left.
Turn left on the bridleway. After a short distance, turn right at a T-junction, still following the bridleway downhill until you reach a wide crossing path at the bottom of the slope. On reaching the path turn left for about 200 metres until the path starts to curve to the left. Shortly after this, fork right onto a narrower path and head downslope joining a track towards a cluster of buildings and a lane. Follow the short lane until you reach Skirmett Lane.
This is a difficult road junction as you cannot be seen easily by the traffic coming from your right. When you judge it to be safe, turn right along the road for 160 metres. Then turn left onto a rough lane which is also a public footpath. After about 100 metres, turn left through a gate and follow the path across an open field towards Hambleden, which should be clearly visible ahead of you. Note the fine eighteenth century barn to your right, which has featured in a variety of television and film productions. These water meadows are often used for grazing sheep or cattle. After 500 metres, you will reach a gate to the left of a bridge over the Hambleden Brook. Turn right, over the bridge, following the road into the village of Hambleden.
Hambleden is regarded by many as one of the prettiest villages in the Chilterns. The 44 cottages and other buildings are nearly all built of red brick and flint. The village name is Anglo Saxon in origin, and means 'crooked or irregularly-shaped hill'. The village was a base for US soldiers during the build-up to D-Day in 1944. Hambleden is well known as a location for films, such as The Captive Heart, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Witches, The Legacy, Dance with a Stranger, Sleepy Hollow, the remake of The Avengers starring Ralph Fiennes, and it appears in 101 Dalmatians. Hambleden was used for filming the TV mini-series Band of Brothers in which it depicted the location for Easy Company's training in England. It has also featured in the Two Ronnies, Agatha Christie's Poirot, A Village Affair, Rosemary & Thyme and Midsomer Murders.
On reaching the village pump, go more-or-less straight ahead to reach the lych-gate to St Mary the Virgin Church.
St Mary the Virgin Church Hambleden
The Church dates from the 12th Century. It originally had a central tower, but this collapsed in 1703, to be replaced by the current tower in 1721 (which was modified in the 19th Century). The tower holds six bells, the oldest of which predates the Reformation. A notable feature in the north transept is the memorial to Cope D'Oyley (who died in 1633) and his wife Martha and their ten children. Some of the children are dressed in puritan clothing while others are dressed as Cavaliers, illustrating how the civil war divided families. Several of the children hold a skull indicating that they died before their parents. The Wolsey Alter, located in the south transept, contains a carved wooden panel, which is said to be the remnants of Cardinal Wolsey’s bedstead. Also within the church is the munitions chest that belonged to Lord Cardigan, infamous for leading the ill-fated ‘charge of the Light Brigade’.
At the gate, bear half right following a path across the southeast corner of the churchyard to reach another gate. Opposite the gate is the Elizabethan manor house (This is private property - please do not enter the grounds).
Elizabethan Manor House
The Elizabethan manor house opposite the church was built of flint and brick in 1603 for Emanuel 11th Baron Scrope, who became Earl of Sunderland. Charles I stayed here overnight in 1646 while fleeing from Oxford. The old Manor House is also the former home of Thomas Brundell who was born here in 1779. Brundell became Lord Cardigan, who led the ill-fated ‘charge of the Light Brigade’ during the Battle of Balaclava on 25 October 1854, during the Crimean War. The British light cavalry suffered heavy losses in a charge against Russian forces. The tragedy was commemorated in a well-known poem by Lord Tennyson. Until 2012, the house was the home of Donna Maria Carmela Smith (née Attolico di Adelfa), Viscountess Hambleden.
Turn right on Pheasant’s Hill Road and then almost immediately left. You will see the Stag and Huntsman ahead of you and beyond the pub, the entrance to the car park where you started the walk.
Public car park at Hambleden Village. Grid. Ref: SU785865
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