Pulpit Hill and the Grangelands & Rifle Butts Nature Reserve
This is a short walk offering panoramic views across the Chiltern Escarpment and the Aylesbury Vale. You will have the opportunity to explore beautiful beechwoods, a hidden Iron Age hillfort, and to see the diversity of plant and insect life at the Grangelands and Rifle Butts Nature Reserve, a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
Start near entrance to car park, grid ref: SP832045
With your back to the road, head towards the back left corner of the National Trust car park and then along a path which passes a National Trust sign saying ‘Pulpit Wood’. After a short distance you will meet a crossing track with a horse-friendly gate on your left. Cross the track, heading straight uphill, following a sign to ‘Pulpit Hill Fort - 500m’. After a short steep climb of about 200m, turn left onto a wide level path along an avenue of overhanging beech trees for about 250m, then by another sign post turn right. Beneath the trees on your left, you see the degraded ramparts of the ancient hill fort, protected by some low hazel hurdle fencing.
On entering a small clearing in the trees, turn left following a track between the hurdle fencing to cross the rampart and to enter the hill fort. The path crosses the fort for about 100m then turns right at a T-junction. Go gently downhill, to reach a crossing track.
The small Iron Age hill fort at Pulpit Hill consists of pronounced ditches and earthworks standing on a steep sided natural spur, which once commanded extensive views across the Vale of Aylesbury, although today the fort and the views are largely obscured by trees, particularly in the summer months. The fort is very obvious when reached, as the ditches and earthworks are very pronounced, but not all that high, and this coupled with the trees can make the shape of the fort hard to discern. The fort’s isolated location helps to create the uniquely evocative atmosphere of a place forgotten by time. The expanse of dense and scattered woodland and scrub flanking Pulpit Hill provides an abundance of cover for both breeding and overwintering birds. Further down slope yew, ash, whitebeam and wild cherry occur among the beeches, accompanied by a greater variety of shrubs including blackthorn, hawthorn and buckthorn. These lower slopes are also home to a large number of junipers (a species which has been declining for at least 50 years).
[At the crossing track, you can shorten the walk by turning left to follow a sunken track downhill for about 8 minutes (400 metres), until you reach some rough steps on your left, where you turn left onto the Ridgeway and through a gate to reach the Old Kimble Rifle Range (see below) - then continue these directions from Point 6.] For the full walk, follow the path straight across the track and then through a kissing gate. Continue downhill into open grassland and ignoring any crossing paths until you meet a wire fence, which you follow keeping it on your right.
At a crossing of paths, marked by a number of gates and a 4-way sign post, turn left onto the Ridgeway path and continue downhill along a wire fence with a steep wooded slope on your right. As the path swings right and uphill again it enters more open grassland, bear left along the better-used path, ignoring a branching path that runs downhill towards Great Kimble. The Ridgeway here is locally called the Cradle Path.
Continue to follow the waymarked Ridgeway path for about 50 m. Just past a crossing of paths and opposite a marker post, turn right onto a grassy path which leads up to a flat-topped mound just ahead of you, called Chequers Knap. When you have taken in the view, turn back, taking the right hand path that descends Chequers Knap back to the Ridgeway, meeting it near a large beech tree by a metal kissing gate. Go through the gate and turn right down a sunken path. After 30 metres turn left, up some steps and then down more steps to a kissing gate next to a notice board marking the entrance to the Grangelands and Rifle Butts Nature Reserve.
This small hill offers fine views of the Aylesbury Vale and part of the Chiltern Escarpment. Look out for the tower of Great Kimble Church. In the summer months, Chequers Knap is covered in numerous wild flowers, visited by a wide variety of butterflies, bees and other insects. Below you is Happy Valley, which contains one of Britain’s largest stands of native box woodland.
Once you have descended the steps and slope to more level ground, if you wish, you can continue along the Ridgeway, but in the spring and summer months it is more rewarding to turn left onto the faint grassy path that circumnavigates the lower part of the Rifle Butts Nature reserve and re-join the Ridgeway path on the far side.
The Old Kimble Rifle Range
The lower slopes of this flower-rich grassland were ploughed during the Second World War in an attempt to meet the food shortages, but the crops failed due to the poor soil quality. Farming was abandoned, allowing the natural flora and fauna to gradually re-establish itself. The Rifle range was still used for shooting practise until the 1970s by British Armed Forces, but now it is the home to a rich range of orchids and aromatic wild herbs. Live ordnance was cleared from the site in 2012. The site is managed by Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust.
Continue on the Ridgeway. As you reach the top of a gentle rise, look out for two footpaths on your left. Ignore the first signposted path, then after about 40m take the second unmarked path to the left. This winding path takes you across another area of scrub and grassland, which part of the National Trust’s Pulpit Hill site. You will soon reach a metal kissing gate and a crossing track. Cross the track and go through a gate to enter the Grangelands Nature Reserve. For the most direct route back, turn immediately left and follow the path parallel to the track, with a hedge on your left. However, it is well worth taking time to explore the Nature Reserve.
Grangelands Nature Reserve
Along with the Old Kimble Rifle Range, Grangelands is managed by Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust. Together the sites have been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The site is known for its rich mix of chalk downland plants, and the summer is the time to see the impressive display of wild orchids across the site, including pyramidal, chalk fragrant-, common spotted- and bee orchids. Also in the summer there are the bright yellow clusters of rock-rose, a low-growing, creeping, evergreen shrub that likes sunny chalk grassland. This provides plenty of nectar for bees and it is also the food plant of several species of butterfly such as the brown argus and the green hairstreak. Butterflies can be seen on the grassland throughout the spring and summer months and the grassland is also home to populations of glow-worms and the Roman snail, Europe’s largest terrestrial snail.
When you are ready to continue, return to the top (northern) boundary of the reserve where there are two gates (and a stile at the far northeast corner) that lead onto a track that runs below the southern edge of Pulpit Hill. At whichever point you join the track, turn right and follow it back to the carpark.
End near entrance to car park, grid ref: SP832045
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