The Best of Coombe Hill walk
This gentle circular stroll takes in the best Coombe Hill and has much to offer, from panoramic views across the Aylesbury Vale and Chequers, the country retreat for the serving Prime Minister. You will also see rare chalk grassland filled with wildflowers and butterflies during summer months. In the winter, this is the ideal walk if you are seeking some fresh air to blow away the cobwebs.
The walk is way-marked with orange arrows mounted on wooden posts at all major changes in direction.
The first half of this walk as far as the monument (points 1 - 4) is accessible by wheel chair or pushchair, but the second half is only accessible by foot. In this case return to the car park along the gravel path.
Near car park, grid ref: SP851062
Starting from the NT information board (which includes a map of the route and is located on the left hand side of the car park), walk through the picnic area, through a gate and following a sign to the monument, turn right onto a wide gravel path, keeping the picnic area fence on your right. Look out for the orange way-markers along the route.
About 60m after the picnic area you will see an entrance to a woodland area on your right-hand side, this was once a play trail, but it has recently been reverted to a woodland habitat dominated by oak, larch and birch trees. This quiet wildlife haven is a good place to spot woodland birds, such as woodpeckers, and to search for unusual fungi in the autumn. (If you wish, you can enter the wood through a metal gate and then after 25 metres, turn left to follow a woodland path running parallel with the main gravel path. Turn left again after another 150 metres to re-join the gravel track at another gate.) Continue along the main gravel track with the fence and woodland on your right. On your left, there is more open grazing land with occasional oak trees, hawthorn, and gorse bushes.
Mixed Oak Woodland
Oak woodland nearly always includes other tree species such as birch, field maple, larch and holly. Hazel and hawthorn are common shrubs, and the woodland often has a ground layer of bracken, bramble and other perennials such as bluebells. The woodlands support a diverse fauna, including woodpeckers, warblers, thrushes, ground beetles, butterflies and bats. Oak trees also provide food and shelter for numerous species of insect and spider. The bark of an oak is an ideal substrate for many species of lichen and moss, and the trunk and stems provide nesting sites and shelter for birds and small mammals. Oak roots establish mycorrhizal associations with various fungi. These associations are symbiotic so they benefit both partners; the trees provide the fungi with sugars and the fungi help to recycle dead material, and to provide mineral nutrients for the trees. The fungi produce mushrooms and toadstools in the autumn from which spores are dispersed.
Follow the gravel track around to the left. Soon, panoramic views over the Aylesbury Vale open up on your right. Continue along the track until you reach the monument.
As you reach the Boer War Monument, you have reached the highest view point in the Chilterns, 260m above sea level. From here you have wide ranging views across the Oxford Plain: to the right you can see Wendover, straight ahead are Stoke Mandeville and Aylesbury, at the foot of Coombe Hill is Butlers Cross, to the left you can see Ellesborough church. Further to your left is the distinctive shape of Beacon Hill, with its clump of trees at its summit, Pulpit Hill, and the telecommunications mast at Stokenchurch. On a clear day you can see as far as Thame, Oxford and Didcot. In the far distance you may be able to see the edge of the North Wessex Downs beyond Didcot. To your right, you can also see a long section of the Chiltern Escarpment from Wendover Woods to Aston Hill and Ivinghoe Beacon. When you are ready to move on, turn your back to the view of Aylesbury and walk towards an orange way-marker disc on your right just in front of some bushes. You are now on the Ridgeway National Trail and the path turns from stone into a well-worn grassy/flinty track. Warning: this path can be very slippery after heavy rain or in icy conditions.
The monument (not NT)
The monument was built in 1904 in memory of the 148 men of Buckinghamshire who gave their lives in the South Africa War 1899 - 1902. The monument was almost completely destroyed in 1938 by a lightning strike but was rebuilt the same year. A full restoration took place in 2010 when the bronze tablet was replaced and all the stone work was cleaned up and re-pointed. It was unveiled at a dedicated ceremony held on 20 October the same year.
You will reach a slight rise in the path which gives you a moment to view Chequers, the Prime Minister's country retreat. It is the large house party hidden in the trees at a 1 o'clock direction to your path ahead. In the distance, just above Chequers, you can see Pulpit Hill which is another National Trust property. Carry on along the path following the orange arrows
The current mansion was built around 1565 by William Hawtrey. Soon after its construction, Hawtrey was asked to act as custodian at Chequers for Lady Mary Grey, the younger sister of Lady Jane Grey and great granddaughter of King Henry VII. Lady Mary remained at Chequers for two years from 1565 to 1567, and the room where she slept is still kept in its original condition. The house is also well known for this connection to the Cromwell family, and it still houses one of the largest collections of art and memorabilia pertaining to Oliver Cromwell. Chequers was given in trust to the nation as a country retreat for the serving Prime Minister under the Chequers Estate Act 1917 and Lloyd George was the first Prime Minister to use the property.
You will see along your right hand side an excellent example of rare chalk grassland with its numerous mound-shaped anthills. Continue along the path until you reach a fence and woodlands ahead of you.
Chalk grassland is one of our rarest habitats and a reason why Coombe Hill is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. During the summer months you can expect to see over 40 different species of wild flowers and up to 15 different species of butterfly on these slopes. The large bumps you can see are home to the Yellow Meadow Ant and the ant hills themselves provide a fantastic home to many of the wild flower species. During winter months the ant hills really stand out after the summer grazing.
Once you reach the fence line at the end of the path, turn left up a slight incline. Ignore the kissing gate on your right; this is where you leave the Ridgeway path behind. Keep going straight on weaving through trees and bushes roughly parallel to the fence on your right and ignoring any paths to the left. The orange way-marker disc on your right hand side will keep you on track.
At the large gate turn left past the picnic area and then turn right to re-join the path back to the car park.
Near car park, grid ref: SP851062
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