The Hampdens Trail
This eight mile walk takes you through undulating farmland and heavily wooded hillsides around the Hampden Bottom valley, one of the least populated and most beautiful parts of the Buckinghamshire Chilterns. You visit remote hillside hamlets and pass through the grounds of the stunning Hampden House.
Most of the area that the walk passes through to the north of Hampden Bottom is protected by a conservation covenant, a permanent legal agreement between the landowners and the National Trust, 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. Please always follow the Countryside Code.
Little Hampden Common, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire HP16 9PS
Walk to the end of the parking area away from where you drove in. Just past Yew Tree Cottage, fork left away from the track, following the footpath sign for the South Bucks Way then continue in the same direction through woodland, ignoring crossing paths. 650m after the car park you reach a crossing track coming from an open field to your left, just past a footpath marker.
Turn right to see another South Bucks Way marker post and follow the path just to the left of this post. Almost immediately fork right on a small path – don’t follow the bigger path/the South Bucks Way to the left. The path is a little indistinct at first but continue parallel to the woodland edge to your right and the path soon becomes clear. Continue in the same direction ignoring crossing paths. Crossing a dry valley and continue in the same direction until you come to a field gate with a road beyond.
Cross the road and go through a gap to the right of a gate. Bear right and uphill following the footpath sign. At the top of the slope bear right to join a path coming from the left then continue through High Scrubs woodland to reach a crossing bridleway. Turn right onto the bridleway on the outskirts of Dunsmore village. Continue on the metalled lane between housing until you reach a crossroads, with the Chapel of the Resurrection diagonally left.
This hilltop hamlet of some 40 dwellings is accessible only by steep, single-track lanes and can be cut off during harsh winter weather. Settlement here dates back to Anglo Saxon times and it is thought that the track through the village was a Medieval packhorse route. Why were the earliest known human settlements in this area, like Dunsmore and Little Hampden, on the hard-to-reach hilltops rather than in the valleys? Part of the reason is probably that ponds could be dug into the layer of clay-with-flints that caps the hillsides to provide a year-round source of water. In contrast, the valley bottoms sit on porous chalk and are almost permanently dry.
Turn right along the road signed towards Kimble and Princes Risborough, passing the village pond on your left. After 100m turn left off the road over a stile by a field gate. Now follow the left (higher) of the two marked footpaths to head diagonally downhill across the fields with views of Dunsmore Old Farm in the valley below. After crossing several stiles turn left onto a joining path, keeping a wooden fence on your right. You soon reach a crossing of paths. Keep going ahead through a conifer plantation, then becoming mixed woodland of Hampdenleaf Wood. Look out for a sawpit and other woodland archaeology. You reach a fork of paths with an open field beyond.
Fork left uphill through woodland then bear left over a crossing path at a footpath marker until you reach another crossing path with open field beyond. Turn right here then continue in the same direction to leave the woodland and join a path between fields that leads you to a road crossing with Cobblershill Farm on your right.
Turn right along the road. Ignore a lane bearing left and a public right of way, and follow the road between hedges until it enters more open farmland on a right bend. Here turn left onto a signposted public footpath. Follow this path through fields keep close to the right-hand hedge. Continue in the same direction through woodland and a further field, once again keeping a hedge to your right until the path enters an open field with an obvious footpath leading down to meet the road in Hampden Bottom. Cross this road to head uphill on Hotley Bottom Lane. After 250m look out for a signposted footpath on the right.
Turn right onto this path which takes you between fields, with far-reaching views over Hampden Bottom, then into the Woodland Trusts’ Pepperboxes Wood. Follow the path through the wood until you reach a T-junction where you take the right path downhill. Continue downhill to reach a gate. To the right of the gate go through a gap to enter a wide clearing, The Glade. Go to the centre of the clearing and look left to see Hampden House.
Hampden Bottom Valley
The Chilterns topography, including the Hampden Bottom valley, was largely formed during the last Ice Age by the action of meltwater on permafrost land. Unlike the Chilterns valleys on either side (West Wycombe/Princes Risborough and Great Missenden/Wendover) this valley’s northern end was not deeply eroded and is left hanging, marked by the steep descent of the road from Chequers down to Butlers Cross. As a result, major/designated roads and railways have bypassed the valley. The valley bottom and surrounding hillsides still have an air of rather being left behind by the modern world.
Head along The Glade towards Hampden House for 250 metres to meet a crossing path, Here, turn right, through a kissing gate then to the crossing path where you turn right uphill along the woodland edge. Bear right at the next fork then follow the path uphill through a field until you reach a road next to a stone monument to John Hampden. Have a look at this then turn left up the road. 150m past the monument look for a footpath on the right over a stile just past Honor End Farm.
This one mile long grassy avenue is bordered by mainly beech and oak trees with rhododendrons. Also known as the Queen’s Gap, it is said to have been cut through the woodland to improve the view or access for Queen Elizabeth 1 when she visited Hampden House in 1563. The Glade terminates at the east end by the Pepper Pots, a pair of lodges built in 1744.
Turn right over a stile then follow the signed path to skirt round the farm before going along a field edge to enter Oaken Grove woodland. Continue through the wood before joining a road. Continue ahead along the road, crossing a busy crossroad. The bank in the hedge on your left is part of Grim’s Ditch, an Iron Age earthwork, thought to have been created as a boundary between cultivated common grazing land. It is said that the section of the ditch near Hampden House was filled in to level the road in when Queen Elizabeth 1 visited. When the road turns sharply left, continue straight ahead on a gravel drive.
John Hampden Monument
This monument to John Hampden is also known as the Ship Money Memorial and was erected in 1863. John “the Patriot” was MP for Wendover and Buckinghamshire, and a parliamentary opponent of Charles 1. His refusal to pay the unpopular ship money tax on some of his land in 1637 helped trigger the Civil War. He was mortally wounded and died in 1643 after fighting for the Parliamentary army.
Go through the push-button operated gate to enter the grounds of Hampden House. (There is also a stile to the right of the gate.) The drive passes down a magnificent avenue of horse chestnut, lime and plane trees until you reach the Church of St Mary Magdalene on the left. Have a look in the church if you can – it is normally shut. Continue along the gravel drive to pass between Hampden House on the right and office buildings on the left. Pass through a wooden gate at the end of the gravel drive.
Church of St Mary Magdalene
The oldest parts of the church date to the 13th century. It includes memorials to the Hampden family and a bas-relief memorial showing the Civil War battle of Chalgrove Field where John Hampden was mortally wounded. He is probably buried in or near the church but the exact location is unknown.
Turn right through a small wooden gate immediately after the large gate. The path takes you past the ornate western façade of Hampden House. To the left of this is a magnificent cedar tree, thought to be the last of eight cedar trees planted about 400 years ago. The path soon enters woodland then heads downhill across a field to meet a road.
This site was the home of the Hampden family from Saxon times. Parts of the present house date back to the 14th century and the core is a late 16th century hall. It was almost totally rebuilt in the 1750s in so-called Strawberry Hill Gothic style, including the battlements and pointed arch windows. More recently it was used as the setting for Hammer House of Horror films. The Hampden family finally sold the house in 1985. It is now owned by an insurance company and used as a venue for weddings.
Cross the road to follow a footpath through a narrow stretch of woodland between fields. Turn right at a fork of paths then head diagonally right uphill across fields to enter woodland. On leaving this woodland at a field edge you come to a footpath marker post.
Turn right along the field edge then, just after the field corner, turn right to enter woodland. Fork left at a splitting of the path. Eventually you emerge from woodland you reach a farm track. Cross another track then pass Little Hampden farm on the right. Soon you now reach the road that heads left towards back where you started the walk. It is worthwhile, instead to turn right for some 250m downhill to visit Little Hampden Church, with Manor Farm on the other side of the road.
This isolated hamlet of cottages, houses and farms has been described as the most remote village in the Buckinghamshire Chilterns. Like Great Hampden on the opposite hill, it was first mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. Little Hampden Church dates from the 13th century and some of the interior wall paintings are of this time. It is noted for its 15th century timber-framed porch, with an upper storey containing the single bell. Manor Farm opposite the church dates back to the 15th century.
After looking at the Church, retrace the road uphill for some 600m to return to where you started the walk.
Little Hampden Common, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire HP16 9PS
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