West Wycombe: Ridges and Bottoms
West Wycombe village sits at the meeting of several valleys cutting into the Chiltern Hills, with the valley bottoms separated by ridges. This terrain was mainly formed during the last Ice Age when meltwater deeply eroded the frozen, tilted chalk surface. During the walk you will see how the Ice Age has left its imprint on the landscape and on human settlement and activity.
Start at the National Trust car park on West Wycombe Hill (Grid Reference SU827950).
Head downhill on or next to the lane up to the car park until, about 150 below the gate at the car park entrance, you reach a passing place. Turn left here onto a sign-posted footpath that leads into a small area of woodland, then bear right under some yew trees to emerge into a field, with the Bradenham / Saunderton valley below. Bear left along the edge of the field with a hedge on your left. On entering an area of woodland, continue straight ahead for 1 km. Where the main path curves to the left, continue straight ahead until you reach a T-junction.
This is one of the deepest valley cuts through the Chilterns and was settled early; there are Bronze Age burial mounds and a Roman villa in Saunderton. The valley formed an important communications route linking through to the valleys of the River Wye and Thames beyond – the route followed by the London to Oxford railway opened through here in 1862.
Turn left, heading uphill until you reach a crossing track at the brow of the hill. Turn right, following the track until you reach the buildings at Nobles Farm on your left. Continue past the farm on the surfaced track until you meet a footpath crossroads sign to the right of the track.
Turn left onto the first narrow footpath into woodland, with a white marker on a post. The path soon leaves woodland then heads diagonally downhill towards the road at Piper’s Valley Farm (formerly Slough Bottom Farm). Turn left on the road to pass the farm then follow the road uphill. After a left bend in the road turn right onto a waymarked Public Footpath just to the left of a wooden gate. Follow the path uphill to join a farm track, Scrubbs Lane which meets a road.
The Slough Bottom valley extends through to the Aylesbury Vale but was not eroded as deeply as the Saunderton valley. So when, in the late 18th Century the Wycombe-Aylesbury turnpike road through the Saunderton valley became very marshy, the track though Slough Bottom was used as a higher and drier alternative route.
Turn right along the verge beside the road to enter Bledlow Ridge. Continue past the entrance to the cricket/playground on the left. Eventually you see the entrance to Pankridge Farm on you left. Just beyond the entrance (and just before the road meets the Haw Lane junction) you see a Public Bridleway signposted left.
Like most hilltop locations in the Chilterns, this ridge was inhabited later than the valleys on either side, possibly not until the 14th century. Wells had to be dug very deep to reach water and the poor and heavy soils made farming difficult. The surface layer of clay-with-flints did allow for ponds to be dug (like the one you pass at the roadside) but water in them may have been intermittent.
Turn left following the Public Bridleway sign and follow the path steeply down hill into Radnage valley, ignoring paths heading right. At the end of the path turn left along Bottom Road. You very soon see a Public Bridleway signed on the right of the road.
Turn right on the bridleway into fields. You soon start climbing up the other side of the valley past a block of woodland on your left. At the top you meet Green End Road running along Radnage ridge.
As in the Slough Bottom valley, you will notice that your path going down to the valley floor is steeper than the one climbing out. This asymmetry is probably an Ice Age remnant. South- and west-facing frozen slopes were warmed by the afternoon sun and so were eroded more by released meltwaters.
Turn left along the road. After 400m you see Ashridge Farm on your right. Turn right at the Public Footpath sign just to the right of the farm entrance. Head across the field towards a gate in the middle of the fence on the far side. Go through the gate then pass between farm buildings and through a farm gate to join a track. Where this track turns right, instead continue on through a small gate. Follow the edge of the field downhill to second gate to enter a holloway at the side of (you guessed it) Bottom Wood. At the floor of the valley you meet a track/bridleway.
Turn left along the bridleway through Bottom Wood. (In winter this track can be very muddy. There are higher and drier paths running parallel to the track on either side of the valley that you can easily see and join.) Continue along the track, leaving Bottom Wood to enter the woodland of Plomer’s Bottom, part of the West Wycombe Estate. The track eventually emerges from woodland into fields. Continue along the track, although in winter, to avoid a very wet area, it may be better to go through the metal gate on the left and walk parallel to the track in the field before rejoining the track. Bear left to head towards Ham Farm. After passing a large cattle shed you go through a gate to enter an open yard on your left with views of fields beyond.
This valley lies close to the direct route between High Wycombe and Oxford and the current bridleway was once on the packhorse route between those towns. Travellers coming towards High Wycombe faced a steep climb up the Chilterns escarpment but would have thought this worthwhile. Avoiding the climb by using the Saunderton/Bradenham valley would have added 4 - 5 miles to their journey.
Cross the yard diagonally left and go over a stile just to the right of metal gates. Follow the path uphill to the right of a fence. Continue uphill across several stiles, with views of Piddington back to the right. At the top of the hill, an extension of the Radnage ridge, you meet a crossing track.Cross the yard diagonally and go over a stile just to the right of metal gates. Follow the path uphill to the right of a fence. Continue uphill across several stiles, with views of Piddington back to the right. At the top of the hill, an extension of the Radnage ridge, you meet a crossing track.
Piddington’s rows of housing climbing up the valley side resemble a northern England mill valley. The reason here is much the same – a factory owner building houses for workers as close as possible to their workplace. Sir George Dashwood built the village in 1903 around North’s furniture factory but he didn’t want the factory, with its large chimney, too close to his home in West Wycombe.
Turn right on to the track across a stile. On meeting a hedgerow turn right down a narrow holloway path. After about 80m follow a footpath sign to the left to enter Great Cockshoots Wood then follow the path through the wood. On leaving the wood continue ahead on a path that leads downhill towards West Wycombe, with High Wycombe beyond and views over to West Wycombe Hill to the left. At the foot of the hill the footpath meets the A40.
West Wycombe Hill
The prominent and strategic position of West Wycombe Hill over the convergence of the Ice Age-originated valleys has caused it to be inhabited for some three thousand year. St Lawrence Church and the Dashwood Mausoleum now occupy the site of an Iron Age hillfort, probably built to control trade along the valley routes.
Turn left along the footpath next to the road. Soon you cross the upper reaches of the River Wye, a chalk stream. Go past the two road branches signposted to Bledlow Ridge then turn left uphill on Church Lane, following the Caves and Café sign. Go left into the entrance of the Hell-Fire Caves then follow the footpath sign just to the right of the Caves. This path leads you steeply uphill towards the Dashwood Mausoleum, St Lawrence Church and the car park where you started the walk. We hope you enjoyed the walk. If you need to report anything or have any suggestions about the route then please do contact us. firstname.lastname@example.org
End at the National Trust car park on West Wycombe Hill (Grid Reference SU827950).
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