Explore West Wycombe Hill

West Wycombe Hill offers commanding views over the Chilterns countryside with 55 acres of grassland, scrub and woodland to explore in and around the hill.

Overlooking the village of West Wycombe, the steep-sided West Wycombe Hill was once home to an Iron Age settlement and for centuries was the location of a thriving hilltop village. Standing on the edge is the imposing hexagonal Dashwood Mausoleum and St. Lawrence Church, medieval in origin.

Now a designated AONB, West Wycombe Hill, with its rare chalk grassland, is cared for by the National Trust.

Facilities

  • Picnics are allowed on the hill, but not barbeques. Please remember to take your litter home with you
  • Dogs under strict control are welcome on the hill
  • There are several shops, public houses and tea rooms in the historic village
  • Free parking is available at the National Trust car park on the hill (Grid Ref.
  • SU827950) and there is a Pay & Display car park in the village, off Chorley Road. (SU826947)
  • Public toilets are located in the village, close to the village school (SU828946)

History of the hill

West Wycombe Hill has been continuously inhabited for centuries. The earliest settlement survives in the form of an Iron Age ditch and rampart contour camp on Church Hill, dating from the 4th or 5th Century BC. A Roman settlement later occupied the Hill and the Saxons established a place named Hæferingdune (Hill of Hæfer's people in Old English). A church was erected by St Birnius, who later became the bishop of the West Saxons in AD 635. A Norman watch tower is also said to have been built on top of the hill. The population is believed to have been greatly reduced by the Black Death in the 1340s and by the mid-18th century the hilltop village had all but disappeared.

The subsequent history and landscape of West Wycombe Hill are interlaced with the interests and exploits of the Dashwood family who have lived in West Wycombe for over 300 years.

West Wycombe Park, home of the Dashwood family, viewed from the Hill
West Wycombe Park from the Hill
West Wycombe Park, home of the Dashwood family, viewed from the Hill

West Wycombe Park, Caves, Mausoleum and St Lawrence's Church were all constructed in the mid-18th century by Sir Francis Dashwood, 2nd Baronet, and founder of the Dilettanti Society and co-founder of the notorious Hellfire Club. 

Dashwood Mausoleum

Standing on the edge of the hill is the imposing Dashwood Mausoleum; an impressive hexagonal roofless structure built from local flint, which contains urns and plaques commemorating members of the Dashwood family and some of their associates. 

Built in 1765 by John Bastard the Younger of Blandford, the design is based on the Constantine Arch in Rome and it.is formed by a series of linked triumphal arches. In the centre stands a pedestal and urn dedicated to the wife of Sir Francis Dashwood (d.1769); a wall plaque commemorates his mother (d.1710) and stepmother (d.1719);. There is also an urn containing the heart of the poet, Paul Whitehead, who was also steward of the Hellfire Club.

The Dashwood Mausoleum and St Lawrence's Church on West Wycombe Hill
West Wycombe Hill, Dashwood Mausoleum, St Lawrence's Church
The Dashwood Mausoleum and St Lawrence's Church on West Wycombe Hill

St Lawrence’s Church

Medieval in origin, the Church received a substantial re-design in the 18th century by the Dashwood family and the work was completed by the mid 1760s. The tower was raised to make it more visible from afar, and it was crowned with the wooden golden ball that was reputed to be a meeting place for the Hellfire Club. It could seat up to 10 people, and was described by the author John Wilkes as “the best globe tavern I was ever in”. 

The interior of the Church is equally magnificent. The design of the nave is said to have been derived from Robert Wood’s prints of the ancient Temple of the Sun in Palmyra. It has five arched windows of timber on each side, and is lined with engaged Corinthian columns under a continuous entablature. The painted ceiling is by Giovanni Borgnis, and there is spectacular Rococo plasterwork, on the ceiling, frieze and walls.

Rare Chalk Grassland

West Wycombe Hill features rare chalk grassland; a rich, ancient and colourful habitat that is not entirely natural. As long ago as the Bronze Age, land in the Chilterns was cleared of trees for grazing animals, so for over two thousand years, the cattle, sheep and rabbits introduced by people have helped to stop scrub species, such as hawthorn, bramble, dogwood and birch, from re-growing, and shading out the sun-loving flowering plants that butterflies especially enjoy.

Orchids on West Wycombe Hill
Orchids on West Wycombe Hill
Orchids on West Wycombe Hill

The impracticality of grazing sheep and cattle on the hill today means the National Trust rangers and volunteers have to lend a hand, cutting the grass in the late summer to keep the scrub down.