High times in the Chilterns

Date Posted: 04/11/2011

The Chilterns is an area of intimate landscapes, market towns, chalk streams and downland, beech woodlands, and a rural life unchanged for centuries.

If you haven’t organised a group trip to the Chilterns, expect stunning scenery. But look a little closer and you’ll also find prehistoric trackways, such as the Ridgeway, and the Iron Age hill forts dotted along the landscape which give you a sense of the ancient history of this unspoilt area. Such diversions still act as an integral pathway that takes in all the cultural and contemporary culinary traditions giving more compelling reasons to visit.

The historic market towns of Amersham, Beaconsfield, Marlow, Princes Risborough, Wendover and Tring are all situated within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Beauty, a mere 20 miles north west of London. The boundary of the hills is clearly defined on the north west side by the scarp slope and the dip slope, that merges with the landscape to the south east. To the south, the Thames provides a clear terminal to the south west, whereas north east of Luton the hills decline slowly in prominence.

Grebe Canal Cruises offers groups exclusive use of two fully enclosed boats for a cruise on the historic Grand Union canal on the Chiltern branch. Take in the sights, including abundant wildlife as you travel through the locks on your way south towards the village of Marsworth where there is a working dry dock. In the summer, there is the opportunity to stroll along the short stretch adjacent to a reservoir as the boat makes its way up through the locks.

Located at the eastern edge of the Chiltern Ridge, enjoy acres of space and fabulous views over the Vale of Aylesbury and back along the Ridge. Dunstable Downs is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a kite-flying hotspot. Chalk grassland, rich in wildlife, provides prime country for walking groups with way-marked routes, a multi-user trail to Five Knolls and regular guided walks. There is a monthly farmers’ market and wide programme of events.

Pay a visit to the Chiltern Open Air Museum, which was founded in 1976 and aims to rescue and restore common English buildings from the Chilterns area which might otherwise have been destroyed or lost. The buildings have been relocated to the museum's 45-acre site, which includes woodland and parkland. The collection has more than 30 buildings on view including barns, other traditional farm buildings and houses.

The village of Pitstone is situated near Ivinghoe Beacon at the eastern trailhead of the Chilterns Ridge and is home to two wonderful heritage treasures; Pitstone Windmill and the real gem, Ford End Watermill, where the stoneground wholemeal flour is on sale during milling demonstrations. Both properties have limited opening hours, so best to check beforehand.

Situated in the beautiful Chiltern hills, West Wycombe Park is a fine Georgian landscape garden created by infamous Sir Francis Dashwood, founder of the Dilettanti Society and Hellfire Club. The Palladian villa is among the most theatrical and Italianate in England; lavishly decorated, it has featured in films and television series, including Cranford and Foyle’s War.

Once a chalk quarry, groups can visit College Lake which has been restored over 20 years into a mix of different habitats including open water and marshland and is now a key breeding site in the Chilterns. Elsewhere on the reserve, chalk grassland comes alive with colour during the spring and summer as a wide variety of flowers come into bloom. These support a range of insects, including a number of rarer butterfly species such as the small blue. Rough grassland provides a home for breeding skylarks, as well as shelter for small mammals, which in turn feed birds of prey such as kestrels and barn owls. An unusual feature of College Lake is the Cornfield Flowers project. Started in the 1980s, College Lake was one of the first places in the country to actively conserve these rare and beautiful flowers, and now produces a glorious show of colour every year during June and July.

As you can see, there are plenty of experiences for groups to enjoy. So, to load up on museums, historic houses, gardens, canal boats, nature reserves and rambling; the message is head to the Chilterns.

Photo: © The Chiltern Conservation Board

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