Friday, 2 January 2015

The Chilterns - Old English charm

I must confess, between you and me, that I never, ever go to England. I know it's the country that neighbours my own but why would I swap the rugged, mountainous wildscapes of Scotland for the tame fields of England. Here's one reason ... Bart and I only had five days to spend together at Christmas and needed a halfway point between Scotland and Belgium. That'll be England then! My train and Bart's campervan met at Stevenage, the last stop before London. A quick look at the map showed the closest green space was the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We had the van parked up there early Christmas morning, ready for a few days of outdoor fun by boot and bike.

The Chilterns is a range of gently rolling wooded hills west of London. They rise abruptly on the west side in a steep, chalk escarpment that marks the limit of the ice sheet in the last ice age. Below the escarpment the fields and villages of the Vale of Aylesbury stretch to the horizon. There are no wild mountains or dramatic landscapes but what the Chilterns have in bucket loads is charm.

We happily wandered for hours and hours along the maze of footpaths that criss-cross the area. These old routes must have been used for centuries. Sometimes the paths passed through ancient woods with knarled old trees or tall elegant beeches whose smooth trunks glowed burnt orange in afternoon rays. Sometimes they crossed open fields where the grass was crunchy with frost and Canada geese grazed in the cold winter sun. Other times the footpaths were squeezed between tall hedgerows before popping out into a little, country hamlet where Christmas wreaths hung on smart cottage doors and the lights on the village Christmas tree twinkled in the dusk of late afternoon. Another day we walked for miles along the frozen waters of the Grand Union Canal where sun-sparkled frost coated the boats and bridges, and smoke from the chimneys of the barges drifted slowly into the still, blue air.

It was England and it was absolutely charming.

Fact File
We based the campervan at Tring Reservoirs from where it's easy to do big walks in the hills or cycles on the wee back roads. Near Tring you can pick up the Ridgeway, a long distance trail that stretches the length of the Chilterns that we used for a couple of our walks. In this area we also used the Grand Union Canal towpath to make a loop back to Tring from the Ridgeway or as a day walk in itself combined with local footpaths. There is an unbelievable number of footpaths here which is fantastic. The footpaths were often muddy and churned up which I put down to there being a lot of posh people with horses in the area.
For more information on the Chilterns including an interactive OS map with walking and cycle routes, click HERE.

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