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Stage 4 - Little Marlow to Great Kingshill  (12.2 miles)

 

The stage is tough, very hilly with many steep climbs and mostly off-road. The route goes up around the back of High Wycombe and through the Chilterns. It's a bit like a roller coaster, a long gradual climb at the start, many short sharp climbs and falls, but all in all six major climbs and each one a long and hard slog. However, you'll enjoy ever step of the way.

 

The start is at Wilton Farm in the beautiful village of Little Marlow and at the entrance to “Emmett's Farm Shop". Produce from the farm, and much more, is on display and for sale.  Philip Emmett, owner of Wilton Farm, is always obliging, a wealth of suggestions for the path and gives permission each year to park marshal’s cars in the car park and start the stage of a long distance run, I organise, next to the entrance.

 

Start at entrance to Wilton Farm and next to Emmetts Farm Shop. Go directly north (away from the main road) through the farmyard and onto a track uphill along the right edge of a field. After 800 yards the track veers slightly left past an outhouse and across a field to veer right again, with the edge of the field now to the left.

 

There are good views behind and to the left over the Thames Valley, the surrounding countryside and the town of Marlow.

 

On reaching a metal kissing gate, on the left, go through it and then turn right with the hedgerow now to your RHS. Follow the well-defined path along the edge of the field into Bloom Wood / Warren Wood. After about 450 yards, at a X-roads of tracks and as the main track goes straight on, turn left onto a signed path (Chiltern Way). Continue on this path through the woods and eventually down a very steep hill to come out onto Winchbottom Lane (at 1.35 miles).

 

Note: This steep downhill is really steep (about 35%). If wet it can be dangerous, but there is an alternative by using a wide path to the right (just before reaching the steep hill) and after 150 yards turning sharp left.

 

The main track through Bloom Wood leads to and past the aptly named Hard to Find Farm – I have never been able to find the farm, but we don’t really need too.

 

On the right just before the steep hill down is a circular bank and ditch. This is believed to have been a medieval enclosure for animals and a notice board recently placed here by “The ROMADAM Project” (The Recording of Marlow and District’s Ancient Monuments) give some information on the Warren Wood Earthwork.

 

It’s also along this path from Bloom Wood to Winchbottom Lane where we join up with the route of the Chiltern Way. This is a 187 mile circular walk through the Chiltern Hills and was created by the Chiltern Society as its Millennium Project. We do rejoin it again later, just after Flaunden Village on stage 5.

 

 

On reaching the lane turn right and follow it as it gradually climbs uphill and into the Chiltern Hills. Winchbottom Lane is quiet, wooded and hilly on both sides. Be wary of cars as it is very narrow with only a few places for cars to pass each other. After 0.4 miles and on reaching a Y-junction, keep left along the main lane past Winchbottom Farm and still uphill. After another 0.8 miles the lane passes under the A404, widens and the climb gets steeper. Within 400 yards a T-junction with the old main Marlow to Wycombe Road (Burroughs Grove Hill) is reached. Turn right and cross over, when quiet, and past the Blacksmith Arms pub at Handy Cross. Immediately after the pub, turn left into Ragman’s Lane. The lane leads behind the pub and between it and its car park (now 2.9 miles into the stage). After a short distance, follow the lane as it turns left, be careful as it’s very narrow and does have the odd vehicle, sometimes at speed and not expecting to meet anyone.

 

In just over 500 yards at a T-junction of lanes with a grassy area in the centre, turn right and after a short distance stay right onto a track past a farmhouse.

 

The track goes downhill between trees and eventually becomes a path between fields. Follow it straight on towards the motorway (M40) in the distance. On approaching the motorway follow the path as it turns right and then left through a conveniently situated tunnel under the M40.

 

The motorway and gaping hole under it can be seen from a long way away. The tunnel is a bit of a lonely place and much too large to have been built as a path, it’s big enough to allow large agricultural machinery to pass through it. The area along the path and around the tunnel does not seem to be looked after by the local council as it’s obviously used as a bit of a dumping ground.

 

After passing through the tunnel a steep path straight ahead leads up to a service road at the back of a large ASDA. If you feel you need provisions or a break, just turn right and uphill along the road for a short distance to the entrance to the car park. Turn left into the car park and the entrance to the store is just to the left.

 

The route from here skirts around the town of High Wycombe. It does have a lot of history which dates back over 2,000 years, with Roman, Saxon, Domesday Book, English Civil War, furniture making, World Wars and more. However, there is no scenic route through. You can read about High Wycombe by following the link, but one tradition of the town is well worth a mention, “Mayor Making”. When a new mayor is elected to office they are weighed-in in front of the townsfolk. After serving their year as mayor they are weighed-out. If they have gained any weight it is decreed they have done this at taxpayers’ expenses and are jeered and pelted with rotten fruit. The tradition dates back to 1678 when the then mayor, Henry Shepard was reported as being drunk and misbehaving himself.

 

After passing through the tunnel, turn left and uphill along a path. At the top of the hill go straight on past a path going off to the right. For the next mile follow a path straight on and parallel to the M40, only yards away from the speeding traffic.

 

The modern out of town shopping park to the right has a couple of major supermarkets, a multi screen cinema, a hotel and a few large American restaurants. Considering the path is surrounded by the hustle and bustle of modern day society and at points the people in their cars seem close enough to reach out and touch, it still feels peaceful and isolated from its surroundings.

 

The path soon passes the back of a large John Lewis store and 370 yards after passing the store the path turns right and away from the motorway. After just a few yards and at a junction of paths, turn left onto a path which continues parallel to the motorway (now 4 miles into the route). Soon to the right a large seemingly lifeless office block give the feeling of being looked out on from its modern square glass façade. After passing the offices continue straight on and uphill to come out on a grassy area next to Cressex Road.

 

Here intermittent small airplanes look as if they are dive bombing the motorway. However, they are on their final approach to the Wycombe Air Park which is just across the motorway.

 

At the road, cross straight over into Horns Lane. Continue straight on along the verge on the LHS of the road and after 420 yards turn right to cross the road and into Booker Common. Stay straight on with the edge of the open common on your LHS and houses to your RHS.

 

After 360 yards, at a junction turn left staying on the LHS of Willow Avenue. In another 60 yards, at a Y-junction, veer left along a lane keeping the old cricket field on your LHS and soon past the Live and Let Live Pub (now closed).

 

The pub hides in the woods on top of Booker Common. There is no through road, just a dirt track which leads to some tasteful houses.

 

60 yards after the pub turn left onto a wide path into the woods, signed public footpath. The path is not well defined as there are a few options. However, veer right at an angle of about 45° and gradually downhill – now 5 miles into the stage. After 100 yards turn right onto a path which gradually leads downhill (DO NOT go straight on along a path directly downhill). After another 300 yards, on reaching a Y-junction of paths turn sharp left and continue downhill. At the bottom turn right, and almost immediately right again, onto another path, still in the woods and running parallel to the road on your LHS.

 

There is more direct original route through these woods, with severe declines and inclines. However, this has been blocked for a few years now by a fallen tree. Luckily there are many paths through and this has not proved to be much of a hindrance.

 

The path parallel to the road is almost flat. Follow it for a couple of hundred yards, then turn left on a very narrow path (this is not obvious) for just a few yards to reach a road (Lane End Road). Cross straight over the road and onto a signed public footpath on the opposite side. Follow this path / wide track, directly away from the road and steep uphill.

 

The path uphill leads through Spring Coppice to High Barbers Wood and eventually Sunters Wood. All three are beautiful, and peaceful, but do feel very lonely. They seem to be protected by the council yet underused by the locals as in many years of going through here I have never come across anyone.

 

The route through is fairly direct. However, pay attention to the instructions as there are many options to stray off course. Another event must follow the same route as shown by painted white arrows on trees. Again take care as many of these have faded with age.

 

The paths through the woods have some sharp descents and climbs as not much around here is flat. Underfoot is rough, with flint-stones making it uneven in places.  When wet, these stones can be very slippery and a lot of care needs to be taken.

 

At the top of the climb from the road, at a Y-junction of paths go right and follow this for about 450 yards to a T-junction of paths – at first this path is flat, but before the T-junction there is a steep decline, immediately followed by a steep incline. At the T-junction, turn right and follow the path through the woods following orange and white arrows on trees. The path winds its way through the woods and after just over half a mile, turns right and descends steeply.

 

IMPORTANT NOTE: Sometimes the route from the T-junction, mentioned above, to the “kissing gate” below changes and it’s easy to go off route. However, if you use the rule of keeping a field to your left visible through the trees, you will stay on course until the steep downhill and exit from the woods to the large field.

 

Near the bottom turn left and after a few yards through a gap, with signs of what was a wooden kissing gate, and into a very large field. Go straight across the field by following the well defined path.

 

Civilisation does not seem to extend to this place. The rolling field of crops goes on for an age in both directions and is surrounded by woods on all sides. However, a few years ago I was amazed to see a huge ditch had been cut the length of the field. There were lots of construction equipment and workmen in hard hats. On investigation I had a pleasant conversation with an Irishman who informed me they were laying a service pipe. What service I forget, but a year later there was no sign of them ever being there and the only scar through the field now is the well defined path which we follow and where the farmer has planted no seeds.

 

After crossing the field, turn right keeping the hedgerow to you LHS for 30 yards, then veer left through a gap, and immediately right onto a bridleway going uphill between trees with steep banks on both sides. This is a long and steady climb up to Druid's Hut.

 

The track seems old and is enclosed with banks on each side. Above the bank to the left is a wood and on the bank to the right is hedgerow and trees with the odd gap to give views to the field and industrial estate below. It seems to be used by horses from time to time as hoof prints are visible in the ground. Half way up look down to your right, and in the distance into Adams Park, the ground of Wycombe Wanderers Football Club. This is also the home of London Wasps Rugby Football Club, many times English Champions and twice European Champions.

 

At the top of the climb the track widens and eventually leads to a lane. On passing a house on the right, with usually a noisy dog although I have never seen it, follow the lane as it turns left.

 

Along here is very private and well off the beaten track but it is also a public right of way. The route passes a few intermittent tasteful dwellings to the left and then to the right is a great view, at a break in the trees, to a statue of a soldier on horseback and through the grounds to West Wycombe House in the distance.  

 

After 350 yards follow the main lane (Toweridge Lane) as it turns right and downhill (at 6.95 miles).

 

The lane as it sweeps downhill is lined on both sides with hedgerow and trees and goes on for almost half a mile with wonderful views of the rolling hills of the Chilterns in the distance.

 

At the bottom of the lane, turn right along the side of the A40 (Oxford Road). After 200 yards and opposite the entrance to West Wycombe Park, veer slightly right to continue along the A40 (now High Street) and through West Wycombe Village.

 

During most of the 18th Century, West Wycombe House and Park was the home of Sir Francis Dashwood (1708 – 1781). He was born in London in 1708 into a wealthy family and educated at Eton. His father, also Francis (1st Baronet Dashwood), made the family fortune through dealings with the Ottoman Empire trading in Turkey and China. He was an only son and thus heir to the fortune. His mother died when he was two and his father when he was sixteen, thus he inherited the family fortune at a young age. If you read the above link to Sir Francis’ life by George Knowles you can see, like most wealthy young men of the time, he travelled a lot. This was known as their “Grand Tour”. Dashwood took two Grand Tours and met many influential people around the royal courts of Europe. His time in Mediterranean countries, especially Italy, was to have a great influence on him and lay the foundations of what he got up too in later life. It also was to have a major effect on the layout of the grounds and the buildings here in West Wycombe.

 

Although brought up a Catholic he rebelled against his religion. He became a Member of Parliament and through his contacts, wealth and personality he reached the high post of Chancellor of the Exchequer. Other titles he also held included Master of the Great Wardrobe, Lord Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire, Postmaster General and Baron le Despencer.

 

In 1734, Dashwood was one of the founders of the Dilettante Society and its first leader. This was a group of Noblemen who appreciated, studied and sponsored the recreation of ancient Greek and Roman art. In 1746, or shortly afterwards, Dashwood formed a secret male society called the “Order of the Friars of St Francis at Wycombe” (also known as the Hellfire Club). It consisted of many leading politicians, royalty, writers, artists and other wealthy men of the time. They all claimed to be lovers of the classical arts, but behind this were also a love for the immoral, strange rituals, lots of alcohol and ridicule for religion. Their motto was in Latin and translated to “Do as You Please”. Members included the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Queensbury, Sir John Stuart (later Prime Minister), the Earl of Sandwich, William Hogarth, John Wilkes, George Selwyn, Robert Lloyd and Charles Churchill. American politician, Benjamin Franklin is also supposed to have attended as a guest. Some of the original meetings were held at West Wycombe House. However, as this was the family home. Dashwood soon acquired Medmenham Abbey, just 6 miles away on the Thames near Marlow. Through great expense he refurbished the old abbey to form a base where he and his wealthy friends could act out their desired rituals. Dashwood as leader of the sect was referred to as the Abbott, other members were known as monks, and the prostitutes, or any high class ladies who were willing to partake were called nuns.

 

As a member of the government one of Francis’ main objectives was to improve the road structure. He had the caves at West Wycombe extended, originally to provide work for the villagers after three unfruitful harvests and to excavate chalk for the building of the new road from High Wycombe to West Wycombe, but eventually also extended much greater to be used as a place for the club’s meetings.

 

On West Wycombe Hill, above the caves, Dashwood remodeled the old Norman Church of St Lawrence. The interior emulates an Egyptian temple with Corinthian columns, marble floor and highly decorated ceilings and walls. He reconstructed the tower and above it added a gilded hollow ball with an entry, seating for six and viewing holes so he and a few selected friends could meet and enjoy themselves in private. The church and its grounds are within the confines of an Iron-Age Fort with the embankment still very visible. He also built an impressive hexagonal, open top mausoleum next to the church to house the urns which contain the ashes of the family.

 

During his years at West Wycombe, Dashwood had the house and park redesigned in an Italianate and neo-classical fashion. Many architects were consulted and employed including Robert Adam, Nicholas Revett and John Donowell.

 

Although a person who seemed to enjoy life to the full, Dashwood did leave a legacy at West Wycombe most of which we can still see today. In later life he dedicated himself to charity work, but will always be remembered more for his rituals as founder and leader of the notorious Hellfire Club. He died in 1781.

 

On the right, a short distance along the road is the main entrance to West Wycombe Park and House. The house did pass through generations of Dashwoods but was given to the National Trust in 1934 by Sir John Dashwood (10th Baronet) as it was proving too expensive to maintain. Although the structure is owned by the National Trust, the house is home to Sir Edward Dashwood (12th Baronet) and his family, who still own the contents. The house as it exists today is very much as Sir Francis Dashwood redesigned it in the early 18th century, is Grade 1 listed and considered to be one of best examples of Palladium architecture in Europe.

 

The grounds were also mainly laid out in the mid 18th Century by Thomas Cook, a pupil of Capability Brown. Twenty years after Francis’ death landscape gardener Humphry Repton was employed to make minor improvements. The gardens are considered to be one of 18th Century’s best landscaped parks in the UK. There is a man-made lake in the shape of a swan, formed by damming the River Wye. Many temples, follies and statues with sexual innuendos add to the scenery. During the last weekend in June the park recently hosted the two day West Wycombe Music Festival.

 

The current Dashwood Family run the estate as a business for filming, private events and corporate functions. Recent films made here include: “The Duchess” (2008) starring Keira Knightley & Ralph Fines, “The Importance of Being Ernest” (2002), starring Colin Firth & Judy Dench, and “White Hunter Black Heart” (2000), staring and directed by Clint Eastwood, plus many more. TV programmes have included, Dr Who, Midsummer Murders and Top Gear.

 

Opposite the entrance to West Wycombe Park the Chorley Road goes north-west with West Wycombe Hill branching off north east and uphill to the entrance of the Hell-Fire Caves and eventually leading to the Church of St Lawrence and the mausoleum at the top of the hill. The caves have a café and gift shop, are owned by the estate and open to the public from April to October. From November to March they are open at weekends and during school holidays.

 

The A40 narrows as it goes directly through the village along the High Street. This is the old main road from London to Oxford and extends in total for 256 miles to Fishguard in south west Wales. The village provided homes for the estate workers and was an important stopping off point during the coaching period. There were numerous coaching inns along the High Street and many of the carriageways on buildings are still visible. A map dated 1767 shows seventeen public houses in the village.

 

With this passing trade other business grew up in and around the village. From the 18th to the 20th Century one of the main industries was chair making. This started as a cottage industry, with turning or “bodging” occurring in the surrounding beech woodlands, assembly and polishing took place in the village. By 1900 small factories in the village were employing hundreds of men. Women were employed for caning and rushwork. Today both these industries are still visible here, but on a much smaller scale. One current furniture maker is Browns of West Wycombe.

 

The village was acquired by the Royal Society for the Arts, Manufacturing and Commerce from the Dashwood Family in 1929. At this time many of the buildings were in bad repair and the village was up for sale in 60 lots. They Society carried out much restoration work over the next few years and in 1934 they handed ownership over to the National Trust. The buildings date from the 15th to the 19th Centuries and thanks to the Trust, are superbly maintained. It’s such a shame a village this unique does not seem have a guide to stories about every building like so many other old villages (Laleham on stage one is a great example). However, Wycombe Council have produced a page entitled “West Wycombe Area Conservation Area Character Survey” with links to documents which give an in depth write-up of the local history, layout, geography and industry, including some very good photos.

 

The High Street still has three pubs The Old Plough (or The Plough Inn) (1727) the Swan Inn (18th century) (photo) and the George and Dragon Hotel (18th century). The latter an inn which holds stories and is still a place to get a bed for the night. It is said to be haunted by a few ghosts, but the most famous story is of a local girl called Susan (or to her friends, better known as Sukie). She was a barmaid who worked in the inn during the 18th Century and had the attention of many of the local young men of the time. However, she had great expectations hoping to meet a wealthy man who would take her away and give her a lavish lifestyle. One well attired man in particular came to her attention and with often visits to the inn gave her a lot of time, and she made obvious her interest. Three local lads feeling a bit aggrieved by this sent her a note, pretending to come from the wealthy gentleman. It asked her to meet him in the caves. Happy with this Sukie packed her bags and as instructed dressed in white, hoping to be taken away to be wed and a better life. On reaching the caves it soon became apparent that she had been tricked and things all went wrong. When she found out she got very angry and either through tripping over, or in a rage, or being hit accidentally by a stone, took a fierce accidental blow to the head. She was taking back to the inn but died soon afterwards from the injury. There have been many reports since then about seeing the image of a young lady in white sometimes with a bandage and blood on her head by staff and visitors to the George and Dragon. Some sources refer to an old tunnel which runs from the inn to the caves and some claim that the caves are also haunted. On YouTube you can watch a programme on the caves from “Most Haunted”, also follow the links to Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 to see the whole programme.

 

The oldest surviving building in the High Street is the “Church Loft”. This is 15th century timber framed and was a rest house for pilgrims. The overhanging first floor is one large room and was where the pilgrims slept. The clock is original and was added in 1668. On its left hand side is an open carriageway which leads to Church Lane and contains the village lock-up and whipping post. Next door is anther overhanging building dating from the early 1600s. It was once the Coach & Horses public house and is now Paul’s Traditional Sweet Shop, claiming to have one of the largest selections of confectionary in the UK and still sold from jars. Neither of these two buildings have foundations.

 

Continue along the A40 westwards and out of the village to Pedestal Roundabout, named after the pedestal erected here on the north side of the A40 to commemorate the construction of Sir Francis’ new road from High Wycombe.

 

Peter Goodearl’s website has some excellent photos of the West Wycombe Village and Park. For more information on the area see the British History Online website which gives a detailed history of the Parish of West Wycombe. To see a full list of films and TV programmes made at West Wycombe see “The Internet Movie Database”.

 

Turn left onto the Bradenham Road (A4010) and then right to cross over and down the side of the garage into Cookshall Lane (at 8 miles). The lane soon passes under a railway bridge. After another 150 yards, as the lane veers left, take the bridleway on the right – it’s almost straight on at this point. This follows what seems to be an old enclosed and sunken track uphill.

 

The rolling scenery of the Chilterns sometimes looks unnaturally smooth, and on climbing them out of the village you will see what I mean. Look back across the railway to the mausoleum and church on the hill; look right to see isolated fields roll from both sides of the valley and look at the path in front to see the climb to come.

 

After 650 yards, at a Y-junction of paths, take the deep sunken path to the right. The climb gets noticeably steeper with banks still on both sides. As the path opens out stay straight on keeping the trees to the left. At the top turn left and follow the narrow path with garden fences on the right. Follow this path keeping the fences to your RHS and avoiding other paths which go off to the left. This eventually leads to a residential road by the entrance to Downley School. Turn left past the entrance and onto a path directly opposite. Note: There are two paths next to each other, take the one on the right.

 

The path soon turns right and comes out onto Plomer Green Lane in the middle of Downley Village. Here turn left and downhill along Plomer Green Lane. At the bottom turn right into Moor Lane (at 9 miles). Follow the lane for 150 yards to where it opens out at Downley Common. As the lane turns left (towards the Sunnybank Methodist Church) go straight on along a narrow gravel track and into the woods.

 

Downley is a village on top of the Chilterns and centered around Downley Common. The name comes from Anglo-Saxon meaning hill clearing or “field on a hill”. The area is believed to have originally consisted of a “tithing” (group of ten households), but today has over 2,000 inhabitants, most live to the south of the common in properties built during the 1950s and 60s. Downley Common covers an area of 56 acres, is part of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is designated a conservation area. The common was one of the traditional Chiltern Heaths used for the pasture of animals and on one of the main routes for drovers through the Chilterns. Over the years chalk, clay and flint have been excavated and there are many scars and pits still remaining. Other industries included farming and furniture making. During World Way II it was used by the army to test and repair Churchill tanks – some of their track marks are still plain to be seen on Butterfly Bank next to Sunnybank Methodist Church. Most of the buildings around the edge of and hidden within the common are quaint Victorian cottages. A short distance from Plomer Green Lane, on High Street is the Bricklayers Arms. The pub was once named Golf Links as for a period golf was played on this part of the common. Just past the pub the common opens up with its Millennium Beacon and great views looking north.

 

The oldest pub in the village is the Le De Spencers Arms on the Common, just past the northern end of Plomer Green Lane. The building dates from the 17th Century and was once the village bakery.

 

Downley Common is home to Downley Cricket Club (established 1873) and both Downley Albion Football Club (founded 1885) and Downley Dynamos Junior Football Club. The common also hosts two annual events - Downley Day each June, and a Bonfire Night torch lit procession in which hundreds of people march with torches and throw them on the bonfire.

 

To read more about Downley you can visit Wikipedia, the Downley Common Preservation Society, or Downley Parish Council. At Chiltern Archaeology you can also read about the Downley Common Archaeology Project. The project took place between February 2005 and December 2007, was manned by volunteers and funded by Local Heritage Initiative and Chilterns Conservation Board.

 

The track through the woods leads past a tastefully restored red-brick house and then changes to a path. Continue straight on and downhill until a junction of paths in the middle of the woods. There is a choice of three – follow the middle path, signed Hughenden Valley. This continues gradually downhill and exits the wood straight through a kissing gate onto a fenced off bridleway between fields.

 

The fenced off bridleway is part of a dry chalk valley and feels lonely and cut off from the outside world; the sheep in the field to the left usually approach you to voice their dissatisfaction and make you feel like an unwelcomed visitor.

 

At the bottom the sheep are left behind and the path enters a wood. Follow the main path as it turns left and climbs steeply through the wood to Hughenden Manor. On reaching the top go straight on following the road between the walls and past the Manor to your RHS (at 9.9 miles).

 

Hughenden Manor is a gothic Georgian mansion and was the country home of Benjamin Disraeli (1804 – 1881). The manor however dates much further back as it is mentioned in the Doomsday Book as Hutchenden. It has also been called Hitchenden, from Celtic meaning “dried up stream”.

 

D’Israeli was born in 1804 into a wealthy Jewish family in London. During part of his childhood the family home was Bradenham House, just a few miles from Hughenden. His father Isaac had many disputes with his Synagogue, and as a result had all the children baptised into the Church of England and the apostrophe in the name was dropped. This was to prove advantageous in later life as it allowed Disraeli to enter Parliament at a time when Jews could not. In 1839 he married Mary Anne Lewis, twelve years his senior and widow of colleague Wyndham Lewis. His stature in Parliament gradually increased and in 1848, with help of a loan of £35,000 bought Hughenden Manor. This was to be their country home for the rest of their lives. In 1862 they employed architect Edward Buckton Lamb (aka E B Lamb) to remodel the house, the result being the gothic features we see today. The colourful formal gardens were created by Mary Anne Disraeli. She is also responsible for the obelisk on the adjacent hill, as a memorial to her father-in-law, Isaac. The couple planted a German Forest in the grounds, inspired by the Black Forest of South Germany.

 

Disraeli was educated at Winchester College and then entered the legal profession. He didn’t enjoy the job and soon withdrew. He became a successful novelist and took an interest in politics. In 1873 he became Conservative MP for Maidstone. However, during this era, to rise to party leader, it was accepted that MPs should have a stable family and be Lord of their Manor. The marriage to Mary Anne and the purchase of Hughenden Manor put these two things in place. He served three terms as Chancellor of the Exchequer and then two as Prime Minister. The first was from 27th February 1868 to 1st December 1868 and the second from 20th September 1874 to 21st April 1880. He was said to be Queen Victoria’s favourite Prime Minister. One story tells of a visit by the Queen to Hughenden Manor, where Disraeli had a chair especially lowered so the Queen would not have the embarrassment of sitting at dinner with her legs swinging and feet not touching the floor.

 

Mary Anne Disraeli was made a peeress in her own right, and given the title of 1st Viscountess Beaconsfield by Queen Victoria. She was said to have a great whit and died on 15th December 1872 at the age of 80, although it’s not sure whether her husband knew her age. She is buried at the Church of St Michael’s & All Angels in the grounds of Hughenden Manor.

 

Disraeli entered the House of Lords as the Earl of Beaconsfield (and Viscount Hughenden) in 1876. In April 1880 Disraeli’s Conservative government were defeated by the Liberals, led by Gladstone. However, in his time as prime Minister he had done more for working class people than many who had gone before him. He soon became ill and died on 19th April the following year. The nation wanted to bury him at Westminster Abbey, but respected his wishes and laid him to rest in the vault next to his wife in the little church at Hughenden. The church contains a memorial to Disraeli by Queen Victoria and it is claimed to be the only time a reigning monarch has done so for a subject.

 

After his death the manor passed onto his younger brother Ralph and subsequently on his death in 1898 to his son Coningsby Ralph Disraeli (died 1936). Coningsby added a new wing and modernized much of the rest.

 

It was known that during World War II the manor was used as a base by the Air Ministry, but what exactly went on there remained a mystery until recently. From an appeal by the current owners the National Trust to local people who had memories of the time, it is now known the place contained around 100 intelligence personnel and was code-named “Hillside”. It was used to draw up the maps used for bombing missions during the war including the “Dam Busters” raids and a planned hit on Hitler’s secret bunker at Berchtesgaden. You can watch a tasteful short video of an event held in 2011 which remembers Hughenden’s days during the war at YouTube.

 

In 1949 Hughenden Manor was passed over to the National Trust who restored the colourful gardens and much of the house to as it was in Disraeli’s time. Today the house and gardens are open to the public and are full of books, paintings, furniture and memorabilia to the couple.

 

In the little churchyard, below the house, you can see Disraeli’s grave. On a warm summer's day it is a beautiful spot to stop and picnic, look at the views and watch the cattle cool themselves down in the river. 

 

Follow the road straight on over a cattle grid and then downhill towards the church. Immediately after passing the church turn left onto a path across the grass to a metal gate. Go through the gate and follow a footpath along the bottom of the field and parallel to the Hughenden Stream and into a second field. Church Farm is passed to the right and the path enters a third field. Continue along the bottom of the third field and into a fourth. Stay straight on avoiding a path to the right leading to the main road. Soon to the right is an isolated old tree in the middle of the field. Stay across the centre of the field keeping the tree to your RHS. At the opposite side of the field follow the path as it becomes enclosed with gardens on the right and soon a school on the left. Within a short distance the path descends some steps and comes out onto Valley Road (at 10.9 miles into the stage). Turn left for a few yards and just before the roundabout turn right to cross over Valley Road using the traffic island. Continue left along the road for just a few yards then turn right into Boss Lane.

 

For convenience and speed it is possible to achieve the same as above by following the road straight past the church, over the stream and out of the main gate. Then turn left along the pavement to the village of Hughenden Valley. However, this alternative route is much less scenic than the route along the stream.

 

The Hughenden Stream is a Chiltern chalk stream. The chalk acts like a sponge and can soak up water. During wet periods the water table within the chalk rises and the head of the stream moves up the valley. However, during periods of drought the water table lowers and remains under ground level until further down the valley, thus moving the head of the river further down the valley. This can mean dried up river beds for much of the year. These chalk streams have quite a unique wildlife associated with them. To watch a video on this follow the link to “Liquid Gold : A Celebration of Chalk Streams”.

 

Follow Boss Lane as it first turns left past some houses and then veers right and left and begins to climb.

 

There are good views across the fields to the left. Boss Lane House is soon passed to the right. It dates from the 17th Century and is reputed to have been used by Churchill for cabinet meetings during World War II. It was once home to Brigadier General Sir Harold Hartley (1878 – 1972), a chemical engineer, who was a director of The Times; first chairman of British Airways, and a friend of Winston Churchill. The Hartley Silver Medal is named after him and is awarded to outstanding scientists. The house next door is also of note and has a beautifully decorated old wooden shed (once possibly a gypsy caravan) in its gardens,

 

Immediately past the two old houses the lane turns right and continues to climb. After 50 yards a driveway to the left leads to a large house and on the right is a farmhouse. Continue straight on along the enclosed footpath between them. The path steepens and climbs for almost half a mile. At the top go straight on along a lane past Piper's Corner School. 400 yards past the school’s main entrance and just before the lane bends around to the right, turn left onto a narrow enclosed path with fields to the left and garden fences to the right. On reaching a residential road (New Road) turn right along it.

 

The stage finishes at the other end of New Road next to Great Kingshill Village Hall.

 

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