Rambles round Midsomer country

CHILTERNS villages don’t come much prettier than The Lee, and this area is a perfect base for a summer ramble.

It’s just a shame that HS2 construction is having such an impact on this part of the world – and you don’t have to wander very far to come across hand-made signs protesting about the “ecocide”.

HS2 apart, this is glorious countryside where there’s been a small community since the Domesday Book of 1086 – and doubtless earlier.

The name is believed to derive from the old Anglo Saxon word ‘leah’ meaning ‘woodland clearing’. At that time the Chiltern hills were largely covered with woodland and the community at Lee would have been closely linked to nearby lowland areas at Great Missenden and Wendover, which had land more suited to crops and grazing.

In the 13th century a chapel was built at Lee; known locally as The Old Church, it is now a Grade I listed building.

With ancient rights of way such as the Ridgeway passing close to the hamlet, the cluster of hamlets around Lee remain a magnet for ramblers and cyclists, not to mention an increasing number of Midsomer Murders fans keen to scout out popular locations from the series.

The Cock & Rabbit on the archetypically English village green is better known to followers of DCI Barnaby as the Rose & Chalice – and being handily placed halfway between Great Missenden and Wendover, it’s a good staging post for any walkers reaching and leaving the area by train.

Another local landmark that’s hard to miss is the Grade II listed wooden ship’s figurehead of the Admiral Lord Howe at the entrance to Pipers, a country house steeped in the history of the Liberty family, of Regent Street fame.

As Lord of the Manor in the 1890s, Arthur Liberty he extended the estate to encompass a dozen working farms, many houses, cottages and public houses, and there are still many visual reminders in the village of his influence. He died in 1917 having built Pipers for his nephew and eventual heir.

The figurehead comes from the Navy’s last wooden ship, dating from 1860, though it never saw sea service and was used as a training ship at Devonport before being broken up in 1921, with many of the timbers used for the mock Tudor extension to the Liberty store in London.

Ramblers and cyclists wanting a more dramatic forest setting don’t have far to go to explore Forestry England’s 800-acre site at Wendover Woods, recently expanded as part of a redevelopment funded by a massive HS2 community grant.

On a quiet day the trails offer miles of varied paths and gradients to explore, along with picnic areas, a children’s playground, Go Ape treetop adventure course and nearby mountain biking area at Aston Hill for those wanting a more challenging range of adventure trails.

Or if you still haven’t had your fill of Chilterns landmarks, make your way over to Hawridge & Cholesbury Common, designated as a local wildlife site and offering the perfect place for another circular stroll.

Cholesbury is an ancient hill top village and has much to interest the visitor, especially an Iron Age Hill Fort which is one of the most impressive prehistoric settlements in the Chilterns.

Starting from the 17th-century Full Moon pub, with its atmospheric views over the nearby windmill and common, you can opt for a two-and-a-half or five-mile round trip to the fort, which was probably built around 300-100BC and occupied from the Roman conquest into the middle of the first century AD.

For the less energetic, the area is criss-crossed with footpaths and is rich in wildlife, including fox, badger and muntjac deer as well as a range of birds and butterflies.

Against the reassuring backdrop of the crack of leather on willow (cricket has been played on the common for more than a century), you can enjoy a leisurely stroll here without veering far off the beaten track (or too far from the prospect of a welcoming pint at the Full Moon)…

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