Fifty fantastic family adventures

FROM stately homes to steam railways and spooky caves, from wildlife sanctuaries to woodland walks, The Beyonder’s What’s On pages have been updated to include more than 50 of the Chilterns’ top attractions.

The at-a-glance array of picture buttons offers ideas for days out that range from free museums and rural rambles to palaces and zoos across four counties.

The buttons link directly to the websites and Facebook pages run by various organisations from the National Trust to town museums.

Attractions for animal lovers range from the Living Rainforest or Beale Park in Berkshire to Whipsnade Zoo and Woburn Safari Park in Bedfordshire.

If rescued hedgehogs are of more interest than lions and tigers, there’s always the Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hsopital in Haddenham, and youngsters wanting to get up close and personal with lambs and baby goats can visit Odds Farm or even foxes and ferrets at the Green Dragon Eco Farm.

History lovers aren’t forgotten, either – from stately homes like those at Stonor Park, Waddesdon or Hughenden, not to mention the majestic delights of Blenheim Palace or Hampton Court.

Museums include those in Amersham, Stevenage, St Albans, Tring and High Wycombe, while those preferring a steam trip can venture out to Chinnor or the Bucks Railway Centre at Quainton Road.

If youngsters need to escape from their smartphones and get the wind in their hair, they can always connect with nature at one of the country parks scattered across the region – or blow away the cobwebs with a walk in Wendover Woods, Penn or Burnham Beeches.

For something that little bit different, there’s always the model village at Bekonscot in Beaconsfield, the gloriumptious Roald Dahl museum at Great Missenden, the mysterious Hellfire Caves at West Wycombe or the exotic attractions of Kew Gardens.

Or what about stepping back in time at the Chiltern Open Air Museum, finding out more about science at the Look Out Discovery Centre or discovering more about the lives of writers like John Milton or CS Lewis by visiting their homes in Chalfont St Giles and Headington, Oxford.

Many of the websites featured offer a regular programme of special one-off events, displays and attractions too, so there’s always more to discover – with further buttons linking to the National Trust, English Heritage, Wildlife Trusts, Chiltern Society and National Garden Scheme for more ideas about places to visit and things to do.

With a host of additional events listed in the monthly What’s On pages too, there’s something for everyone who loves the great outdoors. For more information, click on What’s On whenever you need a little inspiration about how to make the most of your free time.

Feeling left out? If we have inadvertently missed an attraction out of our listings, get in touch.

Nature lovers needed now

NATURE enthusiasts across the Chilterns are being invited to help monitor and protect local species on their patch.

A four-year citizen science project has started to recruit volunteers who can study how birds, butterflies and plants across the area are coping with climate and habitat changes.

WHAT’S OUT THERE?: a Duke Of Burgundy butterfly and cowslip PICTURE: Roy McDonald

The Tracking The Impact project is part of the five-year Chalk, Cherries and Chairs Landscape Partnership Scheme funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and spearheaded by the Chilterns Conservation Board.

Volunteers will survey the state of nature in the Chilterns and benefit from training courses in species identification and surveying techniques, with enthusiasts and experts joining forces to “own their patch”.

The data will then be used to track trends across the landscape and inform practical woodland, grassland and farmland habitat management projects.

To deliver the project the CCC has teamed up with Butterfly Conservation, British Trust for Ornithology, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Plantlife, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust and the Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Environmental Records Centre.

Following on from the recent State of Nature report the project is calling for amateur surveyors to work with the experts across 50 1km survey squares to tell the story of the landscape, through understanding the relationship between different species groups.

BIRD IN THE HAND: a corn bunting PICTURE: Roy McDonald

The project will dovetail with existing national recording schemes (Breeding Bird Survey, Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey and National Plant Monitoring Scheme) to bolster coverage in a ground-breaking new partnership.

Unique to the project is its mentoring programme for those who can identify quite a few birds, butterflies or plants but want to learn more about surveying these local species.

The project will last initially for four years, starting in spring 2020. Volunteer surveyors are needed during the spring and summer.

To register an interest or find out more, contact the project lead, Nick Marriner, at nmarriner@chilternsaonb.org.

Chalk, Cherries & Chairs is an ambitious five-year scheme which aims to connect local people to the wildlife and cultural heritage of the Central Chilterns through 18 interweaving projects.

The Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) is one of 46 Wildlife Trusts working across the UK to protect .wildlife and special places for generations to come.

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is a UK charity that focuses on understanding birds and, in particular, how and why bird populations are changing.

Butterfly Conservation (BC) is the UK wildlife charity dedicated to saving butterflies, moths and our environment.

Help chart the Chilterns sound

IT MIGHT be a barn owl, steam train or buzzing insect.

But whatever the sound, young people across the Chilterns are being encouraged to “listen to their landscape” in a unique project designed to promote mental health and wellbeing.

The ‘Echoed Locations’ project encourages 16- to 20-year-olds to get out into nature and urban spaces which are significant to them and contribute to the first sonic map of the Chilterns. 

As part of the five-year Chalk, Cherries and Chairs Landscape Partnership Scheme funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and spearheaded by the Chilterns Conservation Board, the project will provide free sound recording workshops and online resources to empower youth groups and schools to map the sounds of the Chilterns.

Echoed Locations wants audio recordings from across the Chilterns, from the hoot of an owl to the first songs of the dawn chorus or the morning rush hour.

As the world becomes noisier and yet increasingly focused on the visual, Echoed Locations aims to reconnect people with their local wildlife and cultural heritage through the medium of sound.

Sometimes we can forget to listen to the world around us in an active way, and the project encourages residents to record the sounds around them and help create a sonic legacy of the Chilterns today.

Sound recording workshops help to hone people’s ability to disconnect from the hubbub and distractions of day-to-day life and enjoy the natural sounds all around them.

Anyone can participate by adding audio recordings via the Echoed Locations website page and schools, local community groups and youth groups are encouraged to reach out to book a free sound recording workshop in 2020, although spaces are limited.

Volunteers willing to act as ‘Sonic Champions’ in High Wycombe, Amersham, Aylesbury and Princes Risborough (or the surrounding areas) will help promote the project and be given full training.

Contact Elizabeth Buckley on lbuckley@chilternsaonb.org to sign up for a sound recording workshop or as a volunteer, or with any other questions about the project.

Kids just love to go wild

WHEREVER you live in the Chilterns, kids love to get outside and let off steam whatever the weather.

That’s why we will be including more free events in our What’s On pages, starting with a monthly reminder about the plethora of woodland walks on the doorstep.

LETTING OFF STEAM: take the family on a woodland walk PICTURE: National Trust / Chris Lacey

Or between now and July, why not make a really early start, pack a picnic and go out to discover the beauty of the dawn chorus?

In the winter months it’s only too easy to stay glued to the TV, computer or smartphone on dull days where the threat of rain is heavy in the air.

But it’s surprising how quickly the clouds lift when you get outdoors and get the wind in your hair. Youngsters love to get their wellies and bobble hats on for a good old stamp around in the puddles.

BUG HUNT: hunting for insects PICTURE: National Trust / Chris Lacey

There’s always plenty to see and do, but in case you are short of inspiration, the local BBOWT wildlife trusts have produced a great downloadable Go Wild Guide for the kids to add an element of adventure to the outing.

The free guide includes a scavenger hunt, puzzles, advice on how to make your own bird feeder or insect hotel and an I-Spy Challenge with two dozen birds and insects to look out for in a local park or on the way to school.

National Trust members are spoilt for choice with a wide array of historic estates on the doorstep, including Cliveden, Hughenden and Waddesdon.

SPOILT FOR CHOICE: a spring walk at Cliveden PICTURE: National Trust / Chris Lacey

But the country parks are all worth a visit too, from the tree-lined pathways of Black Park to the sprawling deer park at Langley – and free to enter apart from the cost of parking.

Why not plan a walk in the Colne Valley Regional Park or a longer trail to explore the River Colne and the Grand Union Canal towpath, stopping off for a coffee or bite to eat, enjoying a mix of wildlife, industrial buildings and narrowboats, depending on your route.

Across the Chilterns from Dunstable Downs and Ivinghoe Beacon to Wendover Woods, Winter Hill and the Thames, there’s no shortage of places for that perfect ramble, come wind, rain or shine.

And a number of organisations offer special events and trails to coincide with half-term and other school holidays, including local councils, the National Trust, widllife trusts and museums – check out our What’s On pages month by month for the latest organised events for young people.

Four go wild in the Highlands

BBC’s Winterwatch team return to the Cairngorms next week for another four nights of chilly wildlife watching.

Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan, Gillian Burke and Iolo Williams host the eighth series of the live show from the Scottish Highlands, starting on Tuesday January 28 at 8pm.

Winterwatch 2020 comes from the programme’s new, year-round home in the Cairngorms National Park, which covers more than 1700 square miles and was established in 2003 by the Scottish parliament.

Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan join forces again to renew a partnership forged more than 25 years ago on the Really Wild Show.

The children’s wildlife programme ran for 20 years from 1986, although the pair were only co-presenters for a couple of years in the 1990s before Chris moved on to other work.

They were reunited on Winterwatch and its sister programmes in 2009 and joined by Gillian Burke in 2017.

Gillian has long been involved with nature TV programming after studying biology at Bristol University. Welsh nature observer and TV presenter Iolo Williams became a regular member of the team in 2019.

Winterwatch runs from Tuesday to Friday next week.

Wolf Moon puts on a show

STARGAZERS and nature photographers have been comparing their images of Friday’s Wolf Moon over the weekend – and it’s fair to say they managed to capture some startling and memorable pictures.

The first full moon of the decade lit up the night sky and coincided with a lunar eclipse, which happens when the sun, moon and Earth are perfectly aligned.

Clear skies across much of England provided perfect conditions for those staking out some of the country’s most iconic backdrops, like Stonehenge and Glastonbury Tor.

And around the world, from the beaches of Malaga to the mountains of Macedonia, photographers on the American astronomy website space.com have been showing off their efforts to capture the moon – and the penumbral eclipse which took place between 5pm and 9pm UK time when the earth’s outer shadow falls on the moon, making it look darker than normal.

The term ‘wolf moon’ is thought to have been coined by Native Americans because of how wolves would howl outside villages during the winter. Space.com is one of a number of sites with dates of all the full moons of the year, including the occasional blue moon where the moon is full twice in a month (this year on October 1 and 31).

On Chesham Wildlife facebook group page, Graeme Kennedy, a voluntary duty warden with the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust, managed to capture the moon early in the evening, so reflecting the sun’s orange glow (above).

Photographers across the UK managed to capture the moon throughout the night, but some of the most dramatic images were captured by Wiltshire landscape photographer and commercial drone pilot Nick Bull.

His YouTube Channel is dedicated to drone photography and his commercial licence allows him to capture crop circles and historical landmarks like Stonehenge (below).

Particularly dramatic footage this year includes his time-lapse footage of the Wolf Moon over Glastonbury Tor.

The full moon happens about once every 27 days when the moon and the sun are on exactly opposite sides of Earth. The moon looks illuminated because we see the sun’s light reflected from it.

Different tribes may have had other names for it around the world – spirit moon, goose moon or even bear-hunting moon, for example.

There are another three penumbral eclipses to look forward to this year – and the next full moon will occur on February 9, normally known as the “snow moon”, so get those cameras ready!

Classy refuge on the Chess

VISITORS TO the stunning Chess Valley are getting the chance to stay in brand new self-catering accommodation this year, with the opening of a new holiday cottage at Watercress Farm in Sarratt.

The farm is home to the Tyler family, who have worked the land alongside the River Chess for more than a century. In fact this is now the only working farm of its type in the whole of the Chilterns, one of 19 which once existed between Sarratt and Chesham.

Jon Tyler’s great grandfather set up the business in 1896 and Jon recalls how in previous generations the men would travel by steam train from Chorleywood to London to sell bunches at Covent Garden Market.

Now Jon and his wife Sarah have launched a new business venture, offering high-end self-catering holiday accommodation at the farm in a converted barn originally used for watercress seed drying.

Sarah announced this week on the Chiltern Tourism Network’s facebook page that they are now taking bookings via their new website.

Costs range from £250 for a two-night weekend break to £700 for a week’s stay from Friday to Friday, complete with welcome pack and fuel for the wood-fired hot tub.

The cottage provides a perfect base to relax, walk, cycle, birdwatch and fly fish brown trout in the River Chess or carp in the farm’s private lake. It’s only half an hour from Harry Potter world and easily accessible from London for those wanting an escape from the city.

From here there are stunning walks along the Chess Valley to neighbouring villages. Sarratt itself boasts a range of good pubs, a small village shop for groceries and a stunning 12th Century church, the Holy Cross, one of the locations used in the Hugh Grant film Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Watercress is one of the oldest green vegetables known to man and the peppery green leaves have been recognised as highly nutritious since Victorian times when they were eaten to help kept scurvy at bay. The River Chess, with its clean mineral-rich spring water, is still ideal for growing the cress, in gravel beds bathed in the flow of pure spring water .

Visitors to Crestyl Cottage can do their own basking in fresh spring water too, with a soothing soak in the wood-burning hot tub after a wintry walk up the valley.

Jon took over the farm when his father Terry died in 2014 and runs it with the help of his sister Suzanne Burr and his nephew Henry Cooper. But though you won’t find watercress any fresher than buying it at the farm gate, the business has its own red tape challenges at the moment, says Sarah.

“The holiday let is a diversification to support the business at the moment,” she says.

Final weekend on the history trail

DOZENS of venues across the Chilterns have been throwing open their doors this month as part of the country’s largest free celebration of history and culture – and there’s a last chance this weekend to join in the fun.

The annual nationwide event boasts a dynamic programme of more than 5,000 events where public, private and community spaces host tours, talks and open days.

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From open churches to family fun days, doors are flung open at some of the country’s best-known tourist venues, as well as monuments and buildings which do not normally allow visits.

Attractions range from churches, country houses, museums and gardens to theatres, wildlife reserves, distilleries and even recycling centres.

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To celebrate the festival’s 25th anniversary, 25 new venues are opening their doors. “It’s always exciting when new places join Heritage Open Days,” said national manager Annabelle Thorpe. “I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than by sharing it with these iconic places.”

Behind-the-scenes visits include theatres, bell towers and sports stadia, with a full searchable list of all 5,000 atractions available at the main Heritage Open Days website.

Other popular options include National Trust properties opening their doors free for the day and local churches, museums and other venues staffed by thousands of volunteers eager to share their knowledge of local heritage.

This year’s event runs until September 22 and local highlights across the Chilterns are listed on our What’s On pages.

Established in 1994, Heritage Open Days is England’s contribution to European Heritage Days – launched in 1991 – and has grown into the country’s largest heritage festival.

Exotic sights in St Albans

VISITORS get a last chance to savour some spectacular floral displays and exotic butterflies this weekend as Aylett Nurseries’ “autumn festival” draws to a close.

The Hertfordshire family nursery has long been associated with cultivating dahlias, and has won awards for decades for its stunning displays of the bushy perennials which first arrived in Britain from their native Mexico more than 200 years ago.

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A marquee in the main nursery contains a magnificent splash of colour with its array of home-grown dahlias on the travel theme of “The Way To Go”, while the Celebration Garden and dahlia field where the plants are grown are also open for charity as part of the National Garden Scheme.

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Dahlias were a great passion of the late Roger Aylett, who started the business on the same 7½ acres of land at the age of 21 and was soon dispatching the stunning plants to all corners of the country.

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Inside the marquee this year are more than 55 dahlia varieties freshly cut from the dahlia field, where visitors can use ribbons to pick out their favourites.

The “flagship” of the nursery for over 60 years, since 1961 Aylett displays have picked up 55 gold medals at Royal Horticultural Society annual shows – and it’s not hard to see why.

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Declared the national flower of Mexico in 1963 and grown as a food crop by the Aztecs, there are 42 species of dahlia, with hybrids commonly grown as garden plants.

The official RHS classification lists 14 different groups and there are more than 57,000 cultivars providing an extraordinarily diverse array of colours and shapes.

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For younger visitors less overwhelmed by the displays in the dahlia marquee, there is a last chance to visit “Butterfly Corner”, an enclosed area housing an array of tropical plants and exotic butterflies.

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These include the postman, flambeau and stunning blue morpho, one of the largest in the world. Guests can learn about the fascinating life cycle of the butterfly and watch butterflies feed and fly.

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There is a puparium where new butterflies emerge and younger gardeners can enjoy spotting the different species, caterpillars and butterfly eggs. The butterflies, eggs, caterpillars and plants will be relocated to the Butterfly House at Whipsnade Zoo when the exhibition closes this weekend.

Visitors to the nursery this weekend also get the chance to vote in the Around the World Crate Competition where individuals, schools, clubs and associations were invited to compete for £100 of gift vouchers.

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The competition focuses on the theme of transport and travel and entrants were encouraged to create a miniature world inside a wooden crate which could be displayed during the festival.

Winners will be decided by public vote, with the winner announced on Monday.

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Communities answer call to arms

LITTER-PICKERS across the Chilterns have been rallying local communities to help clean up local neighbourhoods this month.

Within minutes of the launch last week of The Beyonder’s “ripple effect” campaign, local groups had been in touch about their activities.

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In Chalfont St Peter, Jodie Burridge organised a clean-up day in the village, with another planned for October 5.

In Wycombe Marsh, Jean Peasley was in touch about the Wycombe Marsh Environment Group, which organises a monthly litter pick around the area (below), as well as gardening and planting on small uncared-for patches of land.

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In Beaconsfield, the Considerate Beaconsfield group organised a litter pick in August and have another planned for the New Year, while Wooburn Green residents also have a litter-pick planned for September.

Nationally, dozens of such like-minded groups have been keeping in touch via the UK Litterpicking Groups page on Facebook, which has more than 2,000 members.

There are also dozens of similar local initiatives, including the two-minute beach clean movement, the zero plastic lobby and national climate change protests.

The Beyonder’s “ripple effect” campaign was designed to unite the hundreds of like-minded local organisations already doing their bit to keep their neighbourhood clean and spread the word about what more can be done locally to tackle the problem.

The campaign coincided with another international call from action from the Pope on the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, ahead of the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York.

Pope Francis has made many calls for environmental protection and has clashed over climate change with sceptical world leaders such as US President Donald Trump, who has taken the United States out of the Paris accord.

At a local level, his call may resonate with church communities across the Chilterns, many of whom can also organise small-scale local events from litter-picking to education in schools.

This week sees hard-hitting TV anti-litter advocate Jeremy Paxman addressing a two-day conference in Birmingham attended by thousands of recycling and waste business and local authority professionals.

Paxman is patron of the Clean Up Britain campaign, a national campaign specialising in changing anti-social environmental behaviour like littering and fly-tipping, and will be delivering a keynote speech on what he sees as the “national embarassment” of how filthy and run-down Britain looks.

He will tell his audience: “There’s only one sustainable solution, and that’s changing the behaviour of people who do litter. Government-supported initiatives have failed – we need a new joined-up, courageous and innovative approach to win the War on Waste.”

Another national campaigner has also called more a more proactive approach. On Twitter, Quentin Brodie Cooper of Zilch UK has spent the past five years building up a network of more than 12,000 followers working together to eliminate littering.

But he expressed disappointment that the Beyonder campaign focused “entirely on picking up litter rather than trying to do more to prevent it”.

His website lists a number of actions which he believes can make a positive and incremental contribution to the war against littering, including encouraging people to act as human camera-traps in car parks and other places where they can witness and report littering from vehicles.

But Beyonder editor Andrew Knight responded: “We do welcome all contributions to the debate and actively work to promote the work of those campaigners who are co-ordinating the fight.

“But we believe that communities working together can make a real difference in changing attitudes towards this problem. It’s not always safe for members of the public to confront litterers or try to prevent anti-social behaviour themselves, for example.

“However working together communities can help spread the word that littering is unacceptable, and Jeremy Paxman is right about the scale of the problem nationwide.

“It’s not just picking up a few bits of litter that makes the difference, but about thousands of local people spreading the word about how much they genuinely care about the local environment and about leading by example.

“Every week on the UK Litterpicking Groups web pages there are heartwarming stories of small triumphs that show many people do care and want to do their bit to help.”

Locally the National Trust rangers’ team based at Cliveden are still looking for more local litterpickers to help keep paths and car parks clean across 843 acres of land at Maidenhead and Cookham commons.