Woodland wander back in time

HOGBACK Wood is one of Beaconsfield’s hidden secrets.

An attractive area of old, mainly deciduous woodland on the western edge of the Seeleys housing estate, it’s owned by the National Trust but not mentioned on their website.

LOCAL SECRET: Hogback Woods in Beaconsfield PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Indeed online references are rare, thought it’s one of a number of local woods mentioned by the Woodland Trust and is very popular with dog walkers and joggers, as well as boasting a plentiful cross-section of birdlife, including jays, goldcrests and firecrests.

Back in the 18th century there were some 30 farms and smallholdings around Beaconsfield, boasting a mixture of arable and pastoral farming, with wheat growing and the rearing of cows, pigs and sheep being the main activities.

Seeley’s farm was swallowed up and the land developed between the late 1940s and early 1970s, though the name lives on in local street names on the estate.

By 1881 the farm covered more than 200 acres and employed nine labourers. Like so many other local places, the land was well suited to growing cherry trees and in 1892 Job Wooster planted a huge 18-acre orchard of cherries.

HOME SWEET HOME: a nuthatch nest building at Hogback PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Cherry trees are still abundant in the area today – but back then there were up to 60 people employed at the height of the picking season, when trainloads of fruit would leave Beaconsfield by rail for the Midlands.

Since the housing development of the 1960s, Hogback today is a natural playground for local youngsters, a perfect place for den-building or playing hide and seek.

The 22.5 acres form a narrow patch of wooded paths linking the village of Forty Green with the outskirts of Holtspur. Usually accessed from Woodside Road, the woods are also perfectly situated for a wander over to the Royal Standard of England for a welcoming pint or meal, when lockdown restrictions permit.

The pub itself is steeped in centuries of history, predating the 16th-century farmhouse at Seeleys, which was originally part of the Gregories Estate, probably taking its name from the Cely family who lived in Beaconsfield in that period.

BUSY BIRDLIFE: a green woodpecker in Hogback Woods PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Researchers from the Beaconsfield & District Historical Society explain how the artist Sir Joshua Reynolds stayed at the farm in the 1780s and while in Beaconsfield fulfilled a commission from Catherine II, Empress of Russia, to paint an historical picture.

He chose as his subject The Infant Hercules Strangling the Serpents and the model he used was William Rolfe, the six-month-old son of a local family. Today the original painting still hangs in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.

Farming days at Seeleys may be a distant memory, but the woods provide a perfect base for a circular ramble to Holtspur and beyond, picking up the Berkshire Loop of the Chilterns Way to head towards Wooburn Green, or returning along Riding Lane to Forty Green and that welcoming pint.