TOURISTS are being welcomed back to the Chilterns as lockdown restrictions start to ease – with the emphasis firmly on enjoying the great outdoors.
The region’s official tourism website Visit Buckinghamshire & The Chilterns is promoting walks, parks, camping and water-based activities as families make plans for their summer holidays.
And The Beyonder has dozens of family days out listed on its What’s On pages, many of them healthy, outdoors – and free.
The Chiltern Conservation Board and the Chiltern Society are promoting more than 20 social distance friendly walks which avoid crowded well-known locations and narrow paths where possible.
Visit Buckinghamshire identifies a number of family friendly walkswith guides and fun quizzes included, while The Beyonder has collated a range of nature guides families can use to identify flowers, insects and birds they spot on their wanders.
Lucy Dowson, of Visit Buckinghamshire & The Chilterns, said: “Buckinghamshire is the perfect year-round destination for memorable visits.”
And for water-based fun the The Little Boat Trip starts in the Aylesbury basin and takes you and your family (one household or bubble only at the moment) on a canal boat from the Exchange Theatre through several locks to the Aylesbury marina.
Willen Lake has all sorts of water sports for you to enjoy and the Longridge Activity Centre offers a great range of activities, including canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding and dragon boating, while Salters Steamers, which starts at Higginson Park Pier in Marlow, travels down the river to Temple Lock taking in the beautiful Thames scenery.
HENRY Allum doesn’t need much encouragement to go for a walk.
Show him a footpath, ancient abbey or closed railway line and he’s off, map, phone and microphone at the ready, all set to plan another video upload for his Youtube channel.
So it seems only natural to suggest we meet in Black Park for a chat and ramble, given that Henry has been back home with his parents in Chalfont St Peter since the lockdown began in March – and using that time to visit as many interesting places on his old home patch as he can.
It was around 2016 that the 31-year-old first thought about uploading short videos about his visits to heritage railways, but now Henry’s Adventures have become a regular feature on Youtube, Facebook and Instagram, with hundreds of subscribers checking in to see what he’s been up to.
In the past couple of years his uploads have begun to attract a lot more attention – not only from railway enthusiasts but a more general audience intrigued by a range of different subjects, from outdoors rambles to historical sites.
“I do some to do with railways, but also castles, canals, anything I’m interested in,” he says, perhaps with a slight flicker of frustration at being as being typecast too easily as a railway buff when there are so many other things that fascinate him.
Although dozens of the short videos do chronicle railway visits – some dating back to the 90s – others include visits to sites of historical or natural interest at home and abroad, taking him as far afield as Belgium, Portugal and Romania.
Many focus on steam train trips or visits to rail centres, reflecting not only his own passion for steam transport but his professional role organising railway journeys for groups at home and abroad.
Based at Leek in Staffordshire before the lockdown, some of his videos look at abandoned lines in that area, while others capture steam trains in action around the country – and miniature railways too.
Henry worked for the National Trust and at Bekonscot Model Village before taking on his current role, but was furloughed when the coronavirus crisis instantly impacted on the travel and leisure sector.
That allowed more time to concentrate on his Youtube venture, but initially prevented him from straying far from Chalfont St Peter.
“The furlough scheme has given me the chance to make more videos and upload some archive stuff,” he says – including some railway clips from family videos his father had shot.
Prior to lockdown, it was only after setting himself the challenge of visiting all of the country’s miniature railways that he realised the sheer scale of the task – there are around 340 of them, not including those privately owned.
Undeterred, he’s made a good start by uploading the first 20 or so, while making plans for more visits when the opportunity arises.
A prolific vlogger with more than 200 uploads to his credit, passing the 1,000 subscriber mark means his channel can carry advertisements and potentially generate Youtube income – though this is a labour of love and he is under no illusions about making any real money through his videos.
Most of the uploads are short and straightforward, with minimal editing, and mainly filmed on his own, with occasional help from his Hungarian girlfriend Barbara.
He has a relaxed, easygoing style when addressing the camera and realises in many cases the central attraction is the locomotive, castle or station in question, rather than him hogging the limelight.
He has also been making the most of the furlough period to go back through old family films and upload archive footage from the 90s, searching for appropriate railway clips that his subscribers might appreciate.
The regularity of his posting has seen visitor numbers grow, and while some short clips may only receive 150 visits, some have attracted much bigger audiences, with several hundred tuning in to two series of short films shot around the village of Chalfont St Peter and following the route of the River Misbourne, with many adding comments and expressing their interest in the footage.
Surprise hits might attract more than 1,000 views – from closed lines to Cheshire’s steepest railway to a ramble round the Romanian city of Oradea – and his Facebook page now boasts more than 7,000 followers.
Always restless for another outing, it’s sometimes hard to know what to tackle next. What about the 78-mile Capital Ring walk round London, perhaps – or local long-distance walks like the Chiltern Way? And of course there are still those miniature railways beckoning.
It looks as if Henry’s in-tray is overflowing, which means his Youtube subscribers won’t have to wait too long for his next adventure…
[Sure enough, here’s Henry back on the trail a few days after we spoke…]
AT LAST the welcome relaxation of lockdown restrictions has allowed scope to roam a little further afield – and after the bluebells of April, it’s foxgloves and ferns which provide the focus of woodland forays in June.
What a joy to be able to escape into the trees of Denham, Langley and Black Park again. And after the hawthorn blossom and horse chestnuts putting on a show earlier in the year, now it’s time for the foxgloves to provide a welcome splash of colour amid the glorious greenery.
We may have missed those startling May displays of rhododrendrons in the Temple Gardens at Langley, but the wildflowers are out, the wildfowl are busy on the lake and the arboretum provides a welcome escape from face masks, shopping queues and worries about illness.
Once a hunting ground for medieval monarchs, this is part of a network of green spaces which make up the huge Colne Valley Regional Park, formed in 1965, which stretches from Rickmansworth to the Thames, Heathrow and Slough and provides the first proper taste of countryside west of London.
Cross the road from Temple Gardens and you are immediately in Black Park, another woodland oasis with more than 600 acres to explore.
From miniature mariners to unusual wildfowl, there’s always something to see on the lake, and with 10 miles of footpaths through woodland, heath and open space, this is one of those places where it really does feel possible to lose your bearings – for a short while, at least.
This is a perfect place for children to let off steam, but although the lake area tends to be packed with families and dog walkers at weekends, it’s still possible to get away from the crowds – especially during the week or early in the morning, when many of the pathways through the towering trees can be virtually deserted.
Need to get even further away from the family fun? Footpaths lead from here to Stoke Common, and the largest remnant of Buckinghamshire’s once extensive heathland, one of the rarest habitats in England.
There’s less for youngsters to do here, but for walkers wanting room to breathe, the 200 acres are a Site of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI) which provides home to some very rare plants, animals and insects – although it may take a sharp eye to spot some of them.
A lot easier to spot are the 20 Sussex cattle currently being used to graze heathland plants on the common, which has been managed by the City of London Corporation since 2007, with friends and volunteers helping to restore it to its former glory.
The site has small areas of birch, pine and mixed woodland, with several ponds, and like nearby Burnham Beeches was grazed by livestock for centuries.
The only difference is that the wood pasture at Burnham is being grazed by seven British white cattle, along with Exmoor ponies.
Due to the they way they graze, livestock help to create a diverse plant structure which is great news for the local wildlife – although stumbling across a beast of this size behind a bush can be quite a surprise, despite their normally placid natures.
Like Black Park, Burnham Beeches is a marvellous haunt for families, and with 500 acres to get lost in, its ancient oak and beech pollards provide a perfect backdrop for those wanting to get back to nature after spending too long indoors.
Ramblers wanting to get a little further off the beaten track don’t have to look far in the Chilterns, of course. Footpaths criss-cross the area, including long-distance paths like Shakespeare’s Way, opened in 2006 from the great man’s home town of Stratford-upon-Avon to the Globe Theatre in London, passing through Marlow and Burnham Beeches on its way.
Or there’s always a chance to walk a section of the 134-mile Chiltern Way, particularly well signposted by the Chiltern Society and offering some particularly scenic sections around here, whether through the Marlow woods and on to the Hambleden Valley or sweeping north from the Chiltern Open Air Museum towards Chenies, Sarratt and beyond, in a huge circle heading towards Dunstable Downs.
The nature reserve is made up of beech, ash, sycamore and whitebeam with glades and open grassland.
Wild orchids flourish here, including the rare military orchid, and the place is a haven for butterflies such as the marbled white, white-letter hairstreak and the silver-washed fritillary – not to mention hundreds of species of moth.
Resident and visiting species of birds include chiffchaff, cuckoo and blackcap. Tawny owls can often by heard calling during the day. Fallow and roe deer are also regular visitors to the reserve.
If open vistas and sweeping views are more appealing than woodland wanders, check out some of the local National Trust common land like the pastures at Winter Hill with their breathtaking views over the Thames, or the hay meadows at Pinkneys Green, where a rich variety of grasses, flowers and buzzing insects have made their home.
The grasses in these open, unfenced meadows are left to grow tall all summer, with a wealth of wildflowers adding specks of colour across the open expanse of meadow, from delicate yellow cowslips and kidney vetch to bright white oxeye daisies and purple field scabious.
On a sunny day, walkers pause for a lazy chat under the trees, but on a windy evening there’s something invigorating about the gusts sweeping over the meadow and the clouds scudding across the sky, making it a perfect place for kite-flying too.
From Pinkneys Green to Dunstable Downs, the freedom to get out and about across the local areas is such a blessing after the dark days of lockdown. And who would prefer a packed south coast beach at Brighton or Bournemouth to the fresh air and open countryside of the Chilterns?
WANDERING around Langley Park, it’s not hard to imagine a medieval monarch mustering a royal hunting party here.
But then there was a deer park at Langley Marish as long ago as 1202, continuing in use throughout the Middle Ages.
Today, Langley is part of the Colne Valley Regional Park, managed by Buckinghamshire County Council and offering a peaceful oasis of colour and tranquillity looking out towards Windsor Castle.
Once Crown Property, the park and manor were granted to Sir John Kederminster in 1626 and sold in 1738 to Charles Spencer, third Duke of Marlborough, who used it as a hunting lodge.
In 1756, he commissioned Stiff Leadbetter to build the present house, finished in 1760. His son George commissioned Lancelot Brown (1716-83) to landscape Langley Park during his time working at Blenheim. In 1788 Robert Bateson-Harvey bought the estate which remained in the family until 1945 when it was sold to Buckinghamshire County Council.
It’s only a stone’s through from Slough – 3km from the town centre, in fact – but you wouldn’t know it from the rural setting, with the heath and woodland of Black Park to the north and agricultural land to the south and east.
Between March and June the masses of rhododendrons in Temple Gardens burst into bloom and in summer many species of butterfly chase around the heather and gorse on the open land leading down to Langley Lake, where a variety of wildfowl congregate.
Sir Robert Grenville Harvey planted the gardens in the early 20th century, apparently transporting 1600 tonnes of peat from Scotland by train to Langley Station for mulching the plants and employing local men to move the mulch by horse and cart to the garden.
The lake was originally rectangular, thought to have been created by the extraction of brick clay from the ground to build Sir John Kederminster’s ‘Chief Lodge’ in 1710. One of the main landscape features influenced by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown during the mid-1700s was the creation of a longer, serpentine-shaped lake.
The Arboretum is a fine collection of specimen trees and gardens running around the outside of the walled garden, which originally was a kitchen garden for the residents of Langley Mansion where they grew their own fruit and vegetables.
The western stretch of the arboretum is known as ‘Queen’s Walk’ because Queen Victoria used to pass through the arboretum when visiting Sir Robert Bateson-Harvey.
Nowadays the former royal hunting ground provides the perfect base for family days out, with trail guides, an orienteering course and conservation volunteer days, as well as a varied events programme.
Parkland trees range from English oaks to Wellingtonia and Cedar of Lebanon – and there’s a history trail produced by the Heritage Lottery Funded Friends of Langley Park, an organisation which also boasts a wonderful gallery of pictures.
The park is open daily from 8.15am. Accessible toilets and baby changing facilities are located in the cafe. More information from the website or call 01753 511060.
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.
The website has also launched a “Where to go” section on its Further afield pages, which in the past have featured attractions which might involve Chilterns readers driving just a little further afield, to London, Surrey and Sussex.
The first half-dozen attractions listed include Winston Churchill’s family home at Chartwell, nearby Hever Castle in Kent which was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn and the steam railway centre at Didcot, much loved by railway enthusiasts.
Feeling left out? If we have inadvertently missed an attraction out of our listings, get in touch.
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.
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.
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.
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.