Foraging parties and BFG footprints: my car-free holiday in the Chilterns |  Buckinghamshire Holidays

Foraging parties and BFG footprints: my car-free holiday in the Chilterns | Buckinghamshire Holidays

sdim light seeps through the wood smoke. In a large, fairy-lit tipi, tables are decorated with candles and fresh maple branches. I am just embarking on a five day car-free holiday in the Chilterns, an Area of ​​Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) with easy access by train, metro Metropolitan line and two new bus routes starting in August 2021. My favorite car-free walk in the area is a circuit from Tring Station up the Ridgeway to Ivinghoe Beacon and back via the Ashridge Estate. I’m hoping for woodland walks, country pubs and seasonal produce, so a gourmet lunch under the trees feels like a perfect start. Nomadic’s outdoor restaurant has been hosting elegant meals here in Shrubs Wood for three years now, sourcing fruits, vegetables and herbs from the nearby garden.

Chilterns Car Free Card

Today’s fungus-themed party begins with a walk through the trees. Professional collectors Izzy (@rightsforweeds) and Ru (@londonwildfruits) lead us like forest elves from clearing to clearing, pointing out edible and deadly mushrooms with equal pleasure. They are particularly enthusiastic about a small row of hare’s foot ink caps, which range from a spherical sphere to a tall, upright parasol, showing the ‘stages of mushroom morphology’. Lunch consists of shiitake soup with truffles, roasted chicken from the forest, roasted halibut with porcini mushrooms and chanterelles, and a pear and apple compote from the orchard. It’s clearly a winning formula: despite the dazzling £99 price tag, everyone I talk to here has been at least once before. Nomadic plans to kick off the 2022 festivities with some Valentine’s Day meals in February and regular lunch dates starting in March, including events surrounded by bluebells in April.

A Nomadic Chilterns dinner on the go.
A Nomadic Chilterns dinner on the go. Photo: Phoebe Taplin

Getting here without a car helps both the atmosphere and the appetite. Bus 105 from Amersham stops 20 minutes away, or Nomadic can recommend a taxi from Chalfont and Latimer, but I decide to walk three miles from Chorleywood station, along my first short stretch of the long distance Chiltern Way, which is over 100 miles wanders. miles through the AONB. I follow the route into the woods along Old Shire Lane. Squirrels chase each other through the chestnut branches, chasing away last night’s twinkling showers on gleaming conkers that line the path like cobblestones.

A jay, pink with a turquoise flash, lands nearby, red kites circle in the sky and a small field mouse rushes into the tall grass. Red kites, with their forked tails and five-foot wingspan, were reintroduced to the Chilterns in the early 1990s and there are now over 1,000 breeding pairs. It’s a great walk until I get off the Chiltern Way and dodge the holly bushes along the road for the last three minutes to avoid the vans on the flooded Gorelands Lane. A welcome drink by the campfire, with crème de châtaigne liqueur and marigold petals, goes straight to my head.

Milton's Cottage and Garden
The cottage garden, where the 17th-century poet John Milton once lived, ‘reverberates his descriptions of Eden’. Photo: David Reed/Alamy

The other guests are still roasting marshmallows and sipping pine needle tea around the fire, as four hours later I’m back on my shoulder and I head around the corner to the Chilterns Open Air Museum (adult £7.50 online, coam.org.uk ). This veteran collection of reconstructed local buildings features fruit-laden trees in the orchards, pumpkins and corn pops in a mission room, and marrow for sale in the shop. But it’s not all thatched barns and cottages with patchwork bedspreads; there’s a High Wycombe toll house and a prefab Amersham bungalow, wartime Nissen huts and even an Edwardian cast iron public toilet. With Pinewood Studios nine miles away, the museum is a favorite filming location.

I’m staying in the village of Chalfont St Giles, another mile along the Chiltern Way. Near the Quaker hamlet of Jordans, the cheerful White Hart Inn is a modern pub that offers a century-old coaching inn atmosphere with real ales and weathered beams; bedrooms are in outbuildings next to the grassy beer garden (doubles from around £60 room only or £75 B&B, greenekinginns.co.uk). There are plenty of nicer places to stay in the Chilterns, but a large, ready breakfast and very comfortable beds make it a good base for walkers. There’s food in the evenings too, with a classic pub menu (£16.99 for three courses) and seasonal specialties such as maple pannacotta and rosemary glazed plum or an autumn spritz that combines sloe gin, Aperol and prosecco.

Bekonscot model village.
Bekonscot model village. Photo: Greg Balfour Evans/Alamy

There is a bus stop outside the pub, but my first day of walking is a circuit from the door, partly along the River Misbourne, spending a little too much time within earshot of the main road. This is one of many trails near chalk streams in the Chilterns. The most rewarding is the 10-mile Chess Valley walk from Rickmansworth to Chesham, past Chenies Manor, with its brick chimneys and gables and edgings of lavender and cranesbill (£6, cheniesmanorhouse.co.uk).

The highlight of today’s walk is a visit to the old cottage where John Milton lived and finished Paradise Lost (£7, miltonscotage.org). The poet moved here from London in 1665, fleeing the great plague; his friend Thomas Ellwood rented the cottage for him and called it “that pretty box in Giles, Chalfonte”. The cottage garden, perfumed with pale pink climbing roses and flowering marjoram, echoes Milton’s descriptions of Eden. Dark clusters of grapes hang from the ancient vine that envelops the masonry (“the mantle vine / lays out her purple grape, and creeps gently / lush”) and red apples in the small orchard. Only after I pick one (with permission) do I see the statue of Eva nearby and a replica snake wrapped around the tree trunk.

The Bekonscot model village in Beaconsfield the next morning is exactly as I remember it from my childhood: a 1930s John Major-esque landscape of cricket on the green, trawlers on the wharf and Morris dancers in the town square (adults £ 11.30, bekonscot.co.uk). Children’s author Enid Blyton lived nearby. Her house, Green Hedges, is long gone, but there’s still a model in Bekonscot with a small Noddy car outside.

The royal standard.
The royal standard. Photo: Roger Hutchings/Alamy

Beaconsfield is a 20 minute bus ride from my pub and half an hour by train from London. I meet friends at the station for a hill walk under golden beech leaves and stop at the Royal Standard of England for a pint of Chiltern pale ale. Every wood-fire-heated corner of this old rambling pub is full of decorative details: carved bears, unicorn rugs, stained glass, crucibles and toby jugs, even the curved side of an old ship.

The next day I catch bus 104 again to High Wycombe, 10 miles west, for another day of walking and sightseeing. I stop for a picnic from Beaconsfield’s Tuesday market on the way. Four of the Chiltern Hundreds buses connect the two towns. Wycombe Museum reminds visitors that this city was once the world’s capital of chairs (free, wycombemuseum.org.uk). Many of the area’s beech forests were planted in the 18th century to grow wood for the furniture industry. Another 10 minutes on bus 40 takes me to West Wycombe, where the eccentric 18th century aristocrat Sir Francis Dashwood convened his Hellfire Club in caves dug under the Chiltern Hills (adult £8.50, hellfirecaves.co.uk) . I meander a quarter of a mile into subterranean depths, past fanciful dioramas, before setting off on an undulating circuit through woods and fields, past the hilltop Dashwood Mausoleum.

In the woods near Groot Missenden.
In the woods near Groot Missenden. Photo: Phoebe Taplin

Something about the Chilterns seems to particularly inspire children’s writers. Alison Uttley wrote her Little Gray Rabbit books in Beaconsfield, and my last day is spent stalking Roald Dahl through the village of Great Missenden. I ride bus 105 past valley views to Amersham and then a train stop. This rail line from London Marylebone is great for car-free access to the Chilterns. I’ve run at least a dozen circuits from Wendover station, most recently in May this year at the height of a late, luscious season of bells. And I caught the train to Aylesbury for the market, museum, Bowie monument and bus to Waddesdon Manor, which also has a pedestrianized greenway from the last station on the line and a spectacular Christmas lights route until January 23.

There is a colorful Willy Wonka style gated Roald Dahl museum all year round (£4.90/£7.40 child/adult, goodjourney.org.uk) on Great Missenden High Street with leaflets outside those village and suggest country trails through the forest. A half-timbered house and red gas pumps over the road feature in his stories. I follow Church Lane on the A413 to look for Dahl’s grave in the ivy-covered graveyard and find it under a beech tree with a bench ring and concrete GFG footprints in the nearby grass. Returning to the village through a park, I enjoy the view across a lake to Missenden Abbey, where figures in white play croquet on the lawn.

Roald Dahl Museum.
Roald Dahl Museum. Photo: Greg Balfour Evans/Alamy

On the way, the Nag’s Head is covered in scarlet creeper. Inside, low beams, fall roses on the tables and seasonal fruits on the menu, from rock bass with late rhubarb to chocolate with poached apricots. The 15th-century pub will add seven new bedrooms for next year. After butternut soup and blackberry sorbet cake, I’m ready to hit the road again, past worn-out brick cottages with roses and honeysuckle scurrying across the doorways. Reliance on cars is the most obvious drawback to this rural idyll and I’m relieved to have to go off a curbless road into the trees again, where rustling leaves eventually overtake the noise of traffic.

During tea, I sit in the middle of a forest by a campfire while a blackened cauldron bubbles above the flames. It feels miles from anywhere but it’s only a 20 minute walk from Chalfont & Latimer station. David Willis teaches bushcraft, which he differentiates from survival skills because it is more about a love of nature. Families and small groups spend hours with him in the woods, building dens, spoons and rubbing sticks to make fires (£95 pp, £150 family, davidwillis.info). He points out the different tactile qualities of the trees around us: claw-marked cherry trunks, muscular hornbeams, soft larch needles. Badgers live nearby and squirrels run by with sweet chestnuts. As I walk back toward the train, two roe deer, pinned in a sunset field of stubble and meowing buzzards, ride slowly across the woods.
Bus trips were provided by Carousel. Accommodation was provided by the White Hart. More information on visitbuckinghamshire.org and visitchilterns.co.uk

The following Nomadic parties will take place in the afternoons and evenings of February 12-14 with a Valentine’s Day theme, then in the midst of bluebells April 27 – May 7

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