View north from Beacon Hill
Today we begin our latest walking project with our friends Merv and Pud: The Ridgeway. We have done small sections of it as part of the Berkshire Way and I have wanted ever since to do the whole thing.
The Ridgeway starts officially at the top of Beacon Hill near Invinghoe. So the first challenge is to climb to the top of the 233m hill. We started from the layby to the north and after a struggle with the slippery chalk path soon had a lovely view over Gallows Hill to the east.
There was also a nice view north towards (I think) Edlesborough, whose church of 13th century origin stood out in the morning sunshine.
The path heads south along a grassy ridge to pass Incombe Hole, a lovely combe, on the right.
The signs were rather absent here but we eventually decided to take a right fork along a further grassy track and soon enjoyed a view to the west with St Mary's Ivinghoe in the foreground ("a big and noble church" according to Pevsner) and Mentmore Towers bright just below the horizon. It was was built between 1852 and 1854 for Baron Mayer de Rothschild by Joseph Paxton. Later owners have included the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who enchanted the Beatles.
A bit further on, at Pitstone Hill, there was an excellent view back to Beacon Hill on the left of the picture.
Now we skirted the gassy slopes of Aldbury Nowers, where you can apparently see 30 species of butterfly in the summer on the west-facing slopes. I fancy I might come back next year.
The route then leads down to Tring railway station, which is at the end of a 2.5 mile cutting through the Chilterns. We admired the Posting House, the former Royal Hotel. The London to Birmingham railway Line was opened in 1837 and the hotel was opened the following year. It has now been converted to flats.
A little further on we crossed the Grand Union Canal. This too is in a long cutting through the Chilterns. It was opened in 1797 as the Grand Junction Canal. I had always imagined that the Grand Union was built as a single long canal from London to Birmingham, but a comprehensive Wikipedia entry explains that it came into being only only in 1929 and was formed from the amalgamation of several different canals.
From here, we climbed up through Chestnut Wood, crossed a bridge over the A41, still climbing, and soon reached the outskirts of Wigginton where we ended our first leg. We adjourned to the Greyhound pub in Aldbury, where we enjoyed an excellent lunch.
Conditions: cloudy, threat of rain.
Distance: 5.3 miles.
Map: Explorer 181 (Chiltern Hills North).
Rating: four stars. A great start, but tailed off towards the end.