30th December As we walk down to the Thames there are views across to the Berkshire Downs in the distance and memories of Susan the Unready. South Stoke is a quiet village except for the trains heading west that thunder though at regular intervals, even on the penultimate day of the year. The Thames footpath takes us north passed Moulsford School on the other bank and once again old memories are evoked.
9th December An early start yesterday, a late start today. After the early church service we're parking up on Chorleywood Common by mid-day. Rain is in the forecast for tomorrow so today the priority is to make the best of it...and, when the sun's out like it is, that's no chore. The football pitches next to Chorleywood House are heaving with energy and the air is full of 'football dads' barking orders to 'Close him down' and 'Get rid'. Leaving them behind we drop down into the Chess Valley. Here the tranquility is broken only by the occasional dog walker. For a while we're retracing yesterday's route (well, in reverse) and we have the place to ourselves. More shouting as we pass the ford near Valley Farm. Someone's been exercising a falcon, of all things, and the bird is sitting up in a tree by The Chess, enjoying the sun. The encouraging whistles and accompanying curses seem to be having little effect. We leave them to it.
8th December When your body clock has been habituated to early morning starts Saturday lie-ins become a trial rather than a pleasure. No different today. We're in Sarratt before sunrise, parking on the Green. It's only then that a side effect of early morning starts becomes apparent...I've not been alert enough to load the correct gpx coordinates for our walk. We'll be free-styling! I have at the back of my mind that we were to walk north out of the village before looping back to the Chess and return to the car. Well, the route we eventually take bears no resemblance to the planned (see below)! Nevertheless the early start is rewarded by a 10-15 minute window as the sun rises over Sarratt. We walk as far as Chipperfield Common before following the footpaths to Venus Hill and Flaunden. Rumour has it Flaunden used to be at the bottom of the hill, in Buckinghamshire but, due to constant flooding, the locals decided to re-locate to Hertfordshire, at the top of the hill...makes sense to me, no decent football teams in Buckinghamshire!
2nd December It's been a few weeks since we were last out walking. As if to make up for it, this is a long walk. We're filling in the area between Chesham and Berkhamsted. In my mental map these towns are far apart...one is on a quiet branch line at the end of the Metropolitan Line and the other on the West Coast main line. In reality, it's a matter of miles. Nevertheless today they seem to be separated by plenty of hills and valleys. As we leave Cholesbury the rain is billowing across the Common. Thankfully, by the time we approach Berkhamsted the weather has improved and candyfloss clouds chase us across the fields. Turning south we strike out for Whelpley Hill and Bovingdon. We've been through Whelpley Hill before and once again we walk through the middle of a mobile home park for the retired...unnoticed and unremarked, high house prices and poor pensions are quietly changing corners of the Chilterns.
It's 8am as we pull into the car park at Startop's End, squeezed between the reservoir and the canal. We are squeezing things in this weekend, ourselves. David is due back at lunchtime to watch the Spurs game and this is our only chance for a walk. It has to be short and local. In no time we reach the Aylesbury Arm of the Grand Union. A narrow and also straight canal, the original intention was to connect up with the Thames but money ran out and railways arrived...
Not the walk we'd planned...but then we're learning that, round here, because it's marked on the map doesn't mean it exists!
There's been a village here since before Domesday. Great Hampden is hidden away, three miles west of Great Missenden and, judging by today's fog, is likely to remain undiscovered for another thousand years.