The Ridgeway to Princes Risborough

Part 3 of the Ridgeway, east to west: Wendover to Princes Risborough. 7.8 miles (12.5 kilometres). February, bright and cold. Solo

I’ve been in bed for almost a week, February came right up to me and punched me in the face. For several days I’ve been living off self pity and snacks, reading until 2am and sleeping until midday. I can’t take it any more, staying put is exhausting, rest is going to kill me. So I drag myself out of bed, knock the week old mud off my boots and make a journey of least resistance. I’m off back to the Ridgeway. Part three.

I leave London in a pea souper, by the time I hit the Chilterns it has cleared and the sun is shining. The ground is frozen and I’m missing the fog already. I’m extremely partial to mist and fog. But at least I can see myself and son walking a previous walk as the train trundles past Great Missenden. We are not there. Son is in school, Shovell is at home after some injections, I am gazing through the window. Shovell now has a psychiatrist, such a London dog is he.

It’s a wobbly start. I head into the town to get a bottle of something cold, so thirsty, and I immediately get distracted by a book shop. I manage to leave empty handed and set off. The Ridgeway appears to run through a field between high tubular steel barriers. It’s either the world’s worst rock festival or, my best guess, bloody HS2 again. I’m shunted off track but then find it again in the beautiful Bacombe Nature Reserve. Hmmm bacombe, bacombe sandwiches.

The Nature reserve is gorgeous. I get the breath, does everyone get the breath? The deep relaxing one that you let out when you’re in a wood and you’ve walked away from the town. Even so I’m finding things hard going, it feels like my lungs have had gastric bands on, there’s breath missing where breath used to be. I decide the only thing to do is push myself up the slope and gain it back. I make it to Coombe Hill monument and am rewarded, I am on the ridge and I can see a view sweeping for miles in both directions. I’m relieved to get my breath back quickly.

As I head back down, I’ve managed not to get lost yet which is remarkable and doesn’t last. I enter another wood and as I stop to check the route I spy a muntjac deer watching me calmly.

I watch her sidelong for a while and very slowly take out my camera phone which has zoom. I don’t know if it’s true that if you don’t look directly at them they’re not so afraid of you, I expect her to bolt at any minute but she doesn’t. She watches me back with suspicion.

It feels like my lucky day. I cross the road into another wood. I’m in love with the trees. I take it slowly, up and down the hills. Now I’m in an open grassy area. There are security cameras everywhere and grumpy looking posts with angry warning signs running through the grass, about trespassing and section 128, police and organised crime, and then I realise what the red enormo-pile is in the distance: Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country residence. I imagine under the various subsections of section 128 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 it is illegal to take photos here, cross to the other side of the posts because the grass is nicer and rearrange lost gloves with a view to committing acts of minor dissent, so naturally I do none of those things.

I’m reminded that chequers are the wild service trees which have grown around the Elizabethan mansion for centuries, so when I re-enter another wood on the other side of the field I determine to find one. Unfortunately I don’t know what they look like in winter although I find a few likely candidates. This wood is the best yet; this time I see a red deer. There are so many birds it’s wondrous: wrens, great tits, a red kite up high, goldfinches and chaffinches, and others I can’t identify. I can hear a woodpecker, lazy and slow. ChirpoMatic can’t cope with the mix of birdsong all on top of each other. This wood is full of life.

It’s when I come to a huge fallen tree blocking the way that I check my map and realise I shouldn’t be in the midst of Maple Wood, the Ridgeway goes around it. Then I notice there is no path so not sure what route I’ve been following, almost certainly one which is prohibited under section 128 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. Imagine if I’d bagged the deer, I’d probably be hanged. I decide to press on regardless, in the spirit of optimism, and because I can’t be bothered to retrace my steps. I have huge fun walking the forest floor and imagining what I will say to the armed policeman with his big dog. I decide I’ll ask him about the wild service trees as he must kick his heels in the wood quite a bit. No security turns up (very slack) and I find a gap in the barbed wire fence and walk out onto the top of the ridge.

I can see the Ridgeway below me, it’s not too far and it looks like it climbs the hill and converges with the route I’m on so I enjoy the chalk ridge I’m unexpectedly on top of. I make a detour over to Chequers Knap to take in the view of Happy Valley. If you like standing on chalk ridges then this is the walk for you. A dog walker and I chat about the view and we both agree, the photos don’t do it justice, well not ours anyway.

As I descend into the valley the notice board tells me about the orchids I can see in late spring, cheeky bee orchids which lure bees by pretending to be one. Or bee one. At Cadsden I stop at the Plough, this illness has left me constantly thirsty so I stop to refuel. I’m sharing the beer garden with a couple of horses, and a couple of stone dogs, one of whom seems to be scratching his privates. Seems like an excellent pub to me.

There’s just one more hill to climb, to Whiteleaf Hill where I entirely fail to spot the enormous chalk cross on the hillside. Possibly because I am standing right above it. The barrow I do notice but it’s looking a little worn, as though someone has turned it into a slide and skateboard park so I keep off it to give it a rest.

I walk slowly down, back to civilisation, commitments and a train station. If truth be told I’m pretty tired though it wasn’t a long walk. I need to sit down, although getting up again will be interesting. Things are starting to ache, not least my head, but I’m just relieved to be out in the open air again. February, next time I’ll keep the mists, the wildlife and the warm sun and you can keep the illness and the transport problems. Like having to wait an extra 35 minutes for the train back as the one I’m here for has been cancelled. Sigh.

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Walk info

This walk appears in Cicerone’s Ridgeway book, section three east to west and is of course on the Ridgeway National Trail website. My GPS is here which begins at the book shop in Wendover and ends at Princes Risborough station. It is easily done by train from Marylebone Station London although annoyingly the two stations are on different lines so it’s not possible to get an open return ticket.

13 responses to “The Ridgeway to Princes Risborough”

  1. That was a lovely read. Thank you.


  2. Loved this! “I get the breath, does everyone get the breath?” Yes, I get the breath 🙂💕Hope you feel better soon!


    1. Ah I need to breathe again. Two nights at work is all it takes to get back to the rat race.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Seeing a Red Deer and hearing a woodpecker sounds like a good walk. Red Kites seem to be taking over West London and the M40 corridor, hopefully they won’t turn out like the grey squirrel and start to wipe out some unsuspecting local species.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know exactly what you mean. It’s been such a successful introduction and yet there are so many. I read a book recently which was quite positive about this subject, basically other species are not thriving because of their habitat issues, but conversely the kites mean there is a thriving ecosystem which is sustaining their increase, and could also increase other species, provided we now make sure those other species also have habitats. Nature finds a balance.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sounds like the new boss arriving and shaking things up!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. This was a fun adventure for you! I hope you feel better soon. 👍🏻🇬🇧

    Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome. ☺️

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for sharing this. That Red Deer 🦌 was a great place to see. Anita

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It always feels very special to be close to one


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