sOpen cliffs through wood smoke. Inside a large fable-lit teepee, tables are adorned with candles and fresh maple branches. I just started a five-day car-free break in Chilters, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) with easy access by train, the Metropolitan Line, and two new bus routes starting in August 2021. My favorite car – free walking in the area is a ferry On the circuit from Tring Station over the Ridgeway to Ivinghoe Beacon and back via Ashridge Estate. I hope to take a walk in the woods, country bars and seasonal produce, so a hearty lunch under the trees seems like a perfect start. Nomadic al fresco dining has been hosting elegant meals here in Shrubs Wood for three years, sourcing fruit, vegetables, and herbs from their nearby garden.
Today’s fungus-themed feast begins with a walk through the trees. Professional foragers Izzy (rightsforweeds) and Ru (londonwildfruits) lead us from boil to boil like forest elves, pointing out the edible and deadly frogs with equal delight. They are particularly excited about the small row of rabbit-foot-long ink caps, which range from a bullet-shaped bulb to a long, upturned canopy, displaying “stages of mushroom morphology.” Lunch includes shiitake soup topped with truffles, jungle chicken on toast, grilled halibut topped with ceps and chanterelles, and apple and pear compote from the orchard. It’s clearly a winning formula: despite the impressive price tag of £99, everyone I speak to has been here at least once before. Nomadic plans to kick off the 2022 holidays with some Valentine’s Day meals in February and regular lunch dates from March, including events surrounded by April blue bells.
Getting here without a car helps to feel 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 decided to walk three miles from Chorleywood Station, along my first short stretch of the long-distance Chiltern Way, which winds around For over 100 miles via AONB. Follow the path to the woods along Old Shire Lane. Squirrels chase each other through chestnut boughs, shimmering showers from last night’s rain into shiny conkers lining the path like gravel.
A jay, pink with a flicker of turquoise, lands nearby, red kites fly in the sky, and a young moon rises in the tall grass. Red kites, with their forked tails and 1.5m wingspan, were reintroduced into Chilters in the early 1990s, and there are now over 1,000 breeding pairs. It’s a great walk until I leave Chiltern Trail and spend the last three minutes dodging roadside shrubs to avoid trucks on flooded Gorrylands Lane. Welcome drink by the campfire, which includes a liquor and marigold petals, goes straight to my head.
Still other guests drinking marshmallows and sipping pine needle tea around the fire, four hours later I pack my backpack again and head around the corner to Chilterns Open Air Museum (£7.50 online, coam.org.uk). This veteran group of reconstructed local buildings has fruit-laden trees in the orchards, pumpkins and corn dolls in the mission room, and marrow for sale in the shop. But not all barns and cottages have patchwork bed covers; There is a tally from High Wycombe, a turnkey bungalow from Amersham, wartime Nissen cottages, and even an Edwardian cast-iron public restroom. With Pinewood Studios nine miles away, the museum is a favorite movie location.
I am staying in the village of Chalfont St Giles, another mile along Chiltern Road. The cheerful White Hart Inn, near the Quaker hamlet of Jordans, is a modern pub that offers an old training inn vibe with real ale and weather beams; Bedrooms are in annexes outside the herbal beer garden (double from about £60 room-only or £75 for bed and breakfast, greenekinginns.co.uk). There’s plenty of fancier accommodations in the Chilterns, but the large breakfasts that are ready to roam and the super comfy beds make for a good base for walkers. There’s food in the evening, too, with a classic pub menu (£16.99 for three courses) and seasonal specials like maple-glazed plum and rosemary or autumn spritz that mixes slaw gin, aperol and prosecco.
There is a bus stop outside the pub, but my first day’s walk is a circuit by the door, partly along the Missbourne River, which is well within earshot of the main road. This is one of several ways near the chalk streams in the Chilterns. Most lucrative is the 10-mile Chess Valley Walk from Rickmansworth to Chesham, passing near Chenies Manor, with its brick chimneys, gables and lavender and carnation borders (£6, cheniesmanorhouse.co.uk).
The highlight of today’s walk is a visit to the old cottage where John Milton lived and Ended in Paradise Lost (£7, miltonscottage.org). The poet moved here from London in 1665, fleeing the Great Plague; His friend Thomas Ellwood rented the cottage for him, describing it as “this beautiful chest in Giles, Chalfont”. The cottage garden, scented with bright pink climbing roses and flowering marjoram, mimics Milton’s descriptions of Eden. There are dark bunches of grapes hanging from a century-old vine wrapped in bricks (“the mantle vine / laying its purple grapes, gently creeping / luxurious”) and red apples in the little orchard. Only after I picked one up (with permission) did I notice an Eve statue nearby and a replica of a snake wrapped around a tree trunk.
The typical village of Bekonscot in Beaconsfield, the next morning, is just as I remember it from childhood: a 1930s John Major-Eskie landscape of cricket on the green lawn, trawlers at the pier, Morris dancers in the town square (£11.30 , bekonscot.co. United Kingdom). Children’s author Enid Blyton lived nearby. Her home, Green Hedges, is long gone, but there’s still a model in Bekonscot with a little Noddy car outside.
Beaconsfield is 20 minutes from my pub by bus and half an hour from London by train. I met up with friends at the station for a walk in the hills under gold-tinted beech leaves and stopping at the Royal Standard of England for a pint of Chiltern. Every corner of this roaming old pub is filled with decorative details: carved teddy bears, unicorn tapestries, stained glass, cisterns and topiary jugs, even the curved side of an old ship.
The next day, take bus 104 back to High Wycombe, 10 miles west, for another day of hiking and sightseeing. I stop on the way to take a walk from the Tuesday market in Beaconsfield. Four Chiltern hundreds buses connect the two cities. Wycombe Museum reminds visitors that this town was once the chair-making capital of the world (free, wycombemuseum.org.uk). Many beech trees were planted in the area in the 18th century to grow timber for the furniture industry. Another 10 minutes on bus 40 takes me to West Wycombe, where eccentric 18th-century aristocrat Sir Francis Dashwood held his Hellfire Club in caves dug beneath the Chiltern Hills (£8.50, hellfirecaves.co.uk). I wander a quarter of a mile into the subterranean depths, past the fairy tale diorama, before setting off in an undulating circle through woods and fields, past Dashwood Shrine up the hill.
Something about Chilterns seems to inspire children’s writers in particular. Alison Utley wrote her Little Gray Rabbit in Beaconsfield, and I spent my last day chasing Roald Dahl through the village of Great Missenden. I took bus 105 past the valley views to Amersham and then stopped on the train. This railway line from London Marylebone is a great place for car-free access to the Chilters. I’ve walked at least a dozen laps from Wendover Station, most recently in May of this year at the height of a lush, late bluebell season. I took the train to Aylesbury to go to the market, the museum and the Bowie memorial and the bus to Waddesdon Manor, which also has a car-free Greenway from the last stop on the line and a stunning light path for Christmas until January 23.
There is a colorful, year-round Roald Dahl Museum with gated Willy Wonka-style (£4.90 / £7.40 for children/adults, goodjourney.org.uk) on Great Missenden High Street with leaflets outside indicating village and country paths through the woods. A half-timbered house and red petrol pumps appear on the road in his stories. I follow Church Lane over the A413 to look for Dahl’s grave in the ivy covered churchyard and find it under a beech tree surrounded by benches with BFG concrete footprints on the nearby lawn. Back in the village through the gardens, I enjoy the views across the lake to Missenden Abbey, where the characters in white play croquet on the lawn.
Down the road, Nag’s head is covered in crimson crawler. Inside, there are low beams, autumn roses on the tables, and seasonal fruit on the menu, from stone bass with late rhubarb to chocolate with poached apricots. The 15th-century pub is adding seven new bedrooms for next year. After nut soup and cake with blackberry syrup, I am ready to set out again, past, brick huts with flowers and honeysuckle strewn over doorways. The reliance on cars is the most obvious downside to this idyllic country setting, and I’m relieved to block a roadless road into trees again, where the rustle of leaves eventually outweighs the noise of traffic.
At tea time, I sit in the middle of the woods by the campfire as a black kettle flows over the flames. It feels miles from anywhere, but it’s only a 20 minute walk from Chalfont & Latimer station. David Willis teaches the bush, which he distinguishes from survival skills as having more to do with a love of nature. Families and small groups spend hours with him in the woods, building dens, and distilling spoons and sticks for a campfire (£95, £150 per family, davidwillis.info). It points to the various tactile qualities of the trees around us: claw-marked cherry trunks, muscular horn shafts, and soft pine needles. There are badgers living nearby, squirrels racing with sweet chestnuts. As I return toward the train, two roe deer stand in a sunset field of hay and wheel slowly over the woods.
Bus travel provided by Carousel. Accommodation provided by White Hart. More information at visitbuckinghamshire.org And visitchilterns.co.uk
The next Nomadic Feasts will be held in the afternoon and evening from February 12 to 14 with a Valentine’s Day themeAnd Then in the middle of bluebells April 27 – May 7
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