Sunday, 27 June 2010

Chequers (out and back) – (Buckinghamshire) – 26/06/10 – 9 Miles – Helen

Certainly this was the hottest day of the year so far, with the temperature touching 28c. So for our sins me and Helen decided to do a walk that was both a feature article and route from the May edition of Country Walking magazine, namely a ramble round the Prime Ministers weekend getaway. This would involve climbing up onto the heights of the Chilterns, and taking in some beautiful views over the Vale of Aylesbury. So while it was certainly a splendid day with splendid scenery, it did prove that we, and these cut out walks (which we have had nothing but success with thus far), are far from infallible.

Coming out of the station and picking up the Ridgeway, we passed two girls on the long ascent up to Coombe Monument. We were to see a lot more of them during the day, and from here on in are to be referred to as ‘the girls with the OS map’. Not long afterwards we came to our first route navigation dilemma of the day when we had to decide whether the kissing gate we were to go through was the one on the path we were on, or the one on the path slightly above us. In the event not an issue as they both came out at the same place, but certainly the first portent of things to come. For my part I was more concerned about the flying insect thingy who having bit my knee, decided to come back for a second go at my calf muscle. Suffice to say he met a squishy end.

Anyway after a mile and a half of gentle climbing we reached the Coombe Monument. This being both a memorial for the men of Buckinhamshire who lost their lives in the Boer War, and also a suitable place for us to have our sandwiches. The views here looking over the Vale of Aylesbury were gorgeous if a tad hazy with the sunlight. Also up at the monument enjoying the view were ‘the girls with the OS map’. Anyway we set off again and as the cut out route instructed took the right hand path towards the kissing gate. Now the higher left hand path (which was still the Ridgeway) looked the more obvious, and was the one Helen wanted to follow, but I decided we had to follow the instructions exactly and lo and behold we did come to a kissing gate, although we could hear one slightly above us. From here we were to follow a unclear path through a beech wood, and when we eventually came to the road (as promised) I felt fully vindicated.

Unfortunately having turned right as instructed we could not find the sign for ‘The Ridgeway/South Bucks Way’ on our left but instead came to a road junction. Realising straight away that we had taken the wrong path from the monument, we then went back up the hilly road and thus met ‘the girls with the OS map’ coming down towards us. We let them get ahead of us, whilst we faffed about a bit. Eventually overtaking them in the woods, after avoiding another bum steer from our instructions to take the right hand downward path.

Finally we came into the public right of way access through Chequers dissecting the (private no admittance) sign that leads up to Chequers. The grounds were beautiful, although the helicopter buzzing over head and the various signs left one in no doubt that a swift response would follow if one happened to take one step off the path. The best view of Chequers, which was always at a long distance came when we had the wooded area of Great Kimble to our left and a fence of railway sleepers marshalling the path on our right. Here we messed about taking more photos while ‘the girls with the OS map’ caught us up and did likewise. Eventually we left them and all that behind, passing through a field with some cows on open access land, and did as instructed by the cut out to ‘climb to the top for glorious views’.

Unfortunately the planned route completely fell apart at this point, as unbeknownst to us the ‘climb to the top for glorious views’ instruction wasn’t an instruction at all but merely an optional extra. Thus having reached two stiles at the mini summit we wrongly (the cut outs fault not ours) believed the route continued from this point. Whilst we faffed about trying to find the so called field to cross, matters were further confused by ‘the girls with the OS map’ who gave us the benefit of their wisdom for the walk they were doing, which of course was not the same as ours. Now this was a case where two heads (and bodies) were not better than one, as both me and Helen served merely to confuse each other. If we had been on our own then I am sure either of us would have eventually figured it out. However after three attempts in different directions all drawing a blank, the stress of the heat of the day was finally starting to tell on me at least. Thus rather than spend more time on this when we had wasted around an hour and a half to keep ending up in the same spot, I decided that the only option was to turn this into a straight out and back walk and return the way we came.

Now I have to admit that unlike Helen, and many other walkers, I do not like wasting inordinate amounts of time working out where to go next, let alone spending time heading up blind alleys. I like to walk walk so to speak, only stopping for refreshments and photos. So once we hit back on the return trail, I was able to settle down and enjoy matters again. Helen did want us to pick up the route again where it dissected as a figure of eight, but I decided that the cut out’s instructions had just too many holes in it thus far, and I could certainly live without some more in the heat of this day. So although we were now at peak humidity for the day, the return journey of about 4.5 miles was a lot quicker back than how we had got out to that point. Thus we eventually stopped again at the Coombe monument for some more refreshments, which was by this time being occupied by some wild ponies sheltering from the sun. Initially they did keep out of our faces, but once I tried to eat my apple we found ourselves surrounded, and I decided to surrender it before it was taken off me. They were a cross between sweet and pushy (classic mugging tactics really) with one stamping on Helens foot, and others trying to chew her trousers and my rucksack. Thus fed up of their attention we left them to it and continued on the ascent to Wendover station. Once on the platform, we were soon joined by ‘the girls with the OS map’, who once again were able to put us straight ! More to the point however was once in the cool calm of the air conditioned railway carriage, we were finally able to agree where we went wrong (and where the cut out had clearly misled us).

So not a disaster by any means as it was 4.5 miles out and then the same back, of walking in attractive countryside. However a few issues that have come out of this are:
1) These cut outs are a useful guide/suggestion for walks, but are not definitive and are clearly open to interpretation. Therefore they should not be attempted without the relevant OS or Landranger map, which should be studied beforehand.
2) A compass is an essential as that alone could have got us out of jail here.
3) If the option exists to go to the walk by car, take it. As having been baked on the walk all day, once off the nice air conditioned train, we found ourselves being microwaved this time on the London Underground.

Walks since last blog entry:

1 x 7.5 mile Grand Union/Osterley Park.

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