Thursday, 5 August 2010

Chequers / Coombe Hill (Circulars) – (Buckinghamshire) – 05/08/10 – 10 Miles – Myself

An unexpected day off from work gave me a chance to make another attempt at the Chequers walk, which me and Helen ultimately gave up on back in June. My reasoning being that one head + GPS, is better than two heads and no GPS. Also I had vaguely promised on Sunday that I would lead a walk for IVC in September, with this looking the most likely candidate. So talking of the GPS, it was a pleasant surprise to see that the grid reference on the ‘route cut out from Country Walking (May 2010 issue) exactly corresponded with what the GPS was telling me (not sure why I expected it to be different – but anyway).

Obviously the first four and a bit miles of this one was not expected to present me with any problems, being that we had done it both ways last time out. The only difference this time was that I had spotted a potential early lunch stop for IVC the previous evening whilst studying the small map. Thus in no time I had reached the Boer War Monument on the top of Coombe Hill, which admittedly is only at the 1.5 mile point (or is it, as the GPS only showed 1.38 miles – more on that later). Also and thankfully the wild ponies were nowhere to be seen.

Now the pub lunch stop, involves leaving Coombe Hill (Monument), in the complete opposite direction to the route, and thus descend down to Butlers Cross. Oh my my though, what a steep and precarious descent. Yet when I finally got down to the road, the golfers crossing there pointed out that there wasn’t any footpath, and that I would have to walk on the road itself. However after about half a mile, I arrived at The Russell Arms, where I had a pint of cider, and two eggs, ham and chips. Everything was as it should be there, which was just as well considering at 12.30 I was their only customer. What goes down must come up though (relax I am not talking about lunch), and the ascent back up Coombe Hill (now the second ascent of this) was in a league of its own, and bore no relation to the gentle climb from the station. I like to attack a climb but this one had me stopping and panting hard every 20 yards. Eventually I made it back to the Monument where I temporarily collapsed in a heap to get my breath back. Methinks I better make this clear with IVC, and suggest the majority bring sandwiches.

Continuing on from the Monument this time I took the correct path (to last time out) all the while admiring the stunning views over the Vale of Aylesbury, then continued through the beech wood, before eventually and correctly doing a right turn (again unlike last time) out onto the road. There I picked up the Ridgeway/South Bucks Way through the wood before eventually leaving there and crossing the road that takes you into the grounds of Chequers estate. No idea whether Cameron was in residence, but there was a small number of workers with strimmers cutting green stuff (although in all likelihood they were probably Mi5 operatives carrying disguised machine guns). Not wishing to risk the wrath of anyone, I stayed on the correct path, eventually walking past the wood on my left, and railway sleepers to my immediate, and chequers to my far, right (if you check out the photo you can spot Coombe Monument in the distance).

So finally I had arrived at the bit that had caused us so much grief last time out. Having taken an immediate grid reference reading, it was apparent that not only was I not as far along as we thought we were at that time, but I still wasn’t as far along as we thought, when we assumed we had sussed it all out in the aftermath. Nevertheless this is still a confusing section, and I did resort to the inbuilt compass in the GPS here, to make sure I was heading in a general Northerly direction. The other big mistake we made back then was thinking that Great Kimble on our left was actually Beacon Hill. In fact we never got as far along on the last trip to see Beacon Hill, which was ultimately further along and on our right. The correct thing to do was to cross the road that I had traversed down to Chequers before (along with any number of other dead ends we had taken). Helen did suggest this, along with other suggestions as well, but at that time I was becoming overstressed and cooked by the heat and it was just one suggestion to many. So near and yet so far.

Today of course is a different day, and with the GPS to keep me on track I sailed past Beacon Hill on my right, with more stunning views over on my left. Eventually I reached the road, and took an immediate right down the lane opposite the church at Ellesborough. Cutting across a vast field of straw I could once again spotted the Coombe Monument way up in the distance. Once out onto the road it was past the golf club and left onto the bridleway to make ascent number three of Coombe Hill. Well this one was every bit as bad as the the second one from the pub at Butlers Cross (I can’t wait to see this string out a walking group), but eventually it levelled out and dissected the path from the Monument at the kissing gate, that I had come through earlier.

Carrying straight on I crossed a car park into Low Scrubs, with the ‘route cut out’ stating that the path is hard to follow. Well that would be because there are three paths, and naturally I took the wrong one. After 5 minutes I began to suspect this, and one grid reading soon confirmed it. It was then a case of retracing my steps and correctly picking the right path from the two remaining. Eventually I picked up a bridleway that went on for a good mile, firstly on a long descent and then taking a sharp left where I had to make way for both a mountain biker and then a girl on a horse. After crossing another green and glorious field, I found myself coming out onto the road bridge just outside Wendover station and thus ending the walk. So overall I was mighty pleased with my efforts as well as the walk which in its entirety is definitely one to do over and over again (what a shame me and Helen didn’t get to complete it back in June). That said the GPS was a vital tool today without which I would have still struggled at the point we did last time, and would most definitely have had problems at Low Scrubs.

However speaking of which, I was most perturbed when I got to the station to see the read out saying that I had only walked 8.89 miles. Well that can’t be right methinks, as it says 9 miles on the ‘route cut out’ and I had to have added at least a mile to that on the diversion and back to Butlers Cross for lunch. My guess therefore is that the GPS satellites measure distance in straight flat lines, and thus make no allowance for ascents (for instance a mile ascent up, may only be 400 metres covered in a straight line). Thus given that there were three ascents here, two of which being exceptionally severe, then that must be where my missing mile went. Anyway I will ask around on that one.
Walks since last blog entry:
1 x 6.5 mile (run)/walk – Grand Union/Osterley Park

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