Sharing is caring, especially when the countryside is as enchantingly beautiful as that which surrounds the Swan’s Way, a 65-mile (105 km) multi-use trail that winds its way through rural Buckinghamshire, before following ancient paths below the Oxfordshire Chilterns. You share the experience with cyclists and horse riders, all enjoying the wonderful scenery together.
Starting in southern Northamptonshire at Salcey Forest and its veteran oaks, the Way then ventures south into Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes, a modern town designed with ‘garden city’ principles. It continues into the Vale of Aylesbury, a landscape of rolling green pastures speckled with charming villages; crosses Quainton and Waddesdon Hills, prominent yet gentle uplands with splendid views; and enters Oxfordshire, where it follows the ancient Icknield Way, a magnificent hike below the Chiltern escarpment. The trek concludes by the River Thames in the village of Goring.
It’s not just those on trusty steeds you share the bridleways with. Expect to catch glimpses of deer in the forests, red kites in the sky and rabbits skipping merrily across the fields. In spring, the pastures and woodland are alive with the colour of wildflowers and butterflies flutter between the hedgerows. There’s yet more wildlife to discover in the nature reserves, riversides and rolling hills along the way.
Humans have long made their mark across this verdant landscape. Norman churches crown picturesque villages, centuries-old inns welcome travellers as they have done for generations, while earthworks and ruins hint at Roman splendour, forgotten priories, deserted settlements and Neolithic boundaries. Even some of the paths you follow are Britain’s most ancient.
In this Collection, I have split the Way into five stages, each between 11 and 18 miles (18 and 29 km) in length. There’s plenty of accommodation and places to eat and drink en route, so changing my itinerary to suit your timescale is relatively straightforward. I have chosen to head south, though there’s no reason why you couldn’t start in Goring and head north, finishing at Salcey Forest. The route is waymarked in both directions.
This is certainly a walk for all levels of experience. Gradients are very kind and you are never too far from human habitation and the next pub or café. The bridleways are easy to follow, mixing gravel lanes, minor roads, farm tracks and green lanes. Sturdy footwear is recommended, as well as waterproofs, should the heavens open. Sun cream is essential during the warmer months, even on cloudy days.
Every season brings its own character. In autumn, the Chilterns are delightful, as the leaves begin to fall and hues shift to reds and golds. Spring is undoubtedly the most vibrant though, when all is in bloom. In August, the bridleways will be at their busiest, as young equestrians make use of school holidays to develop their riding skills. Winter is obviously the harshest and the days are short, but the cosy country pubs are that much more inviting.
The start point is the car park at Salcey Forest, not far from junction 15 of the M1. The forest is a 20-minute walk from the village of Hartwell, which can be accessed by the 33 bus service between Northampton and Milton Keynes. See bustimes.org/services/33-central-milton-keynes-wolverton-hanslope-roade- for more information.
The end point of Goring-on-Thames is easily reached from London Paddington via a direct train. Depending on which service you choose, journey times range from 45 minutes to an hour and a quarter. It is also not far from junction 12 of the M4.
The Swan’s Way frequently joins forces with other long-distance trails and crosses the paths of many more. The Midshires Way broadly follows the first 50 miles (80 km) between Salcey Forest and Bledlow, although hikers on the Midshires Way often take footpaths, whereas the Swan’s Way rigidly sticks to bridleways. From Bledlow, you join the historic Ridgeway National Trail for 11 miles (17.7 km) until Swyncombe Down and cross paths with it again at Grim’s Ditch.
For a Collection following the entirety of the Midshires Way, see: komoot.com/collection/1098797
For the Ridgeway National Trail, see: komoot.com/collection/889209
The first stage takes you through gorgeous woodland, verdant fields and into one of the country’s most modern towns, Milton Keynes. There’s plenty of wildlife en route, particularly in Salcey …
This stage leaves Milton Keynes and winds through the beautiful Vale of Aylesbury, visiting some pretty villages on its way to Long Marston. There are a few tempting pit stops …
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The Vale of Aylesbury’s rolling pastures and gorgeous settlements await in this stage between North Marston and the hamlet of Longwick. The Way takes you to some lovely viewpoints, such …
This stage follows in the footsteps of the ancients, as it heads south west in the lee of the Chiltern escarpment to the market town of Watlington. It shares the …
The final stage delves deeper into the Chiltern Hills AONB, criss-crossing the route of the Ridgeway and ending on the River Thames at Goring.
From Watlington, retrace your steps back …