The Chiltern Way explores some of the prettiest scenery in England on a spellbinding long-distance loop of the Chiltern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
Starting and finishing in Hemel Hempstead, the trail takes you through the most beautiful parts of this picturesque AONB, including Bovingdon Plateau, Chess Valley, Misbourne Valley, Hambleden Valley, Stonor Park, Swyncombe Down, Bledlow Ridge, Bulbourne Valley, and Dunstable Downs.
The official route is 134 miles (216 km) long. However, since the walk was unveiled in 2000, three extensions have been added, increasing the overall hike by 90 miles (145 km). In this Collection, I opt for the original route, plus a few brief detours to worthy sites and accommodation, bringing the total to 145 miles (233 km).
You can expect delightful patchwork countryside, wildflower grasslands, serene woodlands, chocolate box villages, welcoming inns, abundant nature, captivating history, a sense of tranquility, and a slice of rural idyll on this hike.
Highlights along the way include: Marlow, a vibrant Georgian market town; Pullingshill Wood, a picturesque beech woodland with rare orchids and WWI training trenches; Stonor Park, a stunning 13th-century country estate; Warburg Nature Reserve, a wildlife sanctuary high in the Chilterns; Yoesden Nature Reserve, a stunning-swathe of chalk grassland; Lacey Green Windmill, the oldest smock windmill in the country; Cholesbury Camp, a once-mighty Iron Age fort; Dunstable Downs, which boasts breathtaking views; Medieval rabbit warrens; prehistoric burial sites; and countless Grade I-listed churches.
Following well-maintained and waymarked paths through gentle countryside, and never straying too far from civilisation, the Chiltern Way is suitable for walkers of all abilities. Whether you are a seasoned long-distance hiker or just finding your feet, there is something for you to enjoy.
In this Collection, I break the route into 11 stages, each averaging 13 miles (21 km). On Stage 2, which is 16 miles (26 km), there is a suggestion on how you can split it. Of course, you can divide the Collection into as many days as you are comfortable with or walk any single stage.
You are relatively well-served by accommodation along the route. However, places to stay are limited at times so it is worth planning in advance and scheduling your rest days accordingly. Due to the proximity to London and other major towns such as Luton, public transport links are fairly good along the way.
The route conveniently starts and finishes outside Hemel Hempstead railway station (and as it’s a loop you can start anywhere you like, of course), making access to the route super easy.
The first stage takes you over the county border from Hertfordshire to Buckinghamshire via pretty countryside dotted with quaint villages.With 13.3 miles (21.4 km) of distance, 600 feet (183 m) of uphill and 750 feet (229 m) of downhill, this is a moderately-challenging hike which eases you into the itinerary nicely. The route conveniently starts from Hemel Hempstead train station. Once out of the town limits, it is steady walking along footpaths through farmland and small woodlands past the villages of Felden, Bovingdon, and Flaunden.On the outskirts of Sarrat, you pass the Cock Inn, a 17th-century pub overlooking a Norman church, which is perfectly-placed for a midway pit-stop.You descend briefly to the River Chess, cross via the bridge, and wind through countryside past Chorleywood. A short-step later, you pass Chiltern Open Air Museum, which has more than 35 historic buildings from the Chilterns that have been rescued. The Way continues through fields to finish in Chalfont St Giles. Within the pretty village, you find a good choice of pubs, cafes, restaurants, shops, and places to stay.
This hike takes you through undulating Buckinghamshire countryside to the historic market town of Marlow. The toughest stage in the Collection, Stage 2 is 16.3 miles (26.2 km) long with 1,175 feet (358 m) of uphill and 1,325 feet (404 m) of downhill. (For a suggestion on how to split the hike, see below).From Chalfont St Giles, the Way heads northwest through picturesque countryside and, after cutting through Coleshill and Winchmore Hill, winds southwest through fields and woodlands to Penn village The trail descends gradually to Loudwater and crosses the River Wye and Back Stream in quick succession. A short climb through Fennell’s Wood follows before you head under the M40 to Flackwell Heath village, which has a couple of pubs and a cafe.You then descend through farmland to another worthy pit-stop opportunity, the Crooked Billet pub, before rising and falling through Warren Wood.The last section takes you through Marlow Bottom and then heads into Marlow town. It is well-worth exploring the vibrant Georgian market town and its historic streets lined by restaurants, cafes, pubs, and shops. There are plenty of places to stay, too. If you would like to split this stage, there is accommodation in Loudwater, which is more-or-less halfway.
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This easygoing hike explores a WWI training woodland and visits pretty villages nestled in glorious countryside.Short-and-sweet after a challenging previous stage, this hike is 10 miles (16.1 km) long with 875 feet (267 m) of uphill and 675 feet (206 m) of downhillYou leave Marlow to the east and ascend gradually through fields into Pullingshill Wood, a picturesque beech woodland where troops trained before WWI.A brief descent follows before you rise through Homefield Wood, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and then drops into Hambleden, a lovely place to stop for lunch or afternoon tea. The trail then heads north through farmland to Skirmett village. There is a popular pub here, the Frog Inn, should you fancy a pit-stop before the last couple of miles. You leave Skirmett to the east, ascend through Adam’s Wood, step briefly into Mousells Wood, descend to Fingest village, and reach Turville, the stage destination, soon after. There is accommodation and a gastropub in Turville as well as at the aforementioned and nearby Frog Inn.
Expect orchid-rich grasslands, serene woodlands, and historic country houses on this hike, which takes you from Buckinghamshire to Oxfordshire. One of the more challenging stages in the itinerary, this hike is 13.2 miles (21.2 km) long with 1,275 feet (389 m) of uphill and 1,250 feet (381 m) of downhill. To begin, you climb southwest out of Turville through pleasant countryside and reach a high point in Southend village. You then descend through Kildridge Wood to Stonor Park country house and estate.From here, you drop to the road and follow it to Stonor village before climbing west through farmland and woodland. It is then worth a brief detour into Warburg Nature Reserve, a stunning wildlife sanctuary that is one of the best places in the county to spot orchids. You pick-up the trail again and head west through Park Corner. Here, it is worth another detour to see the National Trust-owned Nuffield Place and the 12th-century Holy Trinity Church.The final section descends gradually through delightful Oxfordshire countryside to Ewelme, a pretty village that looks like something from a film set. Within Ewelme and the adjoining village of Benson, you find a range of accommodation and places to eat and drink.
The Way begins its return journey on this stage, which rises and falls through a picturesque patchwork of countryside. With 11.7 miles (18.8 km) of distance, 1,500 feet (457 m) of uphill and 1,075 feet (328 m) of downhill, this is a fairly challenging hike.From Ewelme, you head east and join the Ridgeway National Trail into Combe village, where you find a pretty 11th-century church, and then rise through Church Wood to Cookley Green.The trail dips into Russell’s Water and makes an undulating descent through Greenfield Wood and College Wood. After crossing the road, you drop through farmland before a short-but-sharp climb through trees.You descend through Hartmoor Wood, hike through open fields and cross underneath M40 into Stokenchurch, just inside the county of Buckinghamshire. Within the village, you find accommodation and a choice of places to eat and drink.
This stage takes you to the oldest smock windmill in the country, visits two unique Grade I-listed churches, and explores more stunning Chilterns’ scenery.One of the most challenging hikes in the Collection, Stage 6 is 14.8 miles (23.8 km) long with 1,325 feet (404 m) of uphill and 1,550 feet (472 m) of downhill.From Stokenchurch, the trail rises and falls through farmland. After Radnage village, you climb through Yoesden Nature Reserve, a stunning chalk grassland and woodland that is packed with rare butterflies and wildflowers. After hiking through the outskirts of Bledlow Ridge village, you begin an undulating descent to Bledlow, which is home to the Grade I-listed Church of the Holy Trinity. You head southeast to Saundeton and rise through Loosley Row. At the top of the village, you find Lacey Green Windmill, a fully-functional 17th-century windmill nestled among beautiful countryside.The trail then winds through Monkton Woods, Redland End, and Barnes' Grove, past Hampden House and onto Little Hampden. On the outskirts of the village, you pass a 12th-century church with a distinctive timber porch. A short-but-steep climb follows before a final descent through Cockshoots Wood and over the railway to finish in Wendover Dean, which has limited accommodation and a pub that serves food. There is more choice in Wendover, however, which is 3 miles (4.8 km) away.
Pretty villages, pleasant countryside, plentiful pub stops, and the opportunity to explore an Iron Age fort combine on this stage.Crossing the county border from Buckinghamshire to Hertfordshire, this 11.6-mile (18.7-km) hike has 725 feet (221 m) of uphill and 750 feet (229 m) of downhill. The stage begins with a short and steady climb from Wendover Dean to King’s Lane before levelling out and heading west through farmland to Buckland Common. Just north of the village, it is worth taking the detour shown here to Cholesbury Camp Iron Age fort. You rejoin the official route near Wigginton, which has a pub that serves food, a cafe, and a shop, should you fancy a pit-stop.The trail descends to Cow Roast village (which has another good inn), crosses the Grand Union Canal, heads over the railway line, snakes up Tom’s Hill, and descends through woodland to finish in Aldbury. With ancient timber-framed cottages and a historic inn clustered around the duck pond where an old set of stocks still stand, time feels like it has stood still for centuries in Aldbury. The village has two pubs, cafes, shops, restaurants, and accommodation.
Expect breathtaking views, scheduled monuments, and several Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) on this stunning stage.With 13.2 miles (21.2 km) of distance, 850 feet (259 m) of uphill and 925 feet (282 m) of downhill this hike rewards richly for moderate effort. You begin with a sharp climb out of Aldbury, which soon levels-out as you wind through woodland to Little Gaddesden. You then descend to Hemel Hempstead Road and rise steadily through farmland to Studham.From here, the trail heads north to Whipsnade, where you find a characteristic thatched-roof pub, the Old Hunter’s Lodge, which is the oldest building in the village and a great spot for a break.It is then a short-step onto the sublime Dunstable Downs, where you are afforded breathtaking views. As you hike along this SSSI, you can also observe medieval rabbit warrens and prehistoric burial mounds.The final section is a steady descent around Dunstable to the outskirts of Houghton Regis. You find limited accommodation and places for food and drink close to the finish. You can also catch the regular Z bus service from outside the Morrisons supermarket into Dunstable town centre, which has more options. For more information, visit: bustimes.org/services/z-luton-station-ld-hospital-lewsey-farm-houghton-r.
Great views, traditional villages, and wildlife spotting opportunities await on this hike, which takes you from Bedfordshire to Hertfordshire. Whilst the 14.5-mile (23.3 -km) distance is fairly challenging, the gently undulating 825 feet (251 m) of uphill and 775 feet (236 m) make this a steady stage overall.From Houghton Regis, you head northeast through fields, cross over Dunstable Bypass, head east through Charlton and take the bridge over the M1 motorway. The trail then winds through Upper Sundon and into Sundon Hills Country Park, where you can explore thick forests, gentle slopes, wildflowers and wildlife. At Sharpenhoe Clappers, the trail makes a near u-turn and heads southeast to Streatley village, which has a Grade I-listed church to explore and a welcoming pub, the Chequers, making it a good choice for a pit-stop. You then hike through farmland and over Galley Hill and Warden Hill. Whilst these hills are mere bumps in the scheme of things, you are afforded breathtaking views over Luton. The hills are also a nature reserve. The last section takes you through open fields, skirts around Lilley Park woodland and finishes in Lilley. Accommodation is limited here. However, the Lilley Arms serves food and is a B&B. Alternatively, you can catch the regular 100 bus service into Luton. For more information, visit: bustimes.org/services/100-sapphire-luton-stevenage.
The penultimate stage takes you through an expansive arable landscape to the bustling town of Harpenden. With an easygoing downhill trajectory, this stage is 12.4 miles (20 km) long with 550 feet (168 m) of uphill and 625 feet (191 m) of downhill. To begin, you head northeast, cross under the A505, and hike south through fields to Cockernhoe village. The trail then winds around the edge of Luton to Breachwood Green.From there, you follow a mix of footpaths and lanes through pleasant countryside to the River Lea. At this point, it is well-worth taking the detour shown here along the Lea Valley Walk and into Batford Springs Nature Reserve, the stunning source for a network of chalk-lined streams and ponds.You then hike west into Harpenden, passing numerous places to stop for food and drink along the way. The town has a good choice of accommodation, too.
The final stage takes you back to where it all began via pretty countryside and historic villages with welcoming inns.A fairly challenging way to end the Collection, this hike is 14 miles (22.5 km) long with an equal 850 feet (259 m) of uphill and downhill.You leave Harpenden to the west, cross Redbourn Golf Club, hike northwest through farmland and head underneath the M1 motorway. The trail then heads west into the picturesque village of Flamstead, where you find St Leonard’s, a Grade I-listed church with a distinctive ‘Hertfordshire spike’ tower, and the Spotted Dog pub, housed in a beautifully-restored 16th-century building.From there, you hike southwest through farmland and cross over the River Gade just after Water End. The trail then rises through Highpark Wood and drops into Potten End, where you find another good pub, Martin’s Pond. It is then a long and gradual descent to Hemel Hempstead, where this stage and the Chiltern Way finishes. You find a good range of accommodation, places to eat and drink, shops, and other attractions within the historic town.