The Charming Chess Valley

The Charming Chess Valley

by Mary Tebje

Through Metroland into a countryside oasis of calm. A chalk stream, far-reaching valley views, a tucked-away Manor House and the mewing of red kites for company, on this circular Chess Valley walk.

You can never spend enough time in the Chess Valley, each time there is something new to savour: a view, a woodland bursting with wildflowers, strutting ponies in a meadow or a new path to follow.

Just 30 minutes by train from London, the charming Chess Valley is a haven of solitude in outstanding Chilterns countryside. You will come away feeling refreshed and glad you experienced this accessible quintessential English scenery.

The short walk from Chalfont & Latimer station will take you through neat Metroland streets, with mock 1930’s Tudor jostling with Art Deco suburban dwellings within easy reach of London and the countryside.

The cherry tree-lined avenue leads you into West Wood, where gently undulating paths beckon you onwards downhill to Latimer just across the valley. The leaf cover will obscure the first of the gorgeous valley views, but as you emerge from the woodland, you can enjoy what will be your valley for the day!

Wide river view showing bands of weed and trees in the background

River Chess

Crossing the fast Latimer Road, pause at the weir and your first view of the mineral rich chalk stream, so typical of the Chiltern Hills. Chalk streams are a globally rare habitat with the majority found in England alone. The water you are seeing, will have fallen as rain long ago and been held in the chalk aquifer, deep underground, acting as though a sponge to rise five miles to the north west at Pednor. This river flows to its confluence with the River Colne in Rickmansworth.

This beautiful valley was first cultivated from the 1st century AD by farmers who lived in timber buildings and worked the fields on both sides of the river. Nearby is the site of an extensive Roman villa, bathhouse and decorative gardens, begun around 170 AD and built with their new techniques and decorative styles to display their wealth and status. There is even some suggestion that grapes were grown on the sunny slopes of the valley.

I have to pinch myself when looking around as I imagine I am in the middle of nowhere, and not in fact so close to London and other busy market towns.

Continue up the hill as Latimer House comes into view. Now a country hotel, Latimer was once a very secret place. From a manor house in the 11th century, various grand families have continually occupied and altered this site until the onset of the Second World War, when it became the centre for MI5 and MI6 intelligence.

I recommend a slight detour that will take you through one of the loveliest hamlets in all the Chiltern Hills, Latimer. With pretty cottages arranged around the triangular village green, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were on a film set. Marking the boundary between Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire, it’s no surprise to see local puddingstones amongst the two memorials, large distinctive stones found in this area and often used as boundary markers.

There are plenty of winding country lanes to tempt you away, but head back down towards the river and continue along the Chess Valley path.

The next section of this walk is one of slow travel, stopping often to savour the views or take a breath. The path is easy-going and level, well signposted and as long as you keep the stream on your right, you can’t go wrong. The water meadow here has some delicate wild flowers and so many butterflies in spring and summer.  Look out for little egrets, kingfishers and herons.

Little Egret

A more English scene you could not wish for: old oak and beech trees on the valley edges, lush water meadows and ponies strutting amongst the buttercups and daisies.

Part of this valley’s charm is the sheer number of quaint ruins, stories and legends that are part of the its fabric. One of them concerns William Liberty; a brickmaker, who by his own desire, is buried with his wife Alice in a lonely plain brick vault, outside the boundaries of the now lost church of St Mary Magdalene. Located on the opposite bank, what little remains of the ruined church has been enveloped by dense vegetation.  You pass both.

There is abundant life everywhere; at your feet, in the stream, in the trees and above you in the sky. The birdsong is all along the valley. The most noticeable and so closely associated with the Chilterns is the Red Kite.  You will see them drifting overhead and perhaps hear them too, mewing like cats!

Continue the walk through Geralds Meadow bursting with wildflowers and onwards towards Sarratt, site of a former watermill and the last watercress farm in the valley. Once enjoyed in sandwiches, at breakfast and high-tea, munched on in the streets, this harbinger of spring was sold in huge quantities to Victorian city-dwellers. Tired of their winter fare of meat and root vegetables, they were only too glad to eat daily bunches of ‘blood-cleaning’ watercress that had been brought in overnight by train and sold in the famous Covent Garden fruit and vegetable market in central London. Sadly this fiery snack is no longer grown commercially in the Chilterns.

It’s here that you cross the stream and follow the track that leads you gently up hill to another of the valley’s hamlets, that surely rivals Latimer for being quintessentially English.  Keep the stream on your right all the way and you won’t go wrong.

I stopped to enjoy the view back across the valley, two kites wheeling overhead and a farmer working in the field opposite, the noise of his machine carried by the breeze.

You come upon Chenies suddenly. Through the trees, cottages appear, neatly arranged around their village green. As with Latimer, this too has a water pump and curiosities essential to village life.

Image of rose garden in front of Chenies Manor House

Rose garden in front of Chenies Manor House

The Tudor Chenies Manor House has been home to the rich and powerful throughout its long history, choosing this location to make their mark in the valley and beyond. The Manor House with resident Royal ghost is now a private home but is open for tours. The impressive Manor and grounds are a favourite filming location including The Crown and Midsomer murders.

Pretty Chenies Village is a great place to stop for refreshments, at the friendly Bedford Arms Hotel or Red Lion pub.

The final stretch of the walk reveals lovely views across the valley. I follow a very good track through West Wood and back to suburbia and the station. It has been a wonderful escape for the day in this timeless Chilterns valley.

For information about visiting the Chess Valley including the Chess Valley Walk, circular walks, rides and leisure activities SEE HERE.

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