The Chiltern Hills rise behind Watlington, reputedly England’s smallest town. Its ancient centre appears untouched by today’s pace of life.
What to see
All roads in Watlington lead to the 17th-century Town Hall, which stands at the meeting point of three routes in the town centre. This landmark was built at the expense of Thomas Stonor, of Stonor Park, and its upper room was endowed as a grammar school for boys.
In 1764, local squire, Edward Horne, gave Watlington a more unusual talking point. He felt that the parish church of St. Leonard would be more impressive if it had a spire. So, to create the illusion of one, he designed the 270-foot steeple-shaped ‘Watlington White Mark’, which was cut into the chalk escarpment of Watlington Hill and perfectly placed to complete his view.
Just off the High Street lies Chapel Street, which used to be known as Munchen or Monks’ Lane. Once a large Grange belonging to Oseney (or Osney) Abbey, Oxford, there have since been sightings of a ghostly monk gliding down this street.
Watlington Town Hall
After a pleasant browse around Watlington’s delis and independent shops, such as the Granary Delicatessen and That lovely Stuff, take the Watlington Town Walkto discover the history and highlights of this ancient settlement. Sightings of the ‘ghostly monk’ are not guaranteed, however!
The Chiltern countryside beckons on all sides. Just over a mile from Watlington itself, the National Trust’s Watlington Hillis a magnificent area of chalk downland, well-known for its triangular-shaped White Mark carved into the chalk. Atop the hill, take in amazing views across the Oxfordshire Plain and watch red kites soar across the skies.
The habitat mosaic of short turf, scrub and yew woodland makes this site especially good for butterflies, including the silver-spotted skipper, which is on the wing from July to September. A 250-metre-long accessible path goes from the car park through the woods to the edge of the chalk downland; the ground beyond is uneven and steep, however.
Cowleaze Wood. Set high in the Chiltern Hills, this Forestry Commission site offers amazing views over the surrounding countryside. There is a great mix of habitats in this modest, but attractive, site and plenty of paths to explore. The bluebells carpet the wood in May and are well worth a visit.
Ewelme Watercress Beds and Local Nature Reserve – 4 miles away
Ewelme Watercress Beds and Local Nature Reserve. North-east of Wallingford, Ewelme is nestled in a green dip, with narrow lanes and pretty cottages tumbling down the hillside to the now defunct watercress beds that are fed by the Ewelme Brook. Production of watercress has sadly ceased, but these beds are managed by the Chiltern Society who organise events in the reserve.
Ewelme – 5 miles away
The heart of the village of Ewelme is a hilltop cluster of 15th-century buildings, including the church, almshouses and a small junior school, said to be the oldest in the country. These were the charitable works of Alice, Duchess of Suffolk, the granddaughter of Geoffrey Chaucer of Canterbury Tales fame. The churchyard is also the burial place of Jerome K Jerome, author of Three Men in a Boat.
Nuffield Place – 6 miles away
Nuffield Place was acquired by the National Trust, but was once the home of Lord Nuffield, the founder of Morris Motor Cars and one of the most remarkable men of the 20th century. Explore the perfect time capsule of the house, learn about his cars and enjoy the gardens. The property has seasonal opening times.
Chinnor and Princes Risborough Heritage Railway – 7 miles away
Chinnor and Princes Risborough Heritage Railway. Part of the old Great Western line, the railway operates steam- and diesel-hauled services on a 7-mile round trip from Chinnor to Princes Risborough. Sit back and gaze at picturesque Chiltern views, or stop off to enjoy these lovely market towns.
Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve – 8 miles away
Aston Rowant Nature Reserve Sculpture Trail
Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve. With far-reaching views over the Oxfordshire Vale, Aston Rowant is an area of woodland and downland on top of the Chilterns escarpment. Here, red kites wheel overhead, while chalkhill blue and silver-spotted skippers dance among the flowers. Enjoy easy access trails and a sculpture and sound trail.
Getting here by train
The nearest train station is in Henley-on-Thames, roughly 10 miles away; although, both Princes Risborough and Saunderton are only about 11 miles away. Great Western Railway run a service to Henley from London Paddington, changing at Twyford. Journey time is less than an hour. Find train times from Trainline. Chiltern Railways runs services from London Marylebone to Aylesbury or Banbury via Princes Risborough and Saunderton. The fastest journey time is about 32 minutes.
A selection of some of the best walks in the Chilterns, from short easy strolls to all day walks, and all through beautiful scenery. The best way to shake off the cobwebs, enjoy tranquil surroundings and burn a few calories!
Find out more about volunteering in the Chilterns - indoor, outdoor, practical or desk based there's something for everyone, whatever age or stage! Use our interactive volunteering hub to find the perfect opportunity for you.