The tiny medieval village of West Wycombe is a Chilterns gem. Its cobbled street boasts coaching inns and traditional shops.
What to see
Next to the neo-classical West Wycombe Park, sits West Wycombe village, with its ancient, cobbled streets, and traditional coaching inns and shops. The village is owned and maintained by the National Trust, noticeable by the well-preserved facings of the original 16th- and 18th-century buildings lining the High Street. Local shops include The Apple Orchard with its one-of-a-kind gifts and homewares, and there are three inns.
The tower and chancel of St. Lawrence’s Church is the oldest remaining medieval structure in the village. Within its bell turret, the original clock mechanism dates back to 1668. During the 18th century, the church received a Dashwood family makeover, including placing a hollow golden ball atop the tower that could seat up to 10 people. It was described by author John Wilkes as ‘the best globe tavern I was ever in’, and was reputed to be a meeting place for the infamous Hellfire Club.
West Wycombe Hill was once home to an Iron Age settlement. Today, on this spot, there stands the flamboyant Dashwood Mausoleum. This design of this impressive hexagonal structure was based on the Constantine Arch in Rome and is open to the skies. Built from local flint, it contains urns and plaques commemorating members of the Dashwood family and some of their associates.
Rake and reprobate, Sir Francis, 2nd baronet of the Dashwood family, returned from his grand tour of Continental Europe with an insatiable taste for art, sumptuous architecture and mysterious drinking rituals. The interior of the Dashwood’s Palladian Mansion reflects his eccentricities, but its in the series of chalk caves that lie beneath the estate and village where things get really interesting. The Hellfire Caves were dug out by hand in the 1750s to provide employment for out-of-work farmhands. The Caves became a meeting place for Dashwood’s Hellfire Club (boasting members such as the Earl of Sandwich and Benjamin Franklin), which was legendary for its debauchery and ritualistic antics. Said to be haunted, the chalk passages plunge deep into the hillside and lead to the scene of the former revels in the Banqueting Hall and Inner Temple.
Sir Francis Dashwood
Sir Francis Dashwood was a very busy man: building roads, a fine country house, church, mausoleum and an elaborate cave system, all using local materials hewn from the hillside.
Into the countryside
Walk through the countryside estates of West Wycombe, Hughendon Manor, Bradenham and Naphill Common and enjoy the seasonal colour of the beech woods, snowdrops and bluebells, alongside fantastic views and historic monuments.
Just a few miles from West Wycombe, Hughenden Manor is a National Trust property that fully deserves a visit. The country home of Victorian Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, offers a vivid and entertaining insight into his personal and political life. The formal garden has been recreated and there’s an interesting Second World War room in the cellars. The four-mile Hughendon Boundary Walk explores the surrounding estate, visiting the Disraeli monument and the church where ‘Dizzy’ is buried.
Alternatively, visit the manor on one of our West Wycombe and Bradenham Walks. The Hughenden and Downley Walk is a short, easy-going walk that visits the National Trust property, attractive woodlands, the village of Downley and Downley Common. Downley Common is one of 200 commons in the Chilterns, all wrapped in centuries of local history. A children’s quiz and downloadable information leaflet accompany the walk, which can be reached by train from Saunderton station.
Other walks in this series take in West Wycombe, Saunderton, Bradenham, Naphill Common and Downley along various routes.
Naphill Common is a large and important area of mixed oak and beech woodland, with veteran trees and remnants of heathland. It is one of the most natural woodlands in the Chilterns. The Common adjoins Bradenham Estate and Downley Common, creating an extensive area of open access land. There are footpaths and bridleways throughout the Common, or visit it along one of our walks – a great way to start your explorations.
Film and TV locations
Regularly used as a location for lavish period films and TV productions, the Dashwood’s Palladian mansion and park is often described as one of the most theatrical estates in England. Apperances include the use of the mausoleum in Stanley Kubrick’s 1972 film The Clockwork Orange. Much later, West Wycombe Park featured in The Duchess (2008) with a star-studded cast including Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes. In The Importance of Being Earnest (2002), Jack Worthing’s (Colin Firth) country estate in Hertfordshire is actually filmed at West Wycombe. Yet, perhaps the estate’s most famous cameo was in the long-running TV drama Downton Abbey, which followed the trials and tribulations of a fictional aristocratic family in the early 20th century.
Where to stay
Choices in and around West Wycombe include:
To find more places to stay, visit West Wycombe Village website, or Visit Buckinghamshire.
Heading further afield
Pann Mill Watermill - 3 miles away
Set among beautiful wildlife and water gardens in the centre of High Wycombe, Pann Mill Watermill is the last operating watermill on the River Wye. Preserving the original machinery, the present-day mill was restored by the High Wycombe Society. Look out for seasonal Open Days when you can see the watermill in action and buy authentic stoneground flour.
Wycombe Museum – 3 miles away
Wycombe Museum explores the history of High Wycombe and the surrounding area. It is known to many as the ‘chair museum’; yet, its hands-on galleries span more than just the history of local furniture-making, and include art, historical artefacts and social history too.
Princes Risborough – 7 miles away
Princes Risborough is a pleasing country town, with a prosperous high street and traditional Market House. An annual walking festival makes the most of its lovely setting, with the Ridgeway National Trail heading towards Chequers: the Prime Minister’s country house. Immerse yourself in countryside and history at the Chinnor and Princes Risborough Heritage Railway.
Getting here by train
The closest station is Saunderton, which is 3 miles away. Journey time from London Marylebone is 35-45 minutes on the Chiltern Railways mainline.
Getting here by road
West Wycombe is 34 miles from London. It is just off the A4010, accessed from Junction 4 of the M40 at Handy Cross.