As spring slips lazily into summer, vivid greens turn to harder shades as the landscape browns edge towards harvest. Long, lazy warm alfresco evenings, a walk on Pitstone Hill to watch the sun set, wild swimming, summer holidays and camping; these are things we enjoy. Throw in some rather wonderful traditions like Swan Upping, or marvelling at the many Chilterns windmills and country houses, following elusive clues to find fields of flowers, eating fiery watercress, or simply listening to music in unique locations.
Here are some of my favourite summer things; Chenies Manor, Swan Upping, Chess Valley Watercress and Chilterns summer meadows
Every village needs a chalk stream flowing through it, a manor house, old rectory, almshouses, red-brick school and well-stocked village shop: Ewelme has all these and more!
England is full of quaint customs – some funny and others frankly bizarre. Some with origins lost or simply re-invigorated to suit modern tastes and bank holidays. Swan Upping is neither. Firmly routed in the 12th century, it is both necessary for conservation of mute swans and acts as a gentle reminder of just who owns them.
Landscape plays a huge role in determining the form and function of buildings, not least windmills and watermills. The reasons they were built may be long gone, but there are often subtle reminders of lost buildings, some mills still command the landscape, the location purposefully chosen.
Fields of Poppies
Across Western Europe, the onset of summer heralds scarlet fields of poppies, bringing a splash of colour to every landscape, but with it, our collective association with the ultimate sacrifice made by millions who fought in World War One.
I should have known from the gazillion emails leading up to our event, and the clipboards at the main gate, that it wasn’t just anyone who could enter this hollowed ground. Apart from opera days and corporate events, admission is tightly controlled. How fortunate then that I was able to visit the Wormsley Estate.
An evening of classical music at the Rothschild Foundation at Windmill Hill Waddesdon, turned into more than I bargained for.
In spite of an abundance of things to be showy about, you will find the Chilterns one of the least-showy places in England. You have to know where to look and whom to ask. Discretion is the watchword. Invited on a private tour of the Wormsley Library, with a robust schedule, we were ushered past the opera house with instructions not to photograph the private residence, nor aggravate the already aggravated dogs who were going mad on the other side of the fence, so we tiptoed along roped-off pathways, stealing sideways glances whenever we could.
Created in the 1920’s by local resident Roland Callingham (1881–1961), with the help of his gardener, cook, maid and chauffeur, he created a world of what was local and familiar to him – a miniature Chilterns, which he named Bekonscot, after Beaconsfield and Ascot, where he had previously lived.
The landscape ultimately decides what is built or cultivated nearby, which industries thrive or die, or how secure a settlement is; Chenies Manor is just such a project.
Forget M&S orchids, manicured to within an inch of their pampered lives and head instead to the nearest Chilterns summer meadow
Located in the beautiful Chess Valley that links Chesham in the Chilterns with Rickmansworth just inside the M25, E. Tyler & Son’s Crestyl Watercress farm is something of a novelty; in a high tech world, the clocks have paused at Sarratt Bottom, before rushing on up the valley.
The Summer of 2018
In years to come, we’ll be saying “oh it’s never as hot as ’18” in reference to the benchmark that once beat all heatwave benchmarks – the summer of ’76. Even that infamous summer heatwave has been trounced. I am used to the looks of pity, once I confess to not having shared this great cultural experience. Scorched earth is the new summer look.