Winter in the Chilterns, the ambient sounds are louder, the views are wider and more intense and unexpected pathways, routes and earthworks are revealed by skeletal undergrowth and it matters not where they lead, just go and explore!
Here are some of my winter favourites: little churches tucked away in hidden valleys, a pub at the end of an adventure, Sharpenhoe Clappers and long walks in the snow.
Social media are the new jungle drums; informing and directing with seasonal excursions, news and sightings of what is in bloom and where. So it was that I headed off seeking the pleasure of carpets of snowdrops in the grounds of the tiny parish church of Saint Botolph at Swyncombe.
Winter in the Chilterns means we are treated to beautiful dawns with streaks of pink slowly turning orange above the white Chiltern hills, heralding a new day, and because we’d all been so good, the most brilliant of skies offset by the corduroy fields of green and white. We have snow!
If you must be indoors, make sure it’s a museum
The historic market town of Tring is a busy, growing commuter town within easy reach of London and within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Located on the original Akeman Street – a major Roman road in England that linked Watling Street with the Fosse Way, the Natural History Museum (NHM) Tring is in auspicious company. Built in 1889 to house one of the finest zoological collections in private hands, this in a museum frozen in time.
Tucked away on a side wall in the Medieval Galleries in the behemoth that is the British Museum, hang the enchanting Tring Tiles. Remarkable then, that despite such an immense archive spanning thousands of years, these eight tiles have been on a world tour and are now on permanent display.
The fire had been provided by a portable BBQ, that now lay discarded with accompanying beer bottles under a tree just behind the mausoleum. I am sure Sir Francis Dashwood, creator of all I could see, would have approved of the party, but not the litter: Hellfire on a Hill.
I wonder how many of the declarations of love carved on the beechwood tree trunks atop Sharpenhoe Clappers, still hold true today?
A winter walk precedes a fireside refreshment in a local pub
Berries looking bright, exposed bramble thorns sharp and strong, contrast with the limp leaves left clinging before the next autumnal storm barrels on through. The leaf canopy begins to open up the landscape, earthworks, structures and forms hidden over the summer, emerge once again. Smears of decaying russet lie beneath the bare trees.
Things then take a weird turn with a handmade shoe that once belonged to John Bigg, the ‘Dinton Hermit‘ (1629 – 1696). A man of reasonable means and former clerk to Simon Mayne, legend has it that Bigg may have been one of the hooded executioners of the king – one of the men who wielded the axe!
Next up on the weirdness scale, a wall of roots and stones, at least 10 foot in circumference, that shields a well-trampled clearing, a good spot for the deer? What forces were at work to upend such a large tree, revealing this stoney underworld apron?
Their cry for help answered? That is surely a reason to love the rain? Now safely re-instated inside the church, looking as bright as the day it was painted 500 years ago, the Holy Trinity ‘doom painting’ feels just a pilgrimage should.