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Walking the Ridgeway by public transport: Part 2

Walk two: Tring to Princes Risborough

The UK has 15 National Trails plus the yet-to-be-completed English Coast Path! Scattered all over the country from the south coast to the border with Scotland, the National Trails cover coastal walks, following The Thames from source to sea, walking the backbone of England or across chalk fields. The National Trails website is a plethora of information for straight-through walks or day walks on the trails. But how accessible are these trails? Is it possible to do the linear walks without using a car at each end? I'm sure each trail is different, with some better served by public transport than others. In this part, I walk almost 14 miles from Tring to Princes Risborough.

My second walk was too many months to mention after the first one. My flexible life of being a student and balancing fun stuff didn’t quite work out the way I had planned, so as semester two finished, I set myself a goal to get The Ridgeway done in 2022!

This section saw me head east from home on a two-bus adventure to the start point above Tring. The first bus was late, so I thought I wouldn’t make the connection at Aylesbury. The bus rattled through the mid-Chiltern region and into the town of Aylesbury. This London overspill town has good transport connection, but not somewhere I need to linger. The bus station is in the basement of the shopping centre, I was pleased to find out there was a bus leaving in moments to Tring.

Another 20 mins on the bus and I arrived in this quintessential market town and headed to Tring Park. I headed up the hill to the shady Ridgeway, which for a short time follows Walter’s Wander, a route where there are discovery signs telling the story of the Rothschilds' time in Tring (no zebras graze here any longer).

I was now on the top of The Ridgeway, shaded by the trees. It was May and the first warmish day where shorts, t-shirt and sunblock were much needed. The chalk and flint of the paths mean dry, hard, exposed pathways, making for a rather warm day.

The Chiltern Hills are one of the most wooded landscapes in the UK, with a fifth covered by this ancient canopy. They are mainly on the hilltops as the chalk grounds up here are not suitable as arable land as the good soil washed down the hills leaving exposed chalk and flint. In late spring, the shade these ancient trees offer is much needed, yet there are few flowers, and the open areas where nature has been left to it are a welcome change to the woodland. In early Spring, the Chilterns are a sea of blue (despite being a long way from the actual sea!) from the numerous bluebells that bloom for a few weeks.

I followed the National Trail acorns out of the woodlands and into arable land; I almost took the wrong route as I became complacent about navigating with these easy-to-spot signposts - not so easy to spot when hidden in trees! My internal compass kicked in quickly, and I was soon back on the right track.

I knew I was getting close to Wendover and my lunch spot as I entered the Forestry Commission land of Wendover Woods; more people started to appear as circular walks and bike rides are easily done here, and the forest seemed more managed. There were areas that have been cleared where now long grasses, wildflowers and butterflies have their moment, felling has long been an industry here yet is in decline. High Wycombe was once a centre of furniture building, and charcoal and firewood are also produced. Sadly, the Chilterns are now blighted by ash dieback, so tree felling is intense.

The descent into Wendover felt long and winding - I’m sure I went all around the back of the town before being spurted out onto the pretty high street. I headed to the town square to eat my picnic. I sat on the bench and admired the bucolic English views - a war memorial, tea rooms, antiques shops, and rolling hills in the distance. Red Kites swooped overhead,

dog fighting with rooks - there was no doubt I was in the Chiltern Hills!

The day was now hot, I knew to make it to Princes Risborough in time to get a bus and be back for the school run meant I had to keep a decent pace. The first section after Wendover rises back onto the ridge. But first, I walked by a row of beautiful empty houses. It took me a few moments to realise these were compulsory purchases because of the HS2 site just beyond their backyards.

Wendover is where HS2 will pop out of the tunnel that will take it from the Chilterns and thunder north to Birmingham. Despite a tunnel being agreed upon, this Area of Outstanding Beauty will still bear the scars of this new rail line for decades to come; whilst sustainable transport is much needed, this line is likely never to go beyond Birmingham so has little country-wide benefit.

I passed through a nature reserve being tended to by a team of volunteers, but as I came out of the trees, long grasses and wildflowers, I was on an exposed chalky hill. Once at the top, the views down to the Vale of Aylesbury were long-reaching. Yet right through the middle, the start of the scar that will become the railway. Straight through woodlands and farms and, as I had seen, people's homes.

Once at the top of the ridge, the route is fairly flat going, and I soon arrived at Coombe Hill at 257m, which is the highest viewpoint in Buckinghamshire. The view from here is incredible and worth a stop to reflect on the journey. Not least as it is

also home to the impressive Boer War monument, which remembers the men of Buckinghamshire that gave their lives far from home.

As I drop down from this high point, I lose the acorns again but soon find my way back to the trail. I do have the very detailed Cicerone guide in my bag but get so complacent by the acorns I forget to read it!

As I cross a road, I realise I am about to do the most bizarre section of the Ridgeway - arguably all the National Trails! There are heavy gates, intimidating CCTV cameras and a very very definite way to walk. I have entered the Prime Minister's country retreat - Chequers. I feel I am being watched and daren’t even put my hand in my pocket to get my phone out to take a picture. I’m not even sure I am allowed to take a picture! With another heavy gate and a warning about the Secrecy Act, I realise I am off this land and walking through the ancient woodland of Pulpit Hill - a rare Boxwood wood.

The Ridgeway then crosses more dry barren farmland as I head to Whiteleaf Hill, the final viewpoint before the descent into Princes Risborough. There is a lovely pub (The Plough at Cadsden) just before the final climb, and had I not been on a timeline, this would have been a great stop to refresh before the last push. This really is a steep section, and thankfully, back in the cover of trees, at the top, the path descends into another nature reserve where wildflowers and long grasses are blooming.

Soon I arrive at Whiteleaf Cross (a chalk cross that is just below the ridge) and can see Princes Risborough below. The short descent is steep, so slow going on tired legs, more long grass, wildflowers and butterflies to complete the day. I head straight into the town centre, knowing I have time for much-needed ice cream from Crepe Escape but will miss about a field and a half out of the complete route.

A long, hot day through a variety of landscapes and another 14 miles ticked off the total.

Time on public transport: 1 hour 30 mins

Cost of public transport: Ooops can’t remember - about £8

Distance walked: 13.5 miles.

Time on feet: 4 hours 20


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