An 17 mile walk along the Ridgeway between Ivinghoe and Great Kimble
An exhilarating walk at the start of the Ridgeway going in an east to west direction. Some outstanding scenery from the Chiltern hills and a few challenging climbs but well worth the effort. The walk takes in the grounds around Chequers, the Prime Ministers country residence, and theres a local tale of a ghostly lady at the Swan in Kimble and a story of when the Prime Minister turned up at Kimble's Bernard Arms.
Ivinghoe Beacon to Great Kimble Walk - Essential Information
- Date of Walk
- Walk Time
- 10:30 to 16:00
- Griffmonster, Steve W., Martin, Steve M.
- Weather Conditions
This walk was the first day of a six day expedition to walk the Ridgeway during the Summer of 2007. Long distance hiking was new ground to the four of us stepping up to the challenge and although we had all regularly accomplished full day walks since teenage years, none of us had undertaken a complete National Trail with full kit including camping gear, so this was going to be one big learning curve. The learning started from the outset after being dropped off at Ivinghoe Beacon. After group photos, we set off along the waymarked route across the Chilterns and it soon became apparent that the 65 litre fully loaded rucksack needed adjusting. This was happening to all of us, resulting in numerous stops to adjust and fiddle the straps in an attempt to get the sack to a comfortable position and to prevent the rubbing and chaffing that was happening. It wasn't until we stopped for refreshment at the Red Lion in Wendover that I managed to get my rucksack sitting correctly. This was the first stop of any substantial amount of time and allowed us to take a seat, relax, reflect on the day thus far and contemplate on what was to come. After having the weight of the rucksack on my back for a good four hours, without it felt as if my legs were floating on air and I meandered into the pub to buy some drinks prancing around like a Thunderbirds puppet.
The time to sit and relax gave me a chance to investigate the technicalities of rucksack straps and fittings. This was a modern 65 litre sack purchased the week before departure from a supermarket as my existing 45 litre rucksack had no place to tie a tent underneath it. The sack had an unusual upper part where the straps met, looping onto an attachment which appeared to be a height adjuster. This had been connected upside down resulting in some uncomfortable wearing and a certain amount of slackness. Once realigned in a correct fashion, the trick then seemed to pull the chest and shoulder straps firmly tight, almost to the point that it was a struggle to fill my lungs with air in its bear hug. This allowed the pack to sit high and even on the back and became an extension to ones torso without any play, which was the cause of the rubbing. This simple adjustment was remarkably effective and no more alterations, other than routinely tightening the straps, were needed throughout the weeks walking. The pack fitted so well, that it was almost welcoming to reload it onto my back, and without it, left the odd feeling that something was missing.
The next issue was Steve W's feet. Earlier in the day, we had wandered through a field close to the Tring bypass. Although only a short distance the field was full of waist-length grass liberally laden with dew which had soaked our trouser legs. Steve's boots had leaked water resulting in some very soggy socks which he soon changed once we got back to walking across the short-grassed meadows. Now, at the pub, he changed into the third pair of the day, the second pair being drenched in sweat and his feet suffering from the dampness, becoming sore with the signs of the onset of a blister. It was clear that he would not have enough socks for the duration of the week. We were all new to this hiking malarkey and had made guesses on what to fill our rucksacks with, knowing that weight was a premium. I had spare underwear and socks for each day plus a couple extra, one spare pair of trousers, a couple spare t-shirts and a fleece that I either wore or hooked around my waist. The others were pretty much the same, with Steve M going to the sheer extravagance and luxury of a pair of evening shoes. Evening Shoes!!
At this particular break in our perambulations our discussions were firmly centered around each individuals sock supplies. And talking about socks was to become a constant theme throughout the week. It was as if we were making up time for all those past years where we had neglected talking about socks when in reality socks are probably a fundamental part of any serious walkers existence. It wasn't just the question of sock quantities, which without a doubt was important, but also about the sock type, size and quality. Cheap socks. Expensive socks. Short socks. Long socks. Socks offering unimaginable guarantees. One pair. Two pairs. Cotton socks. Woolen socks. The colour of socks - did it matter, well, of course it did! Socks supposedly developed with the latest technologies and fibres. Which begs the question, are socks really such a complex article that big business dedicates millions on research to offer a better sock? Socks was the key subject and the one thing we all agreed on was that no matter how little one packs into ones bag you can't skimp on socks.
Steve W was going to run out of fresh socks very early on. His used socks were in a very sorry state, and it was now obvious that he should have packed more socks. As we set off out of Wendover, still keenly talking socks, we happened to pass a small market set along the roadside, and much to Steve W's relief, there, in resplendent glory, liberally advertising its wares, was a sock stall. He eagerly set about purchasing a plentiful supply of the said article and deposited the two sad looking and well-used pairs into the nearest litter bin under the pretence that there was no point in carrying extra weight. Then, off he wandered up the hill out of Wendover, clutching his magician-like sturdy blackthorn walking stick, an old canvas sack that had seen better days loosely hanging on his back, fervently chatting away to all and sundry about his successful sock vending. A very happy soul.
Steve M. had done a very good job of planning out each days walks and had organised each nights accommodation with details including addresses and where possible, phone numbers, all faithfully documented on several pieces of note-paper, duplicated and distributed between us in case one or more was lost or destroyed by the elements. The accommodation was a mixture of bed and breakfast and camp sites and ending with sleeping under the stars at Avebury Stone Circle on the eve of the solstice. On this day our accommodation was to be B&B at a pub called the Swan in a village by the name of Great Kimble. We had one copy of the official Ridgeway guidebook between us and this had the relevant OS maps as well as details of the route along the Ridgeway. However, as the Ridgeway follows the ridge along the hills, the only accommodation on route is to come down from the hills to the towns and villages on the lower ground. On this day we had stumbled down a long stony track which was part of the Aylesbury Ring footpath that led onto a main road. Looking ahead there was a large church on the left, past which there was a lane with a pub opposite, and this was clearly marked on the edge of the OS map in the guide. We had assumed that this would be our destination, but unfortunately the pub was named the Bernard Arms and not The Swan.
This was a time to unload, take a breather and figure out what to do next. We settled down in the churchyard of St Nicholas, a 12th century towered church which provided some interest before we set about the task in hand, to locate our accommodation. The map in the guide did not depict the area beyond this main road, therefore we had no map details to guide us to our accommodation, wherever it may be located. There appeared to be no other housing on the main road so our guess was to head down the lane by the side of the church, aptly named Church Lane. Gathering our gear back together we aimlessly set off. The lane did look promising, lined with old stone houses and clearly a feeling that we were entering a village. But, there was no sign of a pub. The houses soon came to an end and the lane headed back out into tree lined leafy countryside. This was, at the very least, disheartening, with the depressing thought of wandering additional miles without any clear direction in search of a pub. I can vouch for the others that ones feet were throbbing from the 17 miles of carting rucksacks and the thought of setting down for the day was more than eagerly awaited.
As luck would have it I happened to spy an old lady tending to the garden of the last house along the lane. I stopped and called her over. She wandered up to the garden wall and after some polite conversation I requested the whereabouts of 'The Swan' pub. It was a relief to hear her state that we were heading in the right direction, "keep along the lane, over the railway and its opposite the road that it junctions with". Although the end was now 'in sight, nonetheless, the distance from where we had thought our days walking was at and end to the Swan was at least another mile and having to traipse this additional distance resulted in some flagging spirits and irritable conversation. The lesson was learnt. Always make sure one has adequate OS maps and directions. It may seem common sense but these little things do not always seem obvious until one actually sets out on a walk in unknown territory.
Ghostly goings on at The Swan
The flagging spirits could well be responsible for a couple of the lads doubting whether they could complete the weeks feat. They were suffering from weary legs and aching feet and after getting to our rooms and showering, they had a quick meal in the bar then retired to bed early. Me and Steve M. stayed in the bar for a few drinks and got chatting with the locals sat around the bar who were particularly interested in our walk. We, in turn were treated to the colourful stories of the pub ghost who had been witnessed by locals and staff alike. This spectral lady would move things about, lock doors and generally do what ghostly entities do best including startling visiting guests such as ourselves. They teased us with the tales of the many times the ghostly form had been encountered by visitors on the corridor leading to the guest rooms. One particular story detailed a woman who went up to her room and saw what she thought was another guest at the end of the corridor until this form vanished into thin air. There were numerous other stories, many just of guests feeling a presence and one guest who claimed to have not slept a wink because she insisted that there was someone in her room.
There was no explanation as to who the ghost was, only speculation that maybe she had been a former landlady or a maid but there was nothing conclusive. These stories could have been just local tales bent on getting us to hide beneath the bed sheets during the night, but they were all very convincing and every Englishman knows that most pubs do have a resident ghost. Its always fascinating to listen to such stories and in the welcome softly lighted bar one could almost wish for an unearthly experience though I know in the dark dead of night such an encounter would not be so welcome.
The Day Prime Minister John Major came to the Village
With the ghost stories exhausted, the locals turned to the next subject which they must have told to all and sundry who happened to pass through their hostelry. This was a true story which they revelled in relating to us. It was the day when the then British prime minister John Major and Russian President Boris Yeltsin came to the village. The two world leaders had been involved in lengthy international debate at Chequers and had gone out for a walk and a breath of fresh air. They had been walking for some hours when they unexpectedly arrived in the village and were in need of refreshment, so naturally they made their way to the nearest pub. This wasn't the Swan which we were sat in but the Bernard Arms which we had passed on our way through the village. Unfortunately, being mid afternoon, the Bernard Arms was closed and the door was firmly bolted and the lights all turned off in the bar. The two dignitaries were escorted by a number of interpreters who also acted as their personal security, and it wasn't long before one of these burly, yet well dressed anonymous individuals was firmly banging his fist on the aged oak door to the pub. Hearing the commotion the landlord promptly opened an upstairs window, leaned out, and clearly stated in a somewhat annoyed voice 'We are closed'. The gentleman who had issued the wrap on the door, paced back to get a clear view of the person leaning from the window and spoke up in a clear and authoritative voice 'I have the Prime Minister John Major and Russian President Boris Yeltsin with me and they wish to have a drink'. The landlord wasn't one to be fooled around by jokers, especially when he was busy attending to his own business and instantly retorted back 'Sure, and I am the pope' to which he slammed the window shut and disappeared from view. Anyway, with persistent rapping on the door and eventual consultation and discussion, the landlord realised his error and allowed the influential guests a drink out of hours. Then, as a final proof that the tale really was true they eagerly pointed to a framed photo proudly displayed on the pub wall. This colour photograph, obviously taken in front of the Bernard Arms had John Major and Boris Yeltsin along with their respective wives standing in front of the pub, relaxed and smiling. How could we doubt their words now. Though, there was the distinct absence of the pope!
All in all, it had been a good day. It had its trials and tribulations but a few beers and an evening of stories and conversation was all it took to forget the aches and pains. We eventually retired to bed happy and content and slept very solidly indeed. And no, ... none of us were disturbed by the ghostly lady during the night.
The Ridgeway is a National Trail and is well signed with the distinctive acorn waymarkers.
Ivinghoe Beacon is situated just up the hill from the road that goes past it. This is the meeting point of The Icknield Way and The Ridgeway. The two paths run parallel down the hill and then go their respective ways, the Icknield way off to the north east and the Ridgeway to the south west. The route is well marked out with the usual National Trail waymarkers and passes through some spectacular scenes as it meanders through the Chiltern Hills, keeping to the ridge which traditionally would be the stony well drained ground two thirds up the hillsides.
The path descends down to Tring, passing the railway station, before climbing back up the hills to Wigginton. There are several occasions on the route where there are markers for the Icknield Way. This is part of the Greater Icknield Way that once made up a complete path from the Wash to the south coast in Dorset.
The route continues through the hamlet of Hastoe then along the steep wooded hillside of Pavis Wood and Northill wood, then continues through Hengrove Wood, Hale Wood, Barn Wood before descending down to the town of Wendover. Head out of the west side of town and up Bacombe hill and onto Coombe Hill where the Monument is a distinctive landmark. The path follow the line along the hill then descends to cross the main drive up to Chequers and then follows the lane around the perimeter of the grounds, alongside Maple wood. The path then heads back up the hills to Chequers Knap where there is a track that leads down to the village of Kimble and is waymarked as part of the Aylesbury Ring footpath.
The Red Lion Hotel, Wendover View in OS Map | View in Google Map
- The Red Lion Hotel, Wendover
A traditional 16th Century coaching inn on the High Street in Wendover, now part of the Fullers Inns estate. It is rumoured that Oliver Cromwell once stayed overnight at the inn and addressed his troops from one of the upstairs windows! Varied pub menu and a range of Fullers real ales and wines. Accommodation available.
A soothing and refreshing pint of Fullers London Pride after a hard mornings walking. I was quite surprised that Fullers had pubs this far out of London. Nonetheless, Pride has always been a great pint of beer and this was a fine example.
The Swan Inn, Great Kimble View in OS Map | View in Google Map
- The Swan Inn, Great Kimble
This brick built, whitewashed building probably dates from the late 19th century. It is a friendly locals pub that offers accommodation and the usual pub grub. They offer regular guest ales including Adnams and Fullers beers.
Absolutely loved the friendly company of the locals in this pub. We were made to feel welcome from the minute we stepped across the threshold. Fullers ale was a great therapy for the aches and pains gained during the day.
Coombe Hill MonumentView in OS Map | View in Google Map
On top of Coombe Hill, 843ft above sea level is an impressive monument to the Boer War. This was erected in 1904 and was one of the first and largest examples of a war memorial in honor of the names of individual men of who fell whilst fighting for their country. 148 men from Buckinghamshire who died during the Second Boer War are listed on the monument.
In 1938 the Monument was almost totally destroyed by lightning but was rebuilt in the same year. The original bronze plaque and decorations were stolen in 1972 and replaced with a stone plaque and iron flag. The new stone plaque was also inscribed with the additional names of nine men believed to have been missing on the original. The monument was again badly damaged by a lightning strike in the early 1990s and spent several months in repair. It is now equipped with conductors to prevent the mishap happening again.
ChequersView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Although the present building dates from the 16th century it is thought that a previous house on this site dated from the 12th century when it was owned by Elias Ostiarius. The name "Ostiarius" meant an usher of the Court of the Exchequer and the family coat of arms included the chequer board of the Exchequer from where it is thought the building obtained its name.
The present mansion was constructed by William Hawtrey in 1565. During his tenure of the property Lady Mary Grey was kept as prisoner to prevent her challenge to the throne as happened with her sister Lady Jane Grey. The house had connections with Oliver Cromwell and still retains a collection of Cromwell memorabilia.
During World War I the house became a hospital and then a convalescent home for officers. Following the end of hostilities and the reinstatement of Chequers as a home it was given to the nation as a country retreat for the serving Prime Minister as enshrined by the Chequers Estate Act 1917.
Below is the route depicted on the OpenStreetMap, Ordnance Survey Map and Google Map. Links to full page versions are found in the Essential Information
Summary of Document Changes
Last Updated: ... 2017-02-05