diamond geezer

 Thursday, June 06, 2013

METROPOLITAN: The Chess Valley Walk

Back in the 1930s London Underground published a booklet entitled 'Chiltern Strolls and Rambles'. It was full of walks to be taken at the far end of the Metropolitan line, ideal for boosting Londoners' fitness and for filling off-peak trains. The cover price was threepence, although to source a copy on eBay today will cost you rather more. I don't know whether the Chess Valley Walk appeared, but it jolly well should have done. Yesterday I started at Chesham, and today I'm walking on from Latimer to Rickmansworth. [map] [leaflet]

After the delights of the hillside walk below Latimer, the path heads back down to valley level. I say path, but the going gets a little harder beyond the scary sign. "Dogs seen worrying livestock are likely to be shot without warning" screams the local farmer in big red letters on the fence. You can tell he hates having to open up his land to public access because the gate into the next field is firmly locked while the stile alongside leads walkers directly into a quagmire. If it's like this in early summer, best come prepared with resilient footwear after damp weather.

Somewhere off to the right of the track are the remains of Old Flaunden church, abandoned two centuries back when the entire village moved a mile up the hill to avoid flooding. I missed that. I also missed Chenies, the ridgetop village on the other side of the river, where the manor house and gardens look to be well worth a visit. In Frogmore Meadow I passed a group of very tired looking five year olds, and their parents who'd taken them out on a perhaps over-ambitious country trek. I'm not sure they made it as far as the bluebell wood, nor the nature reserve where the water vole allegedly still thrives. I stared awhile into the waterside undergrowth from the observation platform, but saw nothing small and furry.



The Chess Valley has long been famed for its watercress. I say this as a local lad, it's part of the mythology of the area, handed down to me from my grandparents. But this is the first time I've ever seen a watercress bed in the flesh, with long parallel flooded channels covered by a carpet of leaves. Even better they've got a tiny shop for the benefit of passing ramblers, where you can buy a bag of fresh watercress for £1.50 (or an ice cream, I bought a tub). I'd also never before been to Sarratt Bottom, despite it being part of the village nextdoor to where I grew up, although many's the time I'd sniggered at its name. It turns out almost nobody lives here, apart from a scattering of wisteria covered cottages at the foot of a lonely lane.

There is a reason why this isn't called the River Chess Walk, and that's because sightings of the river can be few and far between. The valley floor is fairly flat, so the meandering river is easily screened by a wood, a fence or even a hedge. You take your opportunities when you can, for example where a teensy-narrow footbridge carries a footpath from Church End across the water. The field ahead has very distinct terraces, called lynchets, believed to date back to the 9th century. These days the buttercup slopes are grazed by cattle and picnicking locals - I took a deep breath and walked straight past, and they chewed obliviously on.

Beyond Sarrattmill Bridge the path enters the Chorleywood House Estate. Its 160 acres of meadows and parkland were once the grounds of a Regency mansion, but were later sold off to the council when nobody wanted to buy it as a golf course. You don't see much of the estate on the walk through, unless you decide that this is the point to end the walk and head up the hill to Chorleywood station... but be warned that's well over a mile away. The river wiggles through woodland, past a dilapidated wheelhouse, before slinking in culvert beneath the M25. Meanwhile the Chess Valley Walk follows Solesbridge Lane over the top, then hairpins back along the foot of the motorway embankment along a very narrow passage. On and on it goes, with no means of stepping aside, so best pray it's not been raining.



Horses are the next wildlife on view, with the local stud most keen on shielding their prize mares' faces behind masks. And then we enter Loudwater, quite the poshest place to live, with secluded houses up private roads all around Troutstream Way. Secluded that is apart from those whose gardens back onto this public right of way, which is how I got to peer through the hedge at a family dining al fresco and scraping their plates clean under the gazebo. Tracking this gloomy alleyway always makes me feel like an unwanted interloper, and the occasional barking guard dog agrees.

It's a relief to emerge alongside the water meadow at Loudwater Farm, and even more of a relief when the river finally makes a reappearance after a couple of absent miles. We're in the lower reaches of the Chess now, in the valley below Croxley Green, which makes this the closest bit of river to where I grew up. Many's the time I've fished for tiddlers from the riverbank, or sat dangling my legs from the footbridge, or at least stood frozen in terror as some yappy dog ran shaking from the water. This is still a favoured spot for canine exercise, and easily the best place along the entire walk to get up close and personal with the natural river. Lucky me when I was young, I say.

The path bears off before the River Chess reaches its end. It's destined to run alongside the sports ground and past the restaurant in a former watermill, to enter the River Colne beyond the railway viaduct. Instead we're heading for Rickmansworth town centre, because that's where the station is, which means a diversion around the edge of the Royal Masonic School grounds. The last patch of green is the elevated plateau of Rickmansworth Park, which I've always found oddly artificial, before returning to civilisation with a bump beside a mega-Waitrose. Ten miles all told, from station to station, with the river probably visible for less than half that distance. But this has been the Chess Valley Walk, remember, and the valley is a proper unspoiled treat.

My Chess Valley Walk gallery
There are 25 photographs altogether. [slideshow]


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream