diamond geezer

 Thursday, October 30, 2014

Around the end of October, many of Britain's outdoor tourist attractions grind to a halt. Half term week allows one last hurrah, but then dark afternoons and worsening weather make staying open increasingly pointless and it's time to shut up shop until Easter. Today I'm going to tell you about one such attraction, the Chiltern Open Air Museum, almost entirely pointlessly because it closes for the season tomorrow. But a walk in the Buckinghamshire countryside is always to be recommended at this time of year, the beech leaves scrunching underfoot, even if the museum stop-off is imminently out of bounds until spring.

Chiltern Open Air Museum
Newland Park, Chalfont St Giles
Buckinghamshire, HP8 4AB
Open 10.00am – 5.00pm (Easter-October)
Admission: £9.50 [website]


An open air museum, it turns out, is mostly a museum of buildings. In this case that's rural buildings threatened with demolition, from anywhere across the Chilterns, carefully dismantled in their place of origin and rebuilt here. The Chiltern Open Air Museum opened in 1976 thanks to a small but dedicated group of volunteers, and has been growing in size and stature ever since. Currently there are more than 30 historic buildings on site, if we're allowed to call barns, cottages and granaries historic, which by the very philosophy of the museum we are. Please remember to wash your hands after touching the fences.

The museum's set in 45 acres of forested farmland on the Bucks/Herts border, tucked in around the perimeter of Newland Park, a university campus. "It'll take you two hours to go round," said the lady on the front desk, and if I'd stopped off in the tea room like she wanted then she'd have been about right. I got the idea of what was on offer almost immediately from the Caversham Public Conveniences outside, a splendid and symmetrical Edwardian structure, inside which are (functioning) gents urinals and a supply of carbolic soap. Please remember to wash your hands before proceeding around the site.



Every building on site is named after the place from which it was rescued. Hence first up is the Northolt Barn, and later the High Wycombe Tollhouse, the Preston Bisset Privy and the Leavesden Apple Store. I was particularly taken by the Amersham Prefab, probably the museum's most modern building, decked out in Fifties style and with mood music playing from the wireless. Enthralled also by the Garston Forge, in which some actual blacksmithery was being demonstrated, and by the Leagrave Cottages, condemned as unfit for human habitation in the 1980s. Please remember to wash your hands before using the picnic benches.

The collection is concentrated in three distinct clusters - a village, a farm and a sort of almost urban bit. The farm's a traditional one, with muddy yard and wooden buildings arranged higgledy piggledy all around. I was particularly taken by the 60 foot cherry ladder suspended across the barn roof, just like they used to use in the village where I grew up. The museum also boasts fields of cows and horses and sheep, which is a winning extra if you've brought children along. Where else can the younger generation experience how agriculture used to be except by wandering around places like this? Please remember to wash your hands after touching the animals.

Leafy trails lead off into the surrounding woodland, one of which leads to an Iron Age House. This flint-floored, thatch-roofed structure isn't a Chiltern original, it was built in the 1990s, and would look wonderfully authentic were it not for the electricity pylon rising immediately behind. Meanwhile down the far end of the site is a former furniture factory, now half Chesham Woodware exhibition (where I was) and half tearoom (where all the other visitors were). It'll all look lovely at Easter. And there are notices everywhere, so you won't forget to wash your hands before leaving.

How to get there: This being the middle of the Buckinghamshire countryside, the museum's website strongly suggests you drive. The nearest bus, they say, stops half an hour's walk away, which you suspect they've mentioned to ensure you don't risk it. And should you arrive at one of the two closest stations, that's Chalfont and Latimer or Chorleywood, they then recommend hailing a taxi. Well that was all like bait to me, so I took the train and walked.



From Chorleywood, just under an hour. You leave the station and head up the hill, up Shire Lane, and simply keep going. On the way you pass The Orchard, the Voysey house that John Betjeman so enthuses over in Metroland, although I've twice failed to spot it, I can't have been looking carefully enough. As the ultimate uber-commuter homes fade out, the road slims to a narrow muddy track edging relentlessly downhill. As the streetname suggests Shire Lane marks the precise border between Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire, with a large tract of ancient woodland all down the latter, should you be tempted to branch off. Annoyingly onward passage is then blocked by the museum's backside, and a big fence, requiring a 1km diversion to reach the main entrance where they'll finally let you in.

Or from Chalfont and Latimer, nearer two hours. I followed a private road past where pharmaceutical company Amersham International's HQ used to be, then a splendid mile of beechy woodland-edge round the top of the local golf course. From here I followed the River Misbourne down to Chalfont St Giles, a delightful (and highly aspirational) village, most famous for Milton's Cottage. Here the famous author John Milton came to escape the plague and to complete Paradise Lost, and his Tudor home is now a museum (but only open on Tuesdays, and only until the end of October, so that's just shut for the winter too). A final climb out of the village follows the Chiltern Way, and fields through which an HS2 tunnel shaft will eventually emerge, with the high speed line buried below safely out of sight of potentially angry constituents. I'm glad I walked.


<< 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
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    twitter    G+

my flickr photostream