diamond geezer

 Sunday, May 28, 2023

The Chess Valley Walk is a fabulous 10 mile hike following a chalk stream through the lower ripples of the Chilterns.

It links Rickmansworth and Chesham so is easily accessible from London. It's well signposted throughout. It toys with the backside of Metroland but spends most of its time amid fields and meadows with one stunning panoramic ascent. It can get muddy but that's not a problem right now, plus the wildflowers are at their best as spring turns to summer. I first walked it in 2013 so that's where you'll find my proper bloggage, and then again in 2018 and 2023 so I guess it's become a periodic treat. I also had a particularly good reason to go back this year - thanks for asking Amanda - but we'll get to that when my reportage reaches the Herts/Bucks border.

Mile 1
Potential ramblers taking a photo of the CVW map on the wall outside Rickmansworth tube station, Coventry supporter with sky blue beard exiting the multi-storey and heading for Wembley, thank you for shopping at Waitrose, cyclist doing leg stretches in the park, cricket practice in the nets beyond the outfield, sparrow dangling a worm from its beak, Visitors 142 for 8, dogwalker dangling a green bag of terrier poo, chalk stream meandering lazily beside a grassy path, bright yellow water irises, occasional damselflies, notionally clear water, possibly as good as the Chess's chalk stream experience gets.

Mile 2
The rippling shallows where I used to come tiddler-fishing as a child, spotty dalmatian splashing in the stream by the wooden footbridge, little egret taking off, beardy father with pushchair discussing football with his neckbraced dad, wire fence because most of the upcoming stream is private, heron flapping low across a nettly meadow and landing in a tree by the bee hives, Glen Chess, Loudwater Lane, the upmarketest estate in Metroland, Timberdene Private Property, long narrow path between enormous detached back gardens, young couple with stray blossom in their hair.

Mile 3
Troutstream Way, houses with names instead of numbers, sculpted giraffe peering over the back fence beside some child's mega-treehouse, buttercuppy paddocks, masked horse wearing zebra print with only its legs and tail showing, tennis balls on the posts of an electric fence, small blue butterfly, fingerpost, long tedious passageway along the side of a motorway embankment, 'get in lane' sign for M25 J18, the Tropical Marine Centre (formerly Solesbridge Mill Water Gardens), bridge across eight-lane orbital, traction engine on a trailer, we haven't seen the river for a very long time.

Mile 4
Chorleywood House Estate Local Nature Reserve, you are now entering the Chilterns AONB, lively meadow, reappearance of the dogwalkers, stately pines, the whiff of freshly-applied suncream, reappearance of the Chess - broad and languid and pebble-bottomed, large dog launching repeatedly into the shallows to retrieve a thick stick, wooden footbridge (the sole crossing of the Chess before mile nine), low boardwalk, sudden gasp of contoured countryside, rising field with yellow flowers at the bottom and white flowers at the top, break here for Sarratt's Cock Inn.

Mile 5
The meadow with the cattle in, 9th century lynchets, baby in sling on its first Chess Valley Walk, dead end lane populated by a handful of intermittent cottages, first dalliance with the Buckinghamshire border, narrow slab bridge across the stream, Campbell's Meadow (private, locked), a spider scuttling across the lane from one hedgerow to the other, display of wisteria, roadsign for Sarratt Bottom, finally we turn west, Valley Farm, sometimes-marshy field, first sighting of a red kite, lone alpaca, horses hiding in the shade, watercress delivery van, ford, oh hang on...

Last September Amanda got in touch because she was compiling new information boards for the Chess Valley Walk and needed historical images and wildlife photos. And I had a photo on Flickr she wanted to use because when I walked past ten years ago the last surviving watercress beds on the Chess were still operational, indeed I could have bought a bag of leaves for £1.50. Alas "an issue with the river" has since halted production and Crestyl is now a gated private home where the only nod to the past is the information board outside. And yay, just as Amanda promised there's my image bottom left alongside the Did you know? box, along with a credit to @diamondgeezer/Flickr, keeping the flame of Hertfordshire heritage alive.

Mile 6
Field scattered with round black-plastic-covered bales, Frogmore Meadows (a rare lowland meadow), projecting wooden viewpoint, little box with a ready supply of CVW leaflets, brief spell of woodland, shrivelled bluebells, emerging into Buckinghamshire, opened-out valley bottom, pause to slap on more Factor 50, parallel-channelled 19th century water meadows, Range Rover emerging from prime residential barn, break here for Chenies, waterside path alongside Dodd's Mill relief channel, little egret and red kite, The Couple I Appear To Be Walking At The Same Speed As, Liberty's tomb, vibrant colourful meadows, well this is just lovely.

Mile 7
Dogs Seen Worrying Livestock Are Likely To Be Shot, Flaunden Bottom, break here for Chalfont, break here for Latimer, cluster of footpath discs, slow steady climb, skirting the Latimer Estate, luxury hotel in former mansion with thin brick chimneys and dormitory outbuildings, students photographing hawthorn blossom and themselves, fabulous view across the valley, a rich Georgian lady dammed and landscaped the Chess to create a long water here, that lake looks unnaturally blue, orange tip butterfly, a single poppy growing amid the long grass and dandelions, did I mention how excellent the view is?

Mile 8
Cyclist taking a rest on a bench with a book, path skirting between the top of a field and the edge of thick woods, group of Ricky-bound ramblers unsure whether to fork left or right, final panoramic wow, empty bench for a glug of water, steepest bit of the walk (thankfully down), brief glimpse of river, sighting of tube train climbing the far side of the valley, I remember this bit being seriously muddy but it's bone dry today, rectangular black-plastic-covered bales, waiting for tractor boy and tractor girl to drive past, lane, cluster of cottages, intrusive path through back garden.

Mile 9
Horse chestnut with candles, electrified paddocks, the last field before the far edge of Chesham, a final grassy slope, jolted awake by traffic, Chesham Sewage Works (sometimes leaky), awkwardly pavementless lane, strand of chalkstream beside road, Watercress Cottage, shady backways, gushing outlet, forklift crossing point, borders of nettles and dock, another Ford (but this one sells cars), vandalproof green metal benches, rope swing above the weir at Cannon Mill being used by excitable group of young adventurers, thick trailing roots, child in yellow wellies with actual tiddler-dipping net.

Mile 10
Path between watery braids, the Mayor's memorial bench, toddler on a trail looking for laminated birds, the beer garden at the back of The Pheasant, River Chess Discovery Day at Chesham Moor, a crowd of kids river-dipping, stalls for Chiltern Rangers and Chiltern Streams, blown-up photos from Matt Writtle's photo project, flinty church, railway bridge, two ducks on a wall, shallow crystal waters, dash across the busy Amersham Road, last glorious burst of marshy irises, Bow Cottage at Town Bridge, clocktower, Chesham High Street (Mad Squirrel, Pearce's, Darvell's, Cox The Saddler, Gerry Martins), direct train to Aldgate.

I'll be back in 2028, and here's that leaflet if you want to walk it sooner.

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