The Queen’s official birthday is celebrated by trooping the colour and a flypast by the RAF in central London. If the idea of the tourists crowds don’t appeal, it’s happily possible to watch the flypast from the comfort and attractive surrounds of Buckinghamshire.
RAF Halton holds a Charity Flying Weekend each year to coincide with the trooping the colour flypast, and welcomes visitors to what is normally a military aerodrome.
The 2011 event was held in conjunction with the Chilterns MS Centre, who held their Summer Fete, and the Berkhamsted-based De Havilland Moth Club, who had arranged various flying displays.
We arrived shortly after midday, so in good time for the flypast at around 1pm. We were struck by just how popular it was, given that we’d only heard about it through having come across photos of the previous year’s events and looked up the 2011 dates. The parking area was filling up quickly with hundreds of cars, although still had room enough for us.
We had no idea what to expect, however there was a good selection of stalls – many in military green tents that were rather in keeping with the event. Arts and crafts, traditional fete games (Tara won a coconut from the coconut shy), and the usual food and drink were all there, so everything you’d need. Many visitors had also come well prepared though with some impressive picnics, table and chairs in evidence. Well prepared to enjoy the day.
Turning towards the aircraft, the inter-war De Havilland Moths were much in evidence, with much to-ing and fro-ing. A nice selection of WWII aircraft were also on the ground. The main event was the flypast – which included most but not all of the formations seen flying down the Mall a few minutes earlier. While the Red Arrows went elsewhere, we saw the fast jets, transporters, hawker jets and the always superb Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, which gave us three fabulous passes.
A week’s holiday over Easter combined with some fabulous summer-like weather was all the encouragment we needed to go on some fine day trips into the Chilterns. We made some excellent discoveries along the way – here are a few highlights:
The Swan in Amersham
We’ve tried a few of the dining options in Old Amersham over the past year or two. We were bowled over by the standard of cuisine in the Artichoke restaurant and have some good experiences in some of the pubs and the deli. This was the turn of another pub, the Swan, located further away from most of the shops and eateries, down the western end of the high street. Continue reading →
The South Oxfordshire market town of Wallingford was the destination of one of our February half-term days trips. Visually appealing, set by the river Thames, the town oozes history, from iron age earthworks to castle ruins and the huge number of attractive historic buildings. The style of the town immediately reminded us of Thame, a larger Oxfordshire market town located 16 miles away, which we visited in 2010. Both feature a distinctive market place with a town hall at its centre, and flanked by the main shopping streets.
We arrived in Wallingford late in the day, too late to visit sights such as the castle gardens that close at 3pm, although we glimpsed some of the castle ruins from the Thames path. The riverside area is quiet and largely undeveloped, unlike in larger towns, and following the path takes you quickly into countryside. The Thames Path also offers fine views of the Wallingford’s bridge. A stroll over the bridge itself gives some idea of the size of the Thames at this point, which while much narrower than in London, remains impressive. Continue reading →
Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Oxfordshire were the destinations of a series of day-trips during half-term.
Pitstone, Ivinghoe and Tring
Back in February we visited the pleasant town of Berkhamsted. On Bank Holiday morning we pushed a little further north to the area around Tring, as two museums were open. The Pitstone Farm Museum (situated in the village of the same name) and the Ford End Watermill in Ivinghoe are unusual in only being open on a handful of days a year. The reason being is that both are volunteer-run and require a good number of volunteers in place to operate.
The Pitstone Farm Museum is a real medley of attractions. At its heart is a preserved farm, however farm buildings have been turned into historic shops including a fascinating Smithy. There are also tractor rides, preserved vehicles, model railway and canal, crafts and stalls, and a brilliantly reconstruction of a Lancaster Bomber cockpit, to name but a few. There’s also a pleasant cafe selling home-made food at down to Earth prices.
Neighbouring Pistone is the attractive village of Ivinghoe, probably best known for the nearby Ivinghoe Beacon, one of the highest points in the Chiltern Hills. Also open for the Bank Holiday was the Water End Mill. This watermill is hundreds of years old and sells itself as being one of the only functioning watermills still to use its original machinery. There are friendly volunteers on hand to answer questions and activities for children to play with. The highlight undoubtedly was seeing the mill in full action, rattling away and actually grinding to make flour, which is for sale.
Continuing our exploration of the local towns and villages we today headed out for a short visit to Berkhamsted. Conveniently located around a half-hour’s drive away on the A41, I noticed good write-ups of the town while browsing reviews of areas on theChannel 4′s Relocation Relocation mapof the best and worst places to live in the country. Berkhamsted repeatedly appeared in comments of Dacorum district as a bustling market town with an art deco cinema and as with Rickmansworth is located by the Grand Union canal.
In comparison to towns I’m familiar with, Berkhamsted reminded me a good deal of Kendal, from my own neck of the woods in South Lakeland. Both are historic market towns, abuzz on market day and full of family owned and boutique shops, with a ruined castle on the outskirts. It’s seems relatively uncommon to find a town these days that doesn’t have an homogenous high street of the same chain shops. Smaller towns can escape this curse. Rickmansworth does to a good extent and although only marginally larger in size, Berkhamsted has a far larger high street but retains a commendable proportion of independent shops.
A particular highlight for me was Berkhamsted’s art deco cinema, the Rex. The exterior is rather low-key; the majority of it advertising the Gatsby restaurant. The side of the building provides a discrete entrance to the cinema, and inside a stylish bar and box office awaits. Interestingly, the evening showings at the cinema appeared to largely booked up for some weeks in advance; a good sign of local support of their local independent cinema.
This weekend’s foray into the surrounding area was to High Wycombe, which along with Watford are the largest towns hereabouts. As with Watford our motivation for visiting High Wycombe was the shopping.
Getting to High Wycombe from Rickmansworth is straight-forward by a number of routes. We opted for what Google Maps promised was the fastest – if not the shortest – route, via Uxbridge Road, the M25 and the M40; an estimated 30 min journey. Alternatively, going via the A404 is around 5 miles shorter, if estimated to take a few minutes longer. However given the current 50 mph restriction on much of the M25 south of Ricky I suspect it’d be a much finer run thing.
The M40 is a none-too-busy and partially 4-lane affair with no complications. The only areas of trouble were the huge and complex roundabout from junction 4 of the M40 heading into Wycombe and the usual navigation around the town. It seems to be that towns of the size of Watford and Wycombe demand complicated and ill-sign-posted routes. Nevertheless the sat-nav saw us alright. Junction 4 could also be avoided by heading East out of Wycombe to junction 3.
Wycombe’s answer to the Harlequin is Eden, and it’s not a bad shopping centre. It’s not as enclosed as the Harlequin – much of it is under cover but still outside, meaning at this time of year you can stay dry but cold. It has large House of Fraser and M&S Stores, although I’m told the fine – and from this winter now famous John Lewis store – is location in an out-of-town location, to the West of the centre. Eden did provide all the shops we’d hoped for, though, and we returned home absolutely laden down with shopping – all of it clothing. Continue reading →