Walking in the Chilterns combines two of my loves: great countryside and indulging in the tranquility of nature. Actually I should include a third: photography, as if I’m going somewhere scenic, my camera will likely as not be coming along to capture the places, and perhaps something of the moment.
I’ve spent many days off and weekends in search of some of the best of the area’s landscapes. There are some real corkers too, such as the panoramas from atop Coombe Hill, Ivinghoe Beacon, and Whiteleaf Hill – all of which I’d be a very long time getting bored of, especially when they can be transformed entirely depending on the time of day, weather or season.
Enabling all this good walking in the Chilterns is an extensive network of footpaths, ranging from national tracks to the smallest of snickets. However all these options can make for a bewildering choice when it comes to planning a walk, as the bigger routes by no means have a monopoly on the best walking.
As I can only occasionally set aside a day for walking, I find it worthwhile to put some time into planning, to help ensure there are some good highlights on the routes I take. Happily, there’s a good range of both online and offline resources that make this easier than ever.
The most traditional of walking companions, the Ordnance Survey’s maps remain an essential tool in planning and following routes. Nothing quite compares to its accuracy and comprehensive coverage of paths and landscape around. Designed for recreational users of landscape, the maps detail the lie of the land and the points of interest upon them.
I use Chiltern Hills East from the OS Explorer series, which covers the area from Amersham in the North, Wycombe in the West, Slough in the South and Northwood to the East and Chiltern Hills North, which covers beyond Cheddington in the North, Haddenham in the West, Chesham in the South and beyond Berkhamsted in the East. Of course there are maps for other areas too, depending on your areas of choice.
Maps available online are opening a whole new view of the world we’ve never before had access to. Satellite, spotter plane and even street views are now freely available to explorer landscapes and routes. The best for walk and cycle route-planning are the open source Open Street Map and Open Cycle Map. I find the more well known Google Street View to be useful for checking out specific areas of a route, such as gauging whether there’s suitable pavements and crossing points on roads.
Online walking blogs
There are different opinions on what makes a good walk, however checking out walking blogs can be a great way to get a feel for a walk and some of the scenery along the way. Blogs can flag up a highlight of a walk that you may miss, or a tricky bit of navigation that’s required, or can forewarn of any dull routes that aren’t worth the effort.
One of my favourite walking blogs is Pete’s Walks, due to the sheer number of walks around the Chilterns he’s done, but also due to good descriptions, maps and photos, which accompany each walk.
Walking route leaflets
There are no shortage of walking routes that councils, walking groups or other organisations have created. Although these won’t generally indicate how interesting a walk in, they’ll generally provide decent instructions about navigating the routes. While traditionally you’d have to have bought these details in either a book form or leaflets more locally, many walks are now made available free-of-charge online.
Some free walking routes are also available from local tourist information offices. The Wendover TIC is particular good, offering lots of free walking and cycling leaflets in addition to the option of buying more substantial books.
When setting out on walks, there are now a range of mobile phone apps that can nicely complement or possibly even replace taking a physical map on a walk (although I’d always recommend both). Mobile apps use your phone’s GPS to show where you are in relation to pathways. I use the Trails app for iPhone, which uses both the excellent Open Street Map and Open Cycle Map mapping data, which includes a great many walks. I find this particularly invaluable when faced with diverging paths, where the GPS can show which may you should be facing to take the path you want. The app also keeps a tally on the distance walked and the altitude profile of the walk. Many other apps are also available.
Don’t just stand there…
Using some or all of the above should help to ensure many good walks in and around our fantastic area. Do let me know if you recommend any other walking resources or apps out there.
You can also browse photos of some the walks I’ve taken, on Flickr