Finding the best views in Herts

PUBLISHED: 16:26 13 November 2013 | UPDATED: 16:27 13 November 2013

the wooded Chilterns scarp with bank of willowherb

the wooded Chilterns scarp with bank of willowherb


Elizabeth Hamilton, Campaign to Protect Rural England Herts chairman, takes us on a hike to reach some of the best views in the county

Head south up Hastoe Hill into the Chiltern hills near Tring in the west of the county and a few hundred metres past the little hamlet of Hastoe you reach the highest place in Hertfordshire.

To get to the exact spot, walk to where Shire Lane turns south, just by the entrance to Pavis Wood, and you will find yourself 244 metres above sea level – a fact marked on the Ordnance Survey map (grid ref SP914091) but not on the ground. Here on the boundary with Buckinghamshire, there is nothing more to see than a country lane bordered by field hedges and woodland. So, head for a better vista – take the track to the right and, after a short distance, turn right again and climb the steps by a public footpath sign and out into an open field.

Immediately the world changes – you are on the edge, not just of the county but of the Chilterns, looking out over the steep scarp across to the flat countryside of the Vale of Aylesbury. The steeply sloping woods are worth exploring further along the network of paths, but be prepared for a stiff climb back up the hill if you venture down towards the lower ground. The woods have tall beech trees, grown to supply the furniture industry in High Wycombe, together with a mixture of other trees and shrubs typically found in Chilterns woods, such as ash, oak, wild cherry, field maple and hazel.

All along the edge of the Chilterns, long thin parishes ran from the flat clay of the vale up the scarp to the hilltop pastures and for centuries villagers from settlements on the lower ground herded livestock along tracks crossing the scarp, gradually deepening these routes into distinctive hollow ways.

Go out into the vale and the wooded scarp dominates the skyline. Beyond Tring to the north east, the steep wooded slopes of Ashridge eventually give way to open downland and the distinctive outline of Ivinghoe Beacon. In high summer, the road verges turn purple with huge banks of rosebay willowherb and here and there knapweed heads, often occupied by bees drowsy with nectar.

Extending to the north west is a curious tongue of Hertfordshire known as the Tring Salient or ‘Herts in Bucks’ – a low-lying clay land crossed by a branch of the Grand Union Canal running to Aylesbury between the villages of Wilstone and Long Marston.

The area is a stronghold for one of Britain’s most endangered trees, the native black poplar, which likes damp ground and can grow to 100 feet or more. Around 1,200 of the estimated 7,000 trees of this species in England and Wales grow in the three Hertfordshire villages of Wilstone, Long Marston and Puttenham.

Here too are the Tring reservoirs, built to supply water to the Grand Union Canal where it crosses the Chilterns. The first reservoir, a smaller version of the present one at Wilstone, was completed in 1802, and three others were added in the early years of the 19th century as demand for water grew. Over the years they have developed into valuable wildlife sites, especially for birds. Wilstone Reservoir is a Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust reserve, and around all four reservoirs and the canal there are numerous opportunities for walks.

A favourite walk of mine starts at the car park for Wilstone Reservoir, just to the south of Wilstone. It takes in the hide on the south west bank, then climbs the short distance to the Wendover Arm of the canal (undergoing restoration) before completing a circuit of the reservoir.

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