Visiting the extraordinary Chiltern Hills of England
We discovered the Chiltern Hills area when housesitting in Oxfordshire just by driving around the different counties. Gorgeous dappled lanes with thatched cottages, lazy rivers and tiny villages and hamlets dot the area. The rivers and a network of Canals lead to lazy afternoons spent in pubs by the water and being green with envy at those meandering the canals in narrowboats.
Nearly half of the Chiltern Hills are designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and if you are looking for an escape from London into an iconic English countryside you won’t do better than exploring the Chilterns and the Thames River Valley.
The Chiltern Hills are a range of chalk hills northwest of London, they cover over 660 square miles across Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire – that’s a lot of shires. Stretching from the Thames River where you can visit Ascot or Henley-on-Thames to Woburn Abbey and Hatfield House the Chilterns encompass some of the most beautiful landscapes in England.
In the beauty of the Chilterns & the Thames Valley, you can enjoy watching the Red Kites swirl above your head, and follow green mysterious trails to see deer, buzzards and butterflies and the Bluebell woods. Or follow in the footsteps of the literary giants that called the area home and inspired T.S.Elliot, Graham Greene and Roald Dahl.
- Visiting the extraordinary Chiltern Hills of England
- Things to do in the Chilterns
- Walking in the Chiltern hills
- Getting to the Chilterns
- Places to Stay in the Chiltern Hills
Things to do in the Chilterns
Market towns in England are small towns in a rural setting that was given a historic legal right to hold a weekly market. Each town has a distinct character particularly those along the Thames Valley as they offer lots of opportunities to get on the river and see the area from a different perspective.
What I love about these market towns is the distinct lack of chain shops, for the most part, antique stores to hunt for treasures and fabulous tea shops, cafes and restaurants. I must not forget the pubs either. These are just a few of my favourite market towns in the Chilterns and Thames Valley.
Map of the Chiltern Hills and area
Buckinghamshire places to visit
I don’t know who hasn’t seen Four Weddings and a Funeral but Amersham’s Crown Hotel was used for the scene where Carrie and Charles spend the night together in Room 101. Sadly they’ve redecorated and kept the four posters but the décor is now Scandy style.
Outside scenes in the film were shot at the King’s Arms Hotel which dates from the 1400s. The lovely High Street with its half-timbered houses, and cottages make this one of the most photographed Chiltern market towns.
Great Missenden was once the home to the famous author, Roald Dahl, and you will find the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre here. Dahl lived and worked in the village and is buried beside the 14th-century Church of St. Peter and Paul.
The lovely main street has some wonderful half-timbered and Georgian houses that are these days shops, pubs and cafes. Strolling the village leads you to Missenden Abbey where you can admire the stunning gardens.
Missenden Abbey has a history of over 800 years. It was founded in 1133 by a group of Augustinian Cannons from Arrouaise in Northern France. It was a favourite stop for King Henry III. Upon the Dissolution of the monasteries, the land was seized by the crown.
It was a family home for many years but was given to the council to act as a College. Following a major fire in 1985, the entire interior was gutted and faithfully restored to its earlier splendour and these days is a popular wedding venue. You can visit the Walled Garden which is operated by volunteers.
A 30-minute drive from Great Missenden will bring you to the Making of Harry Potter Experience. The Studio Tour offers visitors the unique opportunity to explore two soundstages and original sets, animatronic creatures and breathtaking special effects.
Wander through the tiny medieval West Wycombe village and discover a variety of historical buildings and quaint shops. Enjoy the varying architectural styles dating from the 16th century, surrounded by Chilterns countryside.
Once owned by the Dashwood family, the village was an important coaching stop on the main road between London and Oxford. At its peak, seven inns and alehouses thrived in the tiny village.
The Village was sold to the National Trust, which has cared for the village and acquired more of its unique buildings since then.
In the 1740’s Sir Francis Dashwood, the founder of the notorious Hellfire Club owned the village. He decided to add to his landscaped gardens an underground Hell Fire Caves. These are a series of tunnels 300 feet through which you walk a quarter of a mile through the great Banqueting Hall and past various chambers. In these, you will find scenes with various members of the Hellfire Club.
The final destination is the Inner Temple which is reached by crossing the River Styx. You are now three hundred feet below the Church on top of the hill.
The Hambleden Valley is quintessential England with idyllic villages, stunning Chilterns landscapes tiny villages with fabulous pubs.
Hambleden Valley links the River Thames at Mill End, close to the start of the Henley regatta course, with the Chilterns escarpment at Christmas Common and Ibstone. It includes the picturesque valley villages of Hambleden, Fingest, Skirmett and Turville.
You can explore the area with the Chilterns Country Thames and Chilterns walk from Henley, or during the summer you can take a boat down the Thames to Hambleden lock with Hobbs of Henley. There are gentle walks along the River Hamble or more challenging walks through the steep wooded hills.
For a circular walk try the Thames & Chilterns Walk which links Hambleden with the River Thames, or the Hambleden & Medmenham Walk, a 5-mile stile-free circular walk passing through beech woodlands and pretty villages.
Hambleden Village is in the heart of the Valley with its pretty flint cottages and a great pub called the Stag & Huntsman where you can stay and enjoy the area. The Village has hosted several film crews including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and 101 Dalmations along with the ever-popular British TV show Midsomer Murders.
St. Mary’s Church dates back to the 12th Century and has 8 bells, one of which is believed to have first been rung in 1415 around the time of the victory at Agincourt.
Located on the Thames River Marlow has always been known as a fashionable riverside resort and attracted many famous people to the area. Residents of the town have included Thomas Love Peacock, Jerome K. Jerome, T.S. Eliot and Mary Shelley who finished her gothic masterpiece Frankenstein while living in the town.
The Edwardians came here to enjoy the beauty of the River Thames against the backdrop of the Chiltern Hills. From Marlow, you can enjoy a great hike along the Thames Path National Trail and if you are not into that long a walk a visit to the town will bring you back in time where you can enjoy the Georgian buildings, a lovely picturesque lock and some absolutely brilliant restaurants and cafes.
Places to visit in Hertfordshire
Berkhamstead is a very upmarket market town with the Berkhamstead School that Graham Greene attended to the remains of a Norman motte and bailey castle.
Here you find plenty of very chic restaurants and cafes and art-deco theatre and you have to visit the Ashridge Estate and climb the Ivinghoe Beacon to get some stunning views of the countryside.
Ivinghoe Beacon Chiltern hills
Everyone knows how I love a market town and Hitchin is home to the largest open market in the Home Counties. The Town dates back over 1000 years and the town centre sits along the Hiz River. Filled with Tudor and Georgian buildings there are lots of cafes, restaurants and shops to enjoy.
Just outside Hitchin, you will find the Hitchin Lavender Fields with over 30 acres of lavender fields you can enjoy the Lavender Museum, have a snack in the Old Barn or take some lovely photos of the lavender and sunflower fields and the wildflower meadow.
Tring is a market town situated in a gap passing through the Chiltern Hills. Tring is linked to London by a Roman road and the Grand Union Canal. Settlements in Tring date back to prehistoric times and it was mentioned in the Domesday Book.
In Tring, you will find the Norman church of St Peter and St Paul’s, a building that was extended and rebuilt between the 13th and 15th centuries. Within the Church, visitors can view the parish records which include the Reverend Lawrence Washington who was the great-great-grandfather of George Washington.
In the late 19th century the Rothschild family arrived and purchased Tring Mansion. The first Baron Rothschild (Natty) made considerable alterations to the mansion, which was originally designed by Sir Christopher Wren around 1682.
The building was renovated into a French Renaissance-style building where the Rothschilds entertained the Prince of Wales and later King Edward VII, the Chamberlains, and Winston Churchill among many other famous visitors. Tring Park is now a school for the Performing Arts.
The Rothschilds deeply impacted the Village by providing housing, employment and much more. They rebuilt the old Rose and Crown Inn which they used to house guests and built the Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum.
The Natural History Museum within Tring Park holds Walter’s private collection of 2,000 mounted mammals and a similar number of mounted birds, two million butterflies and moths, 300,000 bird skins, 144 giant tortoises, and 200,000 bird eggs and 30,000 books.
Places to visit in Oxfordshire
Oxfordshire includes parts of three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. In the northwest lie the Cotswolds, to the south and southeast are the open chalk hills of the North Wessex Downs and the wooded hills of the Chilterns.
There’s a great variety of places to visit in Oxfordshire. The capital of the county is Oxford, famed for its dreaming spires, quintessential Cotswolds villages, and the Vale of the White Horse and the Thames that forms the historic boundary with Berkshire.
Goring & Streatley
These are two ancient riverside villages separated by a river and joined by a bridge. Since Victorian times, Goring & Streatley have always been a popular holiday destination with their feet in both The Chilterns and the North Wessex Downs two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
A beautiful place for those who want to explore the River Thames for boating, walking, cycling, running, playing golf, visiting country houses & gardens or simply enjoying the peace and quiet, then this is the place for you.
Two National Trails – The Ridgeway and the Thames Path intersect at Goring and Streatley, making the villages a popular starting point for walkers. You can also take an easy stroll along the river and the hills of the Goring Gap with stunning views across Berkshire and Oxfordshire.
We were housesitting in Berkshire and one day took a drive down to Henley-on-Thames an absolutely lovely town chock full of cafes, antique shops, independent retailers and fantastic pubs.
Henley on Thames is one of the most beautiful towns in England by The Times as one of the best places to live in the English countryside and a regular winner of RHS Britain in Bloom medals. Henley’s riverside location, surrounded by a Chiltern landscape of wooded hills and green fields, lends itself to simply enjoying English life.
Look for the Red Lion Inn where Charles I drank over 400 years ago, the converted Fire Station that is now an Art Gallery and you can take part in the Henley Ale Trail.
Of course, Henley is known for throwing a party with the 175-year-old Henley Royal Regatta and the Rewind Summer Arts Festival.
Henley’s historic heart sits just a minute’s walk from the River and contains many buildings, 300 of which are designated of Special Architectural or Historic Heritage. You can visit many including St Mary’s Church, the Town Hall, Market Place and the 18th Century stone bridge.
Located in a beautiful valley just north of Henley the Stonor Manor House is set in the midst of the spectacular beauty of the Chilterns it is a quick trip from London and well worth the drive. The famous bluebell woods and beech forests belonging to the Manor are set in an undulating landscape of gorgeous vales and hills. The landscape contains many prehistoric traces including the great dyke of Grim’s Ditch and the ancient Ridgeway and Icknield Way.
Home to the Stonor Family for over 800 years the cost of a tour of Stonor Manor is usually around £10 and it is a fascinating look at Britain’s Reformation history. There are lots of priests’ hiding places and secret nooks and crannies around the main house along with the Catholic Chapel. This is one of the few places to survive the Reformation.
Wallingford is a 9th-century town that contains extensive Saxon earthworks and the ruins of an 11th-century Castle it is one of the best surviving examples of a Saxon fortified town in England. The town played an important part in English history starting with the surrender of Stigand to William the Conqueror in 1066, which led to his taking the throne and the creation of Wallingford Castle.
The Town Hall was built in 1670 to replace the medieval Guild Hall, and surrounding this Grade 1 listed building are the independent shops that Wallingford is known for. The town is also host to four regular markets on a
From Wallingford, you can enjoy the River Thames by boat, on foot or by bicycle via the Thames Path.
Said to be England’s smallest town Watlington sits in the shadow of the Chiltern Hills where you will find the Ridgeway National Trail and the Oxfordshire Way.
Its origins date back to the 6th century and are mentioned in the Domesday Book, The 17th Century Town Hall is accompanied by many 16th century and Georgian buildings, as well as the venerable church of St Leonard’s.
Nearby you can visit the Icknield Way which claims to be “the oldest road in Britain”. Extending from the Dorset coast to Norfolk, the ancient route of the Icknield Way consists of prehistoric pathways, old when the Romans came.
Due to its close proximity and easy access to the Chilterns, Watlington is a popular gateway to the many outdoor activities in the area, including hill walking, cycling and birdwatching, especially the red kite, which is well established in the vicinity.
Why should you visit the rolling greens and ancient hills of the Chilterns? So you can indulge in admiring quintessential English villages, enjoying waterside pubs, hiking and walking a huge network of National Trails.
Walking in the Chiltern hills
There is a separate section on the Chilterns Cycleway.
You can now hire electric bikes from the village of Ivinghoe near the Chilterns Cycleway and the National Trust Ashridge Estate.
The Ridgeway National Trail
The Ridgeway National Trail runs for 87 miles between Overton Hill in Avebury‘s World Heritage Site in Wiltshire and Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire, passing through ancient landscapes, including open downland, secluded valleys, woodland and a stretch by The Thames. For half its length it runs along the spine of the Chiltern Hills, from Goring-on-Thames to Ivinghoe Beacon.
The western section of the Ridgeway National Trail (Ickneil) l is an ancient path, widely recognized as England’s oldest road, dating back to the Neolithic period. In 1972, the trail was extended by adding an eastern section, of less ancient provenance despite being studded with archaeological features, and thus the Ridgeway National Trail was born, one of a family of 16 National Trails in England and Wales.
Getting to the Chilterns
From London to the Chilterns trail you can escape from London and be in this stunning countryside in under an hour.
The Chilterns trail is served by four main rail lines from London Euston with London Midland – Berkhamsted and Tring and Marylebone station with Chiltern Railways to Great Missenden, Wendover, Princes Risborough and Saunderton stations amongst others.
Places to Stay in the Chiltern Hills
When you choose the Chiltern Hills to visit you will be spoiled for choice of accommodation.
Stay in a traditional coaching inn at the Lambert Hotel conveniently located close to the M40 near the market town of Watlington, yet at the foot of the Chiltern Hills with walks and cycling from the front door. The pub and restaurant serve seasonal dishes with a big focus on locally sourced produce.
Hartwell House is one of England’s stately homes, just 40 miles northwest of London, set in over 90 acres of gardens and parkland designed by a contemporary of Capability Brown. The French King once held court here. Located within the Vale of Aylesbury and on the edge of the Chilterns Hills.
An absolutely charming Tudor Cottage, self-catering with 2 bedrooms located in Henley-on-Thames. Perfect for a small family or travelling friends.
Hotel du Vin Henley
This historic former brewery boasts light and elegant rooms with rustic, original features and its own French bistro.
Each luxurious room at Hotel du Vin Henley features comfortable hand-sprung mattresses, deep baths and powerful drench showers in the private bathroom. Guests can relax with a plasma-screen TV in the room.
The elegant, French bistro serves cuisine made from the finest local ingredients. The bar offers an extensive and excellent wine list. The walk-in humidor has a rare selection of cigars from around the world.
Henley Rowing Museum is only 15 minutes away on foot, while Henley’s historic centre and its market square is just a 10-minute walk away.
As you can see there are many things to do in Chiltern hills this outstanding landscape can and will keep you coming back for more adventures year after year.
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