Two shorter walks to get you out in the fresh air over the Christmas break; a Buckinghamshire walk at Fingest and a West Berkshire walk at Great Shefford.
Walk 1: Chiltern views
Fingest, tucked amongst the rolling Chiltern hills, is a beautiful village with picturesque cottages, a pub – the Chequers Inn – and an ancient church: St Bartholomew’s, with a rare twin-gabled, square Norman tower.
From the village the walk heads down to Skirmett – home to The Frog – before heading up through fields and woodland, passing Little Frieth to arrive at Fingest Wood and the Fieldfare Stile; the stile was erected in memory of Henry Bridges Fearon, who, as ‘Filedfare’, brought the love of the English countryside to a multitude of happy pilgrims.
From this high vantage point enjoy the views across Fingest to the 18th-century windmill which starred in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (written by James Bond creator Ian Fleming), where it was the home of the eccentric inventor Caractacus Potts. From here it’s a short, but fairly steep, walk back to Fingest.
Walk 2: Downs wander
The walk starts at Great Shefford – the ‘Shefford’ part of the name is believed to mean ‘sheep ford’ – a place where sheep could cross the River Lambourn, being derived from the Saxon word ‘sciep’, meaning sheep; in the Domesday Book it was known as ‘Siford’.
From the Swan Inn the walk nips across the River Lambourn – a lovely chalk stream that rises just north of Lambourn and joins the River Kennet at Newbury – before heading out into the downs taking in views across the rolling landscape. This area forms part of the North Wessex Downs AONB which encompasses one of the largest and least developed tracts of chalk downland in southern England.
Once back in the valley, along which the Lambourn Valley Railway once ran – the line opened in 1898 and closed in the 1960’s – the walk heads back to Great Shefford passing St Mary’s Church.
Dating from the 12th century, the church has a rare round tower, one of only two in Berkshire. Inside, the carved Norman font is said to be one of the finest in the county, whilst just outside is an old preaching cross. From here it’s a short walk back to the start; published in the December issue of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire Life.