The Chess Valley, one of the most beautiful and tranquil parts of the Chiltern Hills, yet never more than a couple of kilometres from the Metropolitan Line. The walk dips in and out of the valley, with a number of fine panoramic views
Main walk: 16km (9.9 miles)
a) Short cut to Chenies: saves 1.4km (0.9 miles)
b) Shorter start from Chorleywood: saves 3.4km (2.1miles)
c) Ending at Chalfont & Latimer: saves 6.1km (3.8 miles)
5 out of 10: several hill climbs, but with reasonably gentle gradients
OS Explorer 172 & 181. OS Landranger 165 & 166
The Chess Valley is one of the most beautiful and tranquil parts of the Chiltern Hills – which makes it all the more amazing that along its whole length it is never more than a couple of kilometres from the Metropolitan Line of the London Underground. This walk explores it thoroughly, starting in Chorleywood, whose station and common already have a very rural feel, and afterwards dipping in and out of the valley, with a number of fine panoramic views.
Early in the walk there is a short section affected by noise from the M25 motorway, but this soon fades into the background as you walk northwards. For lunch the walk climbs up to the village of Chenies, which has two possible lunch pubs, and just beyond it passes through a wood that is an absolute carpet of yellow celandines in late March and early April. There are also some bluebells in late April/early May.
Later delights include passing Latimer House and village (from where Chalfont & Latimer station gets its name), and then a pleasant walk high along the valley rim on a permissive path. Approaching Chesham there is a bravura finish over the hills that takes you right down into the heart of the town for tea.
Early in the main walk there are a couple of sections of lane that can be flooded after heavy rain. Option a) Short Cut to Chenies avoids these sections..
There are three ways to shorten the walk
a) Short cut to Chenies. This saves 1.4km/0.9 miles off the morning of the main route, giving you a total morning walk of 4.5km (2.8 miles). It passes along a very pretty stretch of the Chess River not otherwise visited on the walk and then takes a direct route over the hills to the lunch pubs. In late April/May it passes through a small bluebell wood.
b) Shorter start from Chorleywood. This gets you to the lunch pubs in Chenies in just 3.1km (1.9 miles) from Chorleywood station, passing through a pleasant beech wood on the way, though missing the fine morning views. In all it saves 3.4km (2.1 miles) off the walk, making a total walk of 12.6km (7.8 miles). In late April/early May it passes through a bluebell wood and an optional short diversion to explore this is included in the directions.
c) Ending at Chalfont & Latimer. This option diverges from the main walk 1km (0.6 miles) after lunch and then takes you to the Metropolitan Line station at Chalfont & Latimer (also served by Chiltern Railways) in 2.4km (1.5 miles). The route is initially on a track with fine views, then through beech woods (with some bluebells on late April/early May and the rare coralroot flower during the rest of May), and down through suburbia to the station. In all this shortens the walk by 6.1km (3.8 miles), making a total walk from Chorleywood of 9.9km (6.1 miles) - or less if you use option a) or b).
The quickest way to get to Chorleywood is by Chiltern trains from Marylebone (every half hour Monday to Saturday, or hourly Sundays: 27 minutes), but you can also reach it by the Metropolitan Line of the Underground direct from Aldgate, Kings Cross and Baker Street (every fifteen minutes, journey time 44 minutes from Baker Street). Get a train that arrives at Chorleywood around 10.30 for the main walk, at around 11.00 if planning to take option a) and around 11.30 if planning to do option b).
Metropolitan Line trains back from Chesham are every half hour, and now all run direct to Aldgate via Baker Street and Kings Cross, taking 58 minutes to Baker Street. There is no time saving from trying to change and connect with Chiltern Trains en route. If you particularly need to return to Marylebone, it is only five minutes walk from Baker Street.
Trains from Chalfont & Latimer - option c) - run three times an hour on the Metropolitan Line (47 minutes to Baker Street) or twice an hour by Chiltern Railways into Marylebone (40 minutes).
Tickets : Chesham is in London Transport zone nine, Chalfont & Latimer in zone eight and Chorleywood in zone seven, so you can use Oyster or contactless to pay for your journey. Freedom Passes are also valid all the way to Chesham. Don't forget to tap out at Chorleywood, which is easy to do as it has no automatic barrier. The tapping out point is at the top of the ramp after you have crossed the tracks using the underpass.
If you are travelling from Marylebone you can still use a Network Card at weekends to get a reduction on a day return to Chorleywood (or Chalfont & Latimer), and I am told (but have not tested personally) that this is valid for travel to Baker Street (but not other purely Underground stops). However if ending in Chesham you would still have to pay for a single Underground journey there to whichever station you bought the ticket to, so arguably it is not worth it.
The Cock Inn (01923 282 908) in Sarratt is a possible lunch stop just 3.6km (2.2 miles) into the main walk (though not passed on the Shorter Start or the Short Cut to Chenies). This walker-friendly traditional village pub is open all afternoon daily, serving food from 12-2.30pm Monday to Saturday and till 4pm Sunday. The very reasonably priced menu includes a good range of vegan options. The pub has a large, but rather bare, garden.
The Red Lion (01923 282 722) in Chenies, 6.5km (4 miles) into the main walk, reopened in August 2019 under new management and is now a smart, friendly pub with a somewhat gastro menu, served from 10am to 11pm daily. It has some outside seating in a sheltered courtyard
The Bedford Arms (01923 283 301) www.bedfordarms.co.uk in Chenies is larger than the Red Lion and and serves food in a table service restaurant from 12-2.30pm Monday to Saturday and 12-4pm Sunday, with a more limited menu available in its bar area and its very pleasant garden. It prides itself on its Sunday roasts.
The Drawingroom, Frances Yard, Chesham (01494 791 691) www.the-drawingroom.co.uk is a combination art gallery, music venue and cafe in a courtyard just off the pedestrianised part of Chesham high street (to the left, about 50 metres before the clock tower). It serves marvellous homemade cakes, a tasty hot chocolate, and tea and coffee in a very cosy and art-filled setting, with both inside and outside seating. It is open Wednesday to Saturday "till late" and on Sundays to 5pm.
Otherwise, there is the usual choice of chain outlets. The most obvious is Caffe Nero, which has a large establishment in the main square, open till 6pm Monday to Friday, 5.30pm weekends, while Costa Coffee, 70 metres up the pedestrianised high street, is open till 6.30pm daily.
For refreshment at Chalfont & Latimer - option c) - you have to cross to the other side of the station: if the barriers are closed this means walking down the station approach to the main road, going under the bridge, and coming up the other side. Here there is a pub, the Sugar Loaf Inn and some shops.
|Chess Valley Way||
This 'named trail' from Rickmansworth to Chesham (about 10m and 3/10 for toughness) follows a similar route to this walk. There is a gpx file here.
"Before lunch there are some dull stretches close to roads. There's a short climb to an excellent pub, the Cock Inn at Church End and an attractive church close by with seating for sandwich eaters. After Church End it becomes a really attractive Chilterns outing."
|Points of Interest||
Chenies Manor and Latimer House were both once part of the same estate, which was known as Isenhampstead. But in 1326 it was split between two barons. Chenies became the seat of the Russell family. Then in 1547, as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Henry VIII gave them Woburn Abbey, which became their principal seat. At the same time they were created Earls of Bedford, becoming Dukes of Bedford in the 17th century. The family owned - and still does own - large amounts of land in Bloomsbury in London, which accounts for street names there such as Russell Square, Bedford Square and Woburn Place. There is also a Chenies Street between Goodge Street station and Gower Street. After the Russells moved to Woburn Abbey, Chenies Manor fell into disrepair and one wing fell down, as you can see if you inspect the current house closely. The manor was sold by the family in 1954 to pay death duties, but is still in private hands. It is open Wednesday, Thursday and bank holiday afternoons from April to October.
The Church of St Michaels at Chenies has a private side chapel – the Bedford Chapel – where the Russells were buried. It is not open to the public, but their tombs can be glimpsed through the glass windows.
Latimer House has a long history as the home of the barons Chesham, but the current house only dates from 1838, when it was rebuilt after a fire. In the Second World War it was used for interrogating captured German pilots and U-boat captains, while from 1953 to 1971 it was the National Defence College. It is now a country house hotel used for weddings and conferences. Note the fine farm in the valley below the house: this is on the site of a 1st century Roman villa.
You will not be surprised to learn that Chesham is the furthest Underground station from central London, and that it is the one with the most infrequent service – just two trains an hour. From there to Chalfont & Latimer is the biggest distance between stations on the system - 6.3km (2.9 miles). If you wonder why this branch exists, it is because Chesham was the original terminus of the Metropolitan Line. There was apparently a plan to continue the line to Berkhamsted, but instead in 1892 the line was extended to Amersham and Aylesbury, bypassing Chesham.
In those days Chalfont & Latimer station was known as Chalfont Road, a common Victorian name for stations which were not particularly near the places they purported to serve. In this case, the village of Chalfont St Giles is 2.5 miles away to the south, and is actually closer to Seer Green station on the Beaconsfield line (which was built ten years later). The housing you now see around the station dates to the 1920s and 1930s.
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Full directions for this walk are in a PDF file (link above) which you can print, or download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
This is just the introduction. This walk's detailed directions are in a PDF available from wwww.walkingclub.org.uk