Hidden valleys of the southern Chilterns
Main walk: 22.2km (13.8 miles)
Via Stonor short cut: 19.1km (11.9 miles)
Short Walk: 14.4km (8.9 miles)
|Maps||OS Landranger Map No 175. OS Explorer Map No 171|
|Toughness||6 out of 10|
Henley is normally thought of as a riverside town but, as this walk demonstrates, it is also on the southern edge of the Chiltern Hills, a charming area of hidden valleys, mixed woodland and farmland, and largely gentle slopes (although the main walk does have one substantial steep hill after lunch). The walk takes you up one side and down the other of the long valley leading up to Stonor, with plenty of charming views en route. This is also a wonderful walk in which to see red kites, a bird of prey that has been successfully re-introduced here, and which can often be seen wheeling slowly overhead.
Lunch is at a pretty and quiet pub in the village of Pishill (with an earlier upmarket option in Stonor), and the return through fine beechwoods into Henley, with its excellent tearooms.
- Stonor short cut: You can trim 3.1km (1.9 miles) off the main walk by using this short cut at paragraph 30 of the walk directions on page 3, making the total walk 19.1km (11.9 miles). It also has the advantage of giving you a fine view of Stonor Park house which is not otherwise seen on this walk. This variation misses out the lunchtime pub, the Crown in Pishill, but has a fine picnic spot.
- Short walk: A short walk up country lanes from the Rainbow Inn in Middle Assendon allows you to shorten the route to 14.4km (8.9 miles). This short walk still takes in several of the best sections from the the main walk, and makes an excellent winter walk.
There are twice hourly connections from London Paddington to Henley-on-Thames, changing at Twyford; though later in the evening the trains revert to hourly. Journey time is about one hour. Take the train nearest to 9am if you want to get to the Crown in Pishill for lunch; for all other lunch and walk options the train nearest to 10am is sufficient.
Rainbow Inn Middle Assendon (01491 574879). This quiet rural pub with a small garden, 5km (3.1 miles) into the walk, serves pleasant home-cooked food from 12-2.15pm daily and every evening except Monday from 7pm: it is closed 3pm to 6pm (7pm on Sundays). This is the suggested lunch stop on the short walk, or an early lunch stop for the main walk. It is a husband and wife-run pub and so appreciates an advance call from groups. In winter, note that after lunch on the short walk, there is still 9.2km (5.7 miles) to go, so it is wise to leave the pub no later than 1.45pm.
Crown Inn Pishill (01491 638364. Located 10.9km (6.8 miles) into the main walk, this charming and friendly country pub has a peaceful garden and roaring log fires in winter. It serves food from 12-3pm Wednesdays to Saturday and 12-3.30pm Sundays: also on Wednesday to Saturday evenings from 6-11pm. Note that it is closed Monday and Tuesday. It welcomes walkers, but is quite popular – the publican appreciates it if groups of eight or more phone ahead. This is the suggested lunch stop on the main walk.
A fine picnic spot on both the main and short walks (albeit rather early in the main walk) is the hill before Middle Assendon (paragraph 18 of the walk directions), which has a superb panorama up the valley towards Stonor. Equally good is the top of the hill on the Stonor short cut (paragraph 34), where you have a sweeping view of Stonor Park house.
|Tea||The Chocolate Cafe Henley-on-Thames (01491 411412). There are many tea options in Henley, but this café, situated on the waterfront by the bridge has a particularly fine selection of chocolate cakes. It is open till 5pm daily, but sometimes later on summer weekends. This is the suggested tea stop on all the walks. The Angel Inn more or less across the road is a pleasant pub stop.|
Henley is supposed to be the oldest settlement in Oxfordshire, dating at least from Roman times, but it really came into its own from the 12th century onward as a river crossing and a port for shipping grain and timber to London. These days the town has a much more refined air. It is supposed to have 300 listed buildings and is famous for its annual Regatta, held in the first week of July since 1839. A recent famous resident was the Beatle George Harrison, whose former house (or its heavily barbed-wired garden fence) is passed on this walk.
The entrance to the magnificent stately home of Stonor Park www.stonor.com is passed on the main walk, though the house itself cannot be seen except from the Stonor short cut. It has been the home of the Stonor family for 850 years and the house dates back to the 12th century, though it also has plenty of Tudor and even Georgian features. It was one of the places where the 16th century Catholic martyr (and now a saint) Edmund Campion stayed and preached. The house and its gardens and cafe are open on selected days from Easter to October - see www.stonor.com.
Though it looks like an ancient ruin, the abandoned church in Bix Bottom just before Valley End Farm only fell into disuse in 1875. Before that, it was the Church of St James, which had features dating back to Norman times.
An earlier version of this walk was published in Time Out Country Walks near London volume 2. We now recommend using this online version as the book is now dated.
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Out (not a train station)
Back (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline SE (bus times): 0871 200 2233 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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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