Hidden valleys of the southern Chilterns
Main walk: 21.9km (13.6 miles), seven hours walking time. For the whole outing including trains and meals, allow ten hours 30 minutes.
Main walk via Stonor short cut: 19.4km (12.0 miles), six hours thirty minutes walking time
Short Walk: 14km (8.8 miles), four hours walking time.
|Maps||OS Landranger Map No 175. OS Explorer Map No 171|
|Toughness||6 out of 10|
|Features||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 wood and farmland, and largely gentle slopes (the main walk has one substantial steep hill after lunch, however). The walk takes you up one side and down the other of the long valley leading up to Stonor, with plenty of charming views over hill en route. Lunch is at a pretty and quiet pub in the village of Pishill, and the return is past hidden farms and through ancient woods into Henley, with its excellent tea rooms. Note that this is a fairly full day out, and tea is 11km (7 miles) from the lunchtime pub, so the main walk is only really practical from late February to late October. However, in winter, or if you fancy a later start, the short walk makes a pleasant alternative.|
A short but pleasant walk up country lanes from the Rainbow Inn in Middle Assendon allows you to shorten the route to 14km (8.7 miles). This short walk still takes in several of the best sections from the morning and afternoon of the main walk.
Alternatively, you can trim 2.5km (1.5 miles) off the main walk by using the short cut at Stonor. This short cut misses out the lunchtime pub, The Crown in Pishill, (see Lunch) but passes a nice picnic spot and gives you a fine view of Stonor House which is not otherwise seen on the walk
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 short cut of the main walk. Dating back to the 12th century, it boasts Tudor features with Georgian remodelling, and has been the home of the Stonor family continuously for 850 years. It was the hiding place of Catholic martyr Edmund Campion in Tudor times. Unfortunately, only superhumans would have the energy to complete the main walk and visit the house, so perhaps this is one to mark for a future visit. The house is open to the public in the afternoons on Sundays and bank holidays from April to September, on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in the summer months. It has a tea room.
Though it looks like an ancient ruin, the abandoned church in Bix Bottom just before Valley End Farm (point ), only fell into disuse in 1875. Before that, it was the Church of St James, which had features dating back to Norman times.
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.
The Crown Inn (tel 01491 638364) in Pishill, 10.6km (6.6 miles) into the main walk, which serves lunch from 12pm to 2.30pm Monday to Saturday and to 3pm on Sundays. It is a charming and friendly country pub with a peaceful garden in summer and roaring log fires in winter. It welcomes walkers, but is also popular with walking groups, so if there are more than eight of you it might be a good idea to phone ahead. If you take the 9am train from London, you can expect to reach the pub at 1pm.
On the short walk, lunch is at the Rainbow Inn (tel 01491 574879) in Middle Assendon, which is 5km (3.1m) into the walk. This serves pleasant home-cooked food from 12pm to 2pm daily. It welcomes walking groups but is run by a husband and wife team and so appreciates a phone call in advance, "in the morning when you set off, or even a couple of days in advance". Note that after lunch on the short walk, there is still 9km (5.6 miles) to go, or about two hours 45 minutes walking time, so leave the pub no later than 1.45pm in midwinter.
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 main 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 5 of option b), where you have a sweeping view of Stonor Park house.
|Tea||The Chocolate Cafe Thames Side, 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. Normal closing time is 5.30pm Monday to Thursday or 6.30pm Friday to Sunday.|
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