A walk in the Chilterns – walks near Henley
23rd May 2020
I hope I never take the joy of a long walk in the countryside for granted again. As we wandered under the trees and across fields of sheep on a walk in the Chilterns, I realised afresh just how much I had missed this during lockdown.
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I’m lucky to live in a relatively green part of London, but with a lot of people in the same position of having no garden and all converging on the few parks that are in walking distance of my seven-year-old, it often felt more stressful dodging everyone else than beneficial. So we stayed in.
With lockdown restrictions relaxed, I started looking for somewhere within a short drive that wouldn’t be too busy – and when my husband had to make a brief trip to Henley for work, we decided to team that with a walk in the Chilterns.
Stumbling across the Chiltern Society website, they’ve listed dozens of walks across the area of natural beauty – including a few along the Thames in Henley itself. From our last trip to the River and Rowing museum and other trips to the town, I know just how pretty it is around here.
But this time, I was after something far away from other people (or as far away as you’re likely to get in this part of South East England). And the Greys Court walk fitted the bill perfectly.
Looping around the National Trust property of Greys Court, it’s mostly set on public footpaths – and links to several other signed paths if you want to walk further.
The house and grounds themselves were still closed when we visited, along with the car park, but there are some spaces to park on Rocky Lane nearby.
And apart from a couple of dogwalkers and a small group out for a longer hike at the start, we only had to share it with sheep and cows.
Along the way, we found stepping stone tree stumps laid out in circles to hop between, not to mention a few other gnarled tree bases which my daughter announced were the entrance to troll tunnels – her homeschool English lessons writing about trolls evidently made an impact.
This section is officially semi-ancient woodland; unlike the farmland around, it has probably always been woods here and there’s a special kind of peace to be found in this timeless spot.
The bluebells had wilted after the mini heatwave but the paths were still lined with flowers – and nettles – butterflies flitting about in the shade, carpets of buttercups turning the fields yellow.
Arrows point you in the right direction if you don’t have a map and the path is mostly wide enough for at least two, (apart from a few narrow spots), helpful on the rare occasions we did meet someone else and have to negotiate past with a safe gap.
We actually walked it backwards as we weren’t sure whether we could access the National Trust section at all but it’s just as easy to follow and was deliciously shady to start under the trees.
A sheep bleated loudly as we came to the end of the forest section. A greeting? A warning to the lambs in the field? Or just surprise at seeing humans strolling by after so long?!
One of the few face to face chats I’ve had recently, I baaa-ed back a bit as we decided which fork in the path to take – following the blue arrows further into the woods, or sticking to our original plan, taking the black arrow path across the fields.
The sheep won. Crossing a couple of fields, dodging the sheep poo along the way, we found ourselves on another path by a field of cows.
We’d evidently struck the right point in their routine, as four ambled into view one after the other, following each other in leisurely fashion to eat the grass by the edge of a small pool.
From here, it was almost all fields and we’d picked a perfect day to see the English countryside at its best – blue skies, warm sun, a gentle breeze and green stretching off in every direction.
And behind the wall, Greys Court itself. If you visit once the National Trust has reopened its historic houses, there’s centuries to discover here – dating back to the Domesday Book, the de Greys had links to Magna Carta, the battle of Crecy, the order of the Garter and Richard III, while succeeding families made just as big a mark.
We spotted a 14th century tower peeking over the wall, between the trees but had the sweeping drive all to ourselves – it felt oddly emptier than the woods to be walking along without other people in sight.
Just under two miles long (plus I’m pretty sure we took a mini detour), it was a gorgeous hour-long ramble.
Need to know: Greys Court walk in the Chilterns
Parking on Rocky Lane is limited, although the small car park at Greys Court is free once National Trust reopens it.
Entry to Greys Court itself costs £12.50 for adults, £6.25 for children aged five and above. Free for members.
Opening times are available on the website, including the latest information about what is open after lockdown.
There are baby-changing facilities and a children’s play area near the tea room, plus children’s trails at half-term.
The majority of the walk is a very easy stroll – there is one slope in the woodland (uphill if you do it backwards like us, downhill if you follow the map!) and a few narrow sections lined with nettles, although we had no trouble avoiding them.
For more ideas of where to walk in the Chilterns, check out the Chiltern Society’s free walk leaflets, which you can filter by length, ideas for kids (although Greys Court isn’t included in those and I’d say it’s very family-friendly), as well as options in the woods.
For more ideas of days out with kids in the UK, check out my pick of the places we’ve visited
PIN FOR LATER: A WALK IN THE CHILTERNS
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