Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Up in the Chilterns.

We came away from The Chinnor and Princes Risborough railway and drove up into The Chiltern Hills again.

On the way we drove through Princes Risborough and the up to Bledlow Ridge. All the way catching glimpses of Red Kites, slowly circling above us.

My pawn shop camera doesn't do them justice - the excitement of seeing a glimpse of orangey red as they turn, a flash of white.

These birds were extinct here - killed by the arrogance of aristocrats and their gamekeepers and the selfishness and short-sightedness of farmers.

About 25 years ago they were reintroduced in Wales and Oxfordshire. They have thrived; elegant, beautiful birds.  

We saw them wherever we went - above the railway, high above the valleys and around the hills.

I love spring (I missed it this year) and I normally post a picture of a lamb or two. This is more than a bit late - the lambs are getting too big for their own good now.

And then we drove up to Wycombe - home of the Dashwood family, most famously of Sir Francis Dashwood who organised orgies for his friends in 'The Hellfire Club' inside the caves dug into the chalk hills.

We didn't go in the caves but we walked round the church on the top of the hill;

The round ball on top is huge and Sir Francis would hold dinners for his friends sat around a table inside.

You can just about make out a trapdoor in the side of the ball.

From the top you can see the whole Dashwood empire; the long road leads first to West Wycome and then the modern town of High Wycombe.

And here's the mansion surrounded by ornamental gardens while beyond the rich farmland that was the source of the Dashwoods wealth;

Next to the church, locked and barred and lit up at night with spotlights; the family mausoleum;

There is more than a touch of the 'James Bond Villain' about it all. You almost expect a Dashwood to appear holding a white cat.

Perhaps it was more complicated than that. Amongst Sir Francis Dashwood's circle was 'John Wilkes' an infamous politician and libertine. Member of Parliament  for Middlesex, he represented hope for liberals, republicans and working people at a time when no one had a vote except a tiny minority.

Famously, Wilkes was twice expelled from Parliament and three times re-elected by the electors of Middlesex in protest - on one occasion he was carried on the shoulders of a crowd 40,000 strong from Brentford Town hall to Westminster.

As it usually does, it ended badly for Wilkes - his association with the Hellfire Club was only part of the problem.

We drove down the hill and stopped off at West Wycombe; a coaching town with at least four current or former coaching inns along the High Street.

How about these for cobbles worn flat by the iron shod wheels of ancient carriages? 

It's charming, an old English village, rescued in the 1920's by The Royal College of the Arts and renovated in 1933 when The National trust took it over for the nation.

And yet, not everything is what it seems. The timber framed houses and inns are the same but more often than not they hide modern businesses and wealthy tenants where once farm labourers lived.

But that's the story all over The Chilterns - different people, different lifestyles. The only place where we caught a local accent was on the railway at Chinnor - and that was because it was a free open day and all the families who would find the entrance charge a struggle to pay came out for a ride on their local train.
It's a process happening in all the desirable parts of the South East and beyond.
But we had a nice day and I was out and about for a whole 7 hours which I normally can't manage unless I'm up at hospital and have to do it.
I probably ought to rename this Blog 'Adventures with a Walking Frame'.
Or then again, perhaps not.
Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Contact me:   neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

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