Walk #6: Sheepridge to Bovingdon Green (5.1 miles)

Posted by Matt on 13 December 2021

The echoing cry of a low-flying red kite breaks the silence of the icy breeze. I look skywards towards the clear blue dawn as the bird glides out of sight, a half-moon returns my gaze. Crunching onwards across a frozen field I will the sun to rise above the horizon to warm my chilled bones, “Winter is coming!”, but the suffering is worth it – the light is spectacular!

The Chiltern Way, Sheepridge, Buckinghamshire. © copyright Matt Writtle 2021.

Before long I climb a steep hill through the privately owned Warren Wood, just a short distance from the start of today’s Constant Ramble at The Crooked Billet pub, Sheepridge, Buckinghamshire. The target is to reach the Royal Oak pub at Bovingdon Green, Marlow, approximately 5 miles away. One common sight on The Chiltern Way are white hand-painted arrows on tree trunks to mark the direction of the route. If you’re lucky, some even have ‘CW’ written above the arrow. I refrained from illustrating this on the last walk but now decided it required documentation.

The Chiltern Way, Sheepridge, Buckinghamshire. © copyright Matt Writtle 2021.

These rambles offer me the opportunity to get away from the rush of humanity and walk through the footsteps of time laid down by centuries of travel. I often fantasise about climbing aboard a time machine to witness how landscapes looked in bygone days. As I reached the summit of the wooded hill, I came across an information board detailing the history of earthworks behind it. According to The Marlow Archaeology Group the site dates back to medieval times (between the 12th and 14th centuries) and consisted of two roughly circular enclosures defined by ditches or banks. The inner has a diameter of 50 metres and theoretically housed a gamekeeper and family; the outer enclosure, nearly twice the size, was thought to protect domestic or wild animals. Unlike today, the area is not likely to have been wooded, offering the occupants a safe vantage point of the surrounding area, with the River Thames only a mile away. Yet, as I stood alone, trying to imagine the scene 800 years ago, my concentration was repeatedly broken by the distant hum of traffic on the M40 motorway.

I continued on. The sun was painting the edges of the trees with a golden line and the air felt a little warmer. I removed my hat and snood and descended the steep hill down to Winchbottom Lane. As I walked along the tarmac, multiple kites floated overhead; ice still lay in the edges of the road, broken only by tyre tracks of dawn drivers.

Tyre tracks, Marlow, Buckinghamshire. © copyright Matt Writtle 2021.

I turned sharply right up another steep hill into Horton Wood, pausing at the top to catch my breath. I could hear the volume of traffic increasing as I neared the A404 dual carriageway that connects the M40 and M4 motorways. I suspected an underpass and was correct, but before I tunnelled underneath my heart sank at the sight of fly tipping. Running parallel to the A404 is Monkton Lane and there, in a dirt layby, lay the remnants of the front of a house, complete with door and windows. Although not beautiful, I felt duty bound as a documentary photographer to highlight the selfish and abhorrent act of dumping waste. I set up my tripod and camera. “Why would someone want to dump all that rubbish there?” came a child’s voice from behind me. I turned around and saw a man, woman and boy staring at the rubbish. The woman tried to explain, but I felt the answer was in the question: why indeed!

Fly tipping, Marlow, Buckinghamshire. © copyright Matt Writtle 2021.

I exited the underpass and captured the diamond of light created by the fading sun on the underside of the bridge. I wandered on down the tarmac lane until I arrived at The Three Horseshoes pub. My stomach was grumbling, and I was tempted to stop for a roast, but my lunch was on my back.

A404 underpass, Marlow, Buckinghamshire. © copyright Matt Writtle 2021.

I crossed another undulating ploughed farmer’s field, a common site on my walks. I hesitated before photographing it, but thought that maybe the repetition is part of the journey.

Ploughed field, Marlow, Buckinghamshire. © copyright Matt Writtle 2021.

Looking at the images captured on the day, I notice they have a common thread of direction running through them: they all point to an infinity. As the author William Boyd wrote in his marvellous novel ‘Any Human Heart’, Why does the sea induce these feelings of transcendence in us? Is it because an unobstructed view of overarching sky meeting endlessly stirring water is as close as we can come on this earth to a visual symbol of the infinite?”

To indulge and psychoanalyse: do these images unlock a subconscious yearning to seek a direction in my life, be it creative or personal? Maybe I am using these rambles as a therapeutic time to breathe and reflect.

The Chiltern Way, Bovingdon Green, Buckinghamshire. © copyright Matt Writtle 2021.

I strongly feel that as human beings we are often distracted by memories of the past or worries for the future, especially in a post-Brexit, COVID-19 pandemic world of climate change. One can become so concerned about the future we sometimes forget to stop and think about the now. Being a parent of two small children, I reference a quote from the 2008 Dreamworks animated film, ‘Kung Fu Panda’, “Tomorrow is a mystery, yesterday is history and today is a gift. That is why they call it the present.”

The Chiltern Way, Bovingdon Green, Buckinghamshire. © copyright Matt Writtle 2021.

I climbed up the last of the many steep hills on this walk, guided by a tunnel of low-hanging trees. I stopped to catch my breath and was wrapped in a blanket of cacophonous sound of the icy breeze rustling through dried branches and frozen leaves clinging to the last remnants of autumn. As I listened, a powerful sense of fulfilment overcame me and, for a moment, I felt invisible and at one with the world around me.