“ This monument honours the Buckinghamshire soldiers who were killed in the Second Boer War „
Welcome to the Chiltern Hills!
If you are ever going to stand on top of one hill in the Chilterns then make it Coombe Hill. On top of the hill is a monument to the men who lost their lives in the Boar War, and on a personal note, is a place to remember my loved ones who used to give a little time at the top contemplating death and the beauty of life. This is a place where we really appreciate what we have.
Once you've made your way to Coombe Hill, in Buckinghamshire, it's all free! You can spin around and around and whoop for joy. Breathe in the fresh air. Isn't it wonderful? Enjoy the highest part of the rural Chilterns at 843 feet and whilst there take a moment to pay your respects to the fallen soldiers of the Boar War. The monument to them just about marks the pinnacle of the hill. A circular walk is only about three and a half miles from Wendover.
This is a place designated officially as An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It is peaceful and unspoilt, yet it turns out, even having official status doesn't mean the countryside is protected. Go there now because that beautiful land you see below you will be scarred by the sight and sounds of the planned HS2 high speed rail link between London and Birmingham. The next few years may be your last chance to witness and appreciate the rolling fields and woods of the Chilterns in full and natural glory and this has to be one of the best viewpoints. How terrible to the memory of the generations of people that have lived and visited the Chilterns that it will be invaded by the merging of two cities. The children of the future will not be able to have the same kind of peace and appreciation that this hill top vista and monument brings us.
Make your way from the city to the country:
Trains run from Marylebone, in London, on the Chiltern Railways Aylesbury line. Disembark at WENDOVER. Journey time is approximately fifty minutes, and costs a full adult fare of £10.30 for a single ticket. Take a third off for national railcard holders. Book in advance with Chiltern Railways or other ticket providers and you might well find significantly cheaper tickets. Rail travel is expensive in the UK but Chiltern Railways are reliable, on time, and comfortable. The trains run about every thirty minutes to and from London and meets the Metropolitan line trains at some stations along the way. There are also buses, though very few and far between in Buckinghamshire. These buses go to High Wycombe and nearby Great Missenden too where there are alternative train stations. Trains run until around midnight so you won't have to run down the hill, in the dark, to catch the last train home.
Wendover is a lovely market town complete with Anne Boleyn cottages and the end of the Grand Union Canal. Exiting Wendover railway station, turn left, and go toward the high street until you see a mini roundabout. Watch out because although the village is small and quaint it has heavy traffic passing through. This and the despicable London to Birmingham HS2 rail promise are the negatives to this area. HS2 will cause years of disruption, rip up the beautiful countryside, for a train that won't even stop here, and destroy the ancient woodlands. You are likely to see posters protesting against HS2 on your walk. There are plenty of shops with delicious refreshments to purchase for the upward climb. There are friendly people about to ask directions from.
Warning the hill is very steep if approaching from the Wendover side and not for wheelchair access. However, car drivers are very lucky because there is a cheats way up! Trust me you won't believe you've made much of an ascent it's more like walking over a mole hill from the back end! The National Trust provides a free car park. You can do a flatter alternative walk through the woods which are one of my favourite places to see carpets of bluebells. However, for Coombe Hill you must turn your back on Low Scrub woods unless you feel like an additional walk. All routes eventually take you up to Coombe Hill if you aim upwards and in circles. Once parked up, walk through the gates, probably you'll spot the ice cream van beside the entrance, and follow the path. The monument will come into sight very soon. Before you know it you're already at the top. It's just been a gentle stroll. You can look at the people who walked up from the Wendover side, with smugness, as you lick your ice cream, and they wipe their brows from the exertion.
Onwards and upwards:
Turn right down Walnut Close and follow a public footpath diagonally over a field. Ultimately, the only way is up, and it becomes very clear that there are several ways to get to the top. They will all get you to the monument so don't worry about which one. I've never been lost up there as despite it being the highest point of the Chilterns it is fairly small and obvious where to go. Sometimes, you will catch a glimpse of the Boar War monument on the top of Coombe Hill. Mountain climbers will find this route easy peasy. I would recommend walking shoes as it can be slippery underfoot or muddy. Less hardened walkers might be a little breathless!
Picnics and memories:
The National Trust manages the hill well and it is clear that people work very hard to maintain it and make it accessible to the public.
There are benches and logs for rest and picnic stops, of which I have wonderful memories, and many more to come, I hope, and there's nothing wrong with sitting on the grass. Many people sit on the steps leading up to the Boar War monument. In some countries this would be frowned upon yet there is something about the design of the steps that encourages people to climb up, read the names, contemplate the lives of people taken, and the losses on both sides, including the war crimes, and then sit and take rest in appreciation of their lives. Many a time I have seen children playing on the steps or people taking shelter on windy days, and it's a pleasing sight. The monument, not the prettiest of constructions, but meaningful, is not in a place of death but of life. It seems fitting that the soldiers are remembered forever in a place so free and happy and removed from the location of their actual demise.
The monument is a sixty feet tall. In 1904 the war memorial was erected, in memory of the one hundred and forty eight men of Buckinghamshire, who died in the second Boar War 1899 - 1902. This was an original concept because it wasn't about a triumph in war, as was normal with monuments, but built specifically to record the names of the local men that died. The monument was struck by lightning back in the 1930's but rebuilt by the local council. Over time the structure became weak and people raised money to have the structure restored. It is now a Grade 2 listed monument. There are bronze flags and gold on the concrete structure. The names have been re-done as two men had been omitted on the originally and there were spelling errors which need to be rectified. I would love to know the story behind how these mistakes and omissions were made. There is an obvious and sadder omission as the history of the Boar War involved atrocities committed by the British and the use of concentration camps. If you are unaware of the history contemplation will be limited to only what is before your eyes. On a lighter note, because Coombe Hill is not to be just a scene of sadness and memorial, the monument comes complete with lightening conductors this time!
There is a trig point beside the monument to give explanation to the panorama.
The scenery is pretty and the meadows beautiful. The whole of the Aylsebury vale lies below. Houses and churches appear so tiny to the naked eye. With your back to the monument, and the valleys below, walk along a path to the right side of the hill. There are benches along here too. See that big house down there - that's Chequers - the prime minster's country residence. Once I saw Margret Thatcher being driven there which seems fitting to recall now, as she died today. So many people of fame, or infamy, have travelled to the house you look at now.
I've been up here in all weathers but I don't like it when the wind is too strong. It is an exposed spot and often the weather drives people to the monument for some sort of shelter. It can feel like you'll be blown all the way down and across to the next county. I'd rather walk back down the hill, thanks! My favourite time is about April/May but a couple of years ago it was unseasonably boiling hot. We came up from Low Scrubs car park with ice creams and still had a sweat on us but it was so much fun. In June you can watch (possibly insane) folks running up and down the steep slope in a race. Legend has it this virgin experience turns a boy into a man. But that's nothing, when I was about two, my grandfather wheeled me all the way up from Wendover station, complete with picnic hamper, and down again in my pushchair. I wouldn't recommend doing this. My granddad, the superhero!
There are many possibilities of walks that combine the Coombe Hill experience. You can walk for days, for example, on the way marked, eighty-five miles, Ridgeway Walk. Dogs are welcome if kept under control. Look out for the summer-only, chewing the cud, Belted Galloway, cows grazing on the land. They keep the grass low which is important on a chalk hill and as a result the butterflies thrive. They'll leave you alone if you don't bother them. There are no toilets or refreshments unless the ice cream van happens to be in the Low Scrubs car park. I never come to Coombe Hill without paying my respects at the memorial.
Red kites have been reintroduced to the Chilterns and you can watch them hovering and listen to their distinctive calls. The view stretches out as far away as the Cotswolds on a clear day. Look out for Firecrests and Yellowhammer birds, rare orchids, other unusual plants, and the butterflies that flit amongst the rare chalk grasslands. Many people come here to fly their kites and that too makes a pretty picture. Coombe Hill is at the height of the Chilterns and is a place I come to in happiness, and a little sadness, as people I have shared it with are no longer with us but at the same time we celebrate life in this place that is so magnificent.