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Around the Chess Valley

Walk through Flaunden, Sarratt and the water-meadows of the Chess Valley.

Distance 7 miles (11.3km)

Minimum time 2hrs 45min

Ascent/gradient 245ft (75m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Paths, tracks, village roads and country lanes, 5 stiles

Landscape Chalk plateau and water-meadows

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorers 172 Chiltern Hills East; 182 St Albans & Hatfield

Start/finish TQ 042994 (on Explorer 172)

Dog friendliness Frequent horses and cattle; one bull warning sign

Parking On west side of Sarratt Green

Public toilets None on route

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1 From Sarratt Green walk north. Beyond Great Sarratt Farm go left, signed 'Rose Hall'. Bear right across pastures then go along a lane, beside some woods, now on the Chiltern Way. Take the left fork to skirt Rose Hall Farm to a path. Over a stile skirt right of the barns of Bragman's Farm to the lane.

2 Turn left uphill and go right at a Chiltern Way sign. Head left to a stile, then by the hedge to a lane. Turn right. Past Newhouse Farm turn left on to a path. At a stile go diagonally right across a field and, at the hedge, bear right to a lane.

3 Turn left and walk through Flaunden. At the church turn left on to a bridleway. Follow this to a T-junction by two small observatories and turn right.

4 As the lane goes left, carry on along a bridleway into woods. Go left, ignoring a path to the right. Fork right and descend steeply. Emerging from the wood descend between fences to the road.

5 Turn left, pass Latimer green, and turn left again on the Chess Valley Walk. Descend to an information board about Flaunden old church. Rejoin the path and, passing Liberty's tomb, follow the waymarks through Mill Farm and turn left on to a lane.

6 After about 150yds (137m) leave the lane on the right and carry on over a stile, on the Chess Valley Walk. Through a wood follow the path between fences. When you reach a concrete access road go straight on, with working cress beds on your right.

7 At the lane turn right, turning left uphill at a T-junction, leaving the Chess Valley Walk. Beyond Cakebread Cottage go right, through a gate. Ascend alongside a hedge, go over a stile and cross pasture to join a sycamore and beech avenue, then walk alongside a holly hedge to Sarratt churchyard.

8 Retrace your steps out of the churchyard and bear diagonally right towards the woods - you will reach them at a Chiltern Way signpost. Continue along the wood edge, then cross a drive to a kissing gate. Follow the path through a copse, then alongside a hedge through cattle pasture to emerge between houses into Sarratt Green.

In the late 18th century Flaunden village migrated uphill to cottages built by Lord Latimer, who owned the manor. These rows of flint and brick cottages remain today. In 1838 the rector of Latimer's nephew, the young George Gilbert Scott, designed his first church here, a humble start for the great Victorian architect. He later described it as 'the poor barn'.

On a romantic site, within a copse in the water-meadows of the River Chess, is the lost church of Flaunden. East of Latimer village, you can leave the path to read an information board that tells the story of Flaunden's old church. Built in about 1230 for Thomas de Faundel, it was a small cruciform church, in the shape of a Greek cross with arms of equal length. Now vanished, in 1910 it was still standing but described thus: 'Condition - Very bad; the ruins are loaded with heavy ivy, and much damage has been done by visitors'. The old church was abandoned and partially dismantled when the new one opened further up the hill, reusing the old font and a few floor tiles. There is a non-churchyard burial further east of the old church, alongside the Chess Valley Walk. It is the tomb of William Liberty who died in 1777 and consists of a brick structure with a stone slab, surrounded by railings.

Further east along the Chess Valley, south of Valley Farm, are working watercress beds, once a common sight along the Chess and many of the Chilterns' other rivers, such as the Misbourne, Ver and Gade. Back up on the Chiltern plateau, Sarratt is a village of two distinct parts. The original centre around the church is over ½ mile (800m) from the present core of the village, which is clustered around the long, narrow green, itself ½ mile (800m) from end to end. Sarratt was a famous droving stop on cattle and sheep routes to London. At one time there were more than five pubs as well as three ponds for watering the stock. The village gravitated to the green, leaving the church in comparative isolation, with just the manor house, a couple of cottages, the Cock Inn and the row of almshouse, with Gothic-arched windows, built by Ralph Day of Sarratt Hall in 1821. Sarratt's Church of the Holy Cross is an almost complete one from around 1190. Its chancel was lengthened later in the Middle Ages and a west tower was added to the short two-bay nave.

What to look for

Along the Chess Valley, between Points f and g, you pass working watercress beds, making good use of the fast flowing clean, chalk stream. Rich in dissolved lime, its waters are ideal for growing this nutritious crop.

While you're there

Just over the Buckinghamshire border south of the River Chess is Chenies Manor which is often open to the public. A Tudor brick house of the late 15th century built for the Cheynes, it passed in 1526 to the Russells, later the Dukes of Bedford. Prominent courtiers, they added a grand brick range of lodgings with massive chimney stacks.

Where to eat and drink

Two pubs at Sarratt Green are the Cricketers (by the south pond) and the Boot (half-way along the green). By Sarratt's church is the Cock Inn and in Flaunden is the Green Dragon. All of the pubs serve food. Also, at the start on Sarratt Green there is the Sarratt Post Office Store and Off-licence for snacks.

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