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Brill and a Farmhouse Den of Thieves

Enjoy good views across Buckinghamshire on this breezy walk beginning in a sprawling hilltop village.

Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 350ft (107m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Field paths and tracks, several stretches of road, 8 stiles

Landscape Mixture of farmland and rolling country

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 180 Oxford, Witney & Woodstock

Start/finish SP 653141

Dog friendliness On lead across farmland where there might be cattle

Parking Room to park by windmill

Public toilets None on route

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1 From the car park go down the lane known as South Hills, beside the Pheasant Inn, keeping the windmill visible on your right. At a private lock-up garage and a signpost for Leyhill, swing left to join a track. Follow it round to the right to a pair of garages and cross a low stile to the right. A pretty cottage can be seen on the right. Keep to the enclosed footpath and head for two more stiles before crossing rolling grassland. Head towards a large house and a stile to the left of it. Cross over to the road and turn right.

2 Pass a public footpath, then look for a bridleway and footpath sign further down on the right and cross into the field at the stile. Head diagonally right down the field to a plank bridge and stile. Aim broadly left down the adjoining field, making for a stile just to the right of the bottom corner. Turn left and follow a footpath through the undergrowth to a cottage. Keep left and bear right after a few paces into Oakley. Walk along Little London Green to the road and turn right.

3 Take the first path on the left, opposite Little London Farm. Head diagonally left in the field, pass under power lines and make for a gateway. Cross the next field to a waymark and galvanised gate and then continue ahead across the next pasture to a stile and track. Bear left and walk up the track towards Leatherslade Farm. As you approach the farm gate, take the bridle path to the left of it and skirt the house and outbuildings. This is a modern house, built to replace the original farmhouse used by the gang during the robbery.

4 Once clear of the farmhouse buildings, keep climbing gently, passing a public footpath on the right. Cut between trees and banks of vegetation and make for the next galvanised gate. Continue ahead, with the field boundary on your right. Pass several more footpaths on the right and keep going until you reach a gate in the top boundary. Follow the track ahead to the road by the entrance to a house called Fairview.

5 Keep left here and walk along the road to Brill. Pass the Wesleyan chapel, over to the right across the green is the village church. The Red Lion can also be seen at this end of Brill. Pass a turning on the left to Oakley and look for the barometer in the wall. Bear left into Windmill Street and return to the car park.

After successfully holding up the night mail train from Glasgow to London in the early hours of Thursday 8 August 1963, the Great Train Robbers journeyed 27 or so miles (43.4km) west, across country to a farm near the village of Brill. This was to be their hideout, where they could lay low for a day or two after the robbery.

Leatherslade Farm was just what they wanted - remotely situated on high ground and well away from the road. The men chose the site in the same way that the Romans and the people of the Iron Age chose their hilltop settlements - so they could spot any sign of an approaching enemy. Initially they considered using a fleet of high-powered 3.8 litre engined Jaguars as getaway cars. That way they could be back in London in an hour. But driving at high speed through Buckinghamshire's country lanes in the middle of the night was perhaps not the wisest option.

After careful consideration, they hit upon the idea of looking for a suitable hideout within half an hour's drive of the bridge. In June the men spotted a farm advertised in the local press and after viewing it, made an offer of £5,550, which was accepted. The owners moved out at the end of July and a week later, on the morning of Tuesday 6 August, members of the gang began to arrive at the farm. By midnight the following evening they were ready for action.

They returned to Leatherslade Farm after the train robbery and began digging a hole in the garden to bury the mailbags. They cleaned the farm from top to bottom, wiping down the surfaces and burning all the shoes and clothes that had been worn during the raid. Using several vans to carry the money, the gang eventually left the farm late on the Friday night - nearly 48 hours after the robbery.

The following Monday, a local farm labourer walked up the track to Leatherslade Farm to look at some of his cows. He noticed that the windows had been blacked out. Climbing through the hedge into the yard, he spotted a five-ton army truck in the shed. Somewhat suspicious, he rang the police who were busy taking up to 400 train robbery-related calls a day. Eventually they arrived at the farm and discovered the lorry, two Land Rovers, a half-dug hole and the remains of a bonfire.

Both inside the farm and out the police found numerous clues indicating that this had been the Great Train Robbers hideout. But they needed proof and the gang had removed any incriminating evidence that could link them to the farm - or so they thought. Ronald Biggs had left his prints on a tomato sauce bottle in the kitchen. It was just what the police had been looking for.

While you're there

Before starting the walk, take a close look at Brill Windmill standing on the edge of the village overlooking the surrounding countryside. The present mill dates from around 1680 and is actually a post mill - a windmill whose whole body revolves around a central post to face the wind. One of the oldest post mills in the country, Brill was last used in 1919 for milling barley. The nearby pits indicate that clay was extracted for use in brick and tile manufacture.

What to look for

Almost at the end of the walk, just beyond the turning to Oakley, is a rarely seen barometer in the wall, dating back to 1910. The barometer was erected in memory of Sir Edmund Verney of Claydon House in grateful recognition of his devotion to the welfare of the people of Brill and district as county councillor.

Where to eat and drink

There are a couple pubs in Brill - the Red Lion and the Pheasant, which is conveniently situated at the walk's start/finish point. Choose something from the bar menu, perhaps pasta or a burger, or if you need more substantial sustenance the pub offers a range of steak and fish dishes, among other fare.

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