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Chequers - Country Seat of our Chosen Leaders

Explore the rolling Chilterns and savour glimpses of a famous Elizabethan mansion - rural retreat of the Prime Minister.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 378ft (115m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Field and woodland paths and tracks, stretch of Ridgeway, 9 stiles

Landscape Chiltern country, a mixture of rolling hills and woodland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 181 Chiltern Hills North

Start/finish SP 842069

Dog friendliness Under control on Ridgeway and on lead at Butler's Cross, Ellesborough and Great Kimble

Parking Limited spaces at Butler's Cross

Public toilets None on route

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1 From Butler's Cross follow Chalkshire Road, keeping the Russell Arms on the right. Walk along to a row of cottages and take the path opposite signposted 'Aylesbury Ring'. Cross four stiles and pass a path on the right. Continue to a drive on a bend and keep ahead, passing Springs Cottage. Ahead of you now are two stiles. Veer left to a further stile, and then swing left and head up the field slope to Ellesborough church. Cross a stile into the churchyard and keep to the right of the church. Cross the road to a bus stop and veer right for several paces to a kissing gate.

2 Follow the path diagonally up the slope to a stile, sweeping round to the right of Beacon Hill. Make for a stile and continue through woodland, up a flight of steps to the edge of the trees. Cross a field at the top, heading for the next wood, and take the track between trees. Cross a track leading to Chequers, make for a stile and initially follow the field boundary. After several paces, leave the wood on the left and stride out across the field to a kissing gate. To visit the Bernard Arms at Great Kimble, go through the gate and follow the Ridgeway down to the village. To continue the walk, bear left across the field to a kissing gate. Keep woodland on the right and Chequers in view across the field. Follow the path to a Ridgeway waymark, cross the field and the drive to the house and continue to a kissing gate.

3 Cross the road and follow the Ridgeway through woodland. On reaching a four-way junction, turn left and follow the path along the side of the hill. After ½ mile (800m), a number of paths converge. Turn left at the road, then right where it joins another road. Keep to the right edge and pass a lodge house. Follow the path north as the road diverges to the north west. Continue through woodland to a gate. Bear left, leaving the National Trust land by a second gate. Follow the path and drive to the road by Coombe Hill Farm.

4 Turn right, cross over to a barrier and join a long path half right up a large field. Bear right at a track, following it to the road opposite Ellesborough church. Enter the churchyard, keep to the right of the church and make for an iron gate. Pass some cottages on the left, go downhill to the pavement and return to Butler's Cross.

In an age when politicians and world leaders live with the constant threat of terrorist attacks, it is perhaps a little surprising that you can take a country walk through the grounds of Chequers - the Prime Minister's official country seat near Princes Risborough. The Ridgeway cuts across its picturesque parkland, almost like a symbol of our democratic heritage, passing within sight of Chequers and offering superb views of the house and its glorious Chiltern setting.

But don't be fooled. When the Prime Minister chooses Chequers to host a summit or entertain the Russian President, you can be sure that the security forces will have it sealed like a drum. Surveillance is usually discreet and understated - there might not be armed guards and security barriers as far as the eye can see, but you know you are being watched.

Take a walk in the surrounding countryside and chances are you'll strike up a conversation with people who claim to have seen police combing the woods in search of terrorists or cranks. One couple I met locally told me they had seen two identical convoys of ministerial cars and Special Branch 4x4 vehicles leaving Chequers one winter's day - one presumably carrying the Prime Minister and his staff, the other a possible decoy. Fact or fiction, it all adds to the romance and mystery of Chequers and provides plenty of fodder for writers of political thrillers.

Built in 1565, the house was given to the nation in 1921 by Viscount Lee of Fareham. He wrote: '...the better the health of our rulers the more sanely they will rule, and the inducement to spend two days a week in the high and pure air of the Chiltern hills and woods will, it is hoped, benefit the nation as well as its chosen leaders'. Lady Mary Grey, sister of the ill-fated Lady Jane, was initially confined here in disgrace by Elizabeth I after marrying Thomas Keys without her consent. Civil War battles were fought in this part of the country and the house contains one of the finest collection of relics from that period, though sadly they are not seen by the public.

Not all Prime Ministers have been impressed by Chequers. Bonar Law disliked the country. Clement Attlee, on the other hand, loved it from the start and even bought a house in the area when he retired. Ramsay McDonald described it as 'this house of comforting and regenerating rest', but it was Churchill, typically, who summed it up best with these words. 'What distinguished guests it has sheltered, what momentous meetings it has witnessed, what fateful decisions have been taken under this roof'.

What to look for

If you take the spur to Great Kimble for lunch or a relaxing pint, pause to study the superb sign for St Nicholas Church, which depicts the patron saint of children. In this church, in 1637, John Hampden announced that he would not pay Ship Money and so took the country a step nearer to the Civil War. The tax had been imposed on ports before the Spanish Armada invasion threat but Charles I's intention to introduce the tax nationally led to an uprising.

Where to eat and drink

The Russell Arms at Butler's Cross is a traditional country inn offering a bar and restaurant. The Bernard Arms offers a good quality menu and relaxing surroundings where you can study photographs of several Prime Ministers. John Major and President Yeltsin are pictured with their wives outside the pub in the 1990s. Harold Wilson also called in for a pint on his last Sunday in office in 1976 and was photographed with his wife in the bar.

While you're there

Have a look at Ellesborough church. It may be locked but outside, above the porch, are figures indicating it is dedicated to St Peter and St Paul. Look for St Peter's and St Paul's Cottages on the eastern side of the churchyard. There's been a church here for centuries but the present building is Victorian. Past Prime Ministers have worshipped here and even read the lesson.

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