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Claydon's Lady with the Lamp

Visit a splendid National Trust house and see the bedroom occupied by Florence Nightingale on this country walk around the Claydon villages.

Distance 5.5 miles (8.8km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 160ft (49m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Field paths and tracks, several stretches of road

Landscape Gentle farmland and parkland in the Vale of Aylesbury

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 192 Buckingham & Milton Keynes

Start/finish SP 739255

Dog friendliness Dogs on lead at all times, some fields with livestock

Parking On-street parking in road leading to St Mary the Virgin Church, East Claydon

Public toilets Claydon House

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1 Walk along Church Way and continue ahead in the village centre. Keep right at the next junction, following Sandhill Road. Pass a row of houses set back from the road and swing left just before a brick and timber cottage to pass through a galvanised gate. Go straight ahead towards the next gate and look for a gate and waymark a few paces to the left of it. Keep ahead in the field, with the boundary on your right. Make for a gate in the corner and cross the field to the boundary. Continue ahead with the hedgerow on the left and follow a track along the field perimeter, heading for the buildings of Home Farm. Look for a plank bridge and stile to the left of the track and cross the cemetery to a stile by the road.

2 Bear left and follow the road for 600yds (549m), passing the entrance to Home Farm on the right and a footpath on the left. Turn left and follow the drive to Claydon House and when you reach a cattle grid just in front of it, bear right through two gates and turn left. Keep Claydon House and the church on your left and continue alongside the ha-ha, with the lake over to your right. Cut through the parkland to a gate, merge with the drive to Claydon House and follow it to the road.

3 Turn right and pass a lay-by. Continue along the roadside until you reach a stile in the left boundary. Head diagonally left towards a hedge corner and make for a stile close to it. Maintain the same direction, make for the extreme left corner of Home Wood, cross a second stile and look for a third stile by the woodland edge, leading into the next field. Keep telegraph wires on your left and look for a waymark in the corner. Cross a stile and keep to the left of a hedge. Make for a gate and stile ahead and cross a tarmac drive to Muxwell Farm.

4 Beyond a gate, head diagonally left and look for a waymark in the line of trees across the pasture. Veer right in the next field, making for a stile and post in the boundary. Walk diagonally right across the field to the far corner, pass through a gap and keep to the right edge of the pasture. Bear right at a gateway to a track and turn left. Walk along to the road and turn right.

5 Walk through Botolph Claydon and bear left at the junction, following the signs for East Claydon and Winslow. Pass Botolph Farmhouse and the village library and hall. Follow the pavement to a sign 'footpath only, no horses'. Take the path back to East Claydon.

Standing amid elegant parkland, studded with cedar and cypress trees, is 18th-century Claydon House, replacing a much earlier building and now in the care of the National Trust. Only one third of the house remains and, seeing it for the first time, you may be struck by its simplicity, yet it presents to the visitor a series of magnificent and highly distinctive rococo state rooms with carving by Luke Lightfoot, said to be his only known work. Also on view is the bedroom used by Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) during her visits to her sister who lived here.

In 1620 Edmund Verney, Knight-Marshal and Standard Bearer to Charles I, became the first Verney to occupy Claydon. Later, during the 18th century, the family succeeded to an earldom and Edmund's great great grandson, Ralph, 2nd Earl Verney, began to remodel the Tudor manor house, attempting to outdo nearby Stowe. This work still forms the core of the three-storey brick east wing, although the design has disappeared as a result of successive rebuilding. Ralph also added the stone-faced west wing, employing the services of the unknown Luke Lightfoot, an eccentric and enigmatic figure who had acquired certain skills as a craftsman and was variously described as a cabinetmaker, carver, architect and surveyor.

However, there was a darker side to Lightfoot. He was also a swindler, which almost certainly came to light just as his work was nearing completion, as he was dismissed in 1769. Undeterred, Verney continued with his building plan, though now beset by financial problems. He added a domed entrance hall to the west wing and beyond that a ballroom, but died soon after in 1791, penniless and miserable. His niece, Lady Fermanagh, inherited Claydon and within a year she had demolished her uncle's precious ballroom and entrance hall. The house was bequeathed by the Verney family to the National Trust in 1956.

Florence Nightingale, whose sister married Sir Harry Verney, was a frequent visitor to Claydon between the late 1850s and 1895. She would often spend her summers at the house and over the fireplace in her bedroom is a portrait of the Lady with the Lamp by W B Richmond. Adjacent to it is a watercolour by Chalon depicting Florence, her sister and their mother. A museum displays Verney family mementoes and objects associated with Florenence Nightingale and her experiences during the Crimean War.

While you're there

If time allows, leave the route of the walk near Claydon House and explore the local countryside on permissive paths. The routes are part of what is known as the Conservation Walks Project, which is funded by companies under the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme. Open permitted access allows walkers to enjoy Claydon's parkland and walk round the lakes to the west of the house.

What to look for

St Mary the Virgin Church at East Claydon is tucked away on the edge of the village. Its record of presiding rectors dates back to 1218. The tower was built in the late 15th century, while the chapel was added to the nave in 1230. Over the years the local villages have united to become the parish of the Claydons. Look out for the former library at Botolph Claydon, built in 1900 and now the village hall. Adjacent to it is a clock tower erected in 1913 by the friends and parishioners of Sir Edmund Verney in remembrance of his work for the welfare of the parish and his gift of the hall and library.

Where to eat and drink

There are no pubs on the route of the walk. However, nearby Winslow and Buckingham offer a good choice of inns, cafés and restaurants. Refreshments are also available at Claydon House.

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