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Colourful Wargrave

Leave bustling Wargrave and head for peaceful Bowsey Hill.

Distance 6 miles (9.7km)

Minimum time 2hrs 15min

Ascent/gradient 248ft (76m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Stretches of road, field and woodland paths,13 stiles

Landscape High ground on upper slopes of Thames Valley, dense woodland and peaceful glades

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 171 Chiltern Hills West

Start/finish SU 786785

Dog friendliness On lead near livestock and where requested by signs

Parking Public car park in School Lane, just off A321

Public toilets At car park

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1 Turn left and walk along School Lane, the B477. On the first bend, bear left into Dark Lane, head up the hill and turn right at the T-junction. Follow the road and turn left at the sign for Crazies Hill. Bear right by East Lodge, follow the lane to a bend and bear left over a stile to join a waymarked path. Keep alongside the fence, and then strike out across the fields towards trees. Cross a stile and turn right at the road, veering left opposite a private house, Crouch End.

2 Keep close to the left boundary of the field and look for a stile in the bottom corner. Descend steeply to two stiles and a bridleway beyond. Cross a stile almost opposite and climb the hillside. Look for a stile further up the slope and keep ahead on the higher ground, following the path alongside the fence. Descend to a kissing gate at the road and turn immediately right. Head uphill and pass Worley's Farm.

3 Take the next waymarked path on the right, just before a row of trees, and aim a little to the left as you cross the field, lining up with a large white house in the distance. Head towards a stile in the hedge and maintain the same direction, keeping to the left of the house. Look for a stile and follow an enclosed path to the road. Turn right, then left beside the village hall and, after a few paces, bear left by the old Old Clubhouse. Follow the path by a paddock to a stile by the road. Bear right, past the entrance to Thistle House and a bridleway into trees on the right.

4 Continue for several paces to a stile on the left. Join a woodland path and look out for white arrows on the tree trunks, eventually reaching a waymarked junction. Turn right here, avoid a path on the right and keep going to the next waymarked junction, on the edge of the wood. Fields are visible here. Bear left and walk down to a flight of steps and a footbridge. Make for the woodland perimeter and turn right along the field edge.

5 Cross a bridleway via two stiles and continue ahead along the woodland edge. Look for a hedge gap on the right, cross into the adjoining field and maintain the same direction. Make for a kissing gate and a footbridge in the field corner and continue ahead to a wrought iron kissing gate. Follow the path across the next field, heading towards trees. Make for a kissing gate leading out to the road and turn right. Follow it down to the A321, turn left and walk along to School Lane.

The riverside village of Wargrave is usually quiet during the week, but often busy with visitors and boating enthusiasts at the weekends, particularly in the summer. It is sometimes mistakenly believed that the village has a connection with military cemeteries. That couldn't be further from the truth - its name actually means 'grove by the weirs'.

The village is distinctly Edwardian in appearance but its origins date back many centuries. When Edith, the wife of Edward the Confessor, held the manor in the 11th century, it was known as Weregrave. The church among the trees dates from the First World War, replacing an earlier building that, except for the Norman tower, was destroyed by fire on Whit Sunday, 1914. It is believed that the fire was the work of a militant wing of the Suffragettes - angry because the vicar would not withdraw the word 'obey' from the marriage service. However, this claim was never proved. Madame Tussaud's daughter-in-law is buried in the churchyard.

Thomas Day, the 18th-century idealist, was a resident of Wargrave. He wrote Sandford and Merton (1783-9), the story of two boys - one rich, the other poor. Day was an eccentric character but a genial man, nonetheless. He supported the abolition of slavery and the protection of animals from cruelty. He believed, too, that animals responded to kindness and gentleness. However, this proved to be his undoing. One day in 1789, in an attempt to demonstrate his conviction, he mounted an unbroken horse and was subsequently thrown off and killed.

Wargrave seems to have produced more than its fair share of colourful characters over the centuries. One of them was Zachary Allnutt who lived for more than 100 years at Lavender Cottage on the Henley road. Allnutt was a well-known local lavender grower in the 19th century. He had 40 acres (16ha) of it and the air around Wargrave at that time must have been very fragrant.

Another eccentric local figure was the 18th-century Irish peer, the Earl of Barrymore. He built a theatre close to his Wargrave home and engaged the services of a famous Covent Garden clown known as Delphini. The opening night in 1791 was a sensation, with the cream of theatrical society in attendance. The Earl died suddenly in 1793, and by that time he had frittered away over £¼ million on the theatre, as well as various other sporting pleasures. There is a final, rather sordid, footnote to this story. The Earl was buried at Wargrave church on a Sunday so as to prevent his creditors seizing his body and holding it until his debts had been settled!

What to look for

The pretty hamlet of Crazies Hill lies on the upper slopes of the valley. There is a rather charming story behind its name. Apparently, buttercups were once commonplace in this area and 'crazies' is a rustic country name for buttercups. Look out for the entrance to Thistle House. In the 1960s this was the home of David Greig, a butcher who began a supermarket chain. His emblem was the thistle and the house was used as a training college for a while.

While you're there

As you approach Crazies Hill look across the fields towards nearby Cockpole Green. It is believed there was once a cockpit here where cock fighting took place. Along the road to Remenham Hill, at Upper Culham Farm, was a RAF airfield. During the Second World War the residents of this area would have become used to the sound of droning aircraft overhead.

Where to eat and drink

There are several pubs in Wargrave - among them the Bull, the Greyhound and the White Hart. Alternatively, if you want to stop midway round the walk, try the Horns at Crazies Hill. This popular timber-framed pub has a range of filled baguettes and daily-changing menus.

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