Visit the home of a famous British statesman on this scenic Chiltern walk.
Distance 7 miles (11.3km)
Minimum time 2hrs 45min
Ascent/gradient 280ft (85m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Field, woodland and parkland paths, some roads, 5 stiles
Landscape Heart of Chilterns, north of High Wycombe
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 172 Chiltern Hills East
Start/finish SU 826952
Dog friendliness On lead around West Wycombe and Downley, signs at various points request dogs be on lead or under control
Parking Car park by church and mausoleum at West Wycombe
Public toilets Hughenden Manor, West Wycombe House
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1 From the car park pass to the immediate right of the church. Continue to the mausoleum and line up with the A40 down below. Take the grassy path down the hillside, avoid the path on the right, make your way down to a fork, keep right to a flight of steps and descend to the road. Bear left and pass Church Lane on the right. Take the next path on the right and keep to the right-hand boundary of the field. Look for a stile and maintain the same direction down to a stile by the road.
2 Cross over, make for a gate, pass under the railway and, at the field, go straight ahead keeping to the right of the fence. Follow the path to a stile, cross a track and continue up the slope. Make for two stiles by a gate and some barns. Join a lane, swing right at the waymark and follow the ride through woodland. Eventually you reach a stile beyond which the path crosses a field.
3 On reaching a track, turn right and cut through the wood. Veer left at the fork and head for the road. Bear left into Downley. Turn left for the pub or right to continue the walk. Pass some houses and when the track bends left, go straight on for a few paces, veering left at the waymark. Cross the common, following the path through clearings and into trees. On reaching a National Trust sign, turn sharp left and follow the path through the woods. Avoid the path on the left and follow the white arrows. Pass a gate and continue ahead, up the moderately steep slope to a junction.
4 Keep right and follow the path to a track. Swing left to visit Hughenden Manor or right to continue the walk. Follow the path through parkland and make for tree cover. Bear immediately left, up the slope through the trees. Look for a house and turn right at the road. Pass the Bricklayers Arms and go straight over at the junction.
5 Keep ahead through the trees to a housing estate. Go forward for several paces at the road, bearing right at the first footpath sign. Follow the path as it bends left and runs down to a junction. Swing left for several steps, then veer right by some houses, heading down through trees to a galvanised gate. Take the sunken path to the right of it, follow it down to a fork and continue ahead. Head for a lane and follow it towards West Wycombe. Cross Bradenham Road and walk ahead into the village. Turn right into West Wycombe Hill Road and head uphill to the car park.
Looking at Hughenden Manor's delightful setting on the slope of a hill and surrounded by woods and unspoiled parkland, it's not difficult to see why Benjamin Disraeli, Queen Victoria's favourite Prime Minister, chose it as his country home in 1848.
Born in 1804, the baptised son of a Spanish Jew, Disraeli was clever and ambitious. Fiercely political, his main objectives in life were to further the cause of the workers, popularise the monarchy and foster the might, unity and glory of the British Empire. His greatest political rival was the Liberal leader William Gladstone who disliked Disraeli's imperialism and his grand notions of empire.
It was Disraeli who turned Queen Victoria against Gladstone, forging a close association with the Monarch at a time when she most needed the trust and support of others. After her beloved Albert died in 1861, Victoria withdrew from public life to mourn his loss. As the years passed, she became an increasingly distant and reclusive figure - isolated from her family and her subjects. Benjamin Disraeli coaxed her back, winning her trust and giving her the confidence she needed to continue as Queen. Towards the end of his life, he had become one of her closest confidants.
By the time he and his wife, Mary Anne, moved to Hughenden, Disraeli was already an established novelist as well as a significant figure in British politics. Having been elected leader of the Conservative Party in the House of Commons, it was clear he was destined for higher office. Disraeli became Chancellor of the Exchequer in Lord Derby's three successive ministries and Prime Minister in the 1860s and 70s. Widowed in 1872, he was created Earl of Beaconsfield four years later, remaining at Hughenden until his death in 1881.
When Disraeli purchased Hughenden Manor, it was a white-painted, three-storeyed Georgian building of simple, unfussy design. The house was given a Gothic flavour by the architect E B Lamb in 1862, and the west wing was added by Disraeli's nephew, Coningsby.
Now in the care of the National Trust, Hughenden contains most of Disraeli's books, pictures and furniture. There are even manuscripts and various letters from Queen Victoria who spent some time in Disraeli's study after his funeral. The display case in the Disraeli Room has a copy of Prince Albert's printed speeches and addresses, given to Disraeli by Queen Victoria in gratitude for his moving speech in the House of Commons following the Prince Consort's death.
Visit West Wycombe House, built in the 18th century for Sir Francis Dashwood, founder of the Dilettanti Society and the notorious Hellfire Club. The house, among the most theatrical and Italianate in the country, is famous for its rococo garden. The caves, below West Wycombe Hill are open to the public. They were extended to a depth of 1,320ft (402m) in the 1750s by Sir Francis to provide local employment.
There is a café at the West Wycombe caves. Further on is the Le de Spencer Arms at Downley where you'll find hot and cold food available. The Bricklayers Arms, also at Downley, is ideally placed for rest and refreshment, offering a good range of dishes and beers.
Up on West Wycombe Hill, overlooking High Wycombe and West Wycombe Park, is St Lawrence Church, given its Georgian flavour by Sir Francis Dashwood who also put the golden ball on top of the 14th-century tower. In the tower is a room with seating for ten people, this is believed to be where members of the Hellfire Club gathered in order to practise black magic.