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Greys Court - a House and a Home

Visit a National Trust property in a delightfully unspoiled setting on this pretty walk in the Chilterns.

Distance 4 miles (6.4km)

Minimum time 1hr 45min

Ascent/gradient 150ft (45m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Field and parkland paths, drives and tracks, stretches of road (can be busy), 12 stiles

Landscape Chiltern hills and farmland, Greys Court parkland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 171 Chiltern Hills West

Start/finish SU 726823

Dog friendliness Several dog stiles. Under control by golf course and in vicinity of Greys Court

Parking Spaces by church at Rotherfield Greys

Public toilets Greys Court, for visitors; otherwise none on route

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1 With the church lychgate on your left-hand side, walk towards the Maltsters Arms pub and turn immediately left before William's Cottage to join a gravel drive. Follow the footpath alongside the churchyard and make for the stile ahead. Head obliquely right, across the field to another stile, pass through the gap in the hedgerow and then veer half-right in the next field. Make for a stile, cross over and join a path.

2 Turn right and pass between trees, high hedges and margins of bracken. The path graduates to become a track and passes alongside the fairways of a golf course before crossing a drive to a gate. Continue ahead to reach the road and turn right. Pass a turning for Shepherd's Green on the left and follow the road along to the grassy expanse of Greys Green. Veer left on to the green and aim to the right of the pavilion. Join a footpath, cross a stile and descend very steeply to the next stile. Pass under power lines in the pasture and keep the fence on the left. Make for a stile, cross a lane to a footpath and after a few steps you reach a stile. Continue ahead towards Greys Court.

3 Walk along to the admission kiosk and swing left here, following the footpath to the next boundary. Continue on the path to a pond and along a section of boardwalk. Pass alongside a fence and woodland, avoiding a gate and some steps to reach a stile on the left just beyond them by a corrugated barn. Cross over the stile and keep to the right-hand side, with the fence and field on the right. Turn right at a drive and make for the road ahead. Turn right at this junction and continue, passing Broadplat.

4 Keep left at the next junction and continue along the road to reach a track on the right, signposted to Rotherfield Greys. Continue ahead when the track bends to the left, and follow a rough track ahead. Pass a footpath sign and look for a stile on the left. Follow the path down the hillside, keeping a belt of woodland on the right. Beyond it, continue on the grassy path with a fence on the right. Turn right, across a stile in the field corner and follow the path alongside fencing. After about 60yds (55m), look for a stile on the left. Cross it and maintain the same direction. Make for a stile ahead, then swing left and follow the path up the slope and back to the road opposite the church at Rotherfield Greys where you started the walk.

There is a charming intimacy about Greys Court, a delightfully homely air that is not always evident in properties that have been immaculately restored and preserved by the National Trust. During my visit there I found the usual quota of attractions, but there were also signs of a familiar domestic routine. A television set stood in one of the ground floor rooms and in the kitchen I spotted a member of staff making tea for the lady of the house. Even when it opens its doors to the public, Greys Court retains a strong 'lived-in' feel - this is not just a house, but a home.

During the time the house was occupied by the Stapletons, the estate comprised a staggering 8,000 acres (3,240ha) of woodland, parkland and farmland. Today, it covers a more modest 300 acres (121.5ha), with the delightful 16th-century house, standing beside the ruins of the old fortified manor, at its heart.

One of Greys Court's most popular attractions is its picturesque garden. When Sir Felix and Lady Brunner moved here in 1937, they found this area of the estate to be sadly neglected. War was declared soon after their arrival, so very little work was undertaken until the late 1940s. However, when it came to planning improvements to the garden, the Brunners found the old walls of the fortified manor gave them a distinct advantage over many other country houses.

The gardener's statue in the Kitchen Garden commemorates Charles Taylor, who was Head Gardener at Greys Court between 1937 and 1955. It was he who helped Lady Brunner rescue the garden and give it new life. The iron pergola linking the Kitchen Garden and the Wisteria Garden includes the initials of Sir Felix and Lady Brunner, and was commissioned to mark their golden wedding in 1977. The wisteria has the effect of binding the various gardens and is best appreciated in early May.

The White Garden was inspired by the renowned gardens of Sissinghurst in Kent, the work of Sir Harold Nicolson and his wife, the writer Victoria (Vita) Sackville-West. This was the first garden at Greys Court to be restored and it was completed in the mid-1950s. The old glasshouse was demolished and stone slabs from the kitchen were used to pave the new summer house and terrace. The pond was created to mark a family engagement.

While you're there

Have a look at the Archbishop's Maze at Greys Court. The maze, formed from brick paths in grass, was designed by Adrian Fisher in 1980. It is based on the theme of reconciliation, which formed the core of Dr Robert Runcie's enthronement sermon as Archbishop of Canterbury. Look out, too, for a Tudor donkey-wheel adjacent to the house.

What to look for

See if you can spot the Health Walks logo as you follow the route. This scheme was introduced by Dr William Bird, a local GP, with the idea of encouraging people to get more exercise and stay healthy. St Nicholas' Church at Rotherfield Greys contains the burial chapel of the Knollys family, where on a splendid altar tomb lie Sir Francis Knollys and his wife. Kneeling on top of the canopy are their son, the Earl of Banbury, and his wife. The Earl is said to have been the inspiration for Shakespeare's Malvolio.

Where to eat and drink

The Maltsters Arms in Rotherfield Greys was once a brewery - hence its name. There is a wide-ranging menu here, including various snacks and main meals. Home-made cakes and scones are served in the attractive Cromwellian Stables at Greys Court.

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