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Hartwell's Green Abode

Combine the pleasure of a walk beside the River Thame with a stroll through the grounds of a hotel with a remarkable history.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 180ft (55m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Field and riverside paths, tracks and lanes, 6 stiles

Landscape Gently rolling farmland and villages south of River Thame

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 181 Chiltern Hills North

Start/finish SP 783123

Dog friendliness On lead near Lower Hartwell Farm and alongside Thame

Parking Space in Eythrope Road, Hartwell

Public toilets None on route

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© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 From the A418 turn into Bishopstone Road and keep to the left of the church. Walk along to the footpath beside Manor Farm Close and cross the pasture to a kissing gate leading out to a recreation ground. Pass ornate gate pillars on the left, recalling the men of the village who died in the world wars, and exit to the road by railings. Cross over to a footpath sign and a gate for Woodspeen and follow the drive to a timber garage and shed. Bear right to a gate and follow the path to the road. Turn right, walk up to the A418 and on the right is the Rose and Crown.

2 Swing left at the corner and follow the path alongside a stone wall. Head for the road, bear right and walk along to the entrance to Hartwell House. Veer left at the gate pillars and follow the waymarked path through the hotel grounds. Go through a kissing gate, keep the church on your right and the little graveyard on your left. Turn right at the road and pass the Egyptian-style pavilion. Avoid the North Bucks Way running off to the left, pass Lower Hartwell Farm and turn left at the footpath. Cross two fields via three stiles and turn right immediately beyond a plank bridge.

3 Skirt the field and make for a stile ahead. Keep the hedge on your left and continue on the North Bucks Way, heading towards Waddon Hill Farm. Cross a stile, walk ahead alongside timber barns and turn left at the waymark. Follow the track out across the fields to where it eventually it sweeps left. Leave it at this point and go straight on along a path to a stile. Cross a meadow and head for the River Thame. Swing left at the riverbank to a gate and join the Thame Valley Walk.

4 After about 60yds (55m) the path reaches a second gate at the point where the river begins a wide loop away to the right. Follow the stream to the next gate and rejoin the riverbank. Follow the Thame, avoiding the bridleway branching away from the river, and continue on the waymarked trail. Make for a footbridge and weir, on the opposite bank is an ornate lodge. Join a straight concrete track and follow it towards trees.

5 Once in the trees, the Thame can be seen immediately on the left. To the right is the parkland of Eythrope. Bear right at the next junction to glimpse the park. To continue the walk, keep left and follow the tarmac drive. Begin a moderate lengthy ascent before reaching the houses of Stone.

'Why wouldst thou leave

So wrote Lord Byron on Louis XVIII's departure for France to assume his throne in 1814. Few hotels can boast such a royal connection, but it was in the library of Hartwell House, just outside Aylesbury, that its most famous resident, Louis XVIII, exiled King of France, signed the accession papers to the throne. Louis leased the house for five years, between 1809 and 1814, staying here with his court during the Napoleonic wars. The Queen of France died here during this period and her coffin was taken from Hartwell to Sardinia.

One of England's finest stately homes and grandest country hotels, Hartwell House was built for the Hampden and Lee families, ancestors of the American Civil War soldier, General Robert E Lee, during the 17th and 18th centuries. Now a Grade I listed building, the house has many Jacobean and Georgian features, magnificent decorative plasterwork, ceilings and panelling, fine paintings and antique furniture.

The philanthropist Ernest Edward Cook, grandson of tourist pioneer Thomas Cook, who was an important benefactor of the National Trust and National Art Collections Fund, bought Hartwell House and its estate from the Lees in 1938. He was also a founder of the Ernest Cook Trust, which, in the mid-1980s, made Hartwell House and its parkland available to Historic House Hotels for a major restoration and conversion.

The entrance to the house is via a porch flanked by pillars of carved stone, and a carved doorway. Set above all this is a splendid oriel window sitting on intricately embroidered stone corbels. The great hall is an imposing room in English baroque style built by James Gibbs in 1740. The rococo morning room with its decorated ceiling and door cases, the adjoining drawing room and the library, are all Georgian and date from about 1760. The principal dining room is by Eric Throssell and reflects the style of the early 19th-century architect Sir John Soane. Hartwell stands in 90 acres (36ha) of parkland, which was laid out by a pupil of the eminent landscape designer Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. Among the features is a lake spanned by a delightful stone bridge and fed by nearby springs.

While you're there

Go to Hartwell House hotel reception and ask for the key to the church, which lies just across the drive. The present church, which replaces a medieval structure, was built between 1754 and 1756 by Henry Keene for Sir William Lee of Hartwell House, and is a splendid example of Gothic Revival. After the Second World War lead was stolen from the roof, which resulted in the collapse of the vaulting. The west tower and roof have recently been restored.

What to look for

The Hartwell Estate boasts many treasures. The bridge over the lake, erected at the end of the 19th century, is the central span of old Kew Bridge built in the 18th century by James Paine, but dismantled in 1898. Outside the main door of the house stands an equestrian statue of Frederick, Prince of Wales and in nearby Weir Lane is an Egyptian-style pavilion over a spring, dating back to 1851. Eythrope Park, on the north bank of the Thame, and once the country seat of the Dormer and Stanhope families, has an interesting history. The river was used to create a lake and Sir William Stanhope, who died in 1772, enlarged the house and decorated the garden. The Waddesdon Manor Estate later acquired the park and in the 1880s Miss Alice de Rothschild had a pavilion erected by the lake. The house was dismantled in the early 19th century.

Where to eat and drink

The Waggon and Horses offers daily bar snacks and Sunday lunches, as well as a variety of other dishes. There is a small beer garden and the pub is open all day on Friday and at weekends. The Rose and Crown at Hartwell serves jacket potatoes, sandwiches, rarebit and light lunches. Sunday lunch is also available.

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