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Mentmore and the Crime of the Century

A pleasant amble in the Vale of Aylesbury, passing the site of the 20th century's most audacious crime.

Distance 6.4 miles (10.4km)

Minimum time 2hrs 45min

Ascent/gradient 180ft (55m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Field paths and tracks, roads and canal tow path, 2 stiles

Landscape Vale of Aylesbury and farmland west of Grand Union Canal

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorers 181 Chiltern Hills North; 192 Milton Keynes & Buckingham

Start/finish SP 907196 (on Explorer 181)

Dog friendliness On lead across farmland and under control on tow path

Parking Limited parking in vicinity of Stag pub at Mentmore

Public toilets None on route

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

1 Walk back to the junction by the Stag, turn right and pass one of the grand entrances to Mentmore Towers. Follow the road round to the left, then to the right by the Church of St Mary the Virgin. Continue along the road and bear right at a stile, just beyond Vicarage Cottage. Go down the field, keeping the fence over to the right, and look for a stile in the bottom boundary.

2 Veer right for a few paces to a plank bridge, then swing left to skirt the field, keeping a ditch on the right. On reaching the next plank bridge and waymark, look for a pond enclosed by fencing. Follow the path alongside it into the next field. (This section of the route may be overgrown so please take care on the bridges and beware of stinging nettles.) Pass under telegraph wires to the next plank bridge in the boundary. Go ahead and pass under electricity cables. The houses of Ledburn can be seen ahead. Make for a footbridge (possibly overgrown, so please take care here) and in the next field aim slightly left, towards a house. Keep to the left of it and turn right at the road.

3 Go through Ledburn and make for a left bend. On the left is Cornfield Cottage, once a chapel. Cross the road to a kissing gate and follow a track running across farmland. As it curves left, keep ahead, following the path across a field. At a track, turn right and follow it to Sears Crossing. Cross the railway bridge, follow the track down to the road and turn left.

4 Bear right at the sign for Grove Church and Farm and walk down to the Grand Union Canal at Church Lock. Pass Church Lock Cottage before turning right to join the tow path. Follow it for about 1 mile (1.6km) and, 140yds (128m) before a bridge, where you can see a weir on the left, leave the tow path at a plank bridge and bear right for a few paces to the field corner.

5 Swing left and keep the boundary on your right. Make for two metal gates leading out to the road, turn right then left at the turning for Wing and Ledburn. Follow the road to Bridego Bridge, pass beneath the railway and keep ahead to Rowden Farm.

6 Bear left at the next junction for Mentmore. Pass Mentmore Courts and the Stud House before turning left at the end of a stretch of pavement. Opposite the junction are two wooden gates leading into a field. Follow the road round to the right and return to the playground and parking area.

It hardly seems possible today, but in the summer of 1963, 15 masked men waited in the darkness of the Buckinghamshire countryside, held up the night train from Glasgow to London and robbed it of £2.5 million It was described as the crime of the century, making newspaper headlines around the world and eventually turning the robbers into folk heroes, immortalised in books, television series and money-spinning movies. The robbers were pursued and captured by Scotland Yard and many of them were given long prison sentences. But the story did not end there. One of them, Ronald Biggs, broke out of jail, fled to Brazil and eluded capture for the next 35 years.

These days, surplus and used bank notes are transported around the country in security vans, but in the very different world of the early 1960s, express trains conveyed such consignments - often with huge amounts of money on board. And 40 years ago it was possible to stop a mail train and rob it - as was proved.

The men planned the snatch in meticulous detail, surveying the railway line between London and Rugby in an attempt to find an isolated stretch of track with a signal and easy access to the road. Eventually they found what they were looking for - Sears Crossing and nearby Bridego Bridge on the Buckinghamshire/Bedfordshire border, to the south of Leighton Buzzard. They made many trips here in the dead of night, to identify the mail trains and plan the job.

Satisfied that it could be done, the next step was to familiarise themselves with the technicalities of train engines and braking systems. To do this, they dressed up in navy blue boiler suits, passing themselves off as railway workers in the marshalling yards of London's mainline stations. In the early hours of Thursday 8 August, 1963, the men were as ready as they ever would be. It was time to go.

Travelling in a convoy of vehicles, they made their way across country to the four-track railway. Their first task was to cut the telephone wires to the nearby farms. Then, as the mail train approached, they covered the green light with a glove and used a battery and a bulb behind the red signal to give the impression to the driver that the light was against him.

The train stopped, but the driver refused to co-operate and received violent blows to the head. With the engine and the vital post office coaches detached from the rest of the train, the men moved the express down the line to Bridego Bridge where they unloaded 120 sacks on to the vehicles lined up on the road below. They drove off as dawn gradually lit the scene of their extraordinary crime.

Where to eat and drink

The Stag at Mentmore offers a varied menu in the bar, with dishes such as grilled chicken in sesame bread, open sandwiches with black pudding, poached egg and bacon, and smoked haddock with Welsh rarebit. There is also a restaurant and an à la carte menu.

What to look for

The former Church of St Michael and All Angels by Church Lock was once the smallest church in the county and is mentioned in the Domesday Book. The church was rebuilt during the 14th century and declared redundant in 1971. It is now a private house.

While you're there

Have a look at the Church of St Mary the Virgin at Mentmore. According to records, there was a church on this site in the 12th century, probably consisting of a chancel and nave. Make for the wooded corner of the churchyard and you'll get a glimpse of splendid Mentmore Towers, once the home of Lord Roseberry, British Liberal Prime Minister in the latter years of the 19th century. The house, overlooking elegant parkland, remained in the Roseberry family for many years, but has since been owned by the late George Harrison who donated it to the Natural Law Party.

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