A downland walk to an historic church associated with a famous poet's family.
Distance 4 miles (6.4km)
Minimum time 1hr 30min
Ascent/gradient 164ft (50m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Farm tracks, paths and roads (can be busy in Ewelme)
Landscape Spectacular downland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 171 Chiltern Hills West
Start/finish SU 648912
Dog friendliness On lead in Ewelme, under control near livestock
Parking Small car park by sports ground at Ewelme
Public toilets None on route
1 Turn right out of the car park and follow the road between trees and hedgerows towards Swyncombe and Cookley Green. Cross over at the next junction and follow the bridleway between stone pillars and wrought-iron and gilt gates towards Down Farm. Keep to the main track, following it for about ½ mile (800m). Pass the farm outbuildings and continue between trees and hedgerows. Turn left at an intersection, about ¼ mile (400m) from the farm, and head north, skirting a field by keeping to the left-hand boundary. Follow the Swan's Way into the next field and continue with the hedge now on your right. There are very pleasant views along here towards distant patches of woodland.
2 On reaching the road, turn right and when, after a short distance, it bends right, go straight on along the edge of a pretty beechwood. This is the route of the Icknield Way, an ancient highway. Turn left after a few paces and follow the Chiltern Way over open fields and downland. When the track bends right, go straight on towards farm outbuildings. Pass to the left of them and, further on, ignore some double gates on the right. Keep ahead as the track bends left and follow the path between fields to the road.
3 Turn left, pass the Ewelme village sign and a bridleway on the right, and make for the village centre. Cross Hampden Way and follow the road as it sweeps sharp right, avoiding the turning to the church. Pass Chaucer Court on the right and the site of the old village pound where stray horses and cattle were held. It was probably last in use immediately prior to the Second World War.
4 Turn left at the T-junction towards Swyncombe and Crowmarsh, passing a pond on the left. This is Ewelme High Street. Just before the road bends sharp right, turn left into Burroughs Hill and begin a moderate but brief climb to Ewelme churchyard and the road.
5 After visiting the church, turn right and pass the Old Rectory. Continue down the lane and out of the village. Cross over at the next junction, back to the car park.
Among Ewelme's most historic and distinctive buildings is the early 15th-century church, St Mary's, which featured in the television filming of John Mortimer's Paradise Postponed. Step inside and have a look at the church's many treasures before finishing the walk.
As you enter the church, look for the altar tomb which lies in St John's Chapel between the first and second bays of the chancel. The tomb is that of Thomas Chaucer, who died in 1434, and his wife Matilda Burghersh, who died two years later. Thomas was the son of Geoffrey Chaucer, the poet, and his mother was Philippa Roet, whose sister was the third wife of John of Gaunt, son of Edward III.
The marble slab is decorated with the brasses of Thomas in plate armour, with the unicorn crest at his feet. In each corner is a shield of arms. On the sides of the tomb is one of the largest and most fascinating displays of medieval shields of arms to be found anywhere in the country. The shields and the inscription were restored in 1843 and are thought to date back to the 1430s.
Another imposing tomb in the church is that of Alice, Duchess of Suffolk. Daughter of Thomas and Matilda, Alice died in 1475. Almost certainly the tomb was erected in the church soon after her death.
Alice inherited the manor of Ewelme from her mother and, after marrying William de la Pole, the Duke of Suffolk, she and her husband planned to transform Ewelme into a model medieval village. However, the Duke did not live to see the fruits of his labour - his reputation had been flawed by accusations of corruption and impropriety and he had made many enemies along the way.
In 1450, while on his way to France, the Duke was brutally murdered. His widow took charge of the work at Ewelme, supervising the building of the school and almshouses and the rebuilding of the church. When Queen Victoria became Sovereign of the Order of the Garter, it was uncertain as to where a lady should wear the garter. To try and resolve the matter, it was decided to inspect the tombs of those who wore the Garter. Among them was the effigy of the Duchess of Suffolk. Alice is depicted wearing the Order of the Garter on her left wrist.
The Shepherds Hut is just outside Ewelme village centre. The menu includes light snacks and main meals (no food is available on Sunday evening). Outside there is a large beer garden.
Beside the path to the Old Rectory, adjoining the church, is the grave of Jerome K Jerome, who is best known for his wonderful book about a Thames journey, Three Men in a Boat (1889).
Allow time to look round Ewelme. The village is renowned for its watercress beds which once yielded a sizeable harvest. A leisurely tour of Ewelme's quiet streets and hidden corners reveals an assortment of architectural styles.