I’ve had this image as the desktop background on my computer for the last three years. It was the highlight of a walk from West Wycombe to Hughenden Manor. We passed many grand buildings and sweeping landscapes but this place, at the intersection of two sunken paths and the curious steps leading up to where the light filters down through the leaves – Beam me up, Scotty – this was my favourite moment of the walk.
We started on top of the hill by St Lawrence’s church with its landmark golden ball then around the Mausoleum, built on the site of a Bronze Age settlement and pagan temple thought to be similar to Stonehenge. We descended the steep hillside and down the field path, across the road, under the railway, alongside arable fields, down into a valley and up to a farm, along a lane then onto a grassy ride by a group of towering beech trees with trunks like slender grey columns up to the sky.
We followed the ride through the woods until it became a track that led to Downley Common and the Le De Spencers Arms. After a pause for lunch we continued beside the common and down into the woods following a National Trust sign which led us eventually to Hughenden Manor.
After a brief diversion we returned across parkland and back into the woods following the road along the outskirts of High Wycombe then down a track behind houses at the edge of more woodland. This was one of those walks that became imprinted and I would replay it as I lay in bed drifting off to sleep, retracing one step after another like counting sheep. Everything up until this point had been fast forward, but this was where it slowed down.
Here we stepped into a sunken path and everything suddenly felt more ancient. It wasn’t that I started to imagine what had gone before, I didn’t witness historical events, I just felt more grounded, less animal, more vegetable, more part of the place. Further down we came to the holloway junction where I climbed the steps and…
…I was illuminated, I saw the light, I was dissolved into a million pieces, I was bounced around the stars like a pinball, I knew the Milky Way, I was reconceived, I played guitar with Jimi Hendrix, I played saxophone with John Coltrane, I saw the origin of heaven and earth, I was nameless, I was the light through the leaves, I was the river in the tree, I was the blood in the stone…
…nothing much happened really but I relive all of it each time I switch on the computer and it appears on my desktop. From here we continued down the path, deep in leaf litter, fallen from beech, hazel,
ash, field maple and this curiosity I’d not seen before. The tree was inconspicuous but the fruits were spectacular, pink, almost fluorescent in the October afternoon light. We later identified it as the spindle tree (euonymus europaeus) from this painting by Jenny Jowett on a postcard Lizzie gave to me the following Christmas. Most of the year you would never notice its existence, lost in the hedgerow only becoming noticeable when full of these startlingly bright, segmented berries.
Through gaps in the hedge we got views across the surrounding farmland and on a distant hilltop the place where we started and our return destination. The path brought us down to the A40 and into
West Wycombe High Street where we turned right beneath Church Loft Meeting House and into Church Lane. Behind here was a wonderful first floor workshop with old woodworking tools hung at the windows, just the place to build some fine picture-frames. Up the lane we came to another kind of holloway, a series of hand carved tunnels excavated in the chalk hillside in the 18th century by Francis Dashwood, 15th Baron Le Despencer and known as the Hellfire Caves. We didn’t go in but just sat outside with a cup of tea before returning through the churchyard and back to where we came from.
Walk the walk – West Wycombe