Wycombe on the day of the new King

Mayor and Beadle of High Wycombe, September 2022

Somehow it was so apt to be in Wycombe on the day the new King was proclaimed at the Town Hall two weeks ago. I wondered whether the ghost of Dr Martin Lluelyn popped along. He’d been physician to both Charles I and Charles II, attending to Charles I on the scaffold before his execution and then served as Mayor of High Wycombe in 1671 when residing in Crendon Street. Charles III is bound to Wycombe through this historical thread whether he likes it or not.

As a town it does ceremonial occasions so well with its ancient tradition of the weighing-in of the Mayor and previous heritage of building giant chair arches. I’d expected a sleepy Sunday stroll in the territory of my birth but found the crowds streaming along Queen Victoria Road.

Queen Victoria Road, High Wycombe, 11th September 2022 proclamation of King Charles III
Queen Victoria Road, High Wycombe, 11th September 2022
High Street, High Wycombe September 11th 2022
High Street, High Wycombe
Cafe on High Wycombe High Street
High Street, High Wycombe

There was life in the High Street too, a plush new cafe had opened up next to a restored building that had recently discovered to be the oldest in the town apart from the Norman church. The Octagon Centre was bereft, haunted by the ghost of its fountain where now there’s only a bare sunlit space.

Octagon Centre High Wycombe
Octagon Centre High Wycombe
River Wye High Wycombe
River Wye
Deangarden Wood High Wycombe
Deangarden Wood
Tunnel under M40 High Wycombe
Fennell’s Wood

I followed the River Wye out of the town across the Rye and then along the bottom of Deangarden Wood. Another footpath took me up the steep valley side and through a long tunnel beneath the M40 into Fennell’s Wood. It’s these beech woods hugging the Chiltern Hills, that not only gave the town and its satellite villages their identity and culture but also their industry. Bodgers turned chair legs and piled them high in their woodland camps. In the brick and flint cottages, chair caners wove the seats. On the valley floor, factories assembled the chairs that gave Wycombe the moniker of Chairopolis. This is where your Windsor chairs actually come from. Wycombe Wanderers still go by the nickname of the Chairboys, and my grandfather used to walk through these woods on the way to watch the Wanderers at their old ground of Loakes Park.

Juniper Hill Water Tower, Flackwell Heath
Juniper Hill Tower

My walk was part nostalgia trip and part recce for a piece of writing I started during one of the lockdowns and had reached a dead end. Following the narrative thread from my Mum’s burial in Wooburn cemetery had somehow led me to the location of a water tower in Flackwell Heath on the opposite side of the valley. It occurred to me that I’d never noticed this great looming structure before – even in the years when I drank and worked in the Green Dragon pub nearby and walked down Juniper Lane almost daily. The tower had grown and grown within the shell of what could become a book until it formed a significant block on my progress. I needed to actually visit the site. And here it was – a beautiful brutalist hulk hidden in a nest of residential streets. It deserves a chunk of my book (if I can ever finish it).

Ronald Wood, Flackwell Heath
Ronald Wood
View of Wooburn Green, Bucks
the view over Wooburn Green

I cut down the side of a wood that also features in the book (although I’m nervous to call it that when it currently only stands at six thousand words) and drop across the fields to Wooburn Green. After a quick visit to my mother’s grave I watch a few overs of Wooburn Narkovians at the Park remembering all those happy childhood summers spent scampering around this pitch as my Dad bowled leggies from Church end and smoked Embassy cigarettes while waiting to go out to bat.

Wooburn Town
Wooburn Town
Wooburn Narkovians Cricket Club at  Wooburn Park 11th September 2022
Wooburn Park

A return to Wycombe Wanderers

I hadn’t been to watch Wycombe Wanderers since 1997, when Martin O’Neil was manager and Steve Guppy was flying up the wing being berated by the home fans. Before yesterday that’d been my solitary trip to my hometown club’s new ground. Growing up I’d watched Wycombe at their historic Loakes Park ground with its famous sloping pitch. My grandfather had been an avid Wycombe fan, walking over the hills from Wooburn to Wycombe to watch the blues. My Dad’s cousin, Tony ‘Bodger’ Horseman, is still the Wycombe’s all-time record goalscorer and record appearance holder (a ‘bodger’ is a turner of chair legs – chair-making being the traditional industry of Wycombe).

Tony Bodger Horseman of Wycombe Wanderers
Tony ‘Bodger’ Horseman – photo Bucks Free Press

We had some Wycombe legends playing for our village cricket club, Wooburn Narkovians, captained by my Dad and where I spent all my summers till the age of 18 – Paul Birdseye who Captained Wycombe for many years (and batted No.3 for Wooburn), Geoff Anthony a Welsh Amateur International (and our wicketkeeper), Howard Kennedy who is among the top 10 appearance makers for the club, and Jack Timberlake who went to school with my Dad and ran the village grocers. Jack also helped set up and run Wooburn Wasps, the youth team where I played from aged 9 to 16. At one time the captain of England schoolboys came to play for us and I got scouted by a number of the big London clubs (we regarded Watford as a London club). This is all background to why I took my youngest son out to Wycombe for his first Wanderers match.

The Little Market House, Wycombe – designed by Robert Adam 1761

It was not only Joe’s first time at Adams Park, but his first proper look at the town of my birth (and where one side of our family can be traced back at least to the 1520s). So on the way to the ground I gave him a quick potted history – the Dial House on Crendon Street where Martin Lluelyn poet and Doctor to Charles I on the scaffold had lived, the Red Lion where Churchill sat astride while campaigning, the Market House marking the distances to London (29 miles) and Oxford (25 miles), the curious ancient stone by the Guildhall that someone suggested could be a mark stone from a neolithic stone circle (there’s another behind the nearby Parish Church). We walked past the old Multi-Racial Centre beneath the fly-over where a number of notable gigs took place in the 70s and 80s, on our way to look at Wycombe College where I did my A-levels. It’s now Buckinghamshire New University. It was interesting to find a plaque on the wall pointing out the original course of the River Wye before it was diverted through a culvert during the 1960s town centre redevelopment.

Paul's Row High Wycombe, August 2021 - the pavement shows the original course of the River Wye before it was culverted through the town centre

A later redevelopment, in the early 2000s, had brought me back to Wycombe to work on an art project with my sister, Cathy, that had been inspired by the scheme. Homesick living in Sydney, I’d searched online for news of my hometown and been surprised to see it unrecognisable from the descriptions of the plans for Project Phoenix. You can read about Remapping High Wycombe project here and download the text I wrote. Our walk through the town confirmed some of our fears of what the resulting Eden Shopping Centre would do to the surrounding parts of Wycombe. Many of the shops were boarded up on Crendon Street and the High Street with its historic medieval market was incredibly sombre compared to what it had been before Eden brought its covered mall to the Newlands carpark. Once one of the most prosperous towns in the country, the Guardian recently reported how it has become a ‘food insecurity hotspot’.

The Wycombe Stone
White Hart Street High Wycombe, August 2021 - photo by John Rogers, the lost byway
White Hart Street

But the spirit of Wycombe is strong, this is the town that started the English Civil War after all. And you can see signs of recovery in the town centre, since my last visit at the end of 2019. We made our way out to Adams Park nestled in the foothills of the Chilterns, and even Joe was beguiled by the sight of the hills rising above the stands. The atmosphere outside the ground was good with live music in the Chairboys Village in the carpark. There was plenty of nose inside the stadium – the Wycombe chants being led by a manic drummer at the back of the terraces who was still there banging that drum long after the final whistle. Sam Vokes, with his 64 International Caps for Wales and 113 Premier League appearances, always looked likely to be the difference between the sides, and his 3rd minute back post header from Jordan Obita’s cross proved decisive. Lincoln City played well, to give them credit, and big David Stockdale pulled off a couple of fine saves to keep the scoreline at 1-0.

Chairboys Village, Wycombe Wanderers v Lincoln City 21st August 2021
Adams Park, Wycombe Wanderers v Lincoln City 21st August 2021
Sam Vokes Goal, Wycombe Wanderers v Lincoln City 21st August 2021

After the match we walked back into town. Past the Hour Glass where my sister used to drink and my Dad play darts, then down Mill End Road where my Mum went to school. Then we followed Dashwood Avenue all the way back into town as I told Joe stories of Lord Dashwood’s Hellfire Club and showed him the place on the Avenue where we’d brought him to meet my Aunty Carol when he was just a few months old and she was in the final months of her life. Naturally our trip to Wycombe ended with a pint of Rebellion Brewery IPA in The Antelope (well Joe had to have lemonade).

Rural edgeland wander in the rain

My friend joked that he wondered what kind of Wycombe edgelands I’d be leading him round when we met at the station. ‘Let’s head down to Wooburn instead’, I reassured him, far more scenic for his enormous dog, and the woods above the village would give us some partial cover from the persistant rain.

Wooburn Green

We climbed up the bare field above the cricket pitch at Wooburn Park where I spent all my childhood summers and admired the view from the edge of Farm Wood.

shaggy parasol mushroom

Shaggy Parasol mushroom?

There were numerous deep hollows and steep banks throughout Farm Wood and Mill Wood. Some looked as if they could be bomb craters (although I don’t think Wooburn was bombed during the war) – another you could take for an earthwork. My friend and I settled on the idea that they must have been formed either by water running down the hill towards the river at the foot of the valley, or a legacy of the glacial flows that carved this out landscape.

Whitepit Lane Wooburn

Whitepit Lane Wooburn

My friend departed back at Wooburn Green and I sat and watched the rain from Perkys Coffee House on the Green. A cafe like this was unimaginable in Wooburn when I was a kid and also when I returned from Australia with my wife 20-odd years ago.

After the surprisingly good coffee and toasted sandwich had sunk in, I felt the pull back up out of the valley, ascending Whitepit Lane with its fine views over the village.

Whitepit Lane Wooburn

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The scrubby fields blocked with concrete sentinels started to adopt an edgeland feel that I began to see wherever I looked. The caravan park where my parents had lived in the 1950’s is still there in a chalk pit near the top of the hill (Dad said lumps of chalk would regularly fall upon the roof). The field looking towards Pig Wood was protected with a large metal gate. Shipping containers sprouted from the earth at the top of Juniper Lane.

Juniper Lane, Flackwell Heath

Juniper Lane, Flackwell Heath

My Dad told me the they used to call the bottom of Juniper Lane ‘Spicer’s Crossing’ after a fella who’d been killed on the railway line there and whose ghost haunted that part of the Lane.

I moved on along Boundary Road, the rain still lashing down.

Loudwater viaduct

M40 Viaduct at Loudwater

Passing beneath the viaduct carrying the M40 overhead was always a powerful experience as a kid. We used to climb up into its interior via a service hatch – like crawling through the air vents of a space station – a terrifying experience.

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The Railko factory appears to have been demolished and with it has gone the powerful odour of burnt plastic that it puffed out into the air. My Mum worked there at one point, making circuit boards I believe. A single strip-light illuminated the first floor office of a square industrial unit at the end of a cracked concrete drive. What goes on in these places? The company appears to have connections to Qatar.

The Wheatsheaf High Wycombe

The Wheatsheaf High Wycombe

This unassuming timber-framed building, formerly The Wheatsheaf pub, has recently discovered to have been built in 1399, making it the second oldest standing building in High Wycombe after the parish church. There are now plans to fully investigate the heritage of the site and unravel its history.

The Antelope Wycombe IMG_0367

I end my wander at The Antelope pub, itself a building with a good few years under its eves, with a pint of IPA from the Rebellion Brewery in Marlow. There’s only one other punter in the pub, an old fella eating from a take-away container. Music blares out over an empty dance-floor.

Wycombe revisited – 100th Episode of the Walking Vlog series

I felt an undue amount of pressure when trying to choose where to go for the 100th Episode of my Walking Vlog series. When out walking from Theydon Bois to Chigwell Row for the 98th Episode I’d asked the YouTube viewers for suggestions and they’d really come up with the goods. But one particularly resonated, from talented author Scarlett Parker:
“The hundred dilemma got me thinking about ‘hundreds’, the geo-administrative divisions of yore. Not sure how you could rein in this concept for a manageable walk. There are the famous Chiltern Hundreds, which is your, erm, jurisdiction.”

This was perfect – the Chiltern Hundreds > The Desborough Hundred Psychogeographical Society that I formed with my sister Cathy for our Remapping High Wycombe project > the significant sites walk we devised to bring the project to its conclusion. There was added significance in that I started my YouTube channel for this project to host some of the video documentation.

Walking into town from Wycombe Station I ticked off the first of the significant sites/’nodules of energy’ – the Dial House, home to Charles I’s physician Dr Martin Lluelyn; the ancient lane of Crendon Street; the supposed ‘mark stone’ by the Guildhall, and Robert Adam’s market house which we used as the HQ of the DHPS and installation site for the event on 18th June 2005.

The temperature that day 13 years ago was hitting the high twenties and again the mercury was pushing upwards at 27 degrees. It’d be hard going in the hills. I’d mustered some walking partners back then to make it more of an event – an old friend Jerry White, who’d brought along a mate, my Dad, and Nick Papadimitriou who’d I’d recently met for the first time. Today I’d be reprising the experience alone.

I gathered my thoughts in the churchyard before pushing on up Castle Hill Mount, said by some of the old Wycombe antiquarians to be partly formed of the burial mound of a Saxon warrior. The route onwards into the Hughenden Valley takes me through the grounds of Wycombe Museum, past the house where poet & composer Ivor Gurney stayed, and along the path above Wycombe Cemetery.

Looking back down into the valley there’s a stretch of newbuilds that highlights one of the major changes in the town. Gone is the great engineering factory of Broom & Wade and also Harrison’s Stamp Factory, and a student accommodation colony has taken the place of the industrial heart of Wycombe. When I’d led Nick, Jerry and Mike through this section in 2005, this was what made them see Wycombe as a town with its own distinctive industrial heritage, not just another satellite commuter town. Now that it’s gone – what does this say about Wycombe today?

Hughenden Manor
The heat is taking its toll as I climb up the Hughenden Valley to admire the view from the terrace of Benjamin Disraeli’s grand mansion. I daren’t rest yet as I have to drop back down into the valley then climb again to the (Isaac) Disraeli monument on the edge of Tinker’s Wood. Beneath this monument is where I’d rested on previous variations of this walk and it’s where I take a moment to pause once again and consider the passing of the previous 13 years since I was here last.

The zig-zag streets of Downley offer yet more great views across the valley to the Iron Age Earthwork at Desborough Castle – my next point of interest. The outer banks are high and imposing, but thankfully the dense tree canopy offers respite from the sun. I imagine the Desborough Hundred Moot taking place within the sunken enclosure in the deep past, as envisioned by Annan Dickson in his 1935 book, Chiltern Footpaths.

Desborough Castle Wycombe

Back down in town it feels as if another kind of grand gathering is taking place upon the Rye. The grass is dotted with puddles of pink flesh soon to turn lobster red. Boaters splosh their oars in the Dyke. The open air pool where I learnt to swim is sadly closed for the rest of the day.

Cut Throat Wood Wooburn

Cut Throat Wood

From the Rye I follow the patron stream of the area – the Wye, or the Wyke – trundling quietly behind the Marsh and the Mead to Loudwater where my Mum grew up. By now I’m tired and just want to sit in a nice pub garden with a cold pint. I could drop down Watery Lane to the Falcon at Wooburn, near the field where I played as a kid. But that would be the end of the walk. No, I stick to my plan to climb one last hill (so I thought) up Whitehouse Lane and along Grassy Bank looking over to Cut Throat Wood – a place that so dominated childhood days walking with my Dad and many a wistful recollection of those happy days. It’s the perfect ending to this revisiting of memory grounds, that further pushes me on under the railway line and up into the quiet roads leading into Beaconsfield Old Town and the train back to Marylebone.

Chilterns Walk from Princes Risborough to West Wycombe

Rarely have I gone to track down a view glimpsed from a train, but in July I headed back out from Marylebone to Princes Risborough bound for a wooded ridge that fizzed past the train window on a journey to Birmingham in April. I’d quickly screenshot the map on my phone showing that the hill was rising above Hempton Wainhill near Chinnor and vowed to return.

Lodge Hill Princes Risborough

Lodge Hill

It was a walk that delivered with almost every step, picking up the Ridgeway just south of Princes Risborough and following it past the tumuli on Lodge Hill. There I met a young man walking the length of the Ridgeway and I plugged him for tips for when I eventually set out on my 25 year old plan to walk this ancient path. The Ridgeway is ridiculously rich with prehistoric sites – I passed five Bronze Age tumuli in the space of a couple of miles around Bledlow Wood. The sense of walking into the past is profound on the Ridgeway and here it intersects with the equally (if not more) ancient Icknield Way.

The Ridgeway near Chinnor

The westward views from Chinnor Hill were stunning and here I walked off my OS Map 181 onto a much smaller scale older map I bought on ebay years ago. The previous owner evidently shared my interest in prehistoric sites and had circled all of them on the map.

The Ridgeway

Walking along a chalk ridge path through Radnage flicking tall wallflowers childhood Chilterns memories flooded back in a rush of images and feelings, a mashup of out-of-sync recollections – driving round lanes with my Dad listening to John Peel, coming home from backpacking wondering what to do next, racing our Jack Russell to the pigeon Dad had shot from the sky, sunsets over the M40 towards these hills from further down the valley at Wooburn Moor.

St. Mary's Church Radnage

A chance encounter with a lady in a lane led me across her field to St. Mary Radnage with its restored 13th Century wall paintings. A beautiful, mystical spot to stop and reflect.

West Wycombe

I’d run out of food and water by the time I ascended West Wycombe Hill and the famous Golden Ball and Hell Fire Caves. I was shown around Dashwood’s Church as they closed up after a cake sale and told how it was a collage of architectures Sir Frances Dashwood had seen on his Grand Tour in 1763 including the now destroyed temples of Palmyra.

West Wycombe Church

I took refuge in the haunted George and Dragon on West Wycombe High Street dining on beer and crisps before slogging along the A40 into Wycombe. Before hitting the town centre, I stopped off to pay homage to the sacred River Wye as it flows gently through Mill End Rec near where my Mum went to school all those many years ago.

Along the Silt Road from Eden

Oxford Street Wycombe

Wycombe on a wet half-term Monday. I’m here for a lunchtime concert at All Saints Church of music by poet and composer Ivor Gurney by Jacobine van Laar and Marisa Thornton Wood. I’ve been mildly obsessed with Gurney since I discovered his connection with the town during the Remapping High Wycombe project – not just that this fascinating overlooked cultural figure had lived and written some of his most haunting compositions in Wycombe either side of the First World War, but that he was inspired by his long walks, manic fugues from London to Gloucester and the walk I plan to recreate from Wycombe to Gloucester which he did over two days in late February 1920. I’d tentatively planned to carry out the walk on the anniversary but lack of planning and my inability to cover the 60-odd miles in two short February days meant  postponing till summer.

I killed some time wandering familiar childhood streets, devastated by the building of the Eden Shopping Centre – a place that must win the award for most misnamed location ever, perhaps they were playing opposites day in the planning office. We’d feared this when doing our project in response to the redevelopment over 2004-05 but to see it first-hand was depressing. The once thriving High Street dead, Poundland, Iceland, charity shops. The Octagon Centre – the town’s original shopping mall now relegated to the back door of the new scheme with empty units and a few bedraggled shoppers sheltering from the rain. White Hart Street shops boarded up, vacant, the same pattern creeping like a weeping rash round Oxford Street to Frogmore. The Kebab Centre has somehow survived the retail blitz but little else. The guts totally ripped out the town by a covered mall with a particularly big Marks and Spencer, a muffin shop and bowling alley.

In the new Waterstones I picked up a copy of a book I’d seen reviewed a while back and placed on my To Read list purely on the basis that it was the story of a man’s relationship with a stream somewhere in England. At the cashdesk I opened the cover to find that the subject of Charles Rangeley-Wilson’s Silt Road wasn’t just any stream anywhere but the river that ran through Wycombe (pretty much under the Waterstones in fact) and along the valley floor through the village where I grew up – the sacred River Wye that gave its name to the town and the road where I spent my formative years. The river that drove the mills along its course from West Wycombe to Bourne End. Near its banks was a holy well, a site of pilgrimage. Romans seeded oyster beds in its clear spring waters. I used to paddle in it as a kid and we rode inner-tubes over the weirs by the viaduct. I’ve played Poo Sticks with my children from the bridges that cross the river where it skirts the perimeter of Wooburn Park.

Gurney Concert
After Jacobine and Marisa’s haunting Gurney recital I set out along the stream in the driving rain. I’d left home in my trainers for some reason, well my boots were still caked in mud from my schlep across Gilbert’s Slade the day before and I didn’t want to wear muddy boots to the recital. Pretty soon my trainers were soaked through and several balletic slides in the mire crossing the Rye coated my feet in thick mud.

The rain would ease up, I was sure. I’d been sent Silt Road as a gift from the book genie and a message to make this pilgrimage. By the time I reached Kingsmead the rain was coming down in thick watery rods smashing me across the head and shoulders. I remembered my Nan’s saying that Dad had told me on the phone just the other day, ‘February fills the ditch, black or white I don’t care which’. My Nan would have been chuffed to bits – the ditch was full to the brim.


I skated across the swamp-like rugby pitches heading for shelter on the far side only to get there and discover it had been built by someone with an odd sense of humour – the sunken floor filling up with rainwater like a fish pond.
It couldn’t be any grimmer or greyer as I approached the viaduct at Loudwater – unrelenting hometime traffic kicking up plumes of water. I started to regret embarking on this river walk – it’s not as if I haven’t done it hundreds of times before. I pass into Wooburn, past the street where I grew up – Wye Road. A number 37 bus pulls up at the bus stop bound for Wycombe and the train back to London – too much to resist.


On the turbo powered train into Marylebone I open Silt Road. What on earth compelled this award-winning nature writer to pen an entire book about a short stream running through an industrialized valley on the outskirts of High Wycombe?

The book opens under the grey M40 viaduct at Loudwater with a two-page monochrome photo, “Standing under the motorway along which the cars and trucks drummed and rushed and from which the rain spilt in a streaking line, I felt a fascinated longing for this imprisoned stream. And now I feel this stream running through me.”