Wilkes Walks is based in Berkhamsted alongside our first walking holiday called The Charming Chilterns. Our hotel there is the classic coaching Inn called The Kings Arms, now one of the family of Oakman Inns Pubs, Restaurants and hotels. Earlier this year Oakman asked us to write a series of promotional touristic itineraries for a long weekend at some of their hotels. Brill is the second in a series based from their accommodation there, called The Pointer.
This is also an example of the experiences on offer on some of the Wilkes Walks tours:
Brill – The village on the Hill
ARRIVAL DAY – Friday ARRIVAL AND ORIENTATION
English villages should be warm and welcoming, and the delightful hilltop village of Brill is exactly that. Famous for its emblematic windmill, Brill has all you’d expect of a classic English village: the Village Green; the Church; the Common; and of course, the centre of activity in any village, our Village Pub, The Pointer. The name ‘Brill’ dates from Saxon times, and some heavyweight historical characters have frequented Brill, including Edward the Confessor, who had a Palace in the Manor of Brill. Both Henrys II and III held court here, and Charles I turned the Palace into a garrison during the English Civil War, which was destroyed by the Parliamentarians in 1643. But that’s all ancient history! More recent visitors include the authors C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, famous for his fantasy books ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’. Tolkien visited Brill frequently from Oxford and based his fictitious village of Bree on it.
Walking around the village, notable places to see include All-Saints’ Church – do not miss the opportunity to discover this old church amongst the trees! The church was once adjacent to the Royal Palace which has long since gone. At the highest point in the village, you find the 17th century Windmill on the Common, with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. Brill was also connected to the railway network via the Brill Tramway from Quainton and Wotton Underwood in 1872.
If you’d like some exercise, why not put on your walking boots and stretch your legs on a circular walk down to the neighbouring village of Boarstall. There are seven-mile and three four-and-a-half mile route options to choose from – or it’s only a few minutes by car. Two interesting National Trust places await you there. Boarstall Tower is a substantial 14th century moated gatehouse that’s survived over 700 years, longer than the Boarstall house itself. The house has a very sad story to its end, and there may be a guide available to tell you the story of ‘the vanished house’. The village also houses the Boarstall ‘Duck decoy’, a forgotten practice of England’s manorial past of which only four survive to this day.
DAY TWO – Saturday – OXFORD or THAME
Oxford has been called the city of ‘Dreaming Spires’ and it’s certainly a treat for the eyes. From your base in Brill, simply drive 15 minutes to Bicester Village train station from where it’s a hassle-free 20-minute journey into the heart of the city. Do start early as there’s lots to see, and don’t forget your camera! The visit is best conducted on foot, as it’s easy to take in the highlights this way, like the Bridge of Sighs, the Radcliffe Camera, Christ Church Cathedral and, of course, the Bodleian Library. These sights are brought alive when you join an official Walking Tour. Following this, grab a coffee and cake at the historic Covered Market. Here you’ll see, smell, and taste local produce. Some of the finest museums in the world are located here. The Ashmolean is the oldest museum in the world, and the Museum of Natural History is very well regarded. Before taking a punt down the river from the famous Magdalen Bridge, pay a visit to the 400-year-old Botanical Gardens nearby, a must for horticulturalists. The options for lunch are numerous. At the ‘Head of the River’ pub you can sit next to the river after a punt or, much easier, take a cruise. At Gee’s restaurant there is a Mediterranean theme to the food within a light conservatory setting, and for desert head for the friendly George and Davis for homemade ice cream. These are just some of the many eateries to choose from and a small taster of what’s at your fingertips in Oxford.
If the idea of the City does not appeal, and you prefer more rural surrounds, then just 15 minutes drive south, on the B4011, lies the market town of Thame. En route to Thame, you could stop at the village of Long Crendon to see the 15th Century Courthouse, and then ‘boot-up’ for a little circular walk to Chearsley and back. For beer aficionados, the XL brewery and tap shop are also here. Now onto the historic centre of Thame! In the centre, if you are a fan of the TV drama Midsomer Murders, follow the MM Trail by downloading the leaflet, or start your visit with a stop at the information centre for more inspiration and ideas. In total there are four self-guided walking tours in the centre of Thame with different themes, not to mention the Thame Museum. After a stop for lunch at one of the restaurants, why not continue your day with a visit to ‘inspire your senses’ at Waterperry Gardens, only an 18-minute eight-mile drive away? Amongst the brightly coloured gardens of special interest, you will find the long herbaceous boarder and the wisteria tunnel. Relaxing here in peaceful surroundings is a nice finish to the day before heading back to The Pointer.
DAY THREE – Sunday WADDESDON and/ or BUCKS RAILWAY CENTRE
It would be crazy not to consider a visit to one of this area’s top attractions, the fabulous Grade I listed Waddesdon Manor, only 20 minutes drive away. Waddesdon is a manor house and gardens which were built in the French Renaissance Chateau style towards the end of the1800s. Like so many of the stately homes in this region, it belonged to the Rothschild family and is still managed by them, although it is now owned by the National Trust. The collections inside the house also have a French theme and are very special. There are many treasures to see, including the mechanical elephant, which bizarrely has its own twitter account. You could also take a free guided tour of the wine cellar, including a tasting, and see the 18th century decorative arts imported from France – including 56 working antique clocks! Highlights from the gardens include: the Aviary, built in 1889 and housing birds from around the world; the Parterre – late Victorian formal gardens set with a backdrop of English woodlands; and the many statues, which are covered in the winter months to protect them. The setting has been used on many films including ‘Never Say Never Again’, where 007 plays ‘domination’ in the stunning dining room. Waddesdon is the complete day out.
Another option, only five minutes drive from Waddesdon, is the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre located at Quainton Road Railway Station. Sundays are usually ‘Steaming Days’ during the school holidays, so you might have the chance to ride on one of the fantastic old steam trains that connected our cities in the past. On ‘static’ days, the centre is a railway museum of some 25 acres housing one of the UK’s largest collections of locomotives and rolling stock. The Railway Centre also offers Steam Train Driver Experiences – perhaps a great birthday surprise or treat for a loved one? A great experience for all the family can be had here, as there is a lot to see and do, from taking a ride on a full-sized steam locomotive to sorting the mail in their travelling Post office.
If you fancy a walk in the Buckinghamshire countryside, then there are options in both Waddesdon and Quainton. For shorter options, The National Trust at Waddesdon include a walking map of the estate on their website.
The Brill Windmill is usually open to the public on Sundays between March and September and maybe you could finish the day with a visit there.
FINAL DAY – Monday
Have a slow and relaxing morning, enjoying your final breakfast at The Pointer. Then, before heading home, why not take a final walk up to the windmill to take in the breath-taking views of the vales of Aylesbury and Oxford?
The Charming Chilterns:
Places still available on this 5-Day Guided walking holiday on the 5th September for £595