Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Nodules Part II - West Wycombe to Hughenden

The whole tribe set off through West Wycombe village towards Cookshall Lane; Mum, Dad, Cathy, Diane, Heidi and Ollie. The village is anything but a tranquil idyll, more like Le Mans on race day, the pavement just wide enough for a pram with zooming high performance automobiles inches away.

A Texaco garage marks the start of our ascent on the corner of Cookshall Lane and Bradenham Road, a junction known as The Pedestal with Daphne's Temple over the wall in West Wycombe Park.

Yards along the lane and quietness descends. Dad spots a Blackie's nest (Blackbird) from last year in the hedgerow and Ollie points at a bee visiting flowers. Chirping birds drown out the distant cars. Under the railway bridge and the turbo charged Chiltern Line whooshes overhead. A large graffitied policeman toking on a Camberwell Carrot spray-painted on the wall. We emerge into a wide vista of tilled earth, horizon almost broad enough to gladden Heidi's Australian heart.

We find the path up to Branch Wood through a gate where someone has left a set of keys marked 'spare shed and garage keys' dangling on the barbed wire fence. From underneath Branch Wood there are clear views back across the grounds of West Wycombe House and its palladian columns; a scene like the one Catherine The Great had decorating her Wedgewood dinner service.

White arrows painted on trees guide the way through the wood. It was our intention to cut across through houses to the bottom of Great Tinker's Wood but the path is pushing us up towards Downley. We ask directions, people seem to think that Hughenden is too far to walk, a jogger finally puts us straight and gives clear directions to the Monument although it involves going up to Downley Common. The maps mean nothing to them, confirming the suspicion that representations of planned space bare little relation to our personal topographies.

By now it's just me and the old chap, the others have returned to West Wycombe for tea. He points to a 'stand of Beech', tall dark masts against the backdrop of hills. Again it calls to mind a foreign, epic landscape this time something Russian, Turgenyev's 'A Month in the Country'.

Past a modern-looking school and round a path with electric fencing along one side and alarmingly over the top of the stile and we are in Downley High Street. This consists of the Bricklayers Arms, where the voice of John Motson commentating on the England v Northern Ireland match escapes through the drawn curtains, the Starlight Stores, and the village hall where a sign gives a potted history the highlight of which is when a relative of Wild Bill Hickock, Colonel Cody, landed his plane on the Common in 1912.

A homemade sign on a lamp-post says "MOBILE PHONE MAST - SAY NO!". There's a rusting brazier for burning beacons and heretics on the common and Dad notices Narrow Lane, which we later discover would have taken us down to the Disraeli Monument.
On Coates Lane we are serenaded by nattering Magpies and Dad is surprised to find a gooseberry bush in a roadside hedge.

Turning up towards Hughenden Manor under a noisy rookery we meet an architect and his family. He tells us about the designs he did for a theatre on the Bridge Street site whilst a student at Oxford Poly in the late sixties; and of meeting Colonel Watson who produced a Masterplan for Wycombe back in the 1930's that included pedestrianisation way ahead of its time. His mother informs us about the medieval bridge that was recently excavated when they were building Morrisons.

In our final stretch a woman with two dogs talks about Roald Dahl who lived not far away and we can see the Compair factory site where they have just filmed 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'.

All that's left is the plotting of the final stretch following Coffin Walk back to Castle Hill House.

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