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Britain > South Midlands > Chiltern Hills

Hills and forests within a stone's throw of London


The Ridgeway
Dunstable Downs
Wendover Woods
The Chiltern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is based around a long line of raised chalk between Reading and Luton. To the south it levels off slowly but, to the north, the dip is much more pronounced, giving expansive views over the fields, woods, hedges and streams.
A well-marked selection of walking routes is designed to suit all ages, abilities and ambitions. Most famous of all is The Ridgeway. This ancient trail follows the spine of the hills, joining south-west England with East Anglia. It has been in use for around 5,000 years, making it Britain's oldest road. From its upper reaches, you can see a long way. There are even views into the landscaped grounds of Chequers, the private country residence of the sitting Prime Minister.
While The Ridgeway cuts straight through the park like an arrow, the Chiltern Cycling Route circles it. There are 170 miles of well-signposted roads and trails, with plenty of country pubs to stop at along the way.
Wherever you go, expect to see Iron Age forts - evidence of the area's long history. You'll also see villages of red brick houses, still featuring old construction techniques like thatched roofs and timber framing. In spring, look out for bluebells, and in summer for orchids. Winter brings out the red kites, soaring overhead.
At the Chilterns Gateway Centre, birds share the sky with kites, flown by humans. This is a hotspot for the hobby. There's even a kite festival, every July, featuring carefully-rehearsed performances by professional display teams. At other times of year you can buy one at the shop, and launch it at a spectacular height. The Centre stands at the highest point on Dunstable Downs. Besides the shop, it houses a cafe, and exhibits on local history and geology.
Some people, presumably jealous of the kites, send themselves soaring into the sky on gliders, for an unrivalled look at the land. The London Gliding Club, at the foot of the Downs, offers anybody a chance to achieve this bird's-eye view. Their instructors take you up in the air, drifting between thermals, before swooping in for a smoother landing than any passenger plane. The lack of a noisy engine means that this will be the quietest, most relaxing flight you're ever likely to take.
The highest you can get without leaving the land is at Haddington Hill, within the Wendover Woods. There are picnic spots, mountain bike tracks and a "Go Ape" aerial assault course.
Despite their height, the woods aren't very prominent - more dramatic views can be had from the tops of hills like the Ivinghoe Beacon. The wind blowing up this hill creates a marvellous updraft, which is perfect for model aeroplane enthusiasts. They use these air currents to send their remote-control craft zooming into the sky.

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