We had such a wonderful weekend in the South Downs, escaping from London lockdown into the country, we immediately booked another weekend away when we got back! We cast the net wide and this time Matt found a sweet little farmyard cottage in the Chilterns, near Princes Risborough. Bring on green spaces and fresh air!
We arrived on Friday to cloudy skies but mild temperatures. After following winding roads through the little village of Saunderton, we rocked up at the Old Rectory. This amazing big old farm house is actually on the Chiltern Way, a public footpath through the hills. In the grounds of the house is a big old barn, with two attached red brick cottages. This was our airbnb!
The Old Stable is a 17th century cattle byrne, refurbished just this year! Downstairs there is an open plan kitchen-dining room and upstairs a huge, vaulted ceiling sitting room and king-sized bed. We loved all the historical touches, including a cast iron spiral staircase made out of an old factory clock.
I’ll admit we were a bit unsure what to expect, with an open plan living room / bedroom upstairs, but it ended up working really well. We especially loved sitting on the sofa in our PJs with a cup of tea in the morning, with the sunlight streaming through the shutters.
The house is set in over 3 acres of garden, with 18 acres in total. The cottage opens directly onto ‘the croquet lawn’, and the rest of the garden includes a tennis court, hammocks, various different areas of garden seating and a beautiful summer house next to the pond. The land is actually recognised by Natural England for the species-rich grassland – with wildflower meadows, a small woodland and rare butterflies. Time to explore!
We wasted no time – after unpacking, we laced up our walking boots and Matt directed us out through the fields towards a distant hill. You can follow our route here!
The walk took us through all the wonderful wildflower meadows, and the nearby golf club. Here we found a picturesque little fish pond, recommended by our host for kids. This is because of the extremely friendly fish that come right up to you and let you stroke them!
Then we continued our walk, over the fields, up the hill, enjoying all the panoramic views over the Chilterns – such a beautiful part of the country.
The Boot Inn
With COVID in mind, we booked all our meals out for the weekend in advance. First up was the Boot Inn which was recommended by our host. If you’re worried about cleanliness, this is definitely a good choice, as they followed all the guidelines whilst still being very friendly and welcoming. And the food was as good as it looks!
On Saturday we planned our day around a friend’s 30th birthday in Oxford. We got a restaurant recommendation from my friend Emma for the evening, and decided to explore a local landmark that Matt had found – Combe Hill – in the morning. But first, breakfast!
The Trough Cafe at Orchard View Farm
It was a struggle to find somewhere that was open for breakfast! We had been hoping to try the Grange, which was so nearby and recommended by our host. Unfortunately it hadn’t yet opened for dining in. Instead we drove out to Orchard View Farm with high hopes for its Restaurant, Café, Farm Shop and Butchery.
The staff there are following all the regulations to the letter. We made sure to wear masks as we explored the wide selection of local produce. Luckily they had a table for us in the cafe, where we ordered full English breakfasts on the website on our phones.
It took a while for them to arrive, but the wait was so worth it you guys. Everything on our plate was local and boy could you taste it. You know you’re going to get good sausages when they’re made from scratch on the farm!
From the farm shop we bought some locally brewed beers, kombucha, and craft gin, before making our way back to the car.
One of the highest points in the Chilterns at 852 ft above sea level, Coombe Hill had the best views of the whole trip! Even though it’s a National Trust property, there was no booking needed and it’s totally free to enter. It’s super kid-friendly, with a play area and adventure trail, and if you’re lucky, an ice cream truck.
As with most of the area, there are plenty of walk routes to explore. You climb up the hill, or drive up to the car park at the top if you’re feeling lazy like us. If you walk across the field and make your way through the trees, you’ll come to Coombe Hill monument, with panoramic views over Aylesbury Vale.
The Grade II listed monument is one of the first (erected in 1904) and largest examples of a war memorial erected to honour the names of individual men who fell whilst fighting for their country.
That evening, we drove into Oxford to hit up some birthday drinks, then grab a spot of dinner. This is a heads up for those of you unfamiliar with Oxford – do not drive into it. The parking is a nightmare. We parked at Thornhill Park & Ride and got the bus into Cowley, where we met Matt’s friends at the Up In Arms.
After a few drinks, we headed to our dinner reservation, at a tapas restaurant recommended by ex-local Emma. Arbequina is easy to overlook from the outside, apart from the fact that it seems to always be full of people (so we’re told). It’s currently only serving takeaway, but oddly you can eat your takeaway in the restaurant.
You can check out their instagram page for the current menu. We ordered chorizo, patatas bravas, aubergine, navaricco chickpeas (which were recommended) and pork croquettes. It was all amazing. Matt’s favourites were the croquettes and chickpeas, mine were the chorizo and patatas bravas (delicious when eaten together).
We did not want to leave on Sunday. When we woke up, the morning sunlight was pouring through the shutters, and the air smelt fresh, with the sound of birds and nothing else. We managed get up in time to enjoy cups of tea on the sofa before we had to start packing.
Our plan for the day was to spend the morning walking around Hughenden Manor, then head into High Wycombe for some brunch.
We learned our lesson from Corfe Castle – always book National Trust properties in advance! When we visited, the building itself still wasn’t open to the public. But we still had loads of fun exploring the gardens and admiring the views. According to the website the ground floor will be opening at the end of September.
Hughenden Manor is a beautiful red brick country home on the hillside near High Wycombe. It’s known for being the country residence of Benjamin Disraeli, Queen Victoria’s favourite Prime Minister, as well as the base for a secret map-making operation during the Second World War.
The gardens are pretty elaborate. The Victorian formal garden is Italianate in style with rows of terraces, a formal parterre, classical statuary and annual beds full of the bold colours.
The manor grounds have views across the 18th century parkland to the chalk stream in the valley and the hills beyond. Apparently Disraeli had a real passion for the landscape (or “pleasure grounds” as they were called) and spent years sculpting them so the trees framed the views in the perfect way. Sadly, there was a big storm in 1990 that destroyed most of the trees, so the gardening team is still restoring the landscape to this day.
Matt and I really enjoyed the walled garden with its cherry and apple orchards (with 47 varieties of old English apples!). The walls are draped in apricot, damson plum and fig plants, and the vegetable patches are bursting with sweet peas, corn, and squash.
Based on planting found in the Victorian period, the walled garden features fruit trees, vegetable plots and herbaceous borders. There are three active vegetable beds and one resting bed to allow for crop rotation. Can you believe it’s been producing fruit and vegetables for 200 years?
After savouring the blue sky and scenery a bit longer, we set off for brunch, and then back to London. What a wonderful weekend escape!
We’re officially hooked on UK weekends away! After a wonderful stay in the South Downs and on the Jurassic Coast, the Chilterns was another great place to explore. And we highly recommend our airbnb if you’re looking for a place to stay in the area that has immediate walk route access and super friendly hosts.