Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Ewelme and Swyncombe

It's now the end of a very dry and warm September, with the forecast suggesting a transition to cool and wet I decided to make the most of the conditions, perhaps the last one of the year in a T-shirt.

When I recently went on a walk around Stokenchurch the route took in a fair length of ‘Chiltern Way’ and when I wrote it up I looked up the route followed by the Chiltern Way Southern Extension (SE) - it was extended to the south some time ago. It turns out I have walked a fair amount of it already, so it seemed a good project to explore the remaining sections. One segment goes near Swyncombe House and leads to Ewelme. I last walked to Ewelme in July 2003 so a re-visit was somewhat overdue. The trip had the advantage that I could use the Whitchurch Toll Bridge for the first time in a year - it has been closed for re-building. Here is a map of the walk:

I started off at the delightful little church at Swyncombe. I have visited it several times before in 2010 and 2011. There was a church here in Saxon times and it was rebuilt in early Norman times to be later lightly restored in 1831. The circular apse suggests its early date.

Swyncombe Church

I have previously published pictures of the interior, but I had not previously spotted a strange piece of stained glass above the main west window. There are a variety of little images of birds in comical posture. I have looked online in vain for an explanation.

Swyncombe Church

I then walked part of the Chiltern Way that leads back to Cookley Green, not much to see at this time of year, it is too early and too dry for fungi and also too early for autumn colour. When I turned south on a path along the woodland edge there were quite a few plants in flower and fruit. These are the curious looking fruits of a dock plant (wood dock?).

dock fruits

Turning west, I walked up the main avenue to Ewelme Park which has many horse chestnut trees. There was a slight breeze and conkers were occasionally crashing to the ground around me. The drive had many crushed conkers along it. Probably would not have done me too much good if one had fallen on my head - a health and safety nightmare.

conker,horse chestnut

While I walked along I noted a caterpillar was abseiling from a tree on a silken thread. When it reached the ground it was well camouflaged amongst the grass. It is probably some sort of geometer moth caterpillar?

geometer caterpillar

I cut across through woods and fields to rejoin another branch of the Chiltern Way. Here there was a pair of buzzards continually calling and circling around. I should have tried to catch them on video rather than as a snapshot, this is the best I could do.


At this time of year large trees remain in denial about the approach of autumn. This mighty beech tree shows no sign of impending change from summer colours.

beech tree

There were a good range of wild flowers also pretending it was still high summer. This field scabious had a fresh looking flower.


Autumn fruits were in evidence : sloes; haws; bryonies; elderberries and here whitebeam fruits.


I chose the path for potential views back up to the Chiltern Hills and there were some good viewpoints.

Chiltern view

I have been on walks in mid-October and still seen quite a few butterflies. I was not so lucky today. I saw may be six Speckled Woods; a couple of Whites and this Red Admiral butterfly.

red admiral,butterfly

Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) was still flowering well.


My path then reached the village of Ewelme, it is located where springs feed water for a duck pond and also watercress beds. Ewelme's name is apparently derived from ‘waters whelming’. I had not explored the village before, only the church, it has a few fine houses but not all that many and they are built on the steep valley side. The church itself is quite high up and has the look of an East Anglian rather than Chiltern church. It was re-built in 1436 near the peak of Ewelme's national claim to fame, as the lord of the manor, William de la Pole was born in Suffolk it may reflect his taste in church architecture.

Ewelme Church

The Interior looks very impressive for such a small village.


I could write a lot about the history of Ewelme and its church here, it had a brief but bright history as evidenced by the splendid alabaster tomb of Alice, Duchess of Suffolk (1404?1475). She was a grand-daughter of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer . Somewhere in my mind I had assumed that Geoffrey Chaucer had a fairly lowly position in society, not so, his children were very well connected and wealthy. Her parents, Thomas Chaucer (1376-1434) and Matilda Burghersh (1382-1436) his wife are buried in an altar tomb nearby with an inlaid brass, the tomb has brightly coloured coats of arms. The family's rapid rise to distinction was brief and caused resentment among the nobility, Alice's husband, the Duke of Suffolk, William de la Pole was banished and killed in 1450. He was nicknamed 'Jack Napes' as he was associated with Naples, from which the word “jack-a-napes” is derived so at least he has found some immortality in Shakespeare's work and a term of abuse!

Ewelme Church, tomb

In the Chancel is a 1647 monument that has a distinctive and original style. The post Reformation monuments always seem to have a more down-to-earth style before Georgian grandeur swept in. Two angels are pulling the deceased child out of the funereal urn. A golden laurel wreath and pair of wings are ready to adorn the new recruit to heaven.


Lastly to limit the space I could easily dedicate to Ewelme church here is the West door. To my mind there is something very pleasing in its design and proportions. Note the wear of centuries on the right-hand step.

EwelmeChurch,west door

Leaving Ewelme on the clockwise strand of the Chiltern Way you are soon out into fields. I was delighted to see a bird sitting on a fence post that let me approach reasonably close. I think it is a Meadow Pipit, although I have been wrong on similar birds in the past, I remember seeing a number of them on one of the early walks I posted here.

meadow pipit

As I climbed up the views began to open out. To the north-west are Didcot and Wittenham Clumps. This is a new view of Didcot power station because since my last picture two of the cooling towers have been demolished leaving just three.

dicot view,wittenham clumps

The view back to the east is a little more enticing. This was my next target.

Chiltern view

I clambered up a steep incline to the top of the chalk slope into an area of ‘open access’. It looks a promising for wild-flowers in Spring, there were still some Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia) in flower. I chose this angle so you can see the anthers are in spirals.

hare bell

Chiltern Way SE then follows the chalk ridge east on a wooded strip of land, in places there are glimpses of one of my favourite buildings in the whole area: Britwell Salome House. I like the proportions, it is grand but not too ostentatious and balanced by the smaller building to the side.

Britwell Salome House

The Chiltern Way then joins the Great Ridgeway and near the junction was a large number of Devil's Bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis) still in flower.

Devil's bit scabious

The rather dull section of the Ridgeway took me back to Swyncombe and just before reaching the car I caught something I had seen and heard for most of the duration of the walk, a pheasant.