Information for those looking to tour England on vacation.
The obvious London landmarks, Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guard, Westminster Abbey, the more contemporary London Eye and the Millennium Dome are major attractions to England, but while you’re there, try some of the perhaps lesser known, out-of-town, places.
Buckinghamshire, a county less than an hour by car or train from London, can boast of an attraction or two of its own.
On a hot afternoon, of which there are a surprising number during a good British summer, West Wycombe, in Buckinghamshire, is a delight to walk through. The London to Oxford A40 highway runs through the middle of West Wycombe but is relatively quiet on a Sunday. The road is lined with tiny 17th century houses, unchanged since that time. Overlooking this unmistakably English village is West Wycombe Hill. Its interior houses the infamous Hell Fire Caves, meeting place of the Hell Fire Club, a supposedly satanic cult (possibly fictional), in the 1700s. Tours and historical information are available.
On the top of the hill are the St. Lawrence Church and the cemetery. On the very top of the church is a golden ball. It used be orange, has had a gold leaf renovation. Winding wooden stairs inside the church lead up to the platforms from where you can view miles of English countryside and look down onto the old village. Steps lead from the top platform up into the ball itself.
From the village you can reach the top of the hill, and park for free, by driving the narrow road around the side of the hill. Or, for the energetic, you can climb the steep, grassy bank on foot. Either way, the view, the ambience of the church, or the daring ascension to the golden ball, is worth it.
A few miles from West Wycombe, Whiteleaf Hill, in the village of Whiteleaf, is reached from the village of Monks Risborough. A huge white chalk cross is cut into Whiteleaf Hill. Centuries old, the origin of the cross is unknown.
The hill overlooks another spectacular view of greenery, fields of yellow rape (oilseed), and winding lanes. There is a picnic site among the trees at the back of the cross, and historical information is available.
Whiteleaf Cross can be reached by car on the road which leads to the woods in the back, or by climbing the steep face of the hill.
Back on the A40, you should drive east toward High Wycombe (and London), about a mile from West Wycombe. High Wycombe is a larger, more cosmopolitan, town, famous for its furniture making. The Rye, nothing more than an expanse of well-kept grass, on the way out of town, was once grazing pasture for cows. On the far side from the main road (A40), the river Wye ambles between the trees and a footpath runs along the other side to a splashing waterfall. Boats can be rented at the Boat House, and an English cup of tea enjoyed sitting by the river outside the small café. The Rye is also host on occasion to fairs (carnivals) fetes, and various outdoor exhibitions.
Downley Common is at the top of yet another hill, also off the A40, a switchback of grass and wild growth alongside a dense wood. Sunday cricket is played on its smoother, mowed surfaces, while children build secret camps in the brush. There is nothing spectacular about Downley Common, there are many such places in the villages that surround the valley that is High Wycombe, but a walk across it on a sun-drenched summer evening, perhaps ending up at one of the local pubs, is well worth the trip out of London.
If you’re there in the spring, walk to the very end of Downley Common and you’ll reach the village of Naphill, where your reward will be a wood of beech trees surrounded as far as the eye can see by thousands of bluebells. It is a magnificent sight.
None of these places are heralded with a lot of hoopla, with the possible exception of the Hell Fire Caves, but they are a tranquil change of pace for weary tourists seeking the “real” England, away from the well-worn tourist track.