Marsworth Flight and Wendover Woods

Tring station – Bulbourne – Marsworth Flight – Bucklandwharf – Aston Hill – Wendover station

A contrasting walk, starting on the bustling Grand Union Canal, wandering around some of its attractive reservoirs, a stroll on the derelict Wendover branch canal then climbing into the fine woods of the Chilterns high eastern outposts.

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Length: 9 ¾ miles (15.8km)
Underfoot: You may encounter a few brief muddy patches on canal towpaths and in the final descent through Wendover Woods, but this is a walk almost entirely on good paths and tracks and minor roads.
Terrain: One steady climb and descent either side of Wendover Woods, but otherwise very easy walking.
Maps: 1:50,000 Landranger 165 Aylesbury & Leighton Buzzard; 1:25,000 Explorer 181 Chiltern Hills North.
Getting there: Tring is served by 3 London Midland trains per hour (2 per hour on Sundays) from London Euston (37-42 mins), via Watford Junction (16-20 mins) for London Overground connections. Monday-Saturday, there is 1 Southern service per hour from East Croydon (73 mins), via West Brompton (50 mins) for District Line and Clapham Junction (60 mins) for London Overground. On Sundays, change at Watford Junction if coming from these locations.
Useful websites: The route follows part of the Grand Union Canal Walk and the towpath of the Wendover Arm canal. Later, the walk climbs into the popular Wendover Woods.
Getting home: Chiltern runs two trains per hour from Wendover to London Marylebone, Monday-Saturdays, taking 52mins, via Harrow-on-the-Hill (36mins) for Metropolitan line connections. Trains run hourly on Sundays, though from late afternoons there is a second train each hour to Amersham (15mins), from where Metropolitan line services connect for central London.
Fares: Unfortunately, there is no alternative to purchasing two single tickets for these journeys, as Tring and Wendover are on completely separate lines. An off-peak single from London to Tring is £14.00  (£7.00 child, £9.25 railcard), and from Wendover to London is £10.30 (£5.15 child, £6.80 railcard).

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  • Alighting at Tring station, some miles from the town it serves, follow the signs to the way out and turn left on the busy road past the former Royal Hotel and a row of terraced cottages.
  • After about 200m you reach a canal bridge. Immediately before it, head right down
    Descending to the Grand Union Canal

    Descending to the Grand Union Canal

    steps to the canal itself and continue straight ahead along the towpath.

This is part of the Grand Union Main Line, a 137-mile amalgamation of waterways that links London with Birmingham, married together in the 1920s, demonstrating the importance that it retained as a commercial route well into the railway age. The corridor used by the canal up the Ouzel valley was subsequently used by Robert Stephenson to build the first London – Birmingham railway, now the West Coast Mainline to the northwest.

  • After following a long curve through a wooded cutting, the high parapets of Marshcroft Bridge eventually come into view. The towpath climbs up to the bridge [1] and you cross the canal, immediately turning right to join the continuing towpath on the opposite bank.
  • Another kilometre along the towpath brings you to Bulbourne Bridge, with the Grand
    Bulbourne Works

    Bulbourne Works

    Junction Arms next to it. Beyond the bridge, an attractive collection of former Grand Union works buildings – whose main purpose was constructing lock gates, right up until 2004 – now houses a range of small businesses.

  • The towpath is now a small road serving the moorings and continues in this way until you reach pretty Bulbourne junction [2], with a dry dock and lock keepers’ cottages. Whilst you will join the Wendover arm later, for now keep ahead on the bridge over the arm, keeping beside the mainline as it starts to descend the Marsworth flight of locks ahead.
  • Twist your way down six locks, dotted with whitewashed lock keepers’ cottages, coming
    Marsworth Flight

    Marsworth Flight

    alongside the delightful reed lined Marsworth Reservoir.

The descent down the Marsworth flight (which is nine locks in total) represents the start of the descent from the very summit of the entire Grand Union at Tring, dropping down into the Vale of Aylesbury. Keeping this section in water was a challenge, with the Wendover Arm of the canal originally constructed as a feeder. This soon proved inadequate and Wilstone Reservoir (which you will see later on in the walk) was constructed in 1802. Leaks meant that three further reservoirs

Marsworth Reservoir

Marsworth Reservoir

– Marsworth, Startop’s End and Tringford – were constructed between 1806 and 1818. Through to today, this complex of reservoirs supplies four million gallons of water a year for the Grand Union. 

  • Shortly after the sixth lock (marked with number 40), keep to the wide path as it rises slightly above the canal, beside the reservoir. Where the canal swings sharply right, keep to the path leftwards [3], passing along a narrow strip of land separating the two reservoirs – Marsworth and Startop’s End.

    Between the reservoirs

    Between the reservoirs

  • Past the end of the reservoirs, the path soon joins a relatively busy road. Cross to join the narrow pavement and head right along it, now following the bank of a third reservoir. Where the road bends left, turn left on a footpath signed to Little Tring. This runs along grassy embankment of Tringford Reservoir.
  • Leaving the bank of the reservoir, the clear path turns left. Immediately after the corner, at a waymark post [4], turn right through a kissing gate and across a small field to a minor road.
  • Head left, and at the junction just after the bend, keep left on a larger road towards Tring. After about 200m, head right at a footpath sign up a track (glance north to see the huge pile of Mentmore House on a hillside some distance away).
  • The track quickly reaches the level of the disused Wendover Arm and you turn right
    On the Wendover Arm

    On the Wendover Arm

    through a kissing gate along its towpath, the channel being slowly prepared for a return to water. As the canal twists gently along the hillside, it provides superb views over the vale and Wilstone Reservoir.

The Grand Union main line has a sizable number of branches (or arms). Some of these were built with an explicit commercial purpose, such as that which runs to Aylesbury from the foot of the Marsworth flight. The Wendover Arm’s primary purpose, however, was to provide a supply of water to the Tring summit section of the main line, from the natural springs around Wendover. It was only once construction had begun that it was realised that the extra cost of making the Arm navigable would be pretty negligible. The Arm was completed in 1794, but soon proved problematic, losing huge quantities of water through leakage in the banks. Numerous attempts to resolve this proved hopeless, and by 1897 it was estimated that

In-water section of the Wendover Arm

In-water section of the Wendover Arm

the Arm was actually draining water from the main line, rather than supplying it! Water shortages also limited the commercial use of the Arm, and it closed in 1904, superseded by the Tring reservoirs. Since 1989, the Wendover Arm Trust has been gradually safeguarding and restoring the Arm.

  • Ignore the various footbridges and paths off and continue on the towpath. Approaching the farm buildings of Drayton Beauchamp, you reach a section of canal which has been restored to water. Keep to the towpath under a humpback bridge [5]. A little beyond here, it is worth a very short diversion up the steps to the right to see the idyllic little 15th century church of St Mary the Virgin.

A church has stood on this site since the late 11th century, constructed after the land

St Mary the Virgin, Drayton Beauchamp

St Mary the Virgin, Drayton Beauchamp

was gifted by William the Conqueror to Magno le Breton, a nobleman who accompanied him at Hastings. The church was largely rebuilt in the 15th century, using materials from the original church, including reusing the Norman font.

  • Back on the canal, you soon pass under the modern bridge carrying the busy A41 dual carriageway, named Saxon Way Bridge after the 2001 discovery of a Saxon princess’ tomb nearby. Just beyond, you pass the point where the current canal rejoins the original course, a short diversion having been built to facilitate the A41 construction. Ensuring that this by-pass did not sever the canal was an early achievement of the Arm Trust.
  • Beyond a low concrete bridge you are amongst the houses of Buckland Wharf. The path climbs up to a road and you turn L on the pavement over the canal, past a sign claiming to mark the start of the Chilterns.
  • Continue on pavement for around 200m to reach the busy junction ahead [6]. Cross at the traffic island to join the B4009, then immediately turn L on the little lane signed to Dancers End.
  • You climb steadily up this lovely, quiet lane for a little over 1km. Eventually, it swingsOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA left and passes the gate of Drayton Manor. Immediately beyond, turn right through a gap in the fence (footpath signs) [7] into the woods, passing through a chicane and climbing straight ahead. There are fine views back the way you have come and east to Icknield Beacon.
  • Eventually the path swings away from the edge of the woods and cuts through the trees, a mountain bike course to your right. A substantial wooden fence leads you out onto a drive by Long Meadow Farm, and you follow this ahead. Keep straight ahead, past Aston Court and the car park for the mountain bike course to emerge on a road, opposite a cottage.
  • Cross this fast road with care and head very briefly left to then head right at a footpath
    On Aston Hill

    On Aston Hill

    sign. This immediately brings you to a drive. Cross and take stile opposite, following path ahead to trig point at summit of Aston Hill in middle of field ahead.

  • Keep straight and cross a stile into the woods. You soon come to broad level path, which you follow left. Before long you join a little tarmac road through the trees [8], which you follow straight ahead. This is the Forestry Commission access road to the car parks for Wendover Woods, which you are now walking through.
  • Reaching a large wooden signpost by a small car park [9], keep to the road signed
    Wendover Woods

    Wendover Woods

    towards the information centre, which soon appears on the left, with its popular cafe

  • Follow the road signed right to ‘main car park’ [10]. Keep straight ahead on the track through the parking areas, parts of a zipwire course to your left. Ignore the track signed left to ‘exit’ and continue ahead on a broad track, passing the last bit of car parking and a vehicle barrier.
  • As you descend, breaks in the trees to your right give brief glimpses of views over Aylesbury. Reaching a large track junction by a fitness trail information sign in a
    Vale of Aylesbury from Wendover Woods

    Vale of Aylesbury from Wendover Woods

    clearing [11], take the track descending left at right angles (there are footpath waymark on the vehicle barrier).

  • After a curve to the right, follow the track climbing gently right (following the ‘Outer Aylesbury Ring’ waymark on the cycle sign). Keep to this track, the low earthworks of an Iron Age fort just visible to the right, initially, and descend gently through the trees. After a steeper section, ignore the track marked as a cycle route to the right.
  • Curving right, the track levels out to run above a farm. At a track junction beyond [12],
    Boddington Hill

    Boddington Hill

    fork left to descend to a minor road, where you head right.

  • Follow this dead straight road to a junction at the edge of Wendover, turning right towards ‘village centre’. Just over the brow of a low hill, follow a footpath sign left [13] between two gardens.
  • The narrow path twists downhill between fences to suddenly emerge on a footbridge over the crystal clear stream that runs through Wendover. Turn right on the concrete path beside the water. Cross the little road by pretty Bucksridge House and follow Ridgeway signs OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAstraight ahead, still following the stream.

The name ‘Wendover’ comes from a Brythonic phrase meaning ‘white waters’, referring to this stream, which rises in the chalk hills and so brings chalk deposits into town. This was one of the feeders for the Wendover Arm.

  • As you enter houses, follow waymarks along the surfaced path, to emerge at the foot of Wendover’s High Street, next to its 1842 clock tower, which houses a tourist information centre.
  • Turn left up the High Street, with plenty of pubs and cafes. At the mini roundabout near the top of the hill, keep straight ahead, passing more fine historic houses. After the Shoulder of Mutton pub turn right on Station Approach. The station is at the bottom of this road. London trains depart from the nearest platform.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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One Response to Marsworth Flight and Wendover Woods

  1. Joy says:

    Fantastic walk with lots of variety. Great instructions though we got a little confused from [10] and ended up finding our own way to Tring asking some runners for directions. Drayton Manor also no longer exists. Now called Little Turretts. We had a great day. Took us about 4 1/2 hours at a leisurely but steady pace, keeping in mind we probably took longer because of getting ‘lost’ near the end

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