The Chilterns (full name Chiltern Hills) Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is located in south-east England, north-west of London between Goring (just north-east of Reading) and running north-east to the border with Hertfordshire near Luton - a distance of over 100 kilometres in length, but seldom more than 10 - 15 kilometres wide.
They fall within four of the central-southern English counties: Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire.
The landscape is of gentle rolling chalk hills, dotted with agriculture (mainly small scale), woodlands, hedgerows and small traditional English towns and villages. The Chilterns regularly take the number 1 spot in polls of the best place to live in Britain.
Exploring the Chilterns
The most picturesque way to explore the region is on foot - perhaps following part of the Ridgeway Long Distance Path, or one of the many shorter walks in the region. In springtime the bluebell walks through the Chiltern woodlands are especially attractive.
Popular alternatives include cycling, both on the roads and on the permitted mountain-biking routes, and on horseback.
There are 2,000 kilometres of trails available, to suit all levels of ability and enthiusiasm, including some that the local authorities have highlighted as 'stile free' or 'wheelchair and pushchair friendly'.
A visitor centre is located at Dunstable Downs, centrally placed in the region.
Chiltern towns and villages
The nature of the soil - clay and flint - has defined the appearance of the local architecture - usually brick, occasionally flint, and also frequent use of flint for decorative purposes. Some of the most beautiful villages in the Chilterns include:
- Bradenham, a National Trust village with a traditional manor house
- Hambleden, pretty small village
- Jordans, pretty village and burial place of William Penn
- Little Missenden, charming village
- The Lee, pretty village
- Aldbury, another picture postcard pretty Chilterns village
- Turville, beautiful village and home to the windmill of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
- Long Crendon
Also worth a visit are:
- Wendover, a beautiful and interesting town on the Ridgeway Path
- West Wycombe, National trust village with many attractive houses
- Marlow, attractive town on the River Thames
- Chalfont St Peter, pretty village
- Chalfont St Giles, home to John Milton's cottage
- Great Missenden, home to the Roald Dahl museum
- Princes Risborough, with National Trust property 'The Manor House'
- Skirmett, home to 'The Frog', voted Best Dining Pub 2010
- Fingest, pretty village
- Frieth, pleasant village
Apart from the pleasures of walking, exploring, and finding a traditional english pub to enjoy a drink, there are numerous buildings of historical interest in the Chilterns. Many other attractions may go unremarked - a particularly attractive church, or a lovely setting for an ancient inn (try also the King's Head in Aylesbury, a National Trust inn) - but will also form a highlight of your visit.
There are various important castle remains, manor houses and gardens that can be visited, including:
- Berkhamsted castle - not much remains of this castle, once imposing and owned by the Black Prince.
- Chenies Manor House - attractive brick built 15th century manor house and gardens, well known for its numerous brick chimneys
- Cliveden - elaborate and famous decorative gardens on the banks of the Thames
- Greys Court, formal gardens around a fortified Tudor manor
- Hughenden Manor - substantial manor house-mansion, best known as being home to Benjamin Disraeli for more than 30 years during the second half of the 19th century
- Long Crendon courthouse - lovely 15th century half-timbered building
- Stonor Park, substantial brick manor house in a lovely setting with fine furnishings and a deer park
- West Wycombe Park - attractive landscaped setting with lake around an impressive 18th century mansion
The Chilterns have always been popular because of its excellent walking, beautiful villages and some really fantastic village pubs. However BBCs 'Midsomer Murders' television programmes, most of which are filmed in the Chilterns, has started a new wave of visitors on the Midsomer Murders trail.
The Chilterns are home to Chequers, the Prime Ministers country residence. It is situated at the foot of the Chiltern Hills south of Aylesbury.