The story so far.....share your thoughts and photos about The Ridgeway's parklands to help us create a community Top 50!

It’s worth letting your curiosity get the better of you in a ‘designed parkland’ where there are features waiting to delight you round the next bend. Highlights in the parklands along The Ridgeway include spotting the Shard in the City of London from the top of the Bridgewater Monument, coming face to face with a polar bear and walking through the Prime Minister’s country estate. There are several historic parklands to discover – Tring Park and Ashridge in Hertfordshire, Chequers and Halton House in Buckinghamshire and Mongewell and Ashdown in Oxfordshire. Read on below….

Banner image: Summerhouse in Tring Park. Credit D Royal, Wikicommons

A zebra-drawn carriage was a familiar sight in Tring, Hertfordshire, when Lionel Walter Rothschild was based at home in Tring Park (see image gallery above). Rothschild was fascinated by exotic animals and many roamed the park including wallabies, cassowaries and rheas. His presence continues to be felt today with the popular Tring Zoological Museum which his father built for him on the estate to house his natural history collection. Another legacy has also been the edible dormouse which has thrived in the area after he brought six to England in 1902 and let them loose in the park!

Tring Park‘s hidden follies, forest gardens, lime tree avenue, towering redwood trees and wildflower-rich grasslands are now open to the public to enjoy. It stretches up into the Chiltern hills from the late 17th century house designed by Christopher Wren in Tring town centre. A summerhouse (see image gallery above) and obelisk can be discovered not far from The Ridgeway which follows King Charles II ride, apparently named after a visit by the King with his mistress Nell Gwyn.

Tring Park is one of seven Rothschild country estates within a 10km radius of Aylesbury bought and embellished during the 19th century, including Waddesdon Manor, Eythrope House, Ascott House, Mentmore Towers, Aston Clinton Park and Halton House. Waddesdon Manor can be seen in the distance from Coombe Hill near Wendover in Buckinghamshire along The Ridgeway, whilst Halton House is closer to the Trail but hidden from sight amongst trees. The house was built by Alfred de Rothschild and makes an elaborate sight being French Renaissance in style (see image gallery above). It isn’t open to the public, except on open days permitted by its residents RAF Halton, but there is plenty opportunity to explore the wider estate along the Grand Union Canal and through Wendover Woods. The woods were also enjoyed by Alfred de Rothschild who constructed woodland rides up the steep Chilterns scarp slope to an Austrian-style chalet that he built to entertain guests.

Numerous prestigious guests from around the world have been hosted by Britain’s Prime Ministers at Chequers in Buckinghamshire. For the general public however, there is tight security limiting access to The Ridgeway footpath from which there are views of the red-brick Elizabethan house (see image gallery above) as well as the main drive lined with beech trees donated by the famous Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The house and estate was given to the nation by Sir Arthur Lee in 1921 as the country retreat for the Prime Minister, roughly an hour and a half’s drive from London.

Parliament has not always been in London, however, and Edward I gathered his parliament in a monastery that once stood not far from The Ridgeway on the Ashridge estate in Hertfordshire. This estate now draws lots of visitors seeking to enjoy the parkland and a highlight includes the Bridgewater Monument (see image gallery above), dedicated to the Canal Duke, with a viewing platform towering over the trees. The Canal Duke was one of many previous owners who had the landscape modified and involved the famous landscape architects Lance ‘Capability’ Brown in the 18th century and Humphry Repton in the early 19th century. Single trees and groups of trees were planted, whilst informal open lawns and formal rides were created in the woodlands. An ornamental carriage drive known as Duncombe Terrace is today enjoyed by the general public as a popular walking and cycling route.

‘Park pales’ are another interesting feature to be found in parklands with deer park origins, including Ashridge and also Ashdown House in Oxfordshire. Most deer parks were created between 1200 and 1350 by lords, often with royal permission, for the purpose of hunting for sport and food. Ditches were dug along the boundaries of the parkland, with the mound on the outer side and a palisade on top to prevent animals leaving the park and intruders getting in. Ashdown House is not often open to the public but, when it is, access to the rooftop reveals the far-reaching views that were utilised when it was a hunting lodge. Extending out from the house, there are four avenues including the Grand Avenue leading north through woods towards The Ridgeway (see image gallery above) and this area is open to the public.

Last but not least are the more modest parklands in Oxfordshire at Mongewell and Swyncombe. From The Ridgeway, veteran trees in fields and in avenues are a distinctive feature of both parklands. Buildings from several periods including the 1960s make Mongewell Park a bit of a mish-mash of features beside the River Thames in Oxfordshire. However, there are glimpses of its serpentine lake adjacent to The Ridgeway and a detour along a public footpath takes visitors to a derelict gothic-style church hidden away but hopefully not to be forgotten.

Notes: More information about the naturalist Rothschilds, industrial heritage linked to the Canal Duke and churches is available in other Top 50 entries (not all Top 50 entries will be available until end of December 2023).

Return to Ridgeway Top 50 homepage.

Share your photos and stories to create a community Top 50! #Ridgeway50