Guide to Buckinghamshire, including places to stay, things to do and wildlife highlights.
Buckinghamshire is famous for its beautiful footpaths and landed estates. The county’s numerous hotels and inns are complimented by historical sites and engaging activities, sure to provide entertainment for the entire family.
Looking across thew Great Ouse river In the market town of Olney ©Getty
Facts about Buckinghamshire
Buckinghamshire is home to 16th-century Chequers, a country retreat for the serving Prime Minister of Britain since 1921. Listed as a Grade I property on the National Heritage List for England and used a hospital during the First World War, this beautiful residence was also once used as a prison for Lady Jane Grey’s younger sister and has links to the Cromwell family. Chequers can be found within Ellesborough, nestled at the foot of the Chiltern Hills.
The Prime Minister’s 16th century country retreat, Chequers, by Herbert Felton ©Getty
High Wycombe, the largest town in Buckinghamshire, is the only town in the world to weigh its Mayors. It does this to see if they have gained any weight at the taxpayer’s expense.
Every year on Shrove Tuesday the ladies of Olney compete in the world-famous Pancake Race, a tradition that dates back to 1445.
High Wycombe was also the location of Sir Francis Dashwood’s notoriously exclusive and debauched ‘Hellfire Club’ meetings. Dashwood installed suitable statuary in the grounds of Medmenham Abbey and excavated caves to shield his group’s activities from the public gaze.
At various points in history, Buckinghamshire has been home to a number of notorious authors and poets. Some of these include:
- Percy and Mary Shelley, T. S Eliot and Jerome K. Jerome who at one point each lived in Marlow.
- John Milton who once lived in Chalfont St Giles and whose cottage can still be visited.
- Road Dahl who lived in Great Missendon and who included numerous features and characteristics of the surrounding area in his works.
- Enid Blyton who once lived in Beaconsfield.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein ‘bringing the monster to life’ ©Getty
From collector’s exhibitions and historical re-enactments to wildlife observation and musical and theatrical performances, Buckinghamshire offers a wealth of activities and destinations to please the whole family.
Visit visitbuckinghamshire.org/events for an extensive list of additional upcoming events.
Stowe landscape gardens, Buckinghamshire ©Getty
Explore Buckinghamshire’s towns and villages
Along Beaconsfield’s main street one can enjoy the sight of stunning Victorian buildings that date back to between the 16th and 18th century. With attractive coaching inns, wide, spacious streets and a flint and Bath stone parish church – which still possesses a 15th-century tower crowned with intricate pinnacles – Beaconsfield is a town rich in both beauty and history.
Located in the rural north of Buckinghamshire, Buckingham is home to an array of beautiful Georgian buildings and an impressive Old Gaol, which dominates the town’s centre. The roads are lined with trees, the River Ouse winds its way through the centre and there are plenty of green spaces to explore. Buckingham additionally has numerous places to eat, markets on both Tuesdays and Saturdays and a variety of wonderful specialist shops.
Buckingham, Buckinghamshire ©Getty
Marlow’s Georgian market town – lined with myriad beautiful boutique shops, cafes and historic streets – is set among the rich meadows of the Thame’s riverbanks and the rolling Chiltern Hills. Why not take a boat trip along the River Thame, enjoy fine dining at The Hand & Flowers, the only UK pub to have been awarded two Michelin stars, or explore the World War One training trenches found along Marlow Common.
Cyclists crossing Marlow suspension bridge in 1944 © Getty
The Roald Dahl village trail is a great way to begin exploring Great Missenden, starting with a visit to Dahl’s grave and ending at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story centre. Take a break for refreshments at Café Twit or the 16th-century Cross Keys. Great Missenden offers numerous bike trails and walking routes, many of which follow Misbourne Stream and link back to the town through the Chiltern’s woodlands and farmlands.
Road Dahl reads to his children in the kitchen of his home in Great Missenden, 1965 © Getty
This lovely market town is home to various antique shops, the leading aviation art gallery, Aces High, and an excellent local produce market (taking place on the third Saturday of every month). With many destinations for afternoon tea and ‘Views of the Vale Walks’ taking you through ancient beech woods, carpets of bluebells and wildflower meadows, Wendover is a stunning location to explore during the warmer months.
Sunlight filtering through an English bluebell wood © Getty
In the beautiful village of West Wycombe, many of the buildings still possess their original facades. These date back to between the 16th and 18th centuries and are preserved by The National Trust. Adjacent to the village are the stunning neo-classical West Wycombe House and Park and West Wycombe Hill, the latter of which still possesses an Iron Age hill fort. Browse the traditional shops before taking a picnic to the top of West Wycombe Hill to enjoy the incredible views.
A street in West Wycombe circa 1930 © Getty
Each September, Princes Risborough attracts over 400 historic vehicles for its ‘The Kop Hill Climb’ race, an enjoyable event for all the family. The town is home to many local shops, a street market on Thursdays and a larger farmers’ market on the third Thursday of every month. There are also plenty of opportunities to refresh yourself before venturing out on one of the surrounding walking routes and trails. Phoenix trail follows a line of disused railways and passes The Three Horseshoes at Towersey. This makes a great half-way point between Princes Risborough and the finish at Thame.
Spectators gather to watch vehicles compete in the Kop Hill Climb, 1922 © Getty
Best attractions in Buckinghamshire
The Chiltern Hills
With a variety of exceptional walks and trails to follow through the surrounding area, the Chiltern Hills – designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – have something to offer any outdoor enthusiast seeking fresh air and fun. Autumn is a great time to visit as the beach forests turn amber and gold.
Home of the Second World War’s code breaking and the birthplace of modern information technology, Bletchley Park is a treasured site of historical significance. The park is the perfect place to learn more about the role of cryptography, technological innovation, secret intelligence and Allied collaboration during World War Two, as well as to understand how these still matter today in a society undergoing profound technological changes.
‘Wrens’ operating the Colossus computer at Bletchley Park, 1943 © Getty
Stowe House and Landscape Gardens
In the 18th century, the powerful Temple-Grenville family landscaped their own personal Eden. Filled with temples and monuments of varying grandeur, the gardens and main house once offered visitors a chance to explore an ancient world of classical mythology and design. Nowadays, the main Manor is home to Stowe school and the surrounding landscape gardens are said to be one of the most remarkable legacies of Georgian England. Visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/stowe to see how you can spend a day exploring Stowe.
The Palladian Bridge in Stowe Landscape Gardens © Getty
The Rothschilds’ Buckinghamshire estates
Buckinghamshire is home to many of the Rothschilds’ gorgeous country homes. Of particular note are Ascott House, Champneys and Waddesdon Manor. The first is a half-timbered house originating from 1606 and contains a wealth of impressive collections. As Britain’s original health spa, the second boasts 170 acres of idyllic countryside and a variety of traditional and innovative spa treatments. Finally, built in the style of a Neo-Renaissance French chateau, Waddesdon Manor is still home to Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild’s superb collection and an exotic aviary.
The exterior of Waddesdon Manor © Getty
The Ridgeway National Trail
Running for 87 miles between Overton Hill in Wiltshire and Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire, the Ridgeway National Trail passes through open downs, secluded valleys and along idyllic stretches river. The western section of the trail is generally recognised as England’s oldest road, a path that dates back to the Neolithic period and is studded with numerous features of archaeological interest. Upon reaching Ivinghoe Beacon, keep your eyes peeled for evidence of an existing Bronze Age presence. You will likely see the rise of remaining burial mounds scattered across the plains.
Looking down on Ivinghoe Beacon and across the Vale of Aylesbury during the mist of early morning © Getty
Wildlife and Nature
The Red Kite
Thanks to a successful reintroduction project that took place between 1989 and 1994, the Chilterns are now one of the best spots in the UK to see the red kite. Nearly driven to extinction by human persecution at the end of the 19th century, these fork-tailed birds of prey have since made an impressive comeback. They can frequently be seen soaring above the fields and hilltops and, due to their relatively weak claws, will tend to target smaller mammals or carrion for food.
Red kites tend to pair for life, building large, untidy nests in the forks of trees © Getty
College Lake Nature Reserve
This thriving nature reserve is one of the Berks, Bucks & Oxen Wildlife Trust’s flagships nature reserves. Previously a chalk quarry, the wetlands and grasslands now boast a vast array of wildlife species that can be viewed from an eco-visitor and education centre or from one of the reserve’s many hides. With wetland birds – such as lapwings, redshanks, wigeons and teals – and some rarer insect life, such as the small blue buttery, College Lake is a haven for wildlife and widely regarded as one of the best places in the county for viewing water birds. Please click here to see what’s on at College Lake over the coming months.
The small blue butterfly is rare but can be found on sheltered, warm grassland habitats ©Getty
Linford Lakes Nature Reserve
Take your binoculars and camera and bed down in one of Linford Lakes Nature Reserve‘s four hides to observe breathtaking views and wildlife. During the warmer months you are likely to see barn owls, cuckoos and common terns. In winter, you may be lucky enough to see bitterns, great white egrets and short eared owls. While in spring, the reserve’s thriving heronry offers wonderful views of nesting little egrets and herons. Foxes, deer and badgers sometimes also make an appearance. Foraging and cooking classes, bat walks and wild dying and felting activities run throughout the year.
Short Eared Owls will be seen quartering an area of suitable habitat, hunting on the wing and listening for signs of prey in the grass below © Getty
Coombe Hill was designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) to protect its chalk grassland and acid heathland. There are over 30 species of wildflower and 28 species of butterfly, including small heaths, meadow browns, ringlets and common blues. With various walks in the area, it’s the perfect place to head out for a sunny stroll while keeping your eyes peeled for soaring birds of prey and scurrying mammals.
Adult Ringlet are known to continue to fly with their characteristic bobbing motion in cloudy conditions when most other butterflies remain inactive ©Getty
Red deer are the largest of Britain’s native land mammals. They are prolific in Scotland and scattered elsewhere across East Anglia, South-West England and the Lake District. Were you to walk quietly through Buckinghamshire’s woodlands and meadows during the first few hours of early morning, you may well spot one here too. During rutting season, stags deliberately brush their antlers through vegetation in an attempt to snag debris and make themselves look larger.
Roaring competitions and parallel walking allow Red Deer stags to size one another up during rutting season without exacting physical harm © Susie Webster @websterwilds
Outdoor activities to do around Buckinghamshire
Walks and Tours
Venture out into the surrounding countryside and explore a variety of pathways and trails, or simply stroll through the landscaped gardens and parklands of one of the county’s fabulous estates. Find out more about Buckinghamshire’s walks and tours.
Walkers heading along sunny hilltops © Getty
From self-drive launches to rowing boats and traditional cruises, the River Thame and the Grand Union Canal offer many opportunities to explore Buckinghamshire from the water. Hobbs of Henley offer regular river trips and boat hire, along with themed cruises, such as ‘Comedy on the Water’ and ‘Sunday Lunch Jazz.’ Others options include The Little Boat Trip, which offers passengers the chance to operate a lock.
Looking up the River Thames towards the town of Marlow in Buckinghamshire ©Getty
Enjoy a day of watery fun with canoeing, wakeboarding, raft building or sailing. Engage Watersports in Taplow and Willen Lake in Milton Keynes offer an excellent range of activities for the whole family.
Cycling and biking
There are various cycling trails across the county, ranging from easy to hard. The Chiltern Hills make a stunning back drop for many, while others pass through attractive villages and farmland. Click here to explore the trails further.
Walking in Buckinghamshire
Aylesbury Ring, Ridgeway Path and the numerous other trails that pass through and around Buckinghamshire, walking in the county is a must. One of Buckinghamshire’s best walks wends through the countryside from Stone to Waddesdon Village, passing beautiful Eythrope Estate and Waddesdon Hill. For a more details on the 4.5-mile route, please click here.
Kingfishers can sometimes be seen during this walk when crossing the River Thames © Getty
Places to stay around Buckinghamshire
Chiltern Yurt Retreat, Wendover
For a fun, romantic and comfortable retreat into nature, visit Chiltern Yurt Retreat. Here, there are a variety of lodges, yurts and cabins available, all of which are beautifully and rustically decorated. Nestled amid woodlands and meadows, you’ll be able to sit back and listen to the sound of hooting owls, watch roving deer and keep your eyes peeled for the flash of kingfishers and dragonflies. The accommodation is within walking distance of Wendover’s pubs and restaurants and offers easy access to the Chiltern Hills’ fabulous cycling and walking routes.
The seating area outside Hazel Tree Cabin, Chiltern Yurt Retreat © Chiltern Yurt Retreat
The Pointer, Brill
The Pointer resides atop the quintessentially British village of Brill. With astounding views, a mouth-watering gastro-pub, its own personal butcher and easy access to nearby shopping destinations such as Bicester village, The Pointer is the perfect destination for country walks, good meals and a little spot of retail therapy. Relax in front of a burning log fire before heading into the restaurant for a heavenly meal.
Hartwell House and Spa, Vale of Aylesbury
Surrounded by 90 acres of stunning meadows, forests and gardens, Hartwell house is the epitome of a luxurious country retreat. Owned by The Natural Trust and bursting with antique treasures, Hartwell House offers wonderful dining, beautiful interiors and an extravagant spa and indoor swimming pool for those who are in need of a little pampering. Easily accessible from London, Hartwell House is minutes from Aylesbury Train Station. To explore the hotel further, please click here.