“On a hill above a valley there was a wood. In the wood there was a huge tree. Under the tree there was a hole. In the hole live Mr Fox and Mrs Fox and their four Small Foxes.”
Beloved children’s author Roald Dahl once lived and worked in rambling Gipsy House, on the edge of the sleepy Chilterns village of Great Missenden, and when stumped for inspiration he would walk in nearby Angling Spring and Hobshill woods.
It was among these ancient beeches and carpets of bluebells that Dahl set some of his best-loved stories, including my favourite, the tale of Fantastic Mr Fox. Dahl had a favourite tree, an enormous gnarled specimen in the heart of the wood, which he called The Witches’ Tree. It is beneath its roots that his family of foxes live at the beginning of the book before they are hunted by dastardly farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean. Years have passed since Dahl penned his magical stories, and The Witches’ Tree lies fallen after a storm, but the woods are still a enchanting place to roam. This easy, if sometimes rather muddy, ramble from the village is the perfect distance for littler legs.
1. Family Home
From Great Missenden train station, cross the bridge along Martinsend Road and turn left down Trafford Road. Walk to the end of the lane and turn right at the junction, passing the garden centre. On your right you’ll spy Gipsy House, the Dahl family home. Follow the lane until you reach a footpath on your right.
2. Wild Woodland
Follow the path through the trees and take the second left footpath into the heart of the wood, where you may spot rare fungi and hear the call of a green woodpecker. Then take a sharp left back to the lane. Trace your footsteps back to Gipsy House and take the bridleway opposite the house on the right up to Hobshill woods.
3. Fantastic walk
Follow the path through the spinney until it meets a metal gate. Pass through it and follow the path to the left, taking you out of the woods. When you come to a road you’ll see a driveway lined with cherry trees – follow along it past the house, then turn right and walk along the signed footpath, through a fence and across an open field back to the village. There are lovely views of the woods on this last stretch. I like to look at the line of trees and think of the ending of Fantastic Mr Fox, in which Foxy and his animal friends outwit the farmers by creating a maze of tunnels in which they can live safely. For all we know, they are still there.
By Sian Lewis