Rural Metroland


Route GPX file   Metroland

The gossamer thin trainspotter rationale of this route is to follow the long-abandoned extension of the Metropolitan Line beyond Aylesbury to its termination at Verney Junction near Buckingham. You will see work on its rather more expensive 21st century substitute as you go. It is an easy ride on a clockwise route on quiet roads from Haddenham & Thame Parkway Station, through pleasant, gently undulating, but generally unremarkable arable and pastoral countryside. There are a couple of ridges to cross in the first few miles and a short but steep climb of 40m or so after you have crossed the A41 at Waddesdon on the return leg. Also the estate road in Eyethrope Park has been temporarily closed, see the Route Notes below.

Zooming In

Highlights Include:

  • The home of ‘Spaghetti Trees’.

  • Playing detective to spot what remains of the abandoned stations. (Often not much!)

  • The Buckinghamshire Railway Centre. Rail geek heaven.

  • Eyethrope. The Rothschild's 'Farm'. 

  • The home of Henry V111’s favourite saint and inventor of the Jack in a Box..

  • The usual assortments of oddities.

Route Tips

If your app provides notes on the road surfaces etc. keep in mind that they are automatically generated and only as good as the underlying mapping.

The estate road at Eyethrope Park has been blocked, supposedly on a temporary basis. You might need to use one of two adjacent ‘right of way’ footpaths for a few hundred metres. Check you map. The western path has an awkward gate which you might have to lift your bike over. The gated, the other longer. When I am aware that this has changed, I will update the waypoint note on the blog.

Also, check online for information on roads temporarily closed to facilitate HS2 works. 

Zooming Out

The bedrock around here is all sedimentary rocks, mostly various types of sandstone and Jurassic mudstone on the higher ground and elsewhere rather newer chalky mudstone. The low hills and outcrops are the various concoctions of stones that were more resistant to erosion. Both hills and valleys are often covered with clay of some sort, either finer ground stuff in the river valleys or, in many places, boulder clay, which is basically the muck and rubble left in the wake of the retreating glaciers.

For early man, clay wasn’t easy to plough, and this wasn’t a densely populated area. Compared with now, much more land was devoted to sheep rearing. Thanks is part to better ploughs, the local agricultural economy did better in the centuries immediately after the Norman Conquest, but it went sharply into reverse in the 1300’s as the climate cooled, soils were exhausted and crop failures were followed by the Black Death at a time when England was almost constantly at war. As the population shrank, marginal villages shrank or disappeared. There are several near the route and marked on OS Maps. (NB. The one at Eyethrope is screened by trees and difficult to see, even from the adjacent footpaths)

Recovery took a century or more during which labour shortages led to rising incomes and a shift towards less labour-intensive pastoral farming, mainly an even greater emphasis on sheep. And people started investing in the their property. Many of the oldest houses that you see today in places like Wichendon and Quainton were the result of this ‘Great Rebuilding’.

Enclosures were the next major event in the landscape. Early on, they were locally organised. Later, they could be enforced by an Act of Parliament and the process continued into Victorian times. The impact was most marked in the Vale, where the old system of open fields was gradually eradicated, especially by the Parliamentary enclosures from the 1600’s onwards. This resulted in even more hamlets being abandoned, sometimes forcibly. As you can see the fields are often rectangular, many of the roads are straight, and footpaths lacking. But again the higher ground is an exception and the hills above Quainton look and feel like a world of their own. Some pastures appear to have been entirely spared the plough.

Metroland was a name dreamt up by the Metropolitan Railway for the new suburbs being created on its routes out of London Marylebone, past Wembley and Harrow to Amersham and beyond. This route covers the 'beyond' bit, which stretches beyond London and the Chiltern Hills into rural Buckinghamshire, which the Company painted as the rural idyll within easy reach of its railway.  

The creator of the railway was Sir Edward Watkin, the Elon Musk of his day. You will find a short bio on the blog. The name might have been created by an adman, but it was catapulted into a wider audience by John Betjeman, a Poet Laureate with an attachment to the landscape and an entertaining turn of phrase; perhaps best known for the lines "Come friendly bombs and rain on Slough". He wrote a lot about it and even narrated a rather wonderful eponymous BBC documentary in 1973. Like it, he finishes at Verney Junction, which by then was already abandoned, sighing "grass triumphs, and I must say I’m rather glad”.  

John Betjeman's BBC Documentary

The construction of HS2 dogs the route and you will probably see some signs protesting against it. The arguments both for and against Watkin’s railway were similar. And the extension turned out to be a white elephant. Are we learning anything here?   

B. Haddenham

Haddenham is a village, not a town; apart from a brief moment in the sun in 1294 when it was awarded a market. But neighbouring Thame were miffed at losing their privileged trading position and put an end to it. 

And that was it really, so not much for you to see here. But I find some interesting stuff here because I am an old building geek. Intrigued? Probably not. But if you are, follow the detour through the village and look out for old cottages perhaps with long and gently curving rendered boundary walls and built of a yellowish materiel similar to that shown in the photo here. 

Witchert in Haddenham

These are made of Wychert or Witchert, a hard chalky earth that is absolutely unique to this small locality. Mixed with straw and a bit of water it gives you a durable structure. 

C. Cuddington & The Spaghetti Tree

For what it's worth, Richard, Jonathan and David Dimbleby used to live in Cuddington. All have had great careers in current affairs broadcasting but Richard has a particular claim to infamy. 

In 1957 he was responsible for the famous 'Spaghetti Tree' April Fool's hoax on the 'Panorama' programme on the BBC, in which they broadcast a clip purportedly showing spaghetti being harvested from trees in Switzerland. He explained how late March was a worrying time for Spaghetti harvesters all over Europe because a late frost could impair the flavour of the spaghetti. You can still find the clip on YouTube. 

People fell for it in droves and the BBC were inundated with callers wanting to know how to grow a spaghetti tree and the CNN later called this 'the biggest hoax that any reputable news establishment ever pulled'. In their defence, in the 1950's, not many people in Britain had ever eaten spaghetti!

Harvesting Spaghetti

D. Nether Winchendon

This short diversion (This is a pootle after all!) takes you through a pretty village with several houses dating to the 1600's, crowned by Nether Winchendon House, a medieval Manor House remodelled in the 'Gothick' style. In the later 1700’s the last British Governor of Massachusetts Bay, Sir Frances Bernard, lived there. I believe that his descendants still do.

The Church, built of limestone rubble, partially dates to the 1300’. The Tower came a bit later but thankfully the Victorians didn’t do much more than repair. Take a look inside and you can imagine yourself back in the early 1800’s.  

The river here is the Thame which drains Aylesbury Vale. Eons ago, the Thames itself is though to have flowed through want is now the Vale. Now, the Thame joins the Thames at Dorchester in Oxfordshire, above which the Thames is also sometimes known as the Isis. It has been suggested that both names are derived from the old Brythonic word for ‘black’ and that old name for the Thames - Tamesis - is an abbreviation of Thame Isis. There are more detailed posts on the deep history of both the Vale and the Thames Valley in blog posts on www.pootler.co.uk

Thame at Nether Wichendon

E.  Wootton Station & Ashendon

 Quite a climb up to Ashendon which seems to have been an important spot in Saxon times, perhaps because of its elevation. 

In 872, an army led by Alfred the Great and his elder brother Ethelred, who was King at the time, inflicted a major defeat on the Vikings here and subsequently built earth fortifications around it. 

For the railway buffs, Wootton Station, was located about a mile down Wootton Road on your left here, where the road turns sharply left. The house names thereabouts are testament to the vanished station which was closed in 1953. 

Are ghost stations haunted by ghost trainspotters? 

F. Westcott Station 

Both Wootton and Westcott were also on the Brill Tramway, a six mile horse drawn tram line built in 1871 at minimum expense by the Duke of Buckingham. He wanted to ship goods from his lands around Wootton House to the main line at Quainton Road. In 1872 he deigned to take passengers as well but it didn't help them much. The line was built for horses, and too ropey for the new engines whose speed of the trains didn't exceed that of a brisk walker. 

Brill Tramway

The rail network was spliced & diced in the following decades and oddly enough the Brill Tramway ended up first as part of the Metropolitan Line and later as part of the London Underground Network! They closed it in 1935.

There are few traces left of the line itself apart from at the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre which can be visited further along this route. The pic shows (I think!) the staff cottages and the old station building which is the timber structure on the left hand side. Note the dates on the gables. The left hand side gabled building is more recent and seems to have been built over the track.

Railway Cottages at Wescott

G. Waddesdon Road

This was next stop on the Brill Tramway. In open countryside, it  helped  Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild when he was building Waddeson Manor, in the 1870's, but was otherwise useless. (See the ‘Rothschildshire’ bike route post on www.pootler.co.uk) 

In 1936 when the Brill Tramway was closed its kit was auctioned. You could have bought the entire 100’ long station for just £7 10s 1p. (Kids, that is just over £7.50!) 

H. Buckinghamshire Railway Centre

This was Quainton Road Station, the junction between the Brill Tramway, the old extension of the Metropolitan Railway and the Main Line to Birmingham. It is now a (mostly open air) museum with large and small steam and diesel engines, carriages and various station buildings in differing states of repair. One of the Brill Tramway engines is here. And Thomas of course but none of the volunteers who run it look like Sir Topham Hat. 


The Fat Controller

The opening times are somewhat mercurial, it isn't open in Winter and the café is only reliably open for special events. So do check first at (link)  Bucks Railway Centre  

Thomas at the Railway Centre


For the budding landscape archaeologists among you, the fields to the south west of the Railway Centre (south of the railway line & the bridge) show signs of medieval 'ridge and furrow' pattern ploughing. It is clearer in winter and on the aerial photos but might still be visible when there are some shadows.

If you are interested in these old agricultural patterns, see the posts on landscape history on www.pootler.co.uk

I. Quainton

The name sounds a bit strange but in fact it simply means 'Queen's Estate. No one knows which Queen but one strong possibility is Edith, Mrs Edward the Confessor and the sister of the King Harold who came second at the Battle of Hastings. 

Quainton Windmill

A lovely village with half-timbered cottages around a green with the remains of an old preaching cross on the green (see the pic), a working windmill in the background, 17th c. The Winwood Almshouses which are still in use and a 14th c. Church in the 'decorated gothic' style, albeit mucked around by the Victorians.  

Winwood himself was a landowner and parliamentarian of no great note who is immortalised in stone in full armour in the 14th c. church, alongside his wife who is portrayed looking over him, perhaps watchfully or perhaps simply wondering why he bothers with the armour now he is dead anyway.

The hills above the village were used solely for pasture for centuries. The drove roads across the hill might pre-date the Romans. The break came in World War Two when the Government strongarmed people into planting crops on parts of it. More calories per acre! 

Finally, the The George and Dragon is a great pub, which has a separate and excellent café with outdoor seating.

J. Green Dragon Rare Breeds Farm

The 'Rare Breeds' are mostly sheep, cows, goats and fowl although there are some reindeer; all kept in 44 acres and subjected to the attendance of common breeds of human spawn. 

K. Winslow Road Station

The old Winslow Road Station was just under a mile down East Claydon Road which runs off to your right just under a mile after you turn right at Botolph Claydon. It was never used much, not least because it was a mile from Winslow which was better connected. There is now an electricity sub-station on most of it, together with 'Station Kennels'. The station master's house is still there together with part of one platform. 

Winslow Road Station, Early 1900's

L. The Middle of Nowhere

Verney Junction. As far as it goes! But there isn't a village called Verney. The small houses that were built next to a track in what were then open fields and which form the current hamlet, were originally built for the railwaymen. 

The Junction itself is testament to the enthusiasm for railways in the 1800's and the spaghetti (it keeps turning up) of branch lines that sprang up as well as the Metropolitan. 

One of these ran between Oxford and Cambridge so it became known as the Varsity Line. Passenger numbers were inadequate so it was used for freight before closure in 1993. Now, it is now being resurrected as the core of the new East-West Rail Link which the blurb says will 'put the region’s historic cities and towns, shopping destinations, stately homes, leisure pursuits and beautiful countryside and waterfronts within easy reach of millions of people'. 

Don't be fooled. The logic is that it will allow more new houses to be built. John Betjeman would be crying into his Typhoo tea. 

If the preparatory work for the new line hasn’t gone too far, there are clear remnants of the old Varsity Line which can be seen if you wander a hundred yards down the track on the left. You can find some platforms and walk the track. The old stationmaster's house is still there, using the old Metropolitan Line trackbed as a garden, and the ticket office survives as a garage. 

So why 'Verney' Junction? Quite simply, the Verney family were local gentry with a thousand year lineage who lived (and still live) - in Claydon House in nearby Middle Claydon. Harry 'Bucks' Verney had his fingers in a variety of railway pies thereabouts. 

Harry Verney in 'Vanity Fare' 1882

M. Winslow

A good place to stop for refreshment but, but....it doesn't seem to have had a very exciting history. What follows are the potted highlights. If you are truly desperate for detail - and I would recommend any stationary catalogue as a better read – see (link) Winslow History

It is quite a long history though. The town was first recorded in a royal charter of 792–93 in which it was granted by Offa of Mercia to St Albans Abbey. Offa also pops up in my ‘Giro de Lilley Bottom’ routes on www.pootler.co.uk

Now, the oldest part is the east-west road 'Horn Street' which you use when you leave the town centre. This, and its eastwards continuation as Sheep Street, give you a good idea what the old economy was based on! The most prized building is Winslow Hall, which was probably designed by Christopher Wren. If you want to take a look, it is 200 yards down Sheep Street on the left hand side. The current owners are the family of the late Ian Gilmour who was Minister of Defence when Ted Heath was Prime Minister.

The next settlement after you leave Winslow is Granborough. It isn't worth stopping there, but there is a pub called the Crown for the odd reason that the village is one of the few places that are actually owned by the Crown!

Winslow

N. Henry V111's 'GoTo' Saint & the Jack in a Box

North Marston is a less attractive village with a much better story....

There is a holy well in the village, found by Sir St John Schorne, who was rector of the parish around about 1290. The fellow had talents. He could ‘conjure the Devil into a boot’, a trick that is reputedly the origin of the 'Jack in a Box'. And in times of drought he could summon water by striking the ground with this staff. 

In the pic below, the devil is the little fellow he is holding. Funny thing, I always though the devil would be a tad larger than that. 

The place where he pulled this stunt is now the Schorne Well whose waters can apparently cure gout and which you can visit with a short detour. Where the route turns right here, continue instead for about 300 yards and turn left into Church Street. In 100 yards turn right into Schorne Lane. The Well is a short way further on.

Sir Saint John Schorne

Schorne started quite a cult. He was referred to as a saint, although he was never canonised, and North Marston became a place of pilgrimage. (Do you was Sir Saint or Saint Sir?). One admirer was Henry V111 who went there in July 1511. With his support, Schorne was buried in St George's Chapel, Windsor alongside many English monarchs and other sundry Royals & Nobles. 

O. Waddesdon Station

If you peer over the bridge here you can see what little remains of Waddesdon Station, namely part of a platform and the access ramp. When it was open it was used by both the Metropolitan Line and the Great Central Railway, who shared track as far as Quainton, and initially named Waddesdon Manor after the Rothschilds mansion about a mile away. (See my Rothschildshire’ route on www.pootler.co.uk). It was closed in 1936.

Waddesdon. Hard to see what's left! 

P. Eyethrope – The Rothschilds ‘garden’. 

Again, see my Rothschildshire route as above.  

Cycling through Eyethrope’s grounds is a treat. Getting up the hill to the entry which is off to the left towards the top of the hill, less so. All £5bn worth of the current 4th Baron Rothschild lives in the large house on the hill to the East. The environs are private. 

The 1st Baron Ferdinand Rothschild built Waddeson Manor, which you can't see on your right for trees. At the bottom of the hill in Eyethrope is the ‘Pavilion’ bought by the first Baron Rothschild for his sister Alice 1875.  Like most Rivers, the Thame is wet, and this exacerbated Alice’s rheumatic fever, so she never moved in and the house was built without bedrooms and used as a place to house her collections and entertain guests during the day. A giant Wendy House for the super rich girl. 

The architect was George Devey, an architect favoured by the Rothschilds and who flew on the faux-rustic wing of the Arts & Crafts movement. Spot the influence on the style of the typical English suburban housing that appeared much later, after World War One.

In 1922 following Alice's death, the Pavilion was let it to the wife of Somerset Maughan. (A tough gig, Maughan described himself as being ‘three quarters queer’ and used the other quarter to spread the love even further). 

The Pool at Eyethrope

Eyethrope is means ‘island farm’ in old English. The eponymous medieval village is deserted now. All that remains are some earthen banks and ditches in the fields further along the lake to your right together with lots of traces of 'ridge and furrow' farming which can best be seen in the aerial photos on google maps.

Q. Stone

It is about five relatively uneventful and fairly flat miles from Stone back to Haddenham. The uncomplicated field pattern is mostly the result of the fields hereabouts being enclosed relatively late, in the 1800's. Hence the rather boring landscape of straight roads and relatively regularly shaped fields. 


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