There are quite a number of books about walking in the Chilterns, but very few on the history, geography and natural history of the region.
I’d like to recommend two books I’ve come across that are essential reading for anyone interested in the Chilterns and what makes the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty so distinct, so special and so worthy of conservation and protection.
The definitive book about the history of Chilterns landscapes is ‘The Chilterns‘ and is written by geographers Leslie Hepple and Alison Doggett. The book’s aim is to provide a readable account of the development of the Chilterns landscape through time.
The first half of Doggett and Hepple’s account explains how the land was used at different times with reference to historical accounts, surviving documents and previous studies. The chapters are divided into chronological time periods such as Roman Chilterns, Anglo-Saxon, Medieval etc..
The second half of the book is more theme based with chapter titles such as ‘The Chiltern Beechwoods’ and ‘Turnpikes, Canals and Railways’. The later chapters are far more readable, each making up a stand alone essay on the subject in question. The whole book is packed with detailed diagrams, historical extracts, old maps and photographs.
Setting this precious landscape in its historical context, this book will literally change the way you perceive the Chilterns completely. For example, it explains how the high beech woods we so cherish today, and think of as so typical of the hills, are in fact a relatively recent landscape phenomenon.
The book charts patterns of trade, changes in woodland management and agricultural practices, and the move away from cottage-based craft industries towards the larger developing towns.
At a time when our landscapes are under increasing threat from urban development, studies like ‘The Chilterns’ provide an immense contribution to our knowledge and understanding of what needs preserving and why.
The second book I recommend is ‘Wild Flowers and Where to Find them in the Chilterns‘ by Laurie Fallows and Gay Fallows. This wonderful book will lead you on many new adventures over the hilltops and through the meadows and is small enough to tuck away in your daypack on walks.
The central reference pages of the book are colour coded. For example, if you are looking for a yellow flower, then look in the yellow-edged pages for brilliant photos and reference notes that extend to country names, interesting anecdotes, and medicinal uses.
The book contains details and maps for 18 walks and highlights the likely wildflowers that you may find there. Of course it depends when you are doing the walk as to which flowers will be out, so the book also has charts, again colour coded, showing which flowers are in bloom and in what month.
An essential companion to these books is OS Map 181 Chiltern Hills North. You will need this to find many of the places and walks mentioned.
With these two books any walk in the Chilterns becomes both a journey through time as well as a search for the surviving wildflowers.