Sunken Lanes

Sunken Lane in the Chilterns
Sunken Lane at Pulpit Hill

One of the great joys of walking in the Chilterns is discovering the sunken lanes that work their way up the hills.

Many centuries old, these sunken lanes are ancient drovers routes, their sides worn steeper and steeper by sheep driven up from the vale to the common grazing above. Other daily travellers were lines of packhorses carrying goods from villages to towns and on to London. Turnpikes, canals, railways and roads have gradually left these old routes to hikers, walkers and ramblers.

Sunken roads, lanes or holloways as they are generally known are very numerous in the Chilterns where livestock needed access to climb the escarpment.

There is a misconception that they were entirely created by the movement of sheep – sheep have a light foot fall and could not have cut the steep inclines we see today at Beacon hill and Pitstone hill.

The holloways were formed over some five centuries by the movement of cattle through long distance droving when the beasts wore metal shoes for the journey, called cues.

The trade of the Welsh cattle drovers had a significant influence on the landscape, naming hills like Piccadilly, planting Scots pine trees as way-mark signs and probably carving the chalk crosses at Whiteleaf and Bledlow. Indeed, the settlement of Little London at Wendover was established by the Welsh.