Villages, cottages, green rolling hills, hedges and pubs are all images that come into my mind when I think of England. Perhaps it’s because I watched too much Heartbeat as a child. Whatever it was I have been looking forward to exploring the classic English countryside for awhile, so when another two days off popped up I decided to make use of them and made my way just outside of London (seriously only about 40 minutes by train out from the city centre) to Great Missenden for a quiet weekend in the country.
Upon arrival into Great Missenden we wandered down the high street and admired the quaint village atmosphere. Quaint is probably a term that will appear throughout the post, as it’s definitely a word that popped up many times that weekend. Great Missenden was the home of famous author Roald Dahl and my travelling partner for the weekend was a big fan. The town houses a museum and story centre celebrating his life, as well as a number of sights that inspired various elements of his stories.
The museum itself is a great way to spend a couple of hours. Wonderfully themed, each room has a treasure trove of artefacts, interactive elements and extracts from his works. You’ll also get to see his writing shed recreated (and there’s even an opportunity to see what it feels like writing in a replica of his chair), Willy Wonka’s costume from the 2005 film and a set from Fantastic Mr Fox. Warner Brothers even made smaller replicas of the Wonka gates after the original film gates were too large to donate to the museum. You’ll also find a lovely cafe and a great gift shop. Visiting the museum and surrounding area would make a great day trip as it’s so close to London.
Our accommodation for the night was a 15th Century pub called The Nag’s Head. The gorgeous building was located a 15 minute walk from the town centre amongst fields of sheep and cows. Not only is the Nag’s Head a hotel and pub, but it’s home to an award winning restaurant, which we made good use of in the evening, devouring melt in your mouth steak and chicken. The room itself was also lovely. Decorated in a modern style, but utilising the period details of the building, especially the beams and the tiny doors that were in place as a result of them. I don’t know how many times we bumped our head whilst going to the bathroom, but it felt like we were living in a luxurious hobbit hole. Breakfast was also included with our accomodation and there was a great selection of both hot and continental options that were prepared specifically for us at our requested time.
To explore more of the country atmosphere we took a walk up a hill to find Roald Dahl’s grave site which overlooks the town and surrounding area. While at the cemetery we also got to play one of my favourite games “Church or Castle?” It was a church. Behind the church was an even older cemetery which we intended on looking at. However I got a really uneasy feeling of someone, or perhaps something, watching us (potentially the Black Monk who supposedly haunts the area), so we headed back down the hill instead. On our way home from the cemetery we came across a field that ran behind an abbey. A little sign notified us that sheep were grazing in the field but we found ourselves ambushed by a herd of cows. Being city slickers we were unsure if we’d be eaten alive (do cows eat meat?) We escaped unharmed.
Day Two saw us heading to Wendover, another even more quaint village 10 or so minutes by train from Great Missenden. However our plans for the day would shatter the illusion of a quiet weekend in the country. We had discovered that high in the woods was a place called Go Ape which would allow us to zip line through the trees and partake in aerial obstacle courses. I’m honestly not crazy about heights, my travelling partner was petrified of them. It became a must do.
As we trudged up the giant hill to Wendover Woods we found ourselves (to my great excitement) outside a number of thatched roof cottages! I’d been longing to see one of these, and here was a whole row.
When we finally made it to the top of Wendover Woods (a very long walk that even doubled back on itself, we should have taken a taxi instead) we arrived at Go Ape, set in the highest place in the Chilterns (that’s the name of the area.) We watched as people flew down zip lines and came crashing into piles of mulch. It looked exhilarating. I’d always wanted to zip line. Here was my chance. We went through the safety demonstration. It became very clear that all our safety for the day would be left in our own hands. There would be no staff up in the trees, just us, changing our safety lines one by one. Subsequently before each step off a platform I’d thoroughly check everything was in place, something like 8 times.
The first of five courses was a basic training course ending in a small zip line. Course number 2 saw us suddenly much higher and partaking in a small ‘Tarzan Swing’ which as the name suggests involved swinging like Tarzan out over the open into a big rope net. It wasn’t too bad. Other obstacle courses included rope bridges, suspended platforms, wobbly platforms and the like. Each course ended with a zip line, each one longer than the last. I loved them.
On course four we came across the biggest challenge. A larger Tarzan Swing. This one had a giant leap gap (you could skip it if you wanted to) but there was no way I was going to. The lady in front of me took her time, and got more scared the longer she waited. In the end she sat on the platform and slid off. I knew I couldn’t afford to do the same, I’d freak out and not be able to do it. I quickly attached all my safety cables, and shouted out to the passing safety officer “Can I jump from this?” “Of course!” So I did.
Little did I know that the swing wouldn’t kick in immediately.
Instead I entered a free fall that was taller than me, and as I’d jumped that added to the fall.
My initial “Weeeeee” turned into an “OH MY GOD” from the pit of my stomach.
Had I clipped the safety cables on incorrectly?
What was happening?
Was I going to die?
Then the swing kicked in and I flew at an incredible speed toward the rope net.
It was fun.
I took on the last zip line like a tree top James Bond, and then fuelled by adrenaline kicks we wandered back down to Wendover for a pub dinner before catching the train back to London.
When I got back I was surprised at how busy London was. Compared to New York and Chicago I never felt London had the same bustle. But after a weekend in two villages that were so laid back and quiet London felt like the busiest place in the world. The best part about the whole weekend was that it was so close to London. Less than an hour by train and we were in somewhere completely different, a totally relaxing vibe. I think I’ll have to make trips to the country more frequently.