2 beautiful Buckinghamshire country parks to visit this summer
PUBLISHED: 10:03 12 July 2016 | UPDATED: 10:03 12 July 2016
Make the most of the great outdoors this summer by exploring two of Buckinghamshire's beautiful country parks, says Richard Wells
Strolling among a million trees, sitting in tranquility to absorb stunning views, or swinging Tarzan-style high up in the canopy. all combine to form an experience that has been centuries in the making. They are a wonderful legacy of our county forefathers’ care of around 850 acres of countryside with regal connections dating back to Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I.
The parks are as quiet as you desire, as active as you want to be, as contemplative as your mood takes you. It’s difficult to comprehend that the soul-restoring qualities of their varied landscapes, inspiring a pot-pouri of moods, are little more than minutes from Europe’s busiest airport at Heathrow, bounded on the east by London’s orbital motorway, and a stone’s throw from the multi-billion pound soon-to-open Crossrail connection.
Forgiving, as these four country parks are of the interloping necessities of modern living, they provide oases of relaxation, exercise and enjoyment for some 900,000 who visit every year.
Black Park and Langley Park, the larger two of the county’s four country parks, were part of the original Langley Park estate with roots in the 13th century, and they not only rejoiced in royal ownership around the mid to late 1500s, but also owe much to the husbandry of the 3rd and 4th Dukes of Marlborough in the 18th century.
Had you visited Black Park in the 1700s, you would have found a thriving forestry and milling business, boasting the largest water turbine in the country, fed by 33 million gallons of water from its 14-acre lake. The mill is long gone, but the lake, fed by six natural springs, with its one and a half mile circular walk, remains a popular attraction for visitors – as do its accompanying 530 acres of woodland and heath.
Across the estate track, that is now the main road between Iver and Slough, you would have been met with an elegant Capability Brown landscape around a Palladian mansion and a ‘temple’ banqueting suite commissioned by the 3rd Duke of Marlborough. It’s reckoned Capability Brown’s plans for Langley Park in the 1760s would cost £2.4 million in today’s money.
We can enjoy this legacy for the £2.50 price of a car park ticket!
Caring for the legacy
Today’s ‘estate’ of two parks, which would be the pride of any conservation or horticultural charity’s portfolio, is owned by Buckinghamshire County Council and managed by its small but perfectly formed country parks team.
Their passion for preserving and enhancing the landscapes for the enjoyment of visitors, at nil cost to the taxpayer, is evident in their quiet industrious management: a neat pile of logs from selected felling here, a small section of new planting there, a wave to cyclists pedalling through, a friendly greeting for half-a-dozen walkers who are setting out from the small visitor centre to cover a couple of the ten miles of Black Park’s majestic tree-lined paths.
As we join them, we pass nursery beds of six-year old Scots pines, fresh young trees that country park staff will nurture to maturity as a natural legacy for generations to follow – long after they’ve retired.
Andrew Fowler, who has led the country parks team for the past 13 years, tells us that an essential part of the character of Black Park lake is the backdrop of big Scots Pines, probably over 100 years old. Yet the landscape is more than evergreens. As we walk around the park we see scatterings of trees that grow arbitrarily – evidence of nature’s own seedbank. Over time the dominant species will be thinned to encourage the rich arboretal variety for which the country parks are so well known and loved.
Subtly woven into the rest, relaxation and enjoyment culture of the parks, is a theme of conservation, and around the paths are discreet notices explaining what Andrew and his team are doing and why they’re doing it.
Their conservation work demonstrates natural succession. Beyond the lake and its carefully nurtured reedbed at the inlet end, is a wilder area of willows, alders, and sphagnum moss forming a flooded woodland, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, which is rich in wildlife, including the nationally rare Roesel’s bush cricket, 18 species of butterfly, hobbies, nightjars, grass snakes and lizards.
Eventually, our walk emerges into Black Park’s own mini-New Forest: 45 acres of heathland decorated with common heather, silver birch, dwarf oaks, and gorse, and echoing to the song of blackbirds, thrushes, chaffinches, wrens and warblers. It’s not unknown to spot jays, red kites and goshawks around the park.
While most people seek this gentle outdoor experience, there’s a more active challenge for those with a head for heights and courage for some precipitous footwork. Treetop adventure comes courtesy of the ‘Go-Ape’ activity centre, established six years ago with the construction of climbing rigging, Tarzan swings, and zip wires between the trees. The Go Ape team also offers cycle hire and makes a charge for the adventure experience.
For young families, the Emma Sallis woodland play area is a children’s honeypot, with robust wooden equipment and an informal area where children can make their own dens. Under dappled shade, the play area has a poignant history, renovated in 2004 with £60,000 raised in memory of young mother Emma, whose family loved Black Park, and who died from cancer aged 31.
Cafes in both parks are run by award-winning San Remo Catering – a large café and al fresco seating in Black Park, and a newly extended tearoom at Langley Park.
Both parks are known for their cultivated hybrid rhododendrons, at their best towards the end of May. Langley Park, the more formal of the two, has former landlord Sir Robert Grenville Harvey to thank for its extensive gardens of hybrid rhododendrons, planted around a century ago and mulched with 160 tonnes of peat he imported from Scotland.
Beautiful, tranquil, and right for relaxing, Langley Park delivers a stunning panorama to the south with views of distant Windsor Castle. It’s a stroller’s paradise, and the Timberland Tree Trail takes you past the 1,200-year-old Yew in the Temple Gardens, and an avenue of giant Sequoias, while more than 800 years of fascinating heritage is unveiled on the park’s History Trail, giving dimension to the links Langley Park has with the Tudor monarchs, the Dukes of Marlborough, Capability Brown, and some important connections with the two world wars.
It’s the County Council’s intention to continue developing and conserving these precious landscapes, says Warren Whyte, who is Cabinet Member responsible for Environment and Planning.
“For just the price of a car park ticket, people can rest, relax and appreciate these wonderful surroundings,” says Warren. “We’ve inherited what were originally estates that provided people’s livelihoods, and now form some of Buckinghamshire’s most treasured spaces. The diligence of the estate keepers of the past has left a fine legacy for us to enjoy today and to care for future generations.”
www.buckscc.gov.uk/leisure-and-culture/country-parks, tel 01753 511060