My Favourite Places: Steve Colgan, author and ‘QI’ writer
Hmmm, you’ve reached an older feature - let’s get you up to date! Read our latest Architecture features here.
Stevyn Colgan is a writer and artist who lives in Hazlemere, Buckinghamshire. He’s written two books, ‘Joined-Up Thinking’ and ‘Henhwedhlow’, and is a regular contributor to the QI Annuals. He works as a research ‘elf’ for the BBC show and is one of the writers of its sister show on Radio 4, ‘The Museum of Curiosity’. His new book, ‘Constable Colgan’s Connectoscope’ is being crowd-funded through www.unbound.co.uk
Coombe Hill near Dunsmore and Wendover
The view from the top of Coombe HillCoombe Hill is a favourite dog walking spot of mine. I’ve been going there for years. The view from the top by the Boer War monument is spectacular; it’s 852ft/260m above sea level and you get to see the whole of the Aylesbury Vale laid out in front of you like a patchwork quilt.
On a clear day you can see as far as the power towers at Didcot and other distant objects such as Brill Hill, Aylesbury Church, Waddesdon Manor and even the Cotswolds, which are some 50 miles away. Helpfully there’s a trig point by the monument to show you where to look.
You also get a nice view down into the grounds of nearby Chequers – the Prime Minister’s country residence. However, distance and tree cover means that you’ll never get a clear shot.
Black Park near Iver
Black Park has been one of my kids’ favourite walk destinations since they were toddlers with a lovely stroll around the lake and the adjacent 530 acres of pine forest and woodland. There’s also an activity centre, an adventure playground and a nice little café. It’s a great picnic spot too. Plus, because it sits right next to Pinewood Film Studios it’s been used as a shooting location for decades.
As a film nerd I love spotting areas of the park that I know and, every so often, I catch filming while it’s happening. Which is how, on one memorable walk, my kids were able to walk around and pop inside Hagrid’s house during filming of the first Harry Potter film.
You’ll also see the park in virtually every Hammer Horror movie ever made, episodes of Monty Python and Doctor Who. The park also turns up in Goldfinger, Casino Royale (2006), Batman (1989), Sleepy Hollow, Kate Bush’s video for Breathing and several Carry Ons. Oo-er.
Bourne End to Marlow, along the River Thames
I have to include some part of the River Thames because it’s so beautiful. I live in the southern tip of Bucks, so I’m very close to the borders with Oxfordshire, Middlesex, Hertfordshire and Berkshire and many of my favourite walks are around places like Henley-on-Thames, Maidenhead or by the canals in Tring and Rickmansworth.
I particularly love the stretch of the Thames from Bourne End to Marlow. There’s nothing nicer on a warm Summer evening or a crisp Autumn Sunday afternoon than dawdling along by the river, envying all of the gorgeous millionaire’s waterside homes, waving to passing cabin cruisers and scullers and, having worked up an appetite, popping into Marlow afterwards for a meal and a pint of good beer.
Hellfire Caves, near High Wycombe.
The caves themselves are actually a little dull and disappointing. They’re dark, damp and claustrophobic and there’s little to see other than some seriously awful waxworks-type dummies. But it’s still worth a visit just to get a sense of the naughty delights that went on there during the mid-18th century. Saucy Sir Francis Dashwood had the caves dug into a chalky hillside on his West Wycombe estate and invited the great and the good to come and debauch, drink and take part in mock religious ceremonies. Walking down into those caves, you’re walking in the footsteps of people like John Montagu, 4th earl of Sandwich (after whom your packed lunch was named), William Hogarth, John Wilkes and even, allegedly, Benjamin Franklin.
On top of the hill is the creepy looking Dashwood family mausoleum and the Church of St Lawrence, notable for the strange golden ball atop the tower. It looks like a diving bell with portholes in the side. Unsurprisingly, it is fitted out inside with luxurious padded seating; just the thing for a naughty romp with a prominent person. Inside the church, which is curiously Gothic, there’s a ceiling painting of the Last Supper from which Judas’s eyes follow you around the place.
My final selection isn’t really a single place. It’s an amalgam of some of the prettiest and deadliest places I know. I’ll place it under the banner of Midsomer. A lot of the popular ITV cop drama Midsomer Murders, in which the good people of Midsomer county are slaughtered in their thousands despite the best attentions of several Chief Inspector Barnabys, is filmed in and around Bucks.
Curiously the show is both a wonderful showcase of some of the county’s most beautiful locations … and a warning not to go there as you’ll wind up clubbed to death by an African war hammer, stabbed with a Japanese katana, poisoned with hemlock or bludgeoned to death with a wine collection hurled by a trebuchet while you’re staked out on a croquet lawn (No, really. It happened in one episode). It shows off the beauty of places like Great Missenden, Little Kimble, West Wycombe, Beaconsfield, Old Amersham, Brill Hill, Turville (where The Vicar of Dibley was filmed), Long Crendon (above), Haddenham and many more.