I used to be able to lie in the bath and look through the window at Cobstone Hill above Turville, Bucks, in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Now the trees have grown up and obscured it.
Cobstone is probably a derivation of ‘Copstone’. Copp means summit and is usually applied to a hill or ridge which has a narrow, crest-like summit.* Cobstone Hill is that shape.
It is topped by the white windmill made famous by Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The parish boundary runs along the back of the houses on the north side of the road through Turville, so Cobstone Hill is in Ibstone parish, but its affinity is with Turville and it provides a beautiful backcloth to the brick-and-flint houses.
When we moved to Turville in 1987 the footpath which leads past our cottage to the hill, Ibstone footpath 5, had been waymarked on the wrong route with Chiltern Society white arrows, and the definitive route was obstructed by fences and trees. We soon got that sorted.
The hill, being chalk downland, is in part mapped as access land with freedom to walk under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. Absurdly though, only half the hill is mapped for access: the section to the south and east of the windmill, which looks identical to the mapped land, was excluded. This is because of the nonsensical requirements of the access mapping.
For the access map the hill was divided into three portions. Two are to the west of Ibstone footpath 10 which runs from Turville village straight up the hill to the windmill (you can see it marked by a hedge in the above photo). The westernmost parcel (A) belongs to the Wormsley (Getty) Estate. The adjoining one (B) belongs to David Leggett. These became access land. The easternmost section (C) also belongs to David Leggett and was excluded.
The landowners appealed against the inclusion of the land as open country (ie access land) on the provisional map. Thus there was a public inquiry. Parcels B and C were considered at the same inquiry before inspector Clive Kirkbride. He approved B, because it consisted predominantly of unimproved calcareous grassland and it had an open character, situated on a chalk escarpment with open views in several directions.
On parcel C he agreed with the Ramblers and others that the site ‘may qualify as down’, but considered there to be an inadequate boundary between the claimed land and the non-qualifying land (which is improved pasture) to the north. Thus he decided that parcel C would have no legal access. I suspect a boundary had been recently removed, probably in anticipation of the public inquiry since landowners knew how to change boundaries and remove or erect fences so as to keep their land off the map.
Footpaths and access
From the village you can climb the hill by footpath 10, or you can tackle it obliquely by taking the aforementioned footpath 5, which leads to Ibstone church a mile away. Once you reach the access land, you can roam freely. However, there is a fence vertically running down the hill so if you want to reach the windmill, you have to choose your crossing-points—of which more here.
Footpath 5 cuts across a corner of the access land then goes up through a woodland which opens out into scrub. It cuts across another field (see earlier blog about our problems here in 2011) before reaching a beechwood on top of the hill.
Richard Mabey in Weeds (Profile Books Ltd, 2010) quotes Oberon’s poetic description of Titania’s bank in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This mentions six species: thyme, oxlip, violet, woodbine, musk-roses and eglantine. Richard reckons that Cobstone Hill is as close as any to the ‘bank where the wild thyme grows’ and knows that at least four of these plants occur there (though not all flowering simultaneously).
Cobstone Hill is a marvellous chalk grassland with at least three species of orchid (heath spotted, pyramid and fragrant) and Chiltern gentians, carline and stemless thistle, rockrose, marjoram, scabious and much else.
It is framed by magnificent beech and ash trees. It would be disastrous if the ashes were to be hit by Chalara fraxinea (ash die-back); they provide a luscious habitat for countless species of birds and invertebrates, and their distinctive shapes are a landmark.
The hillside and adjoining woods have been designated as a site of special scientific interest (SSSI). The first paragraph of the SSSI citation reads: ‘A steep slope of mainly south-westerly aspect, well known for its windmill and spectacular views of the Turville and Hambleden valleys, and containing the largest and finest example of grazed chalk grassland remaining in the southern part of the Buckinghamshire Chilterns. There is an exceptional variety of attractive plants, and the invertebrate fauna includes two rare and declining butterfly species of national importance.’ These are Silver-spotted skipper (Hesperia comma) and Adonis blue (Lysandra bellargus).
The hill is rich in wildlife. There are fallow deer, foxes and rabbits. At night, and even in daylight, there are badgers. In summer there are glow worms (see blog passim). This April, I saw a barn owl hunting the hill in the early evening. The gorse bushes and brambles house wrens, robins, dunnocks, blackbirds and whitethroat. Yellowhammers sing from the tops of the scattered hawthorn bushes. Here on the hill you can enjoy ‘all the live murmur of a summer’s day.’
* The landscape of place-names, Margaret Gelling and Ann Cole (Shaun Tyas, 2000).