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Impressionist Alistair McGowan will show audiences a different side of himself this month. He chats to Peter Anderson ahead of his Maidenhead piano show

Impressionist Alistair McGowan will showcase his love for classical piano music, motivated by his desire to open the genre up to the masses. Audience members can look forward to beautiful music (with the occasional mistake), some interesting stories and a sprinkling of his trademark impressions…

So where does Alistair’s love of classical piano come from? “I grew up with classical music,” he says. “I can remember the Peer Gynt Suite from when I was about five. Then when I was in my teens I heard some piano music on the radio; I asked my mother what it was and she told me Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto. When I said I really liked it, she said she had a record of it and we listened to the whole concerto.

“With this concert, I hope to bring my love of classical piano music to a wider audience by playing about 18 short pieces and in between talking about the pieces and the composers who wrote them. There are many lovely composers for the piano whom not many people have heard of and I’d love to change that.

“One of the pieces I play is by John Field, one of the best Irish composers of classical music. During the show, there may be the occasional laugh, but this is me trying my best to play piano, not emulating Victor Borge or Les Dawson!”

I guess one of the scariest moments for an impressionist must be coming face-to-face with someone you impersonate? I wonder whether Alistair fancies meeting one of the classical composers… “Now there’s a question! I think some of the composers were a little terrifying. I think Tchaikovsky described Rachmaninov as 6 feet 6 inches of Russian gloom. John Field is someone I’ve studied and his music is good for beginners to learn. Then there’s Debussy and Grieg both of whom had a vast knowledge about piano playing.”

Alistair McGowan – Intoduction to Classical Piano is at Norden Farm in Maidenhead on Saturday, 11th August. For more information or to book please visit www.norden.farm/events or call 01628 788 997.

Claim to FAME!

Rachel Wakefield

All Areas

The 30th anniversary tour of Fame The Musical is coming. We catch-up with star Jorgie Porter, of Hollyoaks fame, ahead of her performance.

Remember! Remember! Remember the 1980, phenomenal, pop culture film, Fame The Musical? Well now there is an updated version, minus the legwarmers, still following the lives of students at New York’s High School for The Performing Arts as they navigate their way through the highs and lows, the romances and the heartbreaks of life.

This bittersweet but uplifting triumph of a show explores the issues that confront people even today. Jorgie Porter, perhaps best known for playing Theresa McQueen in Hollyoaks is taking on her first role in a stage musical and is delighted about it.

Jorgie Porter

“I am so excited to be making my stage debut playing Iris Kelly in Fame,” Jorgie tells us. “The musical is one of my favourite ever films and I can’t wait to open the show in Manchester, my home town. I’ve not had a chance to perform ballet for a long time. It’s what I originally trained in – so I’m looking forward to getting my ballet shoes on”.

Jorgie started ballet lessons aged three and it was only when she landed the role of Theresa she gave them up. So who, or what, has inspired her? “I went to see Phantom of the Opera as a child and that really made an impression on me,” she adds. “More recently, I am a big fan of Beyoncé and Darcey Bussell I just love the discipline she has. So, would like to follow Debbie McGee on to Strictly, and be judged by Darcey and the others? Wow, the leg extensions Debbie did last year – I would jump at the chance to do Strictly!”

This is Jorgie’s first role on stage in a musical, but she can draw on her time appearing in the soap as good experience. “Definitely, my work on the soap has enabled me to be in control of my emotions and be able to switch them at a moment’s notice. Plus, both of the characters have secrets that they are keen will stay hidden.”

As Jorgie starts this new venture, what is the best advice she’s been given? “Probably two central pieces of advice; always be true to yourself and make sure you have a circle of friends around you who will tell you the truth.”

Fame The Musical comes to The Hexagon, Reading between Monday 3rd and Saturday, 8th September:  www.readingarts.com  & New Victoria Theatre, Woking, between Monday, 1st and Saturday, 6th October www.newvictoriatheatre.

Grill-seekers!

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Summer is here which means al fresco aplenty and Katie Kingsley has rustled up some delicious ideas to enjoy on the side!

Giant couscous salad with roasted peppers, tomatoes, pesto and feta

If you can’t find Israeli/giant couscous, small pasta shapes or orzo work well. This salad packs a lot of flavour; a more than worthy accomplice to any barbecued protein! Measure 200g giant couscous (I used wholewheat), rinse well and add to a pan of simmering vegetable stock (500ml). Once back to a rolling boil, turn down to a simmer and cook with the lid on for 6-8 minutes then drain, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, stir and leave to cool.

Cut two red and one yellow pepper into chunky slices and place cut-side up on a foil-lined baking tray. Halve a pint of cherry tomatoes and place with them in the tray then slice a whole garlic bulb through the middle and place, cut-side-up, in the tray. Drizzle with olive or rapeseed oil and season before placing in a heated oven for about 40-60 minutes and the edges are nicely charred. Remove the garlic halfway through (it will have turned a light gold) and cloves and pound into a paste with a pestle and mortar with a sprinkle of rock salt and glug of extra virgin olive oil. Stir the paste through the couscous then add the roast veg, dollop on fresh pesto and crumble feta on top.

Griddled cos with anchovy butter

Almost everyone who tries this will want the recipe and it’s a pleasure to disclose in its refreshing modesty. Ideal for barbecues, there is something alluringly unconventional but worthwhile in grilling the salad. Halve three or four cos lettuces then heat a grill pan or barbecue to hot, brush your cos with olive oil and grill cut-side-down for a few minutes before turning and grilling for an extra few minutes. You want nicely charred griddle lines and edges.

Transfer to a serving dish. Use a small pan to melt 80g butter then sauté two garlic cloves until golden before adding three finely chopped anchovy fillets, 2tbsp of finely chopped rosemary, the grated rind of a lemon and juice of half. Season to taste and drizzle over your charred lettuce.

Toasted caramel pineapple with coconut ice cream

Dress this dessert up into an exotic sundae with chocolate, coconut shavings and rum or keep it simple on a platter with scoops of ice cream and generous drizzles of caramel sauce. End your barbecue on a high as pineapple is said to contain significant amounts of the feelgood chemical serotonin. Peel and core a pineapple then cut into about 10-12 wedges. Place wedges on the barbecue and cook for a few minutes on each side until you get griddle lines then transfer to a serving dish.

To make your caramel sauce, measure 100g granulated sugar into a large clean pan, heat to medium and once the sugar has started to melt shake the pan occasionally until all the sugar has melted. Cook and stir with a spatula until the sugar has turned a light brown then add 30g butter and whisk vigorously until the butter has melted with the sugar. Remove the pan from the heat and add 60ml of single cream, whisking rapidly again until combined. If you have any sugar crystals, pass the caramel through a metal sieve, leave to cool then drizzle sparingly over charred pineapple and ice cream scoops.

Easiest ever flatbreads with herb butter

I have made these countless times; a delicious accompaniment to any barbecue. I like to pre-roll these so when people arrive, you aren’t in and out the kitchen all day – just separate them with baking paper or cling film. Place 350g natural yoghurt with 350g self-raising flour into a large bowl then add 1tsp baking powder and a pinch of salt. Use your hand to bring the dough together (it will feel a bit sticky so add more flour until you can).

Once you have the dough in one lump, give it a bit of a knead in the bowl then lightly flour your work surface and divide into 12 pieces. Roll each piece out to about 5mm thick and cook on a hot barbecue or griddle pan for one or two minutes on each side. Melt butter and sauté minced garlic cloves before adding fresh herbs then brush the herb butter over the flatbreads. Enjoy your summer!

Summer favourites from Paul Clerehugh

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We chat to Paul Clerehugh, the star chef of The Crooked Billet and London Street Brasserie…

Q. What’s your favourite kitchen gadget?
“ My Vogue Speed Peeler, for planing Reggiano curls from a parmesan wedge. It produces perfect courgette, daikon and carrot ribbons and peels a waxy charlotte in seconds… I could even shave my legs with it.”

Q. What are your favourite al fresco summer dishes?
“Shaved courgette and parmesan dressed with thick green olive oil. Or else rotisserie spitroast chicken, loads of herbs, garlic and lemon. I’m also partial to a Mr Whippy with local raspberries and monkey blood.”

Q. Which are your favourite local suppliers, producers or farm shop?
“Blue Tin Farm Shop at Keepers Cottage in Ipsden. Great produce, a great smoke house, great providence and I fancy the farmer’s wife…”

Q. What’s your favourite summer veg, fruit and drink?
“Runner beans, tomatoes and Barbara Laithwaites’ Stoke Row English sparkling wine. I also love an ice-cold Dandelion & Burdock.”

Visit www.thecrookedbillet.co.uk  or London Street Brasserie

Hooked on Peter Pan

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Journey to Neverland thanks to an open-air musical production of Peter Pan by the Immersion Theatre team, writes Peter Anderson

Once again, the theatre’s artistic director James Tobias combines with composer Robert Gathercole for this latest adaptation of J. M. Barrie’s iconic story about a boy who never grew up.

“I’m incredibly excited to continue expanding Immersion’s portfolio of work,” James tells me. “Peter Pan is shaping up to be another
larger-than-life summer treat for families of all ages, complete with all the ingredients that make an Immersion show such a uniting, and above all fun family experience.”

So, what you need to do is follow young Peter, as he guides Wendy and the Darling boys on an awfully big adventure as they think happy thoughts and fly high to Neverland. Once there, they will meet a collection of well-known characters, from Peter’s friends – the Lost Boys, his close friend the cheeky Tinkerbell, and then of course there is the hilarious Smee and the most feared villain of them all, the evil Captain Hook. Filled with catchy music, heaps of audience interaction (oh yes there is!), and a laugh-a-minute script makes this a hilarious and exciting musical about the boy who never grew up, one where every member of the family will be hooked!

Speaking of Hook, Thomas Cove who plays him says: “It’s such a pleasure to be teaming up again with James Tobias and the great people at Immersion Theatre. It’s not often that chances to play such an iconic character like Captain Hook come along, so as soon as the casting came up, I knew it was something I wanted to be involved with. The team who have been assembled truly bring this timeless story to life. The show is packed with Immersion’s trademark high-energy, fantastic entertainment for all ages, and the beautiful open-air venues we’ll be visiting will be in for a treat.”

The performances are outside, so audience members can take their own picnic, chairs or rugs, and drinks will be served during the interval. After the performance you may also have a chance to meet members of the cast.

Peter Pan will be performed on lawns, in our readers’ areas on the following dates:
Wednesday 8th & Thursday 9th August in Hatchlands Park, East Clandon, Surrey.
Friday, 10th August In Langley Park, Iver, Buckinghamshire.
Monday, 13th August in Shaw House, Newbury, Berkshire
Sunday, 26 & Monday, 27th August in Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire.

For details and tickets, visit www.immersion theatre.co.uk

Peter Pan by Immersion Theatre

Peter Pan - Coming soon to a venue near you!

Peter Pan opened this weekend and has already been wowing sold out audiences so be sure to HOOK your tickets now!https://www.immersiontheatre.co.uk/outdoor-peter-pan-2018/

Posted by Immersion Theatre Company on Monday, 2 July 2018

Summer favourites from Atul Kochhar

Liz Nicholls

All Areas

We asked Atul Kochhar the twice Michelin-starred chef, and owner of Benares in London, Sindhu in Marlow and many other restaurants, about his summer favourites

Atul Kolchhar
Atul Kolchhar

Q: What’s your favourite kitchen gadget?
“I wouldn’t be without a wok or a karahi. A slightly heavier wok is best as you can stew, braise and fry. It’s a good idea to season a new wok before using it for the first time; Put plenty of salt in and heat then take a kitchen cloth and rub the salt all over the sides and base, wash with weak soapy water and dry.”

Q. What’s your fave al fresco dish?
“Anything I can do on the barbecue, meat, vegetables or fruit. You don’t need to add lots of spice; keeping it simple with salt, pepper and lemon juice is ideal. Try to retain the juices as much as you can by grilling on a high heat so the food seals quickly and retains flavour.”

Q. Do you have a favourite pub or restaurant?
“I love The Footman in Mayfair where, once in a while, I go for a pint with my team. A great place.”

Q. What about a fave farm shop or supplier?
Laverstoke Park Farm [in Basingstoke] does the best cheese, especially buffalo mozzarella.”

Q. Which British summer produce do you love?
“Early this year I made a pact with the family to spend less time travelling and more time at home so I’m mostly in the UK. Strawberries are my favourite. Chard and rhubarb I love, too, especially at this time of year. Chard is best blanched quickly, used in the same way as spinach. If I’m cooking a chicken curry I’d add the whole leaf to the pot – which makes it slightly salty but amazing, since it absorbs all the juices. The eating is fantastic! If you’re a vegetarian chard is a great option.”

Visit www.atulkochar.com

Stir Crazy with Ching He Huang

Round & About

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We asked Ching He Huang, one of the many chefs starring at Woking Food Festival 31st August – 2nd September, about her kitchen faves

Q: What’s your favourite kitchen gadget?
“My Lotus Wok is a one-tool wonder; you can braise, steam, shallow fry, deep fry and make pop corn in it. Woks have thousands of years of history, but this humble tool is in danger of extinction as Chinese embrace western cooking equipment like the oven!”

Q. What’s your favourite summer dish?
“I love a noodle salad. A Chinese-style salsa verde with ginger, spring onion, sichuan pepper chilli oil tossed with courgetti noodles, sliced radishes, basil and fresh hand-picked Cornish crab – British produce with a slight Chinese twist.”

Q. Do you have a favourite food supplier?
“My husband’s family have taken me to visit Garsons Farm recently – you can pick blackberries and sugarsnap peas. I love the farm shop there; you can get organic milk from Goodwood Estate and Woodhall’s ham, which is perfect sliced and stir fried with scallops and black rice vinegar.”

Q. What’s your fave summer fruit and tipple?
“Strawberries – my garden patch has produced quite a bit this year so I’m delighted! They’re perfect in a glass of Pimm’s, of course…”

Visit www.wokingfoodanddrinkfestival.co.uk

Stir Crazy by Ching He Huang
Stir Crazy by Ching He Huang

Round & About Magazine has a signed copy of Ching’s book, Stir Crazy, and one of her Lotus Woks to give away. Simply answer the following phrase: Which ingredient would you find in Ching’s noodle salad…
a: Homegrown Strawberries
b: Cornish Crab
c. Woodhall’s ham










ABC



YesNo


Feast of fun

Liz Nicholls

All Areas

Liz Nicholls chats to musician, cheese maker and dad Alex James, 49, ahead of The Big Feastival which takes place 24th-26th August, in the Cotswolds

Q: How do you start planning each new Big Feastival?
“The first thing we do is invite The Cuban Brothers and Justin Fletcher; then we’ve got a party. Justin turns up and marches on stage with his little red nose on to sing One Man Went To Mow and brings the house down, without fail, every year. As time goes on it gets easier to attract the big stars. I’m delighted Marco [Pierre White] is involved this year; the whole British food revival started with him. Raymond Blanc and Pierre Koffmann complete the trio of culinary granddaddies.”

Q. Do you love the local food scene?
“Totally. We’re lucky with such a brilliant culture of food, starting with Daylesford just up the road and that’s drawn loads of brilliant chefs to the area. I love all the great pop-ups, farmers, producers…”

Q. Do you get to enjoy the festival once all the hard prep work is done?
“Yes; it takes all my charms and the odd cheese parcel, as well as loads of hard work. But when the sun’s shining and everyone’s jumping up and down, having a good time, it’s worth it. I don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun as this – it’s an absolute scream. I get the whole family involved; everyone’s got a role.”

Q. You make parenting look easy, with your big brood!
“Haha! Yeah but I do get stressed too, man. Having a big family teaches you to roll with the punches, focus on the horizon, keep pushing.”

Q. You seem very productive?
“I’ve made five children, six cheeses and seven records. That’s the only reason I can do a food, music and family festival. You’ve got to care to make it happen.”

Q. How do you stay so svelte, making so much cheese!?
“Thanks for saying; I don’t feel it! I’ve got two new cheeses out this year so each one is quite a bit of time in the gym. It’s difficult not to invent cheese without eating loads of f***ing cheese!”

Q. Where do you want to travel next?
“Marco and I were talking about this the other day – he wants to go round Europe. South America, for me, is mind-blowing. The last time I was in Chile with the band I had a great meal and there wasn’t one ingredient I recognised. There’s interest in doing a festival down there, actually. I love travelling as a family; it’s so easy to travel in the 21st century.”

Q. Do you still love astronomy?
“Yeah; I watch lots of videos on YouTube; science, physics. It’s a good way to zone out at the end of a long day. Since the kids arrived I’ve got more down-to-earth concerns but my love of astronomy has gone into a more abstract realm of higher maths.”

Q. Who’s your favourite author?
“I like to re-read those books I’ve always loved, especially Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson.”

Visit www.thebigfeastival.com

Hurry! Enter for our The Big Feastival Competition – ends Friday, 27th July

Beauty & The Beach

Rachel Wakefield

All Areas

Are you “summer ready”? Well, we know that means many things to many people and we are not about to make any imperious statements on how to look – on the beach or anywhere!

Some of us are in the low-maintenance camp when it comes to primping and preening, but we all want to feel our best selves, especially when the sun shines. And applying a lovely moisturiser, fresh from the fridge (expert tip) is one of those small joys that make life just a little sunnier.

Whether you’re lucky enough to be jetting off towards somewhere exotic, have been invited to a wedding or just want some sparkle, the good news is that there are so many new easy-to-use products and treatments for all pockets, including travel versions (100ml or less). Happy holidays!

Sun protection

Protecting your skin doesn’t have to be a faff. What’s more, experts at the British Skin Foundation say own-brand products are not necessarily less effective than pricier options. However, dermatologists rave about La Roche Posay’s Anthelios range which sinks in superbly and offers SPF 50 (the factor recommended for face and hands, which show damage soonest, whatever the weather). Another beauty insider fave is Institute Esthederm’s Adaptasun. If you do get slightly too much sun, or are flying, try this aloe vera sheet mask by Masque Bar.

Make-up

Cult beauty fans: Huda Beauty’s Summer Solstice Highlighter Palette boasts four sunny colours to exaggerate cheekbones, brow bones and collarbones… don’t be alarmed – they work on all age ranges and skin tones! Helen Mirren recently waxed lyrical about microblading (the semi-permanent eyebrow tattoo) which has helped frame her face. Check it out at your nearest salon as well as Urban Decay’s brow range. Every handbag needs a YSL Touch Eclat (check out the limited edition stars design). And NARS does peerless bronzers such as this in Sun Wash. Check out Cult Beauty, Birch Box and Beauty Pie for bargains.

Tan & Glow

Some people seem to “glow” effortlessly and one of them is Tamara Ecclestone whose new range called Show, especially the Shimmer Body Oil (£35) is adding a classy occasion-ready shimmer to our skin here at R&A Towers (and looks pretty on your
dressing table); www.harveynichols.co.uk We’re also enamoured with NKD SKN pre-shower gradual tan lotion; www.nkdskn.com. If you do want to eschew the slap-on-at-home route, the Tanning Shop team can help you tan as safely as possible courtesy of their spray tan and sunbed options – visit www.thetanningshop.co.uk

Hair

Protecting your hair from UV damage is just as important as protecting your skin if you want to have healthy hair. Check out our helpful tips (see right) for sleek summer hair and Label M products such as its Protein Spray which can be spritzed on before and after going in the water and in the sun. Another hair product insiders are raving about is Matrix Biology Advanced Keratindose Pro-Keratin Renewal Spray (£12.35, www.lookfantastic.com). And be prepared to swoon when you sniff Diptyque’s heavenly Eau des Sens range, which includes a hair mist we didn’t know we couldn’t live without until now! www.diptyqueparis.co.uk

Defuzzing

For perfect pins, FFS (it stands for Friction Free Shaving, people!) has come to the rescue with a deluxe “shaviour” range! This includes a rose gold or silvia engraved German-designed razor, made to handle women’s curves, refills and add-on products, with subscription packages from just £9 a month… Just hide your box of goodies from housemates/ family! For a truly sleek finish, waxing has come a long way, with the best practitioners (such as Pure Beauty in Fulham) using only the finest resins, natural ingredients and aromatherapy oils – good practitioners can remove some hair as short as 1mm.

Extras

Beauty editors and the glossy posse have been glowing about the bespoke hyaluronic acid injections courtesy of Chelsea’s Lovely Clinic; www.thelovelyclinic.co.uk

We don’t approve of “anti-ageing” as such but if you want a beauty boost, Harley Street dreamboat Dr Dirk Kremer (Google him!) has form when it comes to skin rejuvenation. Regularly named one of the world’s top plastic surgeons, he spent years working in an intensive care burns unit and recently launched his own peptide-driven SkinDoc range. www.skindocformula.com. And we’re swooning over the new flavours of Purple Tree Skincare’s Miracle Balms. Made from naturally derived ingredients, these handbag must-haves  are cruelty- free and vegan friendly for multiple uses.

Skincare

Fade Out’s vitamin-enriched formulations harness natural active ingredients to even skin tone and reduce hyperpigmentation caused by sun exposure, ageing and hormonal changes in less than four weeks, thanks to vederine and kahai oil; www.fadeout.com. We’re also big fans of the Origins x Madeleine Shaw range, full of natural goodies, including the Glow-Co-Nuts face mask; www.origins.co.uk. And check out Yardley London’s summer range www.yardleylondon.co.uk

Expert Hair Tips

Ever wondered why, during summer, your hair becomes extra damaged? It might feel particularly dry and brittle. This is because UV rays burn the inside and outside layers of the hair follicles. Just like unprotected skin, the hair can get sunburnt, too. So, just as you would apply sun cream to your skin on a sunny day, you should think about protecting or covering your hair or maybe covering it up with a hat. Your hair has the same pH level as your skin, so it needs just as much protection. You need to consider your scalp, too, which will become sensitive, dry, and flaky if it burns. When your hair gets burnt, it becomes more fragile and likely to break. It will also increase colour fade, making your hair look dull and lifeless. You can prevent this damage by using a UV protector. The pick of the best are Mythic Oil, Intense Repair by Shu Uemura, and Nutrifier by L’Oréal. The mask will smooth out sun-exposed hair, recover softness and help to clear up any flakiness on your scalp.

Follow all these tips, and you will be beach ready in no time!

Woodland Wonder

Rachel Wakefield

All Areas

Woods are amazing. They’re where imagination takes root. Where a love of nature grows and thrives. And they’re the lungs of our county. They are also the best place to escape to, and shrug off your cares. The Japanese have a name for it; Shinrin-Yoku, which, poetically coined, means “forest bathing”. Living in this part of the world, we’re spoilt for choice, so we have teamed up with The Woodland Trust, a charity that exists to protect native woods, trees and their wildlife for the future. They focus on improving woodland biodiversity and increasing peoples understanding and enjoyment of woodland.

Harpsden & Peveril Woods

Harpsden & Peveril Woods is an 18-hectare area that has been designated as “ancient semi-natural woodland”, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Site of Special Scientific Interest, Special Area of Conservation and has Tree Preservation Order work. This site, next to Henley Golf Club, approximately a mile south of Henley-on-Thames, and within the Chiltern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, has a 50-year management plan with the minimum of silviculture intervention in place.
Harpsden & Peveril Woods is dominated by mature beech, pedunculate oak, ash trees and sessile oak. Also hazel, holly, field maple, rowan, wild cherry all present.

The majority of the land of this wood was acquired by The Woodland Trust in 1991, after the Great Burns Day Storm of 1990. There were a lot of wind-blown trees, and these gaps are being filled with younger trees of a variety of species.

The Woodland Trust says there will be a loss of ash through ash dieback disease, which is very likely to occur in the next 10 years and this will add further gaps to the mature tree canopy. Over time this wood is likely to become more of mixture of beech, oak, birch and sycamore.

The open canopy gaps have allowed other flora and fauna to flourish. There have been 40 recorded species of flowering and uncommon plants strongly associated with old woodland including bird’s nest orchid, narrow-lipped helleborine, green-flowered helleborine, cow-wheat, goldilocks and the yellow bird’s nest. The deadwood habitat is also very rich, and this wood has been noted for its diversity of fungi. In a fungal survey in 1999 recorded 171 species of which nine are rare.

Penn and Common Woods

Walk back in time in Penn and Common Woods, once home to Iron Age smelting, a Roman settlement, a wood-turner’s workshop for High Wycombe’s chairmaking businesses, and even an army base during World War II.

You can find this place, which is at the very heart of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, close to the amenities in the village of Penn Street, near Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire.

These woods today have taken their shape as a direct result of its rich and changing history. For those interested in archaeology, there are a number of features to look out for which point to the wood’s past, such as banks, ditches, pits and dells.
As well as providing a home and source of income for individuals, Penn and Common Woods has had an interesting history of wildlife. Wild boar, wolves and deer roamed the wood in the Middle Ages, and there are still roe deer to be seen today.

Medieval farmers would bring their cattle, horse, sheeps and pigs to graze on common ground. The Woodlands Trust has reintroduced cows to Penn Wood to maintain open pasture by trampling down thickets and fertilising the ground, encouraging a vast array of flora and fauna back.

Penn Woods is renowned for its rich stock of ancient woodland. Over much of the site the canopy is dominated by broad-leaved tree species including oak, beech and birch – some of which are over 200 years old. However, there are also areas of dense coniferous plantation and open pasture.

The range of habitats here supports a diversity of species adapted to completely different ecological niches. This can be illustrated by the rare butterflies and unusual beetles. A survey in 2000 discovered 10 nationally scarce beetles.

Overhead a wide range of birds can be spotted including brambling, tawny owl, cuckoo, garden warbler, red kite, kestrel and buzzard.

Puttenham Village Walk

The Puttenham Village Walk (3miles) Leg 1. Follow the signs for a footpath, you’ll pass a cottage, keep left round the corner, down steps to a bridleway, then turn right (you’ll see yellow arrows, follow them). Pass through some swing gates, over stiles and a flat bridge towards a large metal gate, which, leads you to Puttenham Lane. Turn left, pass through a kissing gate, into the meadow, keep left and follow the winding path steeply uphill. In the distance, you will see Puttenham Priory on the right. At the final stile, continue ahead to a T-Junction in the village. (On the right is St John the Baptist – well worth a visit.) Reward yourself with a pint and lunch.
The Culmill Circuit (7½miles) Leg 2. From the village head towards the North Downs Way. It’s a five-mile straight walk, with a few twists and turns, but you will have a fine view of the Hog’s Back. This path will take you towards Totford Wood to meet a junction with fields. Look out for the yellow arrows, that will guide you through an area called Payn’s Firs. Look out for the little fairy house in the trees. Go right on the road. (If you need a toilet break head towards St Laurence.)

Next the trail is a zig-zag, starting from the left towards Binton Wood. There are lots of chestnut trees here. Stay on the path, following the green-and-white signs, past beautiful, tall pine trees, to a place known as Culver’s Well. The track runs through open woodland of Crooksbury Common, and onwards to the timber works, keep an eye out for the vehicles. You’ll get to a crossing. On the otherside is Britty Wood.

Leg 3 (2½miles). The route goes up through pines, beeches and a coppice. Then it’s downhill into a beautiful area of silver birches. You come to views of Cutmill Pond, this used to serve an iron mill in the 16th century. Pretty soon you’ll pass Rodsall Manor, with its proud stone eagles. When you see the steps on the left, you’ll be back at the car park.

Stratfield Brake

Stratfield Brake, OX5 1UP, two miles outside Kidlington, is really family-friendly. The Woodland Trust began managing the 18.5-hectare site from 1997 after establishing a lease with the site’s owner, Oxfordshire County Council.

The wood is made up of a mature wood, a young wood and a wetland area. This wood contains tree species such as oak, field maple and elm, as well as many bird species such as tree creepers, rooks and woodpeckers. Old oak trees provide habitats not just for birds but also fungi, mosses, insects and bats.
Sadly, at the moment, access is restricted to the mature woodland area in response to the presence of a disease called acute oak decline, which affects native oak trees, leading in some cases to their death. The disease poses no threat to either humans or animals, but it may be spread through movement of bacteria picked up on visitors’ shoes and clothing or by vehicles. Therefore, on the advice of Forest Research, the Woodland Trust has temporarily closed Stratfield Brake’s mature woodland area to the public.

There’s still plenty to observe at Stratfield Brake this summer including the meadows and the wetland. Just park near the sports club and follow the signs to the wood. There are four entrances to the site from here, creating a network of 1.5miles, buggy-friendly surfaced and unsurfaced paths in Stratfield Brake, which are level and have no width restrictions (but can get muddy in wet weather).

One short loop of surfaced path leads to a bird-watching area overlooking the wetland. All year round it attracts all sorts of birds – you might be lucky to hear the drumming of great spotted woodpeckers high in the trees. There’s a good chance you’ll see mute swan, tufted duck, heron and coot and, if you’re lucky you might spot a rarity such as a little egret. This small heron is hard to miss as it has whiter than white plumage.

Stratfield Brake is also a good place to join the Oxford Canal towpath; a 4.7-mile (7.6km) circular walk using the footbridge to Yarnto, developed by local Ramblers for the Canals & Rivers Trust.

Visit www.woodlandtrust.org.uk for more woodland walks. Please remember when setting off for a walk, to take a compass, a good map, a bottle of water and a snack.