Those of us living in west London are lucky to have an easy escape from suburban life down the corridors of the M40 and M4 where we can quickly emerge into some glorious countryside.
The Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) is an area of rolling hills, valleys and downland which covers the counties of Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.
It is bursting with spectacular views, walking and cycling trails to follow, places to picnic, wildlife to spot and pretty villages and market towns to explore.
The Chilterns Conservation Board website www.chilternsaonb.org has a great interactive map where you can search for places to visit for on days out.
There are so many places to choose from on the map but, in no particular order of preference, we have picked 12 of our favorite places in the Chilterns.
For full details and more ideas, including exactly where they are and how to get there, you can visit www.chilternsaonb.org and also www.visitchilterns.co.uk . Below, we have provided some extra relevant links for the spots, too.
1. Coombe Hill
At 852 feet or 260 metres above sea level, Coombe Hill near Princes Risborough is the highest viewpoint in the Chilterns.
Owned by the National Trust, it gives views over Aylesbury Vale and on a clear day you can see all the way to the Cotswolds.
There is a monument dedicated to the men from Buckinghamshire who died in the Boer War.
The site of special scientific interest (SSI) is known for the wildlife which thrives on its chalk grassland and acid heathland.
Children can clamber on the natural play trail and there is a one-mile walk downloadable from the National Trust website which takes in its more interesting features. You can read more at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/chilterns-countryside/features/coombe-hill .
2. Wendover Woods
The 803 acres of woodland has trails, an adventure playground, a fitness trail, a café and even a Go Ape tree top adventure course.
If you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse of the firecrest, which is Europe’s smallest bird - you could follow the 2.8-mile signposted trail through the habitat of the firecrest and try and spy it from the bird hide.
You might want to pile the bikes onto the back of the car and follow the surfaced family cycle route.
It has the highest peak in the Chilterns, Haddington Hill, at 267 metres.
Wendover Woods is owned and managed by the Forestry Commission. You can read more about it at www.forestry.gov.uk/wendoverwoods .
3. The Chess Valley
The Chess Valley follows the River Chess and there is a 10-mile walk from Rickmansworth to Chesham if you fancy it.
It will take you through beautiful villages near the sparkling waters of the chalk stream.
Along the way is a Roman farm-villa at Latimer, the 13th century Chenies Manor and watercress beds.
You might spot kingfishers, water voles, brown trout, orchids and dragonflies.
It is easily reached by trains to Rickmansworth or Chesham stations. You can read more about the walk at www.chilternsaonb.org/ccbmaps/381/137/chess-valley-walk.html .
4. Marlow Common
This local wildlife site, which is well regarded for its flora and fauna, has heathy glades where you can soak up the sunshine among the young birch and oak woodland.
Dotted around are pits, dating back to its brick and tile-making past and hollows, which are now home to unusual plants, mosses and fungi.
During the First World War troops were trained how to dig and maintain trenches here and over the last 100 years trees how since grown up around them.
From here you can make a visit to the picturesque Buckinghamshire market and riverside town of Marlow .
Marlow Common is a Chiltern Society site and you can read more about it at www.chilternsociety.org.uk/our-sites/marlow-common .
In July, people dressed in their finery descend on this market town for the Henley Royal Regatta rowing event.
But at any time this is glorious spot for a stroll along the River Thames and a visit to the historic centre.
You might want to call into The River & Rowing Museum, which covers not only the history of rowing and the town’s Olympic connections, but also the history of the Thames, Henley and the children’s book, Wind in the Willows.
Perhaps you’ll take a riverboat cruise along the regatta course. You can read more at www.visitchilterns.co.uk/market-towns/henley-on-thames.html .
6. Stonor Park
North of Henley is this private stately home with a history dating back to medieval times and a prehistoric stone circle in the grounds.
There are gardens and a deer park and a walled Italianate style garden gives lovely views.
It has been home to the Stonor family for 85 years and the house is still lived in but we can visit inside. You can find out more at www.stonor.com .
7. Watlington Hill
The Chilterns are famous as the home of the red kite and this National Trust chalk downland site is a great place to spot the birds of prey soaring through the skies.
It’s also a great spot for picnicking among butterflies – there are plenty of the silver-spotted skipper variety to be seen here between June and September.
You could call in to the Fox & Hounds pub at Christmas Common and might like to combine your visit with a trip to Aston Rowant Nature Reserve, which is another great place for red kite spotting.
You can find out more about Watlington Hill at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/chilterns-countryside/features/watlington-hill .
8. Hartslock Nature Reserve
There are wonderful views over the Thames Valley from this chalk downland site which is west of Henley, near Goring.
It is a nationally important place for flowers and insects. Orchids bloom here, butterflies and moths flutter around and red kites soar overhead.
It is best to park in Goring and walk up the Thames Path to the reserve, which is signposted.
It is a Berks, Bucks & Oxen Wildlife Trust site and you can read more about it at www.bbowt.org.uk/reserves/hartslock .
9. The Ashridge Estate
The National Trust Ashridge Estate in the north of the Chilterns has 5,000 acres of woodland, commons and chalk downlands for you to explore by foot of bicycle.
There are miles of paths and bridleways from which you can spot bluebells in spring, rare butterflies in summer and deer in autumn.
You can pay a small charge to go into the Bridgewater Monument and climb the 172 spiral stairs to the top.
Ivinghoe Beacon is part of the estate and there is more on this below. You can read more at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ashridge-estate .
10. Ivinghoe Beacon
This special and iconic spot in the Chilterns has spectacular views across several counties.
It’s full of history - at the top of the beacon is the site of an Iron Age fort and Bronze Age burial mounds are dotted around the area.
The landscape is evidence of farming from many centuries back.
Home to rare orchids and rare butterflies, Ivinghoe Beacon is at the end of the Ridgeway National Trail which starts in Wiltshire.
You can read more at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ashridge-estate/features/ivinghoe-beacon-at-ashridge-estate .
11. Dunstable Downs
In the north of the Chilterns and not actually far from Luton, this is the highest point in Bedfordshire and the east of England at 797 feet (243 metres) and a famous viewpoint on the Chilterns Ridge.
It is a great place to fly a kite or you can watch the experts in action at a kite festival on July 29 and 30.
You might like to take a picnic and soak up the views as gliders take off from the foot of the Downs and soar overhead.
There are miles of footpaths and walks, which include 5,000-year-old burial mounds and a medieval rabbit warren.
It is managed by the National Trust and you can read more about it at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dunstable-downs-and-whipsnade-estate .
12. Sharpenhoe Clappers
Sharpenhoe Clappers in the far north of the Chilterns is said to be haunted.
The site was originally believed to be an Iron Age Fort but an excavation revealed it was medieval and built as a rabbit warren.
However, it does have features which date it back to the Iron Age and artefacts from this period and Roman times have been found here.
The area is owned and managed by the National Trust. You can read more at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sharpenhoe .