Category Archives: Buckinghamshire

High Wycombe

Decorating High Wycombe, used under a creative commons licence. Photo by bertieboy70, click pic for link.

Decorating High Wycombe, used under a creative commons licence. Photo by bertieboy70, click pic for link.

Buckinghamshire and the Chilterns in particular is one of my favourite places to spend the day. I’ve had profitable excursions in Gerrards Cross, Chalfont St Peter, Amersham, Chesham and Beaconsfield, and still plan to visit Tring and Berkhamsted to tick them off the list. More than this even, it’s a beautiful part of the world, largely untouched by the presence of the metropolis on its doorstep and filled with charming village greens, Georgian old towns and rolling, English hillsides. High Wycombe is the big name in the locality and as such definitely warranted inclusion.

Sadly, Wycombe seems to be the sinkhole for the region into which everything less desirable drains. It starts promisingly enough: the drive into the town from Beaconsfield presents you with a wonderful view of the banks of trees and the massive King’s Mead and The Rye parks. But by the time you get to the town centre itself, you’re left with a different impression. Firstly, try and find your way around – if you don’t end up on the way out of town you’ll be stuck at the vast Eden shopping centre. Once you’re in, little improves. On a warm August Saturday, High Wycombe town centre retains that bleak feel that you get in semi-planned communities like this commuter town. The wind always seems stronger in these places, like the right angles and concrete expanses funnel it in unexpected ways, which doesn’t happen in the patchwork of older towns.

A few of the charity shops had closed up by the time we reached there – earlier than their scheduled hours, possibly in advance of the bank holiday weekend. Among them were British Heart Foundation, Scope and Help The Aged, so of course I can’t comment on these (other than whoever was manning the shops clocked off early this weekend). The latter two are situated on Oxford Street, close to the large, semi-pedestrianised centre. On this same stretch was a fairly reasonable Oxfam, but the experience took a turn for the bizarre when a (slightly odd) customer was demanding a refund for a £2.99 CD that he’d bought in the Chesham shop. It raises the question firstly, how do you deal with someone so irate about three quid? But more importantly, when is it right to take anything back to a charity shop? Certainly one has ones statutory rights etc., but morally it’s pretty low to demand a refund off a charity. Our only guess was that the CD was his annual treat, and when it wasn’t right, three pounds was a big spend out. I dunno.

That left a large but odd-smelling Cancer Research, and a huge South Bucks Hospice shop on White Hart Street. This was a split level affair, with an upstairs snug for books and things, and a big open plan downstairs for clothes, nicknackery and the rest. A good selection, though I left with nothing.

Google maps informs me that there is also a Save The Children, a Marie Curie, and and Ian Rennie Hospice shop (I’m kicking myself for that – in Beaconsfield I’d stared at a sandwich board down the road for ages trying to guess whether Ian Rennie was a charity shop or a DIY shop – I wrongly thought DIY): I don’t feel like I’ve missed out by avoiding these places. Maybe I’m being unkind, but Wycombe offers little attraction to warrant a return visit. I plan to leave it to the hordes of bored-looking, loitering youth that littered the place.

Find: High Wycombe @ Google Maps
Best buy: old hard-backed books will always grab me.
Consume with: plenty of chain coffee shops and pubs, you won’t go hungry.
Visit: save it for the annual drama of the ‘mayor-weighing’.
Overall rating: two saucepans

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Filed under 2/5, Buckinghamshire

Chesham

 

Chesham, by presty under creative commons. Click for link.

Chesham, by presty under creative commons. Click for link.

Adding another top trump to the Chiltern towns trading card set, we reach the ancient market town of Chesham, just down the road from Amersham. The royal charter of 1257 is still in evidence in 2009, and as we rounded the corner onto the high street, a windy market was in the process of packing up, selling off enlarged plastic bowls of fruit at barked, drop-down prices. But it was a sunny day, a happy one to be a trader, and just as much a happy day to be a charity shop tourist.

 

Chesham’s an old town, with plenty of history. Though a quiet commuter town now, at the extremities of the Metropolitan line, it’s had associations with big bad Henry VIII and friends, as well as the hilariously named lollards and the puritans – it’s a hub for non-conformism. Today, it’s home to the likes of Lt. Gruber and bloggers, and is a cheery, pleasant little town. It’s charity shops proved a surprise even armed with the now invaluable iPhone, and seven little outlets proved a good way to wile past an hour or two.

First approached is a large-ish Oxfam – a decent books and cds section here, and I left with VS Naipaul’s The Loss of El Dorado. Continue on though and you’ll find a High Street stretching in both directions along a semi-pedestrianised market zones. Turning left points you towards the less classy end of the town centre: pound shops and the like here, and also a spacious St Francis Hospice, to which someone had evidently had a clear out of their 90’s collection: I left with Weezer’s blue debut (finally! I lost my copy years ago and have been holding out for this) and Tricky’s Maxinquaye.

On the main drag of the High Street there’s an average British Heart Foundation, an average Cancer Research… nothing too much to comment on. As for the national charities, the pick of the bunch is RSPCA, a large, untidy store with lots of unusual oddments, the oddest of them all being a nice pair of trousers that fit my awkward frame. Moleskin even, though nothing to do with the notebooks. Then we have Shaw Trust, another untidy place that spills out onto the High Street. A basket for shoes, a basket for t-shirts, that’s the sort of place. At the opposite end of the spectrum, though equally appealing is the Helen & Douglas House Hospice. Ever the rolls royce of the charity shop world, this shops well-fitted shelves and tasteful array of new bits complement a large selection of assorted electricals to rival the Sally Army in Hitchin, and the layout and selection is reminiscent of the Hospice’s excellent shops in Abingdon and Beaconsfield.

Chesham well warrants a return visit for my intrepid companion and I, as there’s surely plenty more to explore: the large park and lake looked quite appealing on this sunny day, were it not for the ominous ticking of the car park clock. So I’ll return, and will do so with pleasure.

Find: Chesham @ Google Maps0
Consume with: No chance to stop today, but Nero was here.
Visit: Chesham Museum, of course
Overall Rating: four 90s classics

   

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Filed under 4/5, Buckinghamshire

Chalfont St Peter

 

Car Park Flood, from timo_w2s photostream under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

Car Park Flood, from timo_w2's photostream under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

What goes into the making of a “best kept village”? Not a great deal, if Chalfont St Peter is anything to go by. Instead, it’s noted as being possibly the largest village in the south-east (with 13,000) residents but, being in the heart of commuter country, this doesn’t prove much about the village itself. Whereas most ‘picturesque’ English villages have some degree of beauty, there’s little about CStP that would merit that term. 

 

The place isn’t particularly ugly, although a shop/office development around a central car park (replacing Georgian shops in the sixties) doesn’t help matters. In fact, head on out of the village towards Gold Hill Common and you have a very pleasant, undulating village green. But aside from the remaining Georgian storefronts and a very English country church, there’s little to commend Chalfont St Peter, aesthetically.

This blog’s raison d’être fare little better too. A decent looking British Red Cross closed at 12:30, and the usually quality Shaw Trust offered nothing of interest. Barnado’s was a good shop – a large, light and airy offering with some good clothes – not rock-bottom prices, but not far off. A back room filled with books and cds was well worth a peruse, but offered little worth purchasing.

So: nice countryside, shame about the village. Not too impressed with this Chiltern outpost, and I can’t see how it justifies its reputation as the place to live for the monied set. Doesn’t hold much attraction for this tourist.

Find: Chalfont St Peter @ Google Maps
Transport: Gerrards Cross is the nearest station
Consume with: there’s a couple of reasonable looking cafes and pubs, but we were there for but a short time, so I can’t offer opinions.
Visit: Gold Hill Common, above the village, is a lovely, high spot, good for yomping around on a windy day.
Overall Rating: two sad egg timers

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Filed under 2/5, Buckinghamshire

Beaconsfield

Dawn Mist on the Chiltern Line, under Creative Commons from Ellas_Dads photostream. Click pic for link.

Dawn Mist on the Chiltern Line, under Creative Commons from Ella’s_Dad’s photostream. Click pic for link.

Continuing in our exploration of the Chilterns while at the same time steering well clear of Slough, we head to Beaconsfield on a whim. As it turns out, it’s a well-placed whim as Beaconsfield is a very similar kind of town to Amersham, and a town like Amersham is a lovely thing indeed.

An ancient charter town like the latter, with an annual fair to match, Beaconsfield dates from, at the latest, 1185 when it was Bekenesfeld, the field by the beeches. Today, the old settlement is the most picturesque part of town, with the old A40 passing through grand Georgian townhouses, old coaching inns (the most exciting thing I’ve found about these is that the Royal Standard on London End was the home of the local inHot Fuzz, which definitely endears it to me) and country churches. Turn away from this very select part towards the station and you end up with a much more ordinary town – nevertheless attractive, pleasant and home to some tasty charity shop action.

The new town followed the railway station, around a century ago. Since then, old and new have merged into a single entity and as such, the whole town exudes the gentrified air of the olde market town. What this means, in a word, is money, and money makes for a good charity shop experience – for the most part (see FAILs on the part of Harpenden or Epsom, WINs on the part of Epping or Gerrards Cross). Here, I’m happy to say, local money is a definite win for the thrifty. Parking in the Waitrose car park (an early indicator), we make our way right down the high street to Cancer Research. A big shop, full of interesting junk including a set of antique planes. Not aeroplane planes, you understand, wood turning planes. These came in at a not quite justifiable £25 for the biggest, and though I know several people who’d like them, that would buy me a bag full of paperbacks, so the planes remained in the window, next to the glamorous Singer sewing machine.

Close by is a Shaw Trust hospice shop – this furnished me with Interpol’s Our Love To Admire, for which I thank it. I had to scarper before the boxes upon boxes of old National Geographics pulled me in, however. Next, the adjacent Oxfam and Help The Aged, both small but well-stocked. Oxfam, as you’d expect, is reasonably expensive but worth a poke.

My favourite of the five here was a little farther up the road, and a new one on me, the Helen & Douglas House hospice (I’ve since discovered another in Abingdon, of which more later, which was also nice, so I’ll have to investigate further). This was a beautifully appointed and furnished store, unusually for a hospice- fitted bookshelves, carefully displayed Valentines-themed clothes… we left with a variety of bargains: an Eric Newby book on the Trans-Siberian Express; three herb planters for a miserly £1 each; and a Noah’s Ark playset for my niece.

Beaconsfield was well worth the almost accidental visit, and we’ll certainly be back when we’re in the area again. There’s some nice looking coffee shops, including a Costa with outdoor seating that might just be the nicest-located chain coffee shop ever, and I’ve no doubt the pub grub in the inns of the old town is excellent. What with Amersham, Gerrards Cross and more to explore, I’m really growing to like this part of the world.

Find: Beaconsfield @ Google Maps
Transport: Beaconsfield station, on the Chilterns line
Consume with: Chez Pain (specialist coffee shop) looked nice
Visit: the Hot Fuzz theme continues with the world’s oldest model village
Overall Rating: four Dave Pelzers

   

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Filed under 4/5, Buckinghamshire

Gerrards Cross

Gerrards Cross Common from timo_w2s photostream, under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

Gerrards Cross Common from timo_w2s’ photostream, under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

In Gerrards Cross we’re no longer in Metroland, but it’s certainly commuter belt: essentially a large village, the quick rail link with Marylebone means that Gerrards Cross and the surrounding villages (mostly Chalfonts of some variety) are easily accessible from (and to) London.

Which is perfect for my purposes. Gerrards Cross is small, but well-endowed: the number of boutiques and specialist shops testify to the money in the area, and the picturesque village green and beautiful Chiltern setting do nothing to detract from that impression. Even the Big British Castle agree with me, and in 2004 they reported that Gerrards Cross was (outside of London, presumably) the most expensive place to live in the country. Wikipedia also claims celebrities and peers, but as so often, citation is needed. Thus, while there’s only the three charity shops here, they’re all worth a visit.

We approached from the M40, which means schlepping up to Beaconsfield and back round – coming from London, you’re better off taking the old A40 instead, thus avoiding the Orbital altogether. Either route will bring you past the wooded common, and then it’s up Packhorse Road into the main drag itself. Don’t be fooled by the promise of Gerrard’s Cross High Street – this is actually in the bordering Chalfont St Peter, of which more another time.

Parking on Packhorse Street then, the first port of call is Oxfam. As was being discussed by various customers at the weekend, Oxfam is overpriced for a charity shop. This we knew already. Once this is accepted, we can get on with the actual perusal, and what do you know, it’s a perfectly servicable shop with some bizarre ‘homeware’ (read, tat) and a decent spread of books and clothes. In evidence here, as elsewhere in the village, is a large selection of unwanted hip hop, Nas, Fiddy and the like. The disaffected youth hanging around the Costa are evidence that hip hop is no longer a viable interest in these parts – insufficiently lank hair, lack of striped t-shirts in rapping role models, etc.

Over the road, the Shaw Trust runs a boutiquey setup (although its existence appears to be denied on the Trust‘s own site) which yielded a number of interesting looking bargains, not least some Camper mary-janes for my companion – a tempting £8 down from whatever exorbitant new price they’d be. After Gerrards Cross we hit Amersham and between the Red Cross there, and Oxfam and Shaw here, several complete and accessorised outfits were purchased (including a Lule bag we estimate to have been purchased at marginally over 5% of its original price).

Finally Barnardos’ offers an excellent selection of books (I agonised over an incomplete Lion box set of the Chronicles of Narnia), as well as some fine selections in other departments. While there’s only these three here, there’s more in Chalfont St Peter and actually, the high street has more than enough to make a nice little mooch with some interesting looking cook shops, a chocolate-themed cafe, and an Art Deco shop.

Find: Gerrards Cross on Google Maps
Transport: Gerrards Cross station, on Chiltern Railways
Consume with: Coffee and biscuits at Costa
Visit: In Hot Fuzz style, the world’s oldest model village
Overall rating: four copies of Pamela Stephenson’s Billy

   

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Filed under 4/5, Buckinghamshire

Amersham

Amersham Old Town, by simonvc, under Creative Commons. Click pic for simonvcs photostream.

Amersham Old Town, by simonvc, under Creative Commons. Click pic for simonvc’s photostream.

Amersham can be forgiven for feeling a touch schitzophrenic about itself. On arrival in the town’s vicinity, the visitor is presented with signs to Amersham-on-the-Hill, or Amersham Old Town. Being a fan of Eastern European city breaks, the choice was all but foregone, and though I didn’t find any medieval Bohemianarchitecture or shops selling bearskin hats and Russian dolls, Amersham does indeed have an Old Town. It’s a Georgian looking sort of a location. You’d easily imagine a troop of Bennetts wandering through to find the soldiers, or some such Austen-worthy scene – a wide high street with expensive boutiques and grand looking coaching inns. As it turns out, it’s very pretty indeed.

Sadly for my purposes, no charity shops make the old town their home, so off we trundled up said hill to the alternative – and, it has to be said, a touch less classy – settlement on this Chiltern rise. That’s not to say it’s grotty: far from it, in actual fact Amersham-on-the-hill is a very satisfactory and pleasant location to while away some time

When we were here, Christmas was around the corner, and fuelled by Costa’s tart mince pies, we hit the shops. First up was Help The Aged, staffed by a slightly baffling selection of individuals but nonetheless a decent shop. A very pleasant coat was ummed and aahed over – even just a few weeks later, I can’t remember if it was eventually bought, but sometimes that’s not what sticks.

Shortly after, a large and ramshackle hospice shop (St. Luke’s, I believe), and around the corner, the RSPCA kept a similarly ramshackle but considerably smaller outfit. Some curious nicknacks indeed, but nothing bought.

Over the road, Cancer Research proved the highlight of the afternoon, offering up Eels’ Beautiful Freak and 12″s by Stevie Wonder and Elvis Costello, as well as a goodly selection of crockery and serving/mixing dishes that were very nearly bought simply to save finding a place for them to put them back on the shelf. A not half bad Oxfam completed the set.

Amersham then, this split town, is worth visiting on two levels. The hilltop high street, altogether more bustling and more bargainous makes for a good ‘poking’ destination; the more sedate Old Town may well see our return to scope out the January sales, and lunch at an olde publick house.

Find: Amersham at Google Maps
Transport: Amersham tube, Metropolitan Line
Consume with: next time I might visit The Crown for lunch
Visit: the Amersham Museum
Overall rating: four copies of Five People You Meet In Heaven 

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Filed under 4/5, Buckinghamshire