Downley Common Preservation Society
is easy to take the place where you live for granted, to see the Common as
just a place where you exercise dogs or children, an open space that
happens to be surrounded by houses, only a few built of traditional brick
and flint. But a Common is the heart of a village, its reason for
existence, the means of survival in the past.
There are many routes you can take to explore the Common but we suggest you start at the Post Office. You can see Downley Farm Cottage opposite the Post Office, with another just behind on a track; these were once a farm. In the distance is Downley Farm.
Walk along the High Street to the
village Memorial Hall, where you have a clear view across the whole
Common. When you reach the Memorial Hall look across at the view, first
the steep, chalk valley probably cut by meltwaters after the Ice Age, then
Sunny or Butterfly Bank where you can see the Methodist
Chapel, recovering from the 1998 fire just above a row of 1930's houses.
Nestling in the trees you may be able to see older cottages built on small
fields cut out of the Common in earlier times.
Now walk past Prospect House with its rebuilt flint wall, and walk down into the chalk valley passing the place where the Dashwoods allowed washing to be hung. The dark-shaded valiey to the right gets little sunlight since woodland was established. The adjacent slope is also a favourite place for sledging in the winter. Well Cottage, built in 1813, was vital to villagers since its well never dried up in any droughts. Other higher cottages sometimes had cisterns cut in the chalk and lined with brick as water tanks.
climb up the steep flint track onto the Common. Much of the Common has
neutral soil with grass and flowering plants that attract nectar-seeking
insects and small invertebrates such as grasshoppers, including the rare
long-winged cone-head. Amongst the flowers you may see knapweed,
birdís-foot trefoil and the exquisite harebell although more common on
acid soil. Here the annual Guy
Fawkes Night bonfire and torchlight procession
is held. The scorched ring is clearly visible for much of the year.
When this area was used for pasture the grass was short and any surviving trees were pollarded so that branches were above grazing levels. Without grazing, scrub has developed, which can be good for rabbits, foxes, badgers and muntjacs. You may be lucky enough to see the red kite and hear the laughing cry of the green woodpecker. The main scrub plants are hawthorn, briar, blackthorn and bramble. Bear left from the dairy to see these and where the soil is neutral hazel, elder, crabapple, field maple, gean or wild cherry, and as the succession develops oak, sycamore and ash.
paths emerge onto the sports pitches. Now you can identify where there is
acid sandy soil by the heath vegetation such as bracken, gorse,
catsear, birch trees and the harebell. Villagers used to be allowed
to collect nuts, crabapples, fallen wood, and pick mushrooms and cut
hay. Gone are the dells used for clay extraction and the brickkiln that
once produced bricks and tiles since the land was levelled and prepared by
in the mid-1970's.
Keeping the road on your left continue to walk northwards, noticing the other old farmhouses (St Davids and Blacksmiths) along the road, all there in 1767 as part of early enclosure. The Forge and the Cricket Pavilion can be seen. The Forge was busy still in the 1930's but closed recently. Cross the road at the tank crossing and enter the woods through the glade. The clay pits used to continue here serving the brick and tile kilns. This wood is now rich in birds including the great spotted wood-pecker and the nuthatch. Squirrels and perhaps the glis glis, the edible dormouse which may have migrated for the Tring area may also be seen. Purple hairstreak butterflies have been seen in abundance. The ancient woodland can be identified by a ground flora of blue-bells, wood anemones, dog's mercury and wild service trees. Some spectacular old beech pollards can be seen. Manning's Pond was vital to the 2 or 3 fields of the same name on the parish boundary, near Hunts Hill. Here clearance work by the D.C.P.S. in the 1980's has allowed the return of the rare starfruit after its long absence.
Return to Commonside by following the track from Le Despencers, keeping the nearby Golflink Villas on your left and go straight on at the holly hedge towards the woods. On your way you will see a more heath-like grassland. with gorse, catsear. bracken and even heather. Most of this woodland is secondary growth after grazing ceased, but there are also stands of oak and some beech. More dells can be found in this area. Even during the 1939 to 1945 war this area was open enough for tanks to be tested by driving from Broom and Wade, Hughenden and then up to Naphill School. Straw had to be laid in the tank tracks so children could get to school.
As you climb up to Commonside you will see a bank and ditch which marked the boundary with Hughenden and kept animals from damaging trees in another parish. At the roadside, coarse grasses hide small mammals and insects such as the rare Roesel's grasshopper. You can return along Commonside, past the oak climbing trees, much used by local children, and arrive back at the Post Office.
Acknowledgement - Thanks to all in the Downley Community who provided information and photographs for the production of the Trail Guide and particularly to Noreen Talbot who provided local history.
Published and Copyright by: Downley Common Preservation Society. Unauthorised reproduction of this Trail Guide is not permitted.