Old Amersham has a tranquilising effect. Stepping from beneath the shade of Parsonage Wood I was presented with the prettiest view of the market town, flanked by rising country pastures and cast in the sanctifying light of a blue-sky sunset. A whiskered man in tweed came strutting up the hill towards me, swinging a walking stick, whistling a jaunty tune and brandishing the most terrific set of sideburns ever seen on someone not at a terrific-sideburns convention. He gave me a genial grin and one of those sideways nod-cum-winks that only country folk can pull off, and then he tootled past into the woods. This all transpired within a few seconds but it shifted my mood from city-stress to country-calm in an instant.
A few moments earlier I’d been trudging through muddy woodlands cursing myself for taking directions to the hotel from a man who’d just fallen out of a pub, and for using an old roller suitcase that waited until I was completely surrounded by puddles before bursting open. I thought to myself ‘boutique-hotel reviewing isn’t supposed to be like this’ as I dolefully picked the dirt from my new Paul Smith shirt. But with my mood swiftly ameliorated and a pile of filthy clothes tucked under my arm, I set off with purposeful gait towards the Crown.
I’d hoped this trip to the Chilterns would deliver me from London’s din and gift me with a simple rural escape. Although Old Amersham is hooked onto the end of the Metropolitan line and so technically still a part of London, I was comforted with the realisation that a couple of days in Buckinghamshire would be a very pleasant alternative to a weekend in the city. The entrance to the Crown is just off a central courtyard; it was filled with tables of cheerful chaps and cordial ladies enjoying the last of the day’s light and glasses of chilled white wine. Hopping over the cat curled up on the cobbles, I stepped inside.
This 500-year-old property certainly looks well for its age. The unfussy interiors run counter to what you might expect from a boutique bolthole in the heart of the home counties, famously featured as the Lucky Boatman in Four Weddings. Twisted original oak beams, lattice windows and creaking floorboards bring an old-world warmth. At the end of the higgledy-piggledy coir-carpeted first-floor corridor, was my room. Big on character, it featured a sheepskin-covered rocking chair beneath the market-hall-facing window, a Roberts radio, a collection of English historical novels, and an antique stable-style door leading to the super-modern ensuite with a shower the size of a modestly proportioned barn.
Throwing my clump of clothes into the closet and booting (deservedly hard) my broken suitcase under the plush double bed, I took to the backroom snug for a pint of local brew and a browse of the pub menu. I resisted the more hearty offerings via a Caesar salad, knowing that when Mrs Smith turned up late the next afternoon I’d be gorging myself into a stupor on the Chop House’s renowned country tucker.
The next morning it was still sunny and conditions were perfect for an exploratory stroll through the Chiltern Hills – but not before breakfast. Now, buffets can present problems: I don’t do well with too much choice. When it comes to picking between a full English, freshly baked bread, slices of salmon, prosciutto, all kinds of cheese, juicy fresh fruit and a selection of crunchy cereals, I will invariably decide to have all of them which routinely renders me incapable of any and all physical movement for several hours. Were it not for the three cups of coffee, I’m not sure I would have got up from the chair.
After a quick change into elasticated shorts I donned my backpack and set off rambling. Roaming across low-cut fields, through tall-tree woods, over rickety stiles and past dozing cows brought me to the Red Lion Pub in Little Missenden where I repaired with an ice-cold frosty top and a small bite to eat. ‘Busy?’ I asked the landlady. ‘Swamped’ she said – in all seriousness from what I could tell. There were only two other people there and they were both asleep in their chairs. ‘This is more my speed,’ I thought as I found a spot in the garden, sat down, and fell asleep in my chair.
Back in town, I met Mrs Smith at the station and proceeded to energetically point out all the wonders of bucolic Buckinghamshire in a vein similar to a child showing his farther how his new bucket and spade works. After leading her through Parsonage Wood along the ‘shortcut I’d discovered’, telling her all about John McCririck winking at me, showing her my favourite view of Old Amersham and the puddle my shirt was in, we stopped by the Seasons Café Deli on the high street for a coffee-kick before setting off on more exploring. This time our rambles included walking along the River Misbourne, watching a local game of cricket, me explaining how cricket works, me admitting I have no idea how cricket works, skipping, climbing trees and chasing sheep. The coffee at Seasons Café Deli is excellent!
We decided it was only right that we cap off a day this enjoyable with a meal from head chef extraordinaire, Will Hughes, at the Chop House restaurant. His menu makes artwork out of simple rustic grub – I can say with some certainty that his veal chop and turnip gratin will produce an almost emotional reaction in anyone who eats it. After polishing off a couple of carafes of Citta dei Ponti we retired fully sated and certain of a future return. The next morning I was no more abstemious at the breakfast buffet, before we headed back towards the station whistling a jaunty tune and nod-winking at anyone who cared to look our way. That, ladies and gents, is the Old Amersham effect.