The market town of Amersham is in Buckinghamshire, couched in the undulating landscape of the Chiltern Hills.
The modern settlement, Amersham on the Hill, is on a raised plateau while the quaint Old Amersham lies below, in the valley of the River Misbourne.
The High Street in Old Amersham and its half-timbered Medieval houses, coaching inns and Georgian frontages will steal your attention, as will the 17th-century Market Hall, still housing a little market on Saturdays.
Families will have lots of ideas for summer days out around Amersham, at the oldest model village in the world, a museum for Roald Dahl and an outdoor museum with more than 30 buildings relocated from around the Chilterns.
1. The Chilterns
Amersham is in a chalk hill range, conserved as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The Chilterns are rounded grassy hills with tufts of woodland, sparkling chalk streams, farms and snug old villages for pub lunches.
Old Amersham is on one such chalk stream, the River Misbourne and you make a 10-mile walk from the High Street through the Misbourne Valley via the “Paradise Regained” trail.
Named for John Milton’s poem, this route takes you past the cottage where he took shelter from the plague.
At the disused Chalfont Mill you can stop to appreciate the crystalline river, its big stocks of brown trout, and bird species like teals and snipes on its marshy banks.
Hop in the car and you can reach natural lookouts, walking trails and historic estates in a matter of minutes from Amersham, a few of which are listed below.
2. Old Amersham High Street
The High Street in Old Amersham is one of the loveliest sights in all of the Chilterns.
On each side of the street are historic facades in a variety of styles, with 18th-century stucco and brick, Medieval timber frames and a row of gables at the east end.
There you’ll come across the Baroque Market Hall, which went up in 1692 and was paid for by the Drake family.
Old Amersham was on the stagecoach network until the arrival of rail travel, and you can see an example of a coaching inn at the King’s Arms Hotel (No.30), which dates back to the 1400s.
The facade of this building was used in Four Weddings and A Funeral (1994), which set up a love scene between Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell, which was actually filmed in the Crown Hotel down the street.
3. Amersham Museum
You can enter one of the fine old properties on Old Amersham High Street as the local museum is housed in a 15th-century half-timbered house.
The Amersham Museum was reworked recently and opened again in summer 2017 with an updated layout and new space for activities and temporary shows.
The museum’s Medieval beams are more visible than ever, and out back is a peaceful herb garden that has been made more accessible for people with wheelchairs.
You can pick up lots of objects in the exhibition, and use multimedia tablets to view the full archive.
You can also peruse historic tools for farming and trades like brewing, furniture-making, shoe-repair and lace-making, along with fossils from the chalk and Medieval and Roman discoveries.
4. St Mary’s Church
The Grade I-listed Medieval church in Old Amersham goes back to the 1200s, with additions made a century later.
The exterior was altered during a restoration in 1890 when it was refaced with ashlar limestone dressing and knapped flint.
On the north side is a chapel for the Drake family.
Both here and in the chancel there’s an array of funerary monuments, including brasses from the 1400s and some beautiful works of sculpture, many carved for members of the Drake family.
Buried in a now unmarked grave in the churchyard extension is Ruth Ellis (1926-1955), the last women to be executed in the UK (the headstone was destroyed by her son in 1982).
5. Amersham Memorial Gardens/Church Mead
Round the back of the High Street there’s a sweet little garden dedicated to Amersham’s servicemen and women killed in the two World Wars.
The paths here converge at a central fountain and are edged by flowerbeds, which burst into colour in spring and summer and are given special designs.
In 2018 for example there was a 3D display of First World War machines to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the conflict.
There’s a clear view of St Mary’s Church tower from the benches.
Every other Sunday from May to September there’s a concert in these garden brass and jazz bands.
You can also amble next to the River Misbourne for a short way at the connecting Church Mead, which has lawns and lots of tree cover.
6. Chenies Manor House
Mainly used as a wedding venue, this 16th-century brick mansion can be visited April to October on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.
Chenies Manor House was built between 1530 and 1550 but is set on the foundations of a much older Medieval building, and the vaulting in the undercroft predates today’s house.
For centuries this property belonged to the Bedford family, who received both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I here in the 16th century.
The house has a stepped gable and 23 tall chimney stacks.
Inside is what is thought to be a priest hole (hiding place for Catholic clergy) and you can view that historic undercroft.
Outside you can explore a sunken garden, Victorian kitchen garden, white garden and a physic garden with a yew maze.
The manor also has a shop, cafe and art gallery, all worth a stop.
7. Old Amersham Market Hall
As a gift to the town, Sir William Drake funded the Market Hall on the Market Place in Old Amersham, and it was completed in 1682. From the road you can decipher Drake’s coat of arms, and his initials, W. D.. The upper floor was designed for meetings, by traders’ guilds for instance, while the round-headed arcade on the ground floor is still used for markets.
The hall has quoins on the corners and a cupola on top with a conical roof and gilded ball.
One exciting detail is the old town lock-up on the east side, where mischief-makers (normally drunks) would be held overnight.
Above this door is a stone bearing the inscription “Commit no nuisance”, while on the east wall is a historic water pump dating to 1785.
8. Chiltern Open Air Museum
Opened in 1976, this nearby museum has rescued 30 historic or culturally important buildings and brought them to a pastoral Chiltern setting among woods, an Arts and Crafts garden, wartime allotment and apple and cherry orchards.
The buildings relocated here include Nissen huts from the First and Second World Wars, a farmhouse with animals, an earthen cottage, a blacksmith’s forge, a recreated Iron Age roundhouse and a Victorian toll house.
The museum opens from the end of March to the end of October, and during this time there’s a whole calendar of events and activities to breathe life into the old buildings.
You come for demonstrations of Medieval weapons, lambing in spring, Roman gladiator and Tudor court re-enactments, a Pagan May Day celebration, and a Harvest Festival in autumn.
Given the quantity of old buildings and the bucolic surroundings, the museum has been used as a filming location for shows like Call the Midwife and Downton Abbey.
9. Milton’s Cottage
There’s real English literary history close to the Open Air Museum in the village of Chalfont St Giles.
This 16th-century timber-framed cottage is where the 17th-century poet John Milton came in 1665 to escape a plague outbreak in London.
In that time Milton, despite being blind at this point in his life, worked on his most famous poems, finishing Paradise Lost and starting Paradise Regained.
The ground floor of the cottage has been kept as a writer’s house museum and has an unparalleled collection of 17th-century first editions of Milton’s poetry and prose.
The museum can be visited in the afternoons from Wednesday to Saturday and has a garden planted as it might have been in the 1660s.
10. Bekonscot Model Village
The oldest original model village in the world is in striking distance of Amersham.
Bekonscot sprouted as long ago as 1929 and most of its model buildings are from the 1930s.
The village was never supposed to be a tourist attraction, and was a labour of love for the accountant Roland Callingham.
Bekonscot gained national attention in the 30s via newsreels and curious people started to show up to see Callingham’s little world.
The village is a perfect time capsule for rural England in the inter-war years, spread out over 1.5 acres and comprising six individual settlements with castles, farms, mines, docks, cable-cars and aerodromes.
Over almost 90 years, a succession of model-makers and landscape gardeners have added their own touches.
As well as these painstaking village scenes there’s a Gauge 1 model railway rattling along 10 scale miles of track, through tunnels and ravines, past stations and over bridges.
11. Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre
You could catch the train to Great Missendnen, ten minutes away, where the much-loved children’s author Roald Dahl lived from 1954 until he passed away in 1990. The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre opened in 2005 in a former coaching inn and yard.
Like Dahl’s stories, the museum is for children aged 6 to 12, but grown-ups will be enthused by some of the snippets from his life.
You’ll discover how Dahl’s adventure-filled real life experiences found their way into his stories and can view manuscripts, the author’s notebooks and letters with friends and business acquaintances.
Kids are encouraged to get hands-on and use their own creativity to come up with stories, and can be let loose on all sorts of workshops for painting and arts and crafts.
12. Village of Jordans
This cosy village of 700 to the south of Amersham was taken over by Quakers in the 1600s.
One of the oldest Friends Meeting Houses (place of worship for the Quaker faith) can still be found in Jordans, dating from 1688. Most of the brickwork, glass, wooden panelling and benches remain from that time.
The Meeting House’s cemetery is also the burial place for a William Penn (1644-1718), who founded the Province of Pennsylvania.
A statue of Penn can famously be seen atop the Philadelphia City Hall.
13. Penn Wood
Four miles west of Amersham you can step back in time in a patch of the Chiltern Hills left unaltered for hundreds of years.
Penn Wood is among the largest ancient woodland in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and was once an immense tract of common land.
Echoing the traditional methods of forest management a herd of cows continues to graze in Penn Wood to preserve the habitat.
The time to come for a walk is in April and May when the forest floor is laid with many thousands of bluebells.
Over the tree-line in the glades you may catch sight of a buzzard or red kite circling overhead.
14. Amersham Fair Organ Museum
In an unmarked warehouse on Amersham’s industrial estate, this unusual museum doesn’t seem too promising at first glance.
For one thing you can visit only on open days, which take place on the first Sunday of the month.
Entry is free, and when you enter you’ll find lots of seats in the middle of the hall, and an array of exquisite organs performing on the sides.
Many of these have ingenious painted automatons that move with the music.
The organs, operated via punched cards, would have travelled the country with fairs in the 19th and early 20th century and were designed by the likes of the Wilhelm Bruder Söhne, the Weber Brothers, Marenghi, Gavioli and Gavioli.
Although entrance is free, a donation is appreciated, or you can buy a hot drink and slice of cake.
15. Amersham Market
There’s a street market on Sycamore Road in Amersham on the hill every Tuesday and deserving a browse if you’re in town.
But the one to catch is the Saturday market, trading under the Old Amersham Market Hall.
This may be a small affair, but it’s wonderful to see this space continue to be used for trade, 330 years after it was built.
There are up to ten stalls here trading homemade cakes and biscuits, arts and crafts, antiques, plants and second-hand books and magazines.