A well-heeled town in Buckinghamshire on the east flank of the Chiltern Hills, Beaconsfield has a new and old part.
The Old Town to the south is at a crossroads, and each of the broad converging streets is fronted by rows of Georgian brick facades, old coaching inns and mock-Tudor houses.
This is the cultured setting for a market on Tuesdays, as well pubs, a cosmopolitan line-up of restaurants and one-of-a-kind shops.
In the new town by the train station is the oldest model village in the world, founded in 1929, while the Royal Standard of England Pub claims to be the oldest free house in the UK. You can plan days out at museums, open farms and National Trust properties like Cliveden, and in June the Chiltern Shakespeare Company performs in the open air at the beautiful Hall Barn estate.
1. Beaconsfield Old Town
Old Beaconsfield, to the south of the new settlement, is a fine piece of old-fashioned rural England, complete with a parish church, a green, pubs and tea rooms.
The centrepiece is crossroads where the London, Windsor, Wycombe and Aylesbury “Ends meet”. What will hit you is how wide these roads are, a holdover from the time that drovers marched livestock by the thousands to the town and on to London.
The flat brick frontages in Old Beaconsfield are Georgian, some concealing far older properties, alongside some pretty mock Tudor and neo-Georgian houses.
As the first stop on the stagecoach route between Oxford and London, Old Beaconsfield has a lot of coaching inns, mostly on the London End, and easily distinguished by their size.
At the Windsor End there’s a weekly market on Tuesdays and an award-winning farmers’ market on the fourth Saturday of the month.
2. The Chilterns
The countryside north and west of Beaconsfield is in the Chilterns, a chalk hill range protected as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The hills around Beaconsfield are less pronounced than the scarp slopes on the north-west side of the range, like the great Coombe Hill and Haddington Hill.
Instead there’s gently rolling countryside, meandering lanes with country pubs in the hollows and occasional views through dense foliage over broad tracts of farmland.
Around High Wycombe and Beaconsfield are the beech forests that provided the high-quality hardwood needed for the local furniture industry.
This peaked in the 19th century and survives on a smaller scale today.
There are lots of local walks, either by driving to Burnham Beeches or Penn Woods, or by setting off from Beaconsfield on the path to Seer Green and Jordans.
3. Bekonscot Model Village
The world’s first model village didn’t start out as a visitor attraction but was a hobby for the Beaconsfield accountant Roland Callingham.
Beginning in 1929 and making the most of an ample back garden, he recruited his domestic staff to help him build the perfect time capsule of an English rural village in the inter-war years.
Bekonskot is a portmanteau of Beaconsfield and Ascot, and before long people were showing up at Callingham’s door to see his creation.
Over the last nine decades Bekonscot developed under the guiding hand of designers and architects, and has six villages over two aces, all on a 1:12 scale.
There are castles, windmills, a coal mine, trams, a fishing port and a model of Ascot Racecourse.
The gauge 1 model railway is a wonder in its own right, 10 scale miles long and needed a full eight minutes to make a circuit through the garden.
4. Royal Standard of England Pub
Lots of pubs claim to be the oldest in England, but the rightful title may just belong to the Royal Standard of England.
This half-timbered building is on a secluded country lane in the outlying village of Forty Green.
The pub is thought to go back as far as Anglo-Saxon times, but is definitely at least 900 years old, growing to its current size by the end of the 17th century.
Earlier, Royalists used the inn during the English Civil War in the 1640s, and it is believed that either Charles I or the future Charles II hid in the priest hole in the Royal Standard’s ceiling.
Later Charles II is supposed to have bestowed the royal title upon the establishment.
Inside are Medieval floor tiles, exposed beams and a comforting log fire, while light streams in through stained glass windows.
Sunday lunches at the pub are all about comfort too, serving up outsized Yorkshire puddings doused in gravy.
You could catch the train to Seer Green and in under ten minutes will be in the village of Jordans, which became a centre for Quakerism in the 1600s.
Quakers still have a presence in the village, most obviously at the Friends Meeting House, one of the oldest Quaker places of worship in the UK. This still has wood panelling, glass and brickwork from the 17th-century.
Buried in the yard is the Quaker, William Penn (1644-1718), founder of Pennsylvania, who also led the design and planning of the City of Philadelphia, and whose statue crowns Philadelphia City Hall.
He was one of the driving forces behind the Declaration of Indulgence (1687), a proclamation to establish freedom of religious practice in the British Isles.
Jordans’ Friends Meeting House followed less than a year later.
6. Burnham Beeches
Beech forests like this one a couple of miles south of Beaconsfield helped to sustain a whole furniture industry on the east side of the Chilterns.
The trees at Burnham Beeches have been repeatedly pollarded and harvested over generations and so date back hundreds of years.
The great age of these trees and the amount of deadwood around them allows a whole eco-system to thrive.
Over 60 species at this Site of Special Scientific Interest are rare or endangered.
The ancient appearance of the woods has also made it a go-to shooting location: The Princess Bride (1987), Goldfinger (1964), Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (1991) and two Harry Potter movies had scenes shot at Burnham Beeches.
7. Odds Farm Park
A treasured family day out, Odds Farm Park has lots of farmyard favourites like goats, sheep, chickens, ponies, pigs, cows, donkeys, chickens and rabbits.
Many of the inhabitants at Odds Farm belong to rare breeds, like the Bagot goat, which has no more than 200 breeding nannies left, or the middle white pig, with little more than 100 breeding sows.
The farm is open year round, and there are baby animals at all times, but if you come in early spring you’ll be in time for lambing season, and around this time children can bottle-feed kid goats.
You can also watch demonstrations of farmyard jobs, like milking or sheep-shearing in May.
And there’s even more going on, at an indoor play-barn, the adventure playground, the sandpit, on go-karts or at the craft marquee, for special seasonal workshops.
8. Chiltern Open Air Museum
In a gorgeous piece of Buckinghamshire countryside to the east of Beaconsfield are over 30 traditional buildings relocated here from around the Chilterns.
Among them is a pair of thatched cottages converted from an 18th-century barn, a 1940s prefab house, a Victorian toll house, an old forge and lots of other farm buildings.
Also absorbing is a faithful reconstruction of an Iron Age roundhouse.
The museum’s cluster of traditional buildings makes it a prime shooting location, and scenes from Downton Abbey have been filmed here.
Whenever you come, chances are that there will be some sort of event, celebration or activity, like a recreation of Celtic life in England, pre-Christian May Day celebrations, a harvest event, Roman re-enactments or a glimpse of hardships faced by Victorians in the Chilterns.
9. Milton’s Cottage
The 17th-century poet John Milton only took refuge at this half-timbered cottage in Chalfont St Giles for a short time, but it proved to be the most productive period in his career.
He came here to escape a plague outbreak in London in 1665 and during his stay put the finishing touches to Paradise Lost and started Paradise Regained, despite being completely blind by this time in his life.
Now a writer’s house museum, Milton’s Cottage features the world’s most complete display of first editions of Milton’s poetry and prose.
The garden is also worth investigating as it is planted in the style of a 17th-century rural property.
This Italianate mansion, built in the mid-19th century after its predecessors burnt down, is posted high on a ridge over the Thames, and has grounds that tumble down to the river.
Cliveden is a luxury hotel today, but in the early 20th century was home to Nancy Astor, an American immigrant who in 1919 became the UK’s first woman Member of Parliament.
Tours of the house are given on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, when you can travel through 350 years of history and hear about some of the important early-20th-century guests like Winston Churchill and Charlie Chaplin.
The grounds are open year-round and are an obligatory day out in good weather, when kids can explore the Storybook Play Den and solve the giant yew maze, made up of more than 1,000 trees.
The house’s terrace and 17th-century Borghese Balustrade are captivating, as is the view over the Thames Valley from the parterre in front.
11. Dorneywood Garden
Just moments from Cliveden is another National Trust property, a 1930s-style garden on the grounds of an 18th-century house that was remodelled in the 1910s.
Dorneywood, the house, is available for a senior member of the Cabinet, and the last two occupants have been Chancellors of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond and George Osborne.
Dorneywood Garden is open on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons between the end of April and mid-September.
You’ll get to tour the kitchen garden, cottage garden and savour the colourful herbaceous border, roses and stunning lily pond.
For ten days around mid-July the garden opens to the public every day and you’ll also be able to see the interior of the house.
It’s an opportunity not to be missed, to view interior decoration by the 20th-century artist Rex Whistler, and splendid collections of painting, furniture and other decorative arts.
12. Chiltern Shakespeare Company
A high point on the local cultural calendar comes in June when the Chiltern Shakespeare Company performs one of Shakespeare’s plays in the stately surrounds of the Hall Barn estate.
The house at Hall Barn was started in the 17th century and was modified and enlarged over the next 200 years.
Performances take place in “The Meadow” on the grounds, before a 450-seat covered grandstand.
The run takes place over eight nights, from Wednesday to Saturday on two consecutive weeks, starting in the middle of June, while auditions start at the beginning of the year.
Recent performances have included Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream
13. Seer Green-Beaconsfield Walk
An easy way to sample the Chilterns’ signature rambling hills and woodland is to head out on this six-mile circular trail.
And while the walk can be a bit of a rollercoaster, even in the foothills of the range, you’ll be surprised by uplifting vistas of the verdant countryside.
You can make the walk a bit more direct by following the linear trail to Seer Green station, and then catching the train back to Beaconsfield, which takes only three minutes.
If you have time to spend in Seer Green, The Jolly Cricketers Pub is rated as one of the best gastropubs in the country, and one of the best establishments to visit for Sunday lunch.
14. Go Ape Black Park
Slightly further out, but meriting the drive is this high ropes course in Black Park Country Park.
Go Ape Black Park has two courses – a one-kilometre Tree Top Adventure for people aged ten and up and Tree Top Junior, around half the length and mainly for younger climbers.
Tree Top Adventure has all sorts of tricky transitions up to 25 metres across and 11 metres above the forest floor.
But as tiring as the course can be there are moments of real exhilaration on zip-lines up to 166 metres long.
Just remember to bring a pair of gloves and sensible clothes.
Also for smaller adventurers is Nets Kingdom, a wonderland of trampolines and climbing nets hoisted ten metres above the ground.
And for a change of pace you can hire all-terrain Segways for an off-road ride through the forest.
In a place as posh as Beaconsfield you can bet that there are some high-class golf courses close by.
But while Beaconsfield Golf Club and Flackwell Heath Golf Club are both as plush and manicured as you’d expect, both are also welcoming to non-members.
The 18 holes at Beaconsfield Golf Club are much as they were in 1913 when they were designed by Harry Colt, one of the most distinguished course architects in the history of the game.
As a non-member you can play this course on weekdays for a reasonable £70.00. For a more casual round there’s a pay-and-play a couple of miles south of Beaconsfield at Hedsor Golf Course, which has nine holes on a flat plateau fringed by woodland and costs as little as £14 on weekends.