The familiar beech and bluebell woods of the Chilterns sits on London’s doorstep, extending 70 km from the Thames at Goring-on-Thames northeast to Hitchin.
The Chilterns’ rounded hills are part of the chalk ridge which crosses England from Dorset to Yorkshire. The characteristic scarp slope, indented by combes and cut by a number of gaps, looks out north over the panorama of the Vale of Aylesbury. The dip slope, dissected by steep dry valleys, curves gently down into the London Basin. The heavily wooded character of the Chilterns, based on clay-with-flint deposits, gives way in the north to the open downland of Ivinghoe Beacon and Dunstable Downs.
The Chilterns contain an important diversity of habitats ranging from chalk grassland and to the country’s most extensive areas of beech woodland, with the finest stretches protected under EU legislation as Special Areas of Conservation. The landscape contains many prehistoric traces including the great dyke of Grim’s Ditch and the ancient Ridgeway and Icknield Way.
The AONB boundary skirts urban areas such as Luton and High Wycombe and its many picturesque brick-and-flint villages are prized commuter country. However, commercial forestry and agriculture, ranging from small-scale dairying and horticulture to intensive mixed and cereal farming, remains an important part of the economy. Part-time ‘hobby farming’ is increasing.
In addition to the 80,000 people living within the area, half a million people live within two km (two million within 10 km) of the Chilterns, one of South-East England’s major recreation resources. Leisure use is largely informal scenic drives, walking and riding and peak demand puts heavy pressure on viewpoints such as Ivinghoe Beacon. The Ridgeway, a National Trail, runs through the AONB from Ivinghoe Beacon to the River Thames and on into the North Wessex Downs AONB. The Thames Path National Trail also passes through the southern part of the AONB.