In Watlington, all roads lead to the 17th-century Town Hall which stands at the meeting point of three routes in the centre of the town. This landmark was built at the expense of Thomas Stonor, of Stonor Park, and its upper room was endowed as a grammar school for boys. In 1764, local squire Edward Horne gave Watlington a more unusual talking point. He felt that the parish church of St. Leonard, when viewed from his home, would be more impressive if it had a spire. To create the illusion, he designed the 270 foot steeple-shaped Watlington White Mark, which he had cut into the chalk escarpment of Watlington Hill, perfectly placed to complete his view.
What to see in Watlington
After a pleasant browse around Watlington's delis and shops, take the Watlington Town Walk to find your way around the history and highlights of this ancient settlement. Sightings of the 'ghostly monks' are not guaranteed.
In the countryside
The Chiltern countryside beckons on all sides. Follow any of the country walks and cycle rides on Watlington’s tourist information website to get out and explore. Walk 2 is a 7-mile circular walk to Cookley Green and Swyncombe – noted for its lovely and isolated church. Walk 3 is a short (4½ miles) but strenuous walk, which gives outstanding views over the Thames Valley and South Oxfordshire. Walk 4 is a level walk through villages and hamlets to the north and west of Watlington, including Lewknor, Pyrton and South Weston. There is an optional diversion to the beautiful village of Cuxham, with its Saxon Church. The Christmas Common Cycle Ride is a 17-mile pleasant and undemanding cycle ride, with on and off road sections.
What to head for further afield
Nuffield Place – 6 miles from Watlington. The home of Lord Nuffield, William Morris of Morris Motors, who rose from humble beginnings to be the richest man in England. He and his wife were both of frugal mindset. A former seamstress at Oxford's Elliston & Cavell department store, Lady Nuffield continued to make their maids' uniforms herself.
Ewelme – 4 miles from Watlington. The heart of the village is a hilltop cluster of 15th-century buildings which include the church, almshouses and a small junior school, said to be oldest in the country. These were the charitable works of Alice, Duchess of Suffolk, the grand-daughter of Geoffrey Chaucer of Canterbury Tales fame. The churchyard has a further claim to fame as the burial place of Jerome K (Klapka) Jerome, author of Three Men in a Boat. Ewelme was once celebrated for the watercress grown in the pretty cress-bed streams which still flow through the village. The Watercress Centre, run by the Chiltern Society, opens to visitors.
Chinnor and Princes Risborough Railway – 6 miles from Watlington. Steam and diesel-hauled trains operate on part of the old Great Western Railway branch line which once ran between Watlington and Princes Risborough. The line currently runs over a 3½ mile stretch along the foot of the Chiltern Hills, running parallel to the Icknield Way and passing through attractive countryside with some outstanding views across the Vale of Whiteleaf. Services operate out of Chinnor station, a replica of the original station on the site.
Watlington Hill – 1½ miles from Watlington – is a National Trust chalk grassland site providing panoramic views over Watlington and the Oxfordshire Vale. A mosaic of short rabbit turf, scrub and dense yew woodland makes it an especially good site for butterflies, with a large population of silver-spotted skipper flying here from late July to early September. A great place to take a picnic (stock up at the Granary Delicatessen a mile down the hill in Watlington), enjoy the views and watch the red kites soaring overhead.
Aston Rowant Nature Reserve – 6 miles from Watlington. Perched high on the Chilterns escarpment, the reserve contains flower-rich chalk grassland, and beech woodland. There are fantastic views over the Oxford plain and it's a great place to watch red kites soaring overhead. There is a Talking Trail made up of six sculptures. The trail aims to reveal the wildlife and human history of the reserve, as well as creating new folklore and reflecting the experiences of those who took part in the project. There is also a self-led walk starting from the village of Lewknor and passing through Aston Rowant Nature Reserve. Created by the Royal Geographical Society, the walk tells the story of how this landscape was formed. The content can be enjoyed online, printed out or navigated using mobile devices.
Cowleaze Wood – 5 miles from Watlington. Set high in the Chiltern Hills this Forestry Commisson site offers amazing views over the surrounding countryside. There is a great mix of habitats in this small wood and plenty of paths to explore. The bluebells in May are like a blue carpet and well worth a visit.