"High" is of course a relative term. And in the context of the low, green countryside of south-east England, Ivinghoe Beacon (at the dizzying altitude of 757 feet, or 233 metres) above sea level is considered a high place indeed! It can be seen from afar and has held different attractions for people over the ages.
Nowadays it's much more popular than it's ever been, as people with time and energy to spare, from the youngest to the oldest, come to toddle or totter to the topmost point to wonder at the beauty of it all.
And this week it was the destination of choice for my brother and myself. Being a couple of perverse old codgers, we set off towards the summit in a downhill direction! The thin soils here overlie the chalk that forms a large swathe of southern England. Where many feet tread the soil soon wears thin and the paths show up as thin white lines through the green. And in places where people veer about to avoid wet patches it can soon form a wide thoroughfare that takes many years to heal again.
After a while we found ourselves walking beside a low, raised mound. It might not look like much but it was raised over the bodies of people who died around 3,500 years ago. It's a burial mound from the Bronze Age. It's thought that they chose high places like this so that their ancestors might look down over their lands, making it clear any incomers that this land was taken.
The land would have been more wooded in those times, even though it was already being cleared by these early farming folk. Just how much was cleared at various times in ancient history is a matter of much debate.
The first top we reached was Gallows Hill and I'm sure you can work out how it got that name. It was quite normal to hang offenders in places where they could be seen all around, presumably as a warning to everyone to keep within the law. Nowadays sheep arrange themselves randomly but pleasantly on that same hillside.
Hawthorn bushes are also dotted artistically across the land.
That's Ivinghoe Beacon off in the distance on the left of the above picture. The Ordnance Survey's maps would have you know that it's officially called Beacon Hill and Ivinghoe is just the nearest village down in the valley. But there are many "Beacon Hills" throughout England. They all formed an essential part of national security at one time; if there was an invasion then the beacons would be lit across the land.
And here's the view from very near the top of Ivinghoe Beacon, a grand place to sit on the grass and absorb the scene. And what always strikes me from such high places is how little of our modern world of motorways, factories and shopping centres is visible. It's quite a different perspective of the country from that gained from inside a car.
During the Iron Age this hilltop was one of many used as a hill fort. The old idea was that these were defensive sites used by warring tribes, but more recent archaeological evidence points to a more ceremonial site built for reasons of prestige. My own idea, for what it's worth, is that they would have been built as places where food stores and animals might be defended in times of famine. I base this idea on the fact that tribes in Africa only usually came into conflict when food was scarce. Farmers are far too busy to fight in normal times.
Most of the defensive ditches around the hill fort are difficult to make out today, but to the south-west of the fort, which would otherwise be the easiest approach, quite obvious banks and ditches can still be made out.
Our route was suddenly running through a woodland that was busy with birdsong.
We didn't need to go through this little gate at all, but we had time to spare so we thought we'd take a quick look.
And we soon found ourselves overlooking a deep hollow called Incombe Hole, set back into the hillside.
Pitstone Windmill showed up clearly against the green fields, looking rather like a child's toy placed haphazardly on the landscape. As anyone who has been following this blog for a while will guess, it's almost certainly built at a very precise location where the wind is usually at its strongest; people of the past were extremely knowledgeable about the subtleties of the natural world around them. The mill, like much of the land around here, is in the care of the National Trust.
This charming nook of land, just through the gate we saw earlier, seemed so little-visited compared to the well-worn path to Ivinghoe Beacon. Surprising really, as it's only a few hundred yards from the car park.