Earlier this year, I read Alistair MacLean’s book about Captain Cook.1 If you haven’t already read it, it’s a short, easy and interesting read. At the end of the book, I came across a reference to a memorial to Cook in Chalfont-St-Giles. That was quite a surprise as I live about three miles away, and had never even heard of this landmark. After a little bit of online research, I came across the Captain Cook Society, and soon found a page that referenced the memorial.2 After reviewing satellite images on Google Maps, I soon located the memorial which is to the NNE of Chalfont.
The following weekend, on a rather mizzly Saturday in late March, my wife and I decided to take the dog for a walk and visit the memorial. We parked nearby (on Kings Road) and headed up the private road, Vache Lane. At this point, we made a navigational error that I suspect would not have impressed Cook. Searching around for the footpath, we couldn’t find it or any signs indicating where it might be. Assuming that this was perhaps because of security concerns associated with Cook’s very negative perception in the minds of some political groups, I just took my own path. My wife and I stepped over a fence close to the entrance of Vache Lane, and proceeded to walk onto the grounds of Vache estate. About 200 metres later, I should have realised we were trespassing when we encountered another gate/fence. However, as there was a gap to the left of it, we ploughed on regardless. We walked to the east of the manor house, through a beautiful orchard, and past an ornamental pond before emerging into an open field. The memorial was clearly visible in front of us.
It’s an impressive structure, exactly as described on the web pages of the Captain Cook Society. It’s in a good state of repair, and although a fence surrounding the moat seems to have decayed and disappeared, the bridge across the moat is strong and sturdy. The memorial plinth itself is quite worn. The words are clear and easy to read at the top, but they become increasingly faded towards the base where, I assume, they are more exposed to bad weather. The (wooden) stairs to the roof are a little rickety, but seemed to be just fine, and my wife and I both went for a look. It’s good that we did, because from the top we saw a path leading off to the south that we suspected might be the “official” path to the monument.
As mentioned, it wasn’t a very nice day, so after snapping a few photos, we headed home. This time we took the path we’d spied from the roof of the memorial, and it turned out that this WAS the official path and (obviously) a much better route than trespassing on private land. For reference, the path is located about 300 metres from the start of the private road. It’s on the left as you walk towards the manor house and IS NOT signposted. As such, it’s very easy to miss. When we were there it was also locked with a padlock and chain, and we had to climb over. Once on the path, it meanders its way through trees and shrubs for around 300 metres, with barbed wire fences on both sides—and big signs reminding you that it is private property to both sides.
If you do visit, please use the path, unlike my wife and me.
- MacLean, Alistair. Captain Cook. Collins. 1972.
- Cook's Log. 2003. Vol. 26, no. 4. Pages 12-13.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 27, volume 44, number 2 (2021).