Enjoy the Chess
The River Chess catchment is a beautiful landscape full of wonder and opportunity; we’ll help you discover and explore it.
The Chess Valley offers lots of opportunities for recreation and relaxation in a beautiful setting, full of wildlife and historical interest. With some of the most stunning viewpoints in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), a visit won’t disappoint! From Roman villas to 13th-century manors, historic watercress beds to the bright blue flashes of kingfishers along a glistening chalk stream, there is something for everyone. Whether you are looking for a long hike, a relaxed, summer picnic spot, or a wild, river adventure, the Chess Valley has it all.
Interactive maps to explore
Explore our interactive map of the River Chess – Chesswatch – and learn about water quality, ecology, land use, designated sites and points of interest around the Chess Valley.
Use the Chilterns AONB interactive map to find places to go and things to do in the Chess Valley and beyond.
Cholesbury Camp Hillfort
Cholesbury Camp is one of two hillforts in the Chess Valley. It is a large, enclosed hillfort, used intermittently for iron production from the Iron Age into Roman times.
Today it is a Scheduled Monument and widely regarded as one of the most visually impressive prehistoric settlements in the Chilterns.
Originally constructed in the 13th century, with many changes over the Medieval Period, this manor has a long history with the Cheney family.
The manor hosted visiting royalty, including Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, and is even said to host the odd ghost! Chenies Manor house and gardens are open in spring and summer.
The river itself plays host to fish like brown trout, which breed in the gravelly stream bed; brook lamprey, a primitive, jawless fish; grayling, with their beautifully coloured dorsal fins; and bullhead, found on the stream bed, holding onto pebbles with its fins.
Aquatic plants include stream water crowfoot and brook water crowfoot, latter of which is specially adapted to live in the winterbourne stretches of chalk streams, where flow is only present from spring to summer.
Along the damp margins of the river, look out for purple loosestrife, with its tall spikes of purple-pink flowers in summer, hemp agrimony, with its small, prink flowers that attractive to butterflies, and water forget-me-not, with its delicate, blue flowers that appear from spring onwards.
Bird and mammals use the river and its banks for food, shelter and movement. Britain’s most endangered mammal – the water vole, can be found burrowing along the banks of the Chess, while otters leave their prints alongside it. Ospreys have been recorded visiting the waters of the Chess, and great white egrets and little egrets can be spotted in the winter months. Their cousin, the grey herons, is a resident of the river valley, standing stock still in the waters as it waits to ambush its fish or frog prey. With winter, comes the green sandpiper – and Amber Status species on the Red List for UK Birds, in recognition of its recent decline. Other birds to look out for include stonechats, secretive water rails, kingfishers, mute swans, little grebes, and the icon of the Chilterns – the red kite – soaring way overhead.
Invertebrate life along the Chess is hugely varied, from short-lived mayflies to large dragonflies on the wing throughout summer. Butterflies are abundant, visiting flowers along the river margins and in the associated meadows.
- Find out more about the ecology of the River Chess
- Visit our interactive map to find more places to visit in the area
Rare water voles found on the River Chess
Water voles live on our waterways, burrowing into riverbanks and hiding among reedbeds. Spring is a great time of year to spot this fluffy, brown rodent as bankside vegetation will still be low. Look out for the signs that they are around: little piles of poo in ‘latrines’; stems of grasses chomped at a 45-degree angle; and a distinctive ‘plop’ as they dive into the water.
If you spot one, take in their furry tails and blunt noses – most unlike brown rats, which they often get mistaken for. They are one of our most threatened mammals and are extremely vulnerable to habitat loss and predation by the non-native American mink.