The gently-rounded, rolling downland scenery of the chalklands around Hambleden, Fawley and across the Thames at Culham, is quintessentially English. John Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress, described this part of England as ‘Immanuel’s Land’ – pleasant country, ‘beautiful with woods, vineyards, fruit of all sorts; flowers also with springs and fountains; very delectable to behold.’
The Hambleden Valley is renowned for its pattern of valleys and ridges, beech hangers and valley farmland. The village is framed by distant valley views on all sided and is set in one of a series of broad, distinctive dips running north-west to south east. The neighbouring hamlet of Fawley is spread out along a chalk ridge between Hambleden and the Stonor Valley and is a typical ridge-top settlement, running north-south along the contours of the land. On the other side of the Thames, the landscape continues in the same vein. The Culham estate stretches on gentle slopes of underlying chalk on a bend in the river, close to the villages of Aston, Remenham and Remenham Hill. Culham folk could cross over to Hambleden and Fawley via the ferry at Aston and by foot at Hambleden Lock, and the estates virtually meet at Henley.
The pattern of the hills and trees in the area is ancient. Medieval estate records point to agriculture based on pasture, wood and grain. By 1800 chair-making in the area was a significant local cottage industry reaching its heyday in the nineteenth century with the local woodmen, chair-makers and turners working in their cottages.
The buildings, too, reflect local geology and resources. Medieval timber-framing is unsurprising amid so much woodland, but much of the character comes from the use of brick and flints. Hambleden is a picture-postcard village of timber, brick and flint cottages, unspoilt and sitting comfortably in the landscape from which it was built.