Travel Report: Chesham, England.
August 2019. The leafy little English market town of Chesham in Buckinghamshire isn’t an exciting place. In fact, one might say it has very little to entice the passing traveler. But while nobody could describe Chesham as the pulsating heart of England, this inconsequential little town was my home between 1994-1996 and will always occupy a special place in my heart.
August 2019. I’ve been back to Chesham on a handful of occasions over the years, as I still have a good friend here. But it wasn’t until now that I decided to come back for a genuine reconnection. You know, retrace my old steps, chase some ghosts, try to make sense of the passing of time and what it does to people and places. My journey began here at Chesham War Memorial, which is where the bus from Old Amersham dropped me off at the junction of Broadway and The High Street. Made from white Portland stone, the memorial was erected in 1921 to honour of the local men who fell during The First World War. It was designed by the famed sculptor Arthur George Walker, who modelled his creation on a surviving soldier who’d recently returned from Flanders.
August 2019. It was so weird being back on Chesham High Street, where I’d spent so much time milling around during my teenage years. I remember buying my first National Lottery Scratchcard here (a brand new concept in the mid 1990s) and winning a solid £50, which I immediately used to buy a pair of shoes! It remains my first and last scratchcard win of significance.
August 2019. There were a couple of Chesham High Street spots that I was particularly interested in checking out. The first was…. not Holland & Barrett. Back in the day this storefront was home to Chesham’s hottest music shop, Track Records. This place was a Mecca for us teenagers and it was here that I bought my first album, Carry on up the Charts by The Beautiful South. Over those two years Track Records helped me build up my burgeoning record collection with all the latest Britpop releases. I remember coming here specifically to pre-order those amazing limited edition Oasis cigarette boxes that held the singles off the first two albums.
August 2019. To make up for my Track Records heartbreak, I was warmed to see that Chesham’s Fast Break Sports is still alive and kicking! This is where I picked up my first self-funded tennis racket, along with balls and all the other gear I amassed back when I was a keen player. I love the fact that not only is this place still here, but they haven’t even updated that old retro sign above the door!
August 2019. I was also keen to pay a visit to my old local pub. We weren’t actually old enough to drink at that point, but it was pretty relaxed in those days and we rarely had a problem. I see it’s called The General Arms now and has had quite the makeover, but for me this place will always be The Last Post. It was here that I had my first pint of Foster’s and within these walls that we enthusiastically threw ourselves at the sweeping alcopop trend, led by a fruity, sexy-looking bottle called The Bacardi Breezer. We thought we were so cool.
August 2019. It was here in The Last Post that my mate Steppers and I spent hour upon hour huddled in front of the quiz machine simply trying to win our money back. There may have been a few occasions where we actually won a few quid, but they were few and far between. My favourite Last Post memory has to be the night we celebrated England’s 4-1 demolition of Holland in the football at Euro 96. The place was packed, bodies streaming out of the front door and into the street, with much singing and flag-waving. These are the days you never get back.
August 2019. Many of those late night drinking sessions would eventually end here at Chesham’s revered Burger Inn, our favourite place for a late night burger, chips, kebab, durum, steak, pizza, whatever. Owned by a Turkish family, Burger Inn has been feeding hungry Cheshamites for over 36 years! It even outlasted the town’s McDonald’s, which went the way of the dodo in 2006, having at one point been crowned the worst performing Maccie Ds in Britain!
August 2019. My favourite Burger Inn dish was always The Brown Derby, a hot sugared doughnut topped with ice cream, chopped nuts and chocolate sauce. “Brown Derby?” mumbled the sweaty, obese man that always seemed to serve me back in those days. “Oh, yes” came my invariable response. How could I not order it again this time? The waiter seemed very pleased by my choice. “We’ve had this on the menu since the first year,” he told me proudly. “1983!!!”
August 2019. From Burger Inn it’s literally a ten-second walk, (possibly even less) to Sainsbury’s, Chesham’s main supermarket. This is where I got my first part time job stacking shelves in the dairy aisle back when I was taking my A-levels. The entire store has been renovated beyond recognition now, but it was still highly nostalgic to be back at the place I spent so many hours unpacking boxes of cheese and yogurts. Those initial Sainsbury’s pay checks went towards my first computer and a whole bunch of games, such as Theme Park, The Curse of Monkey Island and, of course, the unparalleled time-eater that was Championship Manager.
August 2019. I wasn’t even going to enter Sainsbury’s that day. It’s just a supermarket, I thought. There’s no way any of those old faces could still be there now, 21 years after I unpacked my final box. Right? And then I saw Derek, a happy-go-lucky Cheshamite who used to work the Wines & Spirits section in my day. He didn’t remember me of course, god only knows the number of faces he’s seen come and go over the years. But we still had a fun chat, reminiscing about those old hated department managers and the store scandal over who’d graffitied Bob O’ Bob on the inside of the lift. Derek sheepishly describes himself as “a bit old school”. After all, he is the unashamed owner of an antique mobile phone (pictured in his hand below) and simply refuses to use the internet. He is however an aspiring poet and told me that he’s been considering the prospect of self publishing.
August 2019. It’s from The High Street that you can make your way to the delightfully unchanged Chesham Tube Station, a Grade II listed building dating back to 1899. Just branch off onto Station Road, head uphill and turn the corner, it’s a two-minute walk. Chesham is connected to The London Underground network and is the very last stop on The Metropolitan Line. From here you can be in Central London in just over an hour, which is exactly the journey I used to make whenever I went into the city to see my beloved Queens Park Rangers play on Saturday afternoons.
August 2019. Back in 1997 a bunch of my friends and I decided we were taking the day off college to go and watch some tennis at Wimbledon. Somehow, as we were on our way to Chesham Station, the head of sixth form Mrs. Miles got wind of our plan and became so enraged she actually jumped in her car and drove down to the station herself in a bid to thwart us. Our train was actually pulling out of the station when she puffed into view, shaking her fist and shouting things like “You’ll never get away with it!” At least that’s how I remember it. We were in a whole lot of trouble the following Monday. Called into Mrs. Miles’ office, we were given a royal dressing down and there was even talk of us getting suspended! in the end she simply sent letters to our parents. I remember my dad couldn’t have cared less.
August 2019. My Chesham home back in the mid 1990s was at 76 Poles Hill. It’s a modest, semi-detached structure that seems to have changed little over the years. But it’s much more to me of course, as some landmark life events went down here. This is where I first laid eyes on Inde, the original Thomas family dog and where, a year later, my newborn brother Cory returned home from the hospital. This was also the place where I first watched Pulp Fiction with my mate Ad, and where Steppers and I played out long, action-packed sessions of Championship Manager. During Euro 96, a dozen of us piled into my tiny bedroom to watch England’s shaky 1-1 opener against Switzerland. It wasn’t the greatest game, but I’ll never forget the ceiling-shaking roar that enveloped us all when Alan Shearer made it 1-0 early on.
August 2019. It was just a ten-minute walk from my house on Poles Hill to Chesham Park Community College where, half-heartedly, I took A-levels in English Literature, History and Theatre Studies. When I look back on those days now I think of poor old Mr. Bagley trying to get us excited about Chaucer and the now sadly departed Mrs. Wright and her infectious love of Wilde, Dickens and Steinbeck. The college, now known as Chiltern Hills Academy, is waaaay fancier than in my time and it was all security, security, security as I tried to get up close for a look at the reception area. For more info, have a look at their website here.
August 2019. From Chiltern Hills Academy it’s a brisk, fifteen-minute walk downhill on Chartridge Lane back to Chesham Town Centre. It’s a reasonably pretty walk for a main road, but all I could think of that afternoon was how an old college friend lost his life here in a car accident in 1997. Like me, Matt Ackland was a QPR fan and had been taking A-Level Theatre Studies before eventually quitting school to take a job in a local bank. It wasn’t long after that we got the news about his passing during assembly one morning.
August 2019. Memories of Matt made me duck out of Chartridge Lane to cut through Lowndes Park for the remainder of my walk. Spanning 36 acres, this is Chesham’s main green space, with a multi-sports court, skateboard zone and swan-inhabited pond.
August 2019. I never really hung out at Lowndes Park, as it was a famed hotspot for Chesham’s local gangs and there was often a fair bit of racial tension involved. Nothing too serious for the most part, until someone got stabbed here and my mum declared the place out of bounds. These days it seems much more peaceful and I’m happy to say my walk was a lovely, knife-free experience.
August 2019. The reason us Thomases had relocated to Chesham in 1994 was because of my dad’s new job as general manager of The Manor Club, a small, members-only fitness centre. Back then it had a gym, three squash courts and a lounge bar where my friends and I used to go to watch live football because… wow… the place had Sky Sports!!! It was here that I learned to play squash and racquetball myself. The Manor Club is now called Welcome Gym and they offer monthly memberships from £17.99. For more, head to their website.
August 2019. Welcome Gym is located right next door to Chesham United Football Club. My old friends Steppers and Steve C are regulars for Chesham home matches, so it was here that I’d come to meet them for a post-match pint. It was the closing moments of the game as I walked in and I’d arrived just in time to catch the 400-strong roar at the final whistle as Chesham defeated Blackford and Langley 2-1. Founded in 1917, Chesham United are a semi-professional football club that plies their trade in The Premier Division South of the Southern Football League. It’s very much a “local club for local people”, but if you’re a football lover and passing through, do come and catch a game. For a deeper insight, here’s the website.
Like this? Why not leaf through more travel reports from around England.
I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001, so why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.