Travel Report: Chesham, England.
August 2019. The leafy 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. While nobody could describe Chesham as the pulsating heart of England, it nevertheless occupies a special place in my heart. Because, ladies and gentlemen, Chesham was my home between 1994-1996. I was just sixteenth years old when my family relocated here from nearby Old Amersham.
I’ve been back to Chesham on a handful of occasions over the years. But it wasn’t until the summer of 2019 that I came to give the place some blogging justice. You know, retrace my old steps, chase a few ghosts, try to make sense of the passing of time. My journey began here at Chesham War Memorial, where the bus from Old Amersham dropped me off at the junction of Broadway and The High Street.
Made from white Portland stone, the local council erected the statue in 1921 to honour those local men who fell during The First World War. The famed sculptor Arthur George Walker designed it, modelling his creation on a surviving soldier who’d recently returned from Flanders.
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). Moreover, I won £50, which I immediately used to buy a pair of shoes! It remains my first and only significant lottery win.
There were a couple of Chesham High Street spots I was particularly interested in checking out. Firstly, I headed to…. not Holland & Barrett. Back in the day this storefront was home to Chesham’s hottest music shop, Track Records. A Mecca for us teenagers, this was where I bought my first album, Carry on up the Charts by The Beautiful South.
Track Records helped me build up my burgeoning record collection. I remember coming here specifically to pre-order those amazing limited edition Oasis cigarette boxes that held the singles off the first two albums. I still have them.
To make up for my Track Records heartbreak, I was warmed to see that Fast Break Sports was 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. Even more pleasing was the fact that they hadn’t updated that old retro sign above the door! Sadly, as I prepare the republication of this article, I see that the shop has indeed closed down. R.I.P. another Chesham institution.
I was also keen to revisit my favourite Chesham pub. I was sixteen when I first arrived in Chesham, so my friends and I weren’t actually old enough to drink. 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. For me this place will always be The Last Post. It was here that I had my first pint of Foster’s. And it was within these walls that we enthusiastically threw ourselves at the sweeping alcopop trend. I’m talking Hooch and Bacardi Breezers.
My college friend Steppers and I spent hours 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, with bodies streaming out the door and onto the street. Outside, there was much singing and flag-waving. These are the days you never get back.
Many of those late night drinking sessions would eventually end here at Chesham’s revered Burger Inn. This was our choice spot 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. This came as no surprise, especially as at one point it had been crowned the worst performing Maccie Ds in Britain!
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. “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!!!”
From Burger Inn it’s literally a ten-second walk 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 certainly nostalgic returning to the place where 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 Championship Manager.
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 spotted 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 over those old hated department managers. Recalling the store scandal over who 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 refuses to use the internet. He is however an aspiring poet and on the day of our reunion he told me he was looking into self publishing.
A Walk Down Memory Lane.
Back on The High Street I made my 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 links up with 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.
In the summer of 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. She subsequently became so enraged she actually jumped in her car and drove down to the station in a bid to thwart us!
Our train was literally 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, she gave us 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 shrugging his shoulders.
In the mid 1990s I lived at 76 Poles Hill. It’s a modest, semi-detached structure that has changed little over the years. It’s much more than just a building to me of course. After all, this is where I first laid eyes on Inde, the original Thomas family dog. And where, a year later, my newborn brother Cory arrived from the hospital.
This was 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 broke out when Alan Shearer made it 1-0 early on.
It was just a ten-minute walk from my house on Poles Hill to Chesham Park Community College. Here, half-heartedly, I took A-levels in English Literature, History and Theatre Studies. When I look back on those days, I think of poor old Mr. Bagley trying to get us excited about Chaucer. I recall fondly the now sadly departed Mrs. Wright and her infectious love of Wilde, Dickens and Steinbeck. The college, now known as Chiltern Hills Academy, is way fancier than the grubby old place of my youth.
From Chiltern Hills Academy it’s a brisk, fifteen minute walk downhill on Chartridge Lane back to Chesham Town Centre. It’s a 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 took A-Level Theatre Studies. At some point during the course he dropped out to take a job in a local bank. It wasn’t long after that we got the news about his passing at assembly one morning.
Memories of Matt made me duck out of Chartridge Lane and 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.
I never really hung out at Lowndes Park. Chiefly because it was a famed hotspot for Chesham’s local gangs. Nothing too serious for the most part, until someone got stabbed 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.
My family moved here due to 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 bar where my friends and I used to watch live football. Because… wow… the place had Sky Sports! It’s now called Welcome Gym and they offer monthly memberships from £17.99.
Welcome Gym stands next door to Chesham United Football Club. My old friends Steppers and Steve C are regulars here for Saturday home matches. Hence I planned for my Chesham tour to end at the stadium for a post-match pint. I’d walked in during the game’s closing moments, just in time to catch the 400-strong roar at the final whistle. Chesham had defeated Blackford and Langley 2-1, thus people were already streaming cheerfully towards the lounge bar.
Founded in 1917, Chesham United are a semi-professional football club that plies its 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.
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.