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Until the coming of the railways and, later, the motor-car, the Chilterns were largely rural with country towns situated on the main routes through the hills. The position of the hills, north-west of London, has affected the routing of major road, rail and canal routes. These were funnelled through convenient valleys (eg, High Wycombe, Hemel Hempstead) and encouraged settlement and, later, commuter housing.


The hills have been exploited for their natural resources for thousands of years. The chalk has been quarried for the manufacture of cement. Beechwoods supplied furniture makers with quality hardwood. The area was once (and still is to a lesser degree) renowned for its chair making industry, centred on the towns of Chesham and High Wycombe (the nickname of Wycombe Wanderers Football Club is the Chairboys). The clean water from the aquifer is still used for public supply and the rivers and streams have fed watercress beds. The chalk of the hills is an important aquifer, exploited to provide water supplies in the area; it has been suggested that over-exploitation has led to the disappearance of some streams.

In a region short of building stone, local clay deposits and timber provided the raw materials for brick manufacture. Where available, flint was also used for construction; it is still used in modern buildings, although restricted to decoration to give a vernacular appearance.

Mediaeval parishes reflected the diversity of land from clay farmland, through wooded slopes to downland. Their boundaries were often drawn to include a section of each type of land, resulting in an irregular county boundary between, say, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. These have tended to be smoothed out by successive reorganisations.

In modern times, as people have come to appreciate open country, the area has become a visitor destination and the National Trust has acquired land to preserve its character, for example at Ashridge, near Tring. In places, with the reduction of sheep grazing, action has been taken to maintain open downland by suppressing the natural growth of scrub and birch woodland. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Youth Hostels Association established several hostels for people visiting the hills.

The Chilterns are not a National Park and do not, therefore, possess their own planning authority. The Chilterns Conservation Board has an advisory role on planning and development matters and seeks to influence the actions of local government by commenting upon planning applications.

The local authorities (four County Councils, one Unitary Authority and ten District and Borough Councils) are expected to respect the areas status as a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The Wargrave & Shiplake Regatta is the local regatta of the villages of Wargrave in Berkshire and Shiplake in Oxfordshire. Most of the boats used are of a traditional clinker-built style.

The regatta was officially founded in 1867, although regatta activity took place here in the 1850s and 1860s. It takes place annually on the Oxfordshire bank of the river, on the reach above Marsh Lock.

The regatta attracts over 600 competitors taking part in around 350 races. It is held over two days at the beginning of August. The course is about 400 yards long, racing down stream mostly downstream of the Shiplake Railway Bridge.

The Thames is a major river flowing through southern England. While best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows through several other towns and cities, including Oxford, Reading and Windsor.

The river gives its name to the Thames Valley, a region of England centred around the river between Oxford and West London, and the Thames Gateway, the area centred around the tidal Thames and the Thames Estuary to the east of London. The River Thames is the longest river entirely in England, rising officially at Thames Head in Gloucestershire, and flowing into the North Sea at the Thames Estuary. It has a special significance in flowing through London, the capital of the United Kingdom, although London only touches a short part of its course. The river is tidal in London with a rise and fall of 7 metres (23 ft) and becomes non-tidal at Teddington Lock.

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