Buckinghamshire

A Guide to Brill, Buckinghamshire

Rose-framed cottages, one of the oldest post mills in the country, a fairy-tale common, popular local pubs and a surprisingly eclectic history all combine to create a village that is just, well… Brill. 

A little village with a lot of character, the hilltop village of Brill enjoys a peaceful setting in Buckinghamshire close to the Oxfordshire border – 4 miles from Long Crendon, 8 miles from Bicester and 14 miles from Buckinghamshire’s county town of Aylesbury. With its name quite literally translating as “hill-hill” from the Celtic “bre” and Anglo-Saxon “hyll”, it’s no etymological wonder but it’s a real marvel when it comes to holidays and short breaks. 

Sitting high and proud, Brill’s highest point reaches over 600ft above sea level and affords some of the best views in Buckinghamshire, overlooking the stunning Vale of Aylesbury. Offering a wealth of things to see and do both close-by and further afield, it’s the kind of place that quickly steals a place in your heart. If you’d like to learn more about Brill, from its listed windmill (one of the oldest in the UK) to its landscapes that inspired Tolkien to its top eateries, read on for our must-see guide. 

All About Brill, Buckinghamshire 

History

A re-enactment of one of the battles of the English Civil War, featuring actors with period uniform and weaponry.

With its hilltop vantage point, fertile soils and natural springs, Brill has been a magnet for settlers for thousands of years. Even the village’s name is really old – literally translated from the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon languages as “hill-hill”. Yes, yes. Revealing the activity of early communities who thrived here, there is still evidence of an Iron Age hillfort and Roman villas in the village today. Interestingly, the Roman road of Akeman Street runs nearby too, and London is less than 60 miles away, so it’s incredible to think how many travellers have woven their footprints and stories into the landscapes over the centuries.

Perhaps due to its handy location and great connections, Brill was actually a royal hotspot for centuries and during the Anglo-Saxon era, it was home to a royal manor that served the Kings of Wessex. There was also a Saxon castle in Brill too, though it’s long-gone now. Built as early as 650AD and abandoned in 1327BC, the castle was visited by many kings of old, inhabiting a space in time so long forgotten that memory has permanently given way to imagination. If you’d like to retrace some extremely old footsteps, you can still make out the faint remains of its earthworks in the village’s Church Close. 

Battle of Brill

A re-enactment of one of the battles of the English Civil War, with actors in period costume and helmets.

The landscapes around Brill have seen many a skirmish over the years, from petty feuds to full-on battles. Perhaps the most famous, the Battle of Brill took place during the English Civil War when Parliamentarians and Royalists went head-to-head over political and religious freedoms. During the war, the two sides clashed just outside of the village in what was to be a bloody but futile assault. On 27th January 1643, the Parliamentarians launched an attack to oust the Royalists (who were occupying the village), but ultimately retreated after, according to the Royalist newspaper Mercurius Aulicus, “they found too sharpe a welcome there”. In all, dozens of men were killed and many more wounded. It was this same war that led to the temporary abandonment of nearby Boarstall House.

Clay Pits and the Brill Tramway

A view of Brill windmill with blue skies and clouds in the background

Brill is perhaps most famous for its old post-mill and clay pits. The clay pits were in use from Roman times to make pottery and bricks – the latter of which were produced until the 1920s when the windmill closed. Many of the older houses in the village are actually built of Brill bricks (as well as nearby Waddesdon Manor) and the old windmill can still be seen standing proud on the village common. Supporting the local industry, a 6-mile tramway, the Brill Tramway, was built in 1871 to give access to the brickworks and was later converted to passenger use. It permanently closed in 1935 and today a local business park stands in place of its station house.

Spa Town

A view of Royal Leamington Spa, which gained favour over Brill and Dorton as Queen Victoria's preferred spa town.

For a short while, an attempt to turn Brill into a luxurious spa town was flirted with. Two spa hotels were opened in Brill and neighbouring Dorton (Dorton Spa) and the two villages became popular health destinations for a while. Ultimately though, their secluded locations worked against them and they fell out of favour, with Royal Leamington Spa quickly becoming the preferred destination. Whatever hopes Brill had left were resolutely dashed when Queen Victoria granted Leamington its ‘Royal’ prefix in acknowledgment of her numerous visits. To this day, the old drive between the two spa hotels survives as a public footpath – you can even see the remains of a dried-up boating lake en route.

Listed Buildings

A deeply history-rich village, it’s no surprise that Brill’s streets feature many listed buildings. Boasting over 50 listed buildings to date in the village, its streets and roads are lined with historical structures and façades that date back hundreds of years. Amongst its listed buildings are the 12th Century All Saints Church, 17th Century windmill and 17th and 18th Century houses. 

Popular Culture 

Brill’s connection with royalty and celebrities goes back centuries to the days of time-forgotten Saxon kings. Henry II and III were both entertained here when the village was home to a royal manor, and Charles I used a palace in Brill as a garrison during the English Civil War. In much more recent years, it has been the destination and birthplace of many famous names. John Betjeman nodded to Brill in his documentary film Metroland, while JRR Tolkien was so taken with Brill that he used its name as the inspiration behind the Middle-earth village of Bree. Now there’s one for the books.

Green Spaces

A huge sweeping space of greenery, Brill Common is a popular destination amongst families and dog-walkers. Grazed by a small herd of incredibly cute Dexter cattle (the smallest breed of native cattle in the British Isles), this hummocky green is a real haven. Famed for its old windmill, unusual humps (thanks to its quarrying history), rare wildlife and unimproved grassland (grassland that hasn’t been heavily ploughed, reseeded or fertilised), it’s a wonderful place to sit, stroll, picnic, fly a kite, wildlife watch and more. Beyond the common are large areas of uninterrupted countryside too – the ideal playground for leisurely exploration. 

Places to Eat

For a small village, Brill offers a great choice of places to eat. Named Michelin Pub of the Year 2018, the Pointer is a dog-friendly country pub in Brill that turns heads and tempts stomachs with hearty British pub grub comprised of local farm-to-fork ingredients. Also located within the village is the Pheasant, a popular dining pub that serves classic favourites alongside an ever-changing specials menu. For meals at your luxury home from home, the Pheasant also offer a takeaway service. Every Saturday morning you’ll also find a local farmers’ market outside the Pointer, while the village is served by a local store and butchers as well.

Attractions

A view of Waddesdon Manor, a National-run country house near Brill in Buckinghamshire

One of the most famous attractions in Brill is its windmill, one of the oldest surviving post mills in the UK. Dating back to the 1600s, Brill’s windmill is one of the best-preserved examples of an early European windmill in existence. It was originally designed so that, back in the day, the whole body of the windmill could be pivoted and turned to maximise the wind – though it’s static today. Another great attraction in the village is the All Saints Church, the chancel and nave of which date back to around 1120 and the tower from 1420. A little further afield, the National Trust-run Waddesdon Manor (a 15-minute drive) is well worth a visit, as is Buckinghamshire Railway Centre (a 20-minute drive). Of course, on a sunny day, many locals and visitors choose to head to the village common and find a spot to sit under the sunshine.

Things to Do

Brill's windmill, one of the oldest and best-preserved early European post mills in existence

Brill is home to a popular local cricket club which provides entertainment throughout the summer, as well as a village hall which hosts film nights, sports clubs, theatre groups and more – giving you plenty of choices of things to do throughout the year. For activities on foot, there are lots of great walks nearby, including the Brill Tramway Trail, while you can also make the most of local cycle trails too for two-wheeled adventures. To get a real taste of the area, consider heading over to Vale Brewery in Brill. Located on the site of the old tramway station, the brewery offers tours, tastings and opportunities to buy a selection of award-winning ales. 

A view over Oxford, one of the UK's most famous cities and only a stone's throw from Brill

Just outside of the village, two interesting National Trust sites can be visited in Boarstall: Boarstall Tower, a 14th Century moated gatehouse, and the Boarstall ‘Duck Decoy’, an original structure once used to capture wild ducks (one of only four remaining in the UK). Further afield, you can reach the market towns of Thame and Bicester (home to a superb shopping outlet centre) within a 20-minute drive, and the city of Oxford within 30 minutes. World-famous, Oxford is a particular favourite for its history and culture – renowned for its historic colleges, museums, top restaurants, quirky shops and old pubs. Eat, chill, explore and shop your way around, enjoying the buzz of this fantastic city. 

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