W hen the hero of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four wants to escape his ugly totalitarian society, he goes to a bluebell wood. There he finds ‘The Golden Country’ he has dreamed of all his life — an old pasture with a path, a molehole here and there. Somewhere nearby is a clear stream where dace swim beneath willows.

Orwell grew up in Oxfordshire, and it is not difficult to find the countryside which inspired not just Nineteen Eighty Four , but an earlier novel, Coming Up for Air.

Born Eric Blair in India in 1903, he moved to Henley and then to Shiplake, where he lived from the age of eight until 12.

We started our walk at the railway station in search of his former home, called Roselawn. In 2011, it was advertised for sale at £1m.

His childhood landscape is encapsulated in Lower Binfield, where the hen-pecked wage slave George Bowling seeks escape in Coming Up for Air.

We walked along Station Road in Shiplake to peer at Roselawn through security gates and conifers, then took a side road past Orwellian signs warning of ‘Police Operation in Progress’, as well as Neighbourhood Watch.

Big Brother was indeed watching us as we headed for the willow-lined Thames, where Orwell was introduced to his lifelong love of fishing, which played such a big role in Coming Up for Air.

Orwell’s hero, George Bowling, wants to escape his suburban life for a few days, leaving wife, kids, job and the dread of another world war. He hopes to recapture his youth in Lower Binfield, beside the wonderfully tranquil fishponds of his childhood.

The book is a lament for a rural England that was lost long before its publication in 1939. Bowling discovers that one fishpond has become a manicured lake for residents of the new ‘posh’ estate to sail model boats, while the other is a rubbish-filled dump.

According to Bernard Crick, Orwell’s biographer, he invented a ‘shabby-genteel’ childhood for himself so that he could identify with the working classes, whereas in fact his family was prosperous and solidly middle-class.

Certainly, it would be easy to imagine the households in today’s Station Road, Shiplake, sending their sons to Eton, as Orwell’s family did. Crick says Lower Binfield is “recognisably Henley” but in many ways it is a village, not a town. It doesn’t take much detective work to find Binfield Heath on the map, just a mile or so from Lower Shiplake.

We took a footpath away from the Thames past Shiplake Church, famed for its bells, which rang out for the wedding of the poet Tennyson in 1850. Perhaps these bells gave Orwell the idea for the famous first line of 1984: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

We joined the road to Shiplake Row to find a pub called Orwells — ‘rural cooking, modern approach’. Thinking of our muddy boots, we decided to walk on to the next pub, the Bottle and Glass, hoping for something less posh.

We followed a path around the back of Binfield Heath in search of a patch of blue marked on the map, which could have been an old fish pond. We hoped to have a picnic there, but a high fence barred our view from Shiplake Woods, and the area was surrounded by piles of building materials.

However, I think Orwell would have loved the Bottle and Glass in Binfield Heath. He was fond of a pint, and described his perfect pub, The Moon Under Water, in an article for the Evening Standard in 1946, just after he found fame with Animal Farm.

“You cannot get dinner at The Moon Under Water but there is always a snack counter where you can get liver-sausage sandwiches, cheese, pickles . . . Upstairs, you can get a good, solid lunch.”

The Bottle and Glass is a traditional thatched pub perfectly situated for walkers at the start of Bones Lane, a pretty track which passes through Forestry Commission woodland to join the Chiltern Way.

The pub was packed with a large end-of-term party from Shiplake College eating lunch, so we ordered crisps and lime cordial instead of liver-sausage sandwiches, and pressed on.

We had walked the 134-mile Chiltern Way a few years previously, and some Oxfordshire sections have become perennial favourites. Created by volunteers as the Chiltern Society’s millennium project, the circular trail goes from Hemel Hempstead to Chalfont St Giles, the edge of Marlow, Hambleden, Bix Bottom, joining the Ridgeway briefly at Swyncombe before turning east to Stokenchurch and via the Dunstable Downs back to Hemel Hempstead. In 2003, a South Oxfordshire extension opened and a new West Berkshire loop now takes in Henley.

Unlike the Ridgeway, it does not stick to high ground and passes near the concrete of commuter towns, but this enhances the pleasure of the periodic remnants of ‘golden country’ in the midst of urban sprawl.

This time we joined the route at Crowsley Park, a ‘listening station’ with huge satellite dishes and mysterious poles and wires.

At first I thought this could have been the inspiration for Big Brother’s insidious surveillance techniques, but a quick search on Wikipedia revealed that the station was not acquired by the BBC until 1943, long after Orwell’s childhood. Perhaps he returned on a visit after the BBC erected the aerials to pick up radio broadcasts from Nazi Germany and other Axis countries, but before 1949, when his dystopian final novel was published.

Crowsley Park does have another literary association. It was owned by the Baskerville family, whose association with fierce dogs was among the inspirations for Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles (published 1901-02) in which “Sir Henry Baskerville” summons Sherlock Holmes.

The connection with the Baskervilles is preserved in statues of “hell hounds” with spears through their mouths which sit on the stone gateposts at the entrance to the park and on the front of the main house. Its sinister side was exploited by the Doctor Who producers, who filmed a scene here, with the Doctor climbing the tower that carried the BBC receiving station’s aerials.

However, this time we saw only a herd of peaceful White Park Cattle, an old beef breed kept in Britain for more than 2,000 years but now rare.

We crossed Devil’s Hill to Kings Farm Lane and it was here that we (almost) found Orwell’s ‘Golden Country’. One one side were the water meadows of the Thames Valley; on the other the blue hills of the Chilterns, with only the weird listening devices to mar the view.

The Chiltern Way continues here to the medieval parkland and Tudor mansion of Greys Court and a National Trust tearoom, but we would have struggled to arrive before the 5pm closing time. So we left the Chiltern Way to head for Henley along Pack and Prime Lane, once a short cut off the river bend around Reading.

The name is supposed to come from the London to Oxford coach stopping to “pack and prime” the guns in case of highwaymen.

This route into Henley avoids most of the new development, which would have appalled Orwell. Bowling — hero of Coming Up for Air — gazes from the train at London: “I looked at the great sea of roofs stretching on and on. Miles and miles of streets, fried-fish shops, tin chapels, picture houses, little printing-shops up back alleys, factories, blocks of flats, whelk stalls, dairies, power stations – on and on and on. Enormous! And the peacefulness of it! Like a great wilderness with no wild beasts.”

His descriptions of England as a vast commercial machine seem unremarkable now. As do his worries about the surveillance society.

There were plenty more CCTV cameras on our route to Henley railway station, to guard against the proles. We have all learned to love Big Brother.

* Map: Explorer 171. Find circular walks around Binfield Heath at babyroutes.co.uk Bottle and Glass at Binfield Heath (highly recommended) 01491 575755.