Wildflower walk round Ashridge and Ivinghoe Beacon


On Sunday, I went for a walk round the Ashridge area with my friend Elaine, with the chief intention of looking for wildflowers, especially orchids. Elaine and I met on a walking holiday about 13 or 14 years ago, and usually meet up a couple of times a year to go birdwatching in Norfolk or Suffolk. We’d been talking of meeting up for a walk in the Chilterns for some time. As well as walking and birdwatching, we are also boith interested in wildflowers and butterflies.

On the way to Ashridge, I stopped at Whipsnade Heath (less than a mile from home) to photo some tall yellow flowers my Mother had pointed out to me the other day. I’d assumed from the car that they were Great Mullein, but when I got close to them I could see they were a different but related species – having looked at the photos on my PC and checked my books and on the internet, they were definitely Dark Mullein, the first I’ve seen.

After a cup of coffee at the National Trust tea room by the Bridgewater Monument in Ashridge, we started our walk just before 11am. I intended doing my usual 14-mile walk round Ashridge, but planned to cut it short according to how long we spent looking at wildflowers and butterflies. In the event, we only walked about half the route, about 7 miles, because we had such a great time looking for flowers and butterflies around Ivinghoe Beacon!

We started with a nice walk from the Monument to Ivinghoe Beacon. Instead of following the pain path along the curving wood-clad escarpment of the Chilterns, we took my preferred straighter route that goes downhill, across a few fields and then back up the escarpment to rejoin the main path for the last mile or so to the Beacon. Saw a Green-veined White butterfly on this section, but was disappointed not to see any Ringlets.

When we got to Ivinghoe Beacon, I think Elaine was somewhat stunned at how many orchids there were – she is used to having to really serach them out in her native Suffolk, whereas here there were very many plainly visible from the footpaths. Pyramidal Orchids abounded, but sadly the few Fragrant Orchids (which Elaine particularly wanted to see) were past their best. Yellow Rattle, Greater Knapweed, Spiny Rest-harrow, Agrimony and Lady’s Bedstraw were abundant. Elaine, who’s been interested in wildflowers and butterflies far longer than me, pointed out one or two plants I’d not seen before – Silverweed, Eyebright and Common Bedstraw.

Elaine was also surprised at how many Marbled White butterflies there were. We got a good view of a Small Skipper, and fleeting glances of a latge orange butterfly that was probably Dark Green Fritillary, as the notice board at the Monument said they were here.

At the top of the Beacon, I gave Elaine a brief lecture on what was to be seen in the extensive allround views, then we did a circuit over Galley Hill and back to the two small hillocks betwen the Beacon and the road. We continued our search for flowers and Elaine spotted a marvellous group of Common Spotted Orchids in a deep groove in the hillside that was obviously part of the iron-age hill fort that was once here. We followed the groove someway downhill, seeing more Common Spotted and Pyramidal Orchids, a few Clustered Bellflowers, and Squinancywort, a very tiny flower that was a first for both of us.

We had our picnic lunches here about 1.45pm, then followed the footpaths over Steps Hill and then Pitstone Hill – there were still plenty of flowers, but nothing we’d not already seen today. The large flower-filled meadow betweeen the two hills had a wonderful smell. We followed the remains of Grim’s Ditch into the woods of Aldbury Nowers, then spent a short time in the Duchy’s Piece nature reserve – it’s a very good spot for butterflies, but we didn’t see anything other han a Ringlet, the only one of the day. I also saw some Common Fumitory here, another flower first for me, and we also heard and then saw a Buzzard.

We walked back across the Golf Course, where we saw Grass Vetchling, then took the main path steeply uphill from Aldbury back to the Monument, where we treated ourselves to a well-deserved icecream.

Comments are closed.