Ashridge Walk

Today was the first nice day for almost a week, and I made the most of it by doing a 15-mile walk round the Ashridge and Berkhamsted Common area. After my walk to Hudnall and Nettlebed, this is probably my favourite local walk. I prefer it to the Ashridge Estate Boundary Trail (created by the National Trust) which goes round the same area.

Starting from the car park by the Bridgewater Museum, I took the main path towards Ivinghoe Beacon but almost immediately left it on a path going half-left. This steadily descended the steep north slope of the Chilterns, emerging from the trees at the bottom of the slope. I then crossed three fields, the third a large cattle pasture heading uphill again to the woods. The path continued steeply uphill through the trees to rejoin the main path, which I then followed to the left – a short distance along here I saw a fox in the field on my left. The track took me all the way to the Ringshall road.  A short distance to the left I reached the car park for Ivinghoe Beacon, and took the well-worn path towards the Beacon.

Near the foot of the Beacon I chatted to  a birdwatcher – I saw a group of goldfinches, and he’d just seen a stonechat. After admiring the far-reaching views from the top of the Beacon (I could see as far west as Didcot Power Station, which must be 30-40 miles away at least) I retraced my steps a short distance, crossed the road and took the path that went uphill a short distance and took me on to the end of Incombe Hole, a steep-sided gully cutting into Steps Hill. It was then a pleasant stroll to Pitstone Hill, another great viewing point, and a walk through the woods of Aldbury Nowers, before crossing a golf course and a couple of fields to reach Aldbury ( a picture postcard village, with pond and stocks).

I took a fairly steepish path up from Aldbury to a hairpin bend in a road, then followed a private drive a short distance before re-entering the woods. For the next half mile I tried to stay fairly close to a fence on my right. I then passed some isolated buildings at the end of a lane, before heading back into the trees. The path descended, again close to a fence on my right. I saw a Fallow Buck with big antlers cross the path about 50 yards in front of me. When I got to that point, I looked and saw he was standing just 30-35 yards away, staring back at me! Normally they run away, I’ve never been so close to one before, but as it’s the rut and he’s trying to impress the lady deer he obviously wasn’t going to flee. I took a couple of quick photos and moved on.

The path rose and fell a couple of times, still staying close to the fence, before rising again to reach a road just outside Northchurch, a part of Berkhamsted. I followed the road a short distance to the right, then took a private drive past a small group of houses – there were paddocks to the right of the drive where I’ve seen large numbers of deer occasionally, but none today. I continued on along a path passing a school and its playing fields (a class was playing soccer, the team in blue bibs hit the post as I went by!).

I turned right alongside a hedge, switching to the other side of the hedge for the next field, where I stopped for lunch on a convenient seat with pleasant views towards Berkhamsted. The path went through two more fields, dropping into a valley then climbing halfway up the other side to reach a large area of trees again. I turned right along one of my favourite paths, which followed the valley for half a mile, keeping just inside the edge of the wood. I had another close view of a deer, a young buck this time with tiny antlers.

The next section took me through part of Berkhamsted Golf Course, and then I passed through another area of trees to reach Frithsden Beches, an area of impressive old beech trees. I followed the edge of a large grassy field surrounded by trees for a while, before heading once more into the woods. I saw two more large Fallow Bucks, or at least their heads and antlers above the intervening bracken. A bit farther on I saw a small group of Fallow Hinds.

I reached a well-known avenue of old beech trees, often photographed for calendars and suchlike. I should mention that the trees today were generally in the early stages of changing into their autumn colours, but many trees, especially beech trees, remained green. I crossed the road at the end of the avenue, and continued on the bridleway on the other side. At a crossroads of tracks I turned right, and half a mile further reached the drive to the monument and my parked car.

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