Dunstable Downs and Markyate


Today  I did a circular walk close to my home, from Dunstable Downs to Markyate and back. It was really a rather shortened version of a walk I’ve done a few times, but I chose to start at the Downs rather than walk from home. It probably took longer to scrape the ice of my car than to drive to the Downs! It was -1C when I started walking about 9.50am.

From the new ‘Chiltern Gateway Centre’ on Dunstable Downs I headed southwest along the top of the  Downs, with frosty views ahead of me towards Ivinghoe Beacon. To my right, the views over the Vale of Aylesbury were rather limited by a bank of fog a few miles away. I walked along the top of a very large field, currently being used as a sheep pasture, to reach the car park on Bison Hill, Whipsnade. Here I turned left along a path that soon became a slightly sunken track. On reaching a bungalow, I turned left on a path that went uphill along the edge of a paddock to reach the Tree Cathedral at Whipsnade.

On the other side, I crossed the large irregularly shaped green and took the path through the village churchyard, where I saw a pair of Pied Wagtails. Beyond a meadow, I turned right alongside a hedge, having to detour into the field to go round a recently fallen beech tree. I then went left along the old lane between Whipsnade and Holywell (pronounced Hollywell, incidentally), which nature has been gradually reclaiming since it was closed to motor vehicles some 20 plus years ago. I then turned right along the path beside the fence of Whipsnade Zoo – there were several wallabies in the adjacent paddock, and many more of the small deer than I’ve seen before.

Beyond the zoo, I continued through two large fields following a hedge on my left to reach a wood near Studham church. I followed the path through the wood a short distance, before going left over a stile and across a small pasture to reach the churchyard. The path passed to the right of the church, then I went through the gate and followed the lane from the church to a junction in the village, where I went right. Appropriately enough, Valley Road took me downhill to a valley bottom, where I turned left onto a footpath, where I saw one of several Redwings that I’d come across today. This ran along the valley, to reach Studham Common just past the village school. It was very frosty here. I soon took a path going right, through the trees on this part of the common to reach a road.

Across the road, I followed the path along the top of the common to another road, and crossed this to a car park, then continued on along the top of the common. These two sections of the common were just grass rather than scrub, having been returned to agriculture during WWII. At the far corner of Studham Common I turned right, soon walking with a wood on my left. There was a nice frosty mist beside the wood as I looked ahead.

I turned left onto a narow path through the wood. After a while it emerged at a junction of hard surfaced tracks – glancing along the track on my left, I got a fleeting glimse of a fox as it disappeared into the trees. I followed the track ahead of me through the wood, until it emerged after about quarter of a mile near a farm (where I saw about 15 guinea fowl) and some cottages. Just past these I turned left at a crossroads of tracks.

The track I was on soon went downhill, with a wood on my left, then rose again to reach the end of a lane in the hamlet of Roe End. I turned right along the lane, and after quarter of a mile went left on a footpath. I followed a hedge on my right, with nice views ahead over roling hills with woods and ploughed fields. At a field corner I came to a path junction where I went half-right, following an intermittent hedgerow steadily downhill for about a third of a mile to reach Markyate.

I followed some streets through Markyate, then took a path along the right edge of a couple of sports fields and back out into the countryside – I’m pretty sure this was the first time I’d walked this path in this direction, though I’ve done it in the other direction several times. I followed a hedgerow along a hillside, with the valley of the river Ver to my right – through a gap I saw Markyate Cell across the valley (a previous house on the site was the home of an alleged highwaywoman!).

The path then went half-left across a field of some root crop. It passed a small copse in the centre of the field – I remembered there was a seat there, and stopped to have my lunch there. I continued across the field, then went through two large paddocks to reach a road on the edge of Kensworth. I turned left to follow it through the village, soon passing the school I attended as an infant. I passed the recreation ground (‘the rec’) on my left – sadly the grand line of horse chestnuts has recently been drastically reduced because many of the trees were in a dangerous state.

Just past the Old Red Lion, I took a path on the right. This followed a driveway, then went steeply downhill between hedges. It emerged into a large field, with nice views up and down this typical Chiltern valley. I continued on a headland between fields, down to the bottom of the valley and steeply up the other side, to arrive at a corner of Spartt’s Lane by the former vicarage. I folowed the lane ahead and turned left at a crossroads to reach Church End, the original part of the village of Kensworth.

I took the path through the churchyard, passing to the left of the church (it dates back to the 12th century). Over a stile, I continued through a meadow of rough grass, then turned left on a muddy track with a small wood on my right. I soon joined the path that goes all around Kensworth Quarry (a distance of several miles) and followed it ahead to pass to the left of the quarry. I soon passed another wood on my left, then the path went left, going steeply down into the valley I’d crossed earlier – the steepest section here was on wooden steps. The path then went right, through a  small wood, then along a farm track across the bottom of the valley. It then followed the edge of a large ploughed field (still very frosty in the shade of a wood on the left), as it curved to the right and rose steadily up the other side of the valley. It flattened out, and there were views across the quarry on my left as far as Blows Downs and Luton. The path switched to the other side of a small plantation, crossed the drive to the quarry, and after about quarter of a mile I turned right for a few yards to another path, where I turned left and was soon back at Dunstable Downs.

As I walked back along the Downs to the new visitor centre, I took a photo of a bird which was either a raven or a crow. I’ve put the photo on the Wild About Britain site, and there is an ongoing debate about which bird it is.

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