Archive for April, 2008

Chiltern Chain Walk – Walk 3

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

This is a rough draft of my journal entry for Walk 3 of the Chiltern Chain Walk, which I walked yesterday.

The weather forecast is not very promising for this week, so I’m not sure when I’ll do my next walk.

Walk 3 28/04/08 – Ashridge and Ivinghoe Beacon (12.5 miles approximately)
Parked at the car park at the Bridgewater Monument, Ashridge.

The weather forecast was pretty dire for this week, so I decided to do this walk this morning, hoping to finish it before the expected heavy showers started around lunchtime. I skipped my second cup of coffee at breakfast (the sacrifices I make for you, dear reader! 🙂 ) and managed to start walking from the car park at the monument about 9.05am.

The Bridgewater Monument is a Doric column 108 feet high, with 107 steps inside leading to a viewing platform (not always open). It was erected in 1832 as a tribute to the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, “the Father of Inland Navigation”. He commissioned the Worsley-Liverpool canal (often cited as the first canal of the modern era) and the Manchester-Liverpool canal, and his canal and coal interests eventually made him the wealthiest aristocrat in the country. He died in 1803 at the age of 66.

I crossed the grass in front of the monument, looking to my right along Prince’s Riding to the distant Ashridge House. I took the clear and well-surfaced track running into the trees that would lead after 2½ miles to Ivinghoe Beacon. This is a popular path and I soon passed a few joggers and dog-walkers. It was a very pleasant morning, sunny but with quite a few clouds about, much cooler than on my previous walk two days ago. The track soon went over a sturdy wooden bridge over a gully, and a bit further on passed a wooden cabin on the left.

The Ashridge estate stretches acros the Hertfordshire/Buckinghamshire border, and originally surrounded Ashridge Priory, founded in 1276 by Edmund, 2nd Earl of Cornwall. A later house on the site was once the home of Elizabeth 1. From 1604 to 1848, the estate belonged to the Egerton family, the Dukes and Earls of Bridgewater. The 3rd Duke, the famous canal builder, demolished the old house here but died before work commenced on its replacement. So the current gothic extravaganza was built by his heirs – it is now an internationally famous management college. In 1921 the land (but not the house) was given to the National Trust. There are 5000 acres in all, mainly woodland (especially beech) but also chalk downland and open commons, supporting a variety of wildlife (including about 800 Fallow Deer).

The track was pretty level, as it followed the edge of the steep northern escarpment of the Chilterns on my left. Some parts of the woods were carpeted by Dog’s Mercury, while further on I came upon the first sections to be carpetted by the Bluebells for which Ashridge is renowned. I was looking out also for some Oregon Grape which I’d seen here a few weeks ago. When I did see it, I found a gentleman admiring it and we got into conversation for about five minutes or so. He said that the plant was used as snow cover by small mammals in its native Oregon, and had been planted here some years ago for the same purpose (but there haven’t beeen any hard winters since!). He told me about some of the other plants in the woods (he said the Bluebells would be at their best in about a week’s time), and we discussed the various birds around here, such as the Great Spotted Woodpecker, Red Kite and Buzzard. I carried on, and after a while I passed a small kennels on my right. There were good views here, south towards Aldbury, and I saw a Buzzard overhead (one of these days I’ll get a decent photo of one!).Shortly after the kennels I passed a junction where the Ashridge Estate Boundary Trail went left (most of today’s walk would share the route of that 16-mile path). I carried on, the track now being the roughly surfaced drive to the kennels. There were again nice views out to the left, over Pitstone Hill and the Vale of Aylesbury beyond.

Eventually the track led to a road. There was a grass clearing in the trees here, with good views northeast towards Dunstable Downs and Whipsnade Downs. I turned left along the far side of the road, soon entering the trees again, where a path parallel to the road led between the beeches to reach the car park for Ivinghoe Beacon. On the far side of the car park I joined a path that followed a fence gently downhill, to reach a point near a bend in the road. The path went slightly right here (this is a great area for orchids and other wildflowers, at the appropriate season), over a subsidiary bump and then up the steep chalky slope of Ivinghoe Beacon.

Ivinghoe Beacon is a prominent hill jutting out from the escarpment of the Chiltern Hills, rising to a height of 817 feet above sea level. It is in Buckinghamshire, though very close to the county boundaries of both Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. It was the site of an Iron Age hill fort, being a natural defensive position with steep sides almost all the way round. It is the starting point of both the Ridgeway (going west) and the Icknield Way (going east). It is usually visited for the extensive views towards Dunstable Downs and over the Vale of Aylesbury, but it is also popular with walkers and model-aeroplane enthusiasts, and is a good site for wildflowers (including pyramidal and common spotted orchids).

It was quite chilly in the wind at the top of the Beacon, so I didn’t spend too long admiring the views (to the Downs, the Gade Valley and across the broad expanse of the Vale of Aylesbury – you’ve probably already seen these views several times before on this web site!). I turned right, slightly north of east, and enjoyed the promenade along the grassy ridge of Gallows Hill, with the White Lion of Whipsnade Zoo directly ahead of me. I had to pull my broad-brimmed hat down tight on my head, as I was worried it would be blown away in the strong winds here. I went through a kissing-gate and further on went over a stile – there were many Cowslips amongst the grass here. A few yards further on I turned right, on a chalky track going quite steeply downhill, with a nice view of the Gade valley (which I crossed twice on the last walk) ahead of me. At the bottom of the hill, I turned right alongside a hedge, with a large cornfield to my left. Where the hedge ended I continued on a clear path through the green young corn – Ivinghoe Beacon over to my right seemed quite insignificant from here.

Beyond this large field I headed slightly left, through a grassy area at the foot of another hill. I joined the route of the Icknield Way (which starts at the Beacon), and went through a wooden kissing-gate into a wood. The first part of the wood was deciduous, and again was carpeted with Dog’s Mercury. Further on the path led through a coniferous section of the wood – I always think of this section as rather sinister and spooky, as it is so dark and dismal between the tightly-packed evergreens. On the far side of the conifers, I joined a track which went right, then turned left at a fork (now back amongst deciduous trees again). This path went steeply up a flight of wooden steps with a hand rail, installed here a year or so ago. Again there was a lot of Dog’s Mercury here, and at the top of the slope I saw some Ground Ivy growing on a moss-covered log.

Exiting the wood, I crossed a sheep pasture, and left the route of the Icknield Way as I turned right into the yard of Ward’s Hurst Farm. I followed the waymarks that guided me between the various buildings here, then crossed three further sheep pastures (there were plenty of cute little lambs here). In a fourth pasture, the path followed the edge of a wood, Ringshall Coppice, on my left. In the field corner, I went through a gate, continuing alongside the wood with a wire fence and some odd enclosures on my right. I went through two or three further gates, then followed the edge of the wood across an empty pasture or meadow. The path then squeezed between rhododendron bushes on my left and the tall wire fence of a small reservoir on my right, before turning right along the far side of the reservoir fence and then joining a driveway that led to a road on the edge of Ringshall.

I crossed the road and re-entered the woods of Ashridge. I was still on the route of the Ashridge Estate Boundary Trail as I followed the path through the trees, initially with a large open grass area to my right. I turned right, left and then right again, a long wide grassy track then taking me to another road (from Ringshall to Berkhamsted). Across this, I continued on a very pleasant path between silver birch and other trees, with garden fences a few yards to my left and part of Ashridge golf course to my right. After almost half a mile I turned right at a path crossroads (this was where this walk touched on the previous walk, which came from the opposite direction and turned to my left towards the Bridgewater Arms at Little Gaddesden). Although I was now leaving the Ashridge Estate Boundary Trail, I was now following the route of the Chiltern Way, as I crossed a fairway of the golf course and then carried on between garden hedges.

I came to a staggered junction of private drives, where I carried on almost in the same direction, following the drive towards the club house of the golf club. Just before reaching its car park, I turned slightly right through a small belt of trees, then passed in front of the club house and crossed another fairway to a yellow marker post on the far side. The path continued through the woods again, passing to the right of some buildings and then I joined another drive. This soon crossed Prince’s Riding, the broad strip of grass between woods that runs from Ashridge House (to my left) for about a mile and a quarter to the Bridgewater Monument. Shortly after, the drive turned right but I went straight ahead on a track for a few yards, before forking left on a thin path between the trees once more. After a short distance the path ran alongside the edge of a huge pasture on my left, which is entirely surrounded by woods and is often a good spot for seeing large numbers of Fallow Deer (but not today). There are some particularly impressive beech trees along here too.

At the far corner of the huge pasture I turned left (the Chiltern Way went right here), and walked along a very attractive avenue of beech trees, with the pasture to my left and the wood sloping uphill slightly to my right. I was delighted to hear my first Cuckoo of the year here. After a quarter of a mile or so, the path curved slightly right, passing to the right of some cottages and reaching their drive. I turned right here, and followed the drive slightly uphill with the extensive woods on either side. It was briefly rather gloomy as a large and very dark grey cloud passed overhead, but fortunately there was no shower. Where the drive turned right, I continued ahead, along the short drive beside a former farm on my right (I had now rejoined the Ashridge Estate Boundary Trail). The path then went through a meadow, passing right of a pond then curving left to a stile in the corner. There was then a straightforward section on a farm track between a hedge on the left and a vast corn field, with pleasant views all around.

It must have been about half a mile before I reached the far corner of the field, where the track turned left at the bottom of a small valley, then quickly turned right with a wood now on the left. A short distance further the track turned right again, but the path continued ahead, uphill beside the right-hand hedge of another corn field. In the field corner the path went a few yards left, then continued across a large level playing field (I imagine that this is what it is, it’s a broad area of well-manicured grass anyway). On the far side I reached a farm or stables (there were large horseboxes here, anyway), and followed its drive to the right. Just beyond the gate, I turned right, back into another part of the Ashridge Estate woods, close to Northchurch. The path soon passed to the right of a circular cluster of conifers (there are several of these dotted about the estate, including two near the avenue of beech trees I’d walked along earlier), then turned half-right to reach the Ringshall-Berkhamsted road again.

I continued on the other side, the path descending slightly to reach a drive where I turned left. I frequently see Fallow Deer along here, but not today, although I did see my first Orange-Tip butterfly of the year. Just before the drive reached a set of wooden gates, I turned right, the path going uphill through the trees, but with fields beyond the edge of the wood on my left. I found a large clump of Garlic Mustard growing along here, and there were Primroses and Cowslips close the edge of the wood. The path levelled out, then descended into another small valley, where I saw a large amount of Lesser Celandine. The Ashridge Estate Boundary Trail went right here, but I continued ahead, uphill through the trees on a narrow path. Towards the top of the hill, the path slowly curved right, to emerge in a more open area, with a view over the valley to my right.

I walked straight on, re-entering the woods briefly, before emerging at a corner of the vast grassy expanse of Northchurch Common. I followed the edge of the common, with the woods on my left. After a short distance, the path turned left then right to remain alongside the trees. I carried on for several hundred yards, with the Ringshall-Berkhamsted road a long way off to my right on the far side of the common. I passed a woman with three dogs who’d stopped at a large fallen beech tree, and saw several other dog walkers on the common (there are always some around here). Eventually, just before the path and tree line curved right, I turned left into the woods. I soon crossed over a bridleway, and a short distance further on turned right at another crossing.

I was now on a wide and muddy track, with a section of conifers on my left and a deciduous wood carpeted by Bluebells on my right. For some reason, large logs or branches had been strewn periodically across the track, perhaps so some kind of vehicle could get a purchase in the mud. At the end of the track I crossed a minor road (going to Aldbury, downhill to my left) and continued on the footpath opposite. Again this was a broad and muddy track, and again the woods along here showed a profusion of Bluebells.
I passed a large pasture on the right at one point – as well as cows, there were about half a dozen Fallow Deer here, very surprisingly the first and only ones I’d see on this walk. After about three quarters of a mile, the track ended at the drive to the monument, where I turned left and soon reached the car park where I’d started.

This was a really good walk (I don’t want to sound too immodest, as I was the one who specified the route!). There was a lot of good woodland walking, made the more enjoyable by the vast number of Bluebells, some field walking to add variety, a short stretch of chalk downland over Ivinghoe Beacon and Galleys Hill, and some very attractive views at different points on the route. My only slight disappointment today was that I just saw the one group of Fallow Deer and no Muntjac Deer. Almost the entire route was very familiar to me, but I wasn’t in the least bit bored by it – I don’t think I will ever grow bored of walking in Ashridge. I’m pretty sure anyone walking here for the first time would be keen to come back.

Chiltern Chain Walk – Walk 2

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

Again the following is a rough draft of what will become an entry on my web site. It describes the second walk on my Chiltern Chain Walk, which I did yesterday.

Walk 2 26/04/08 – Studham and Little Gaddesden (10.6 miles approximately)
Parked in the car park on Byslips Road at Studham Common.

This was a glorious day, the nicest day of the year so far. There were blue skies with just some high, thin, white clouds and it was very pleasantly warm – the forecast said it would reach 20C. It was a perfect day for walking. I wore my lightweight summer walking gear for the first time this year, and was glad that I did so.

Studham is the southernmost village in Bedfordshire, and borders both Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire (until 1897 part of the parish was in Hertfordshire). It appears in the Domesday Book as Estodham, and the village church was consecrated in 1220. Studham Common is a 128 hectare area of land that escaped the enclosures acts. It is popular with walkers and horse riders as it is well-connected to surrounding rights of way. The common is divided into three by two roads – the western section contains many trees and bushes but the middle and eastern sections are mainly just grass as a result of their use for crops during World War II. The common is home to dormice, skylarks, sparrowhawks and green woodpeckers, among many other species. Orchids, including Bee Orchids, are among the numerous flowers that bloom here in the Spring and Summer months.

The walk started at Studham Common. As this is a ‘chain walk’, on each walk from now on I will come across a section of the previous walk – it just so happens that Walk 2 starts where it overlaps with Walk 1. So I started off (early again, about 9.20 as I was just a few minutes drive from my home) by retracing some of my route from yesterday. A Skylark sang me off on my way again, as I left the car park and followed the top edge of Studham Common eastwards, with nice views across the common to the valley on my left and backwards towards Studham. In the corner of the common I turned right through a hedge gap, and followed a hedge and then the edge of Great Baldwin’s Wood on my left. The route of Walk 1 soon turned left into the wood, but I carried on, following a wide strip of rough grass beside the wood with a field of young corn to my right.

Where the wood ended, the footpath went through a wooden gate and continued alongside a fence through a paddock. It then joined the gravel drive from a house, which led to a road – opposite me were some Scout huts, with a large sports ground beyond (I was a cub scout here back in the 1960’s!). I turned left, and followed the main road round to the right at a junction. After a few hundred yards, I turned left onto a footpath and followed a hedgerow on my left – again I was on a very broad band of rough grass, with corn growing to my right. In the field corner I turned right, and after a short distance I reached a waymark on a post, where the path switched to the left of the hedge. There was now a very large green field on my left, planted with grass rather than corn. As I walked along, the hedge on my right broadened out in places to become a thin tree belt, where there were sometimes a good carpet of Bluebells.

The hedge-side path turned left then right a couple of times before reaching the field corner. I went through a gap in the hedge and turned left, following the far side of the hedge. The hedge soon turned left, only to equally quickly come to a right turn. Here the path went through another hedge gap and turned right along the far side of the hedge (there is a clearer track on the near side of the hedge, but the map shows the right of way on the far side). At the end of the field I went through a metal kissing gate into a sheep pasture (complete with sheep and young lambs). I followed a hedge on my left for about a hundred yards or so to another kissing gate, beyond which the path continued between hedges and fences, soon becoming a farm track that led to a lane on the edge of Jockey End, the main settlement in the parish of Gaddesden Row.

A couple of dogs ran out of the neighbouring farm and barked as I turned right here. I saw my first Comma butterfly of the year here, sunbathing in the middle of the lane. I soon turned left onto a footpath, which ran a short distance through a green meadow then went through a gap to switch to the left of a hedgerow, again in a large green meadow. The path descended very slightly, then went through another gap to switch back to the right of the hedge – there was a nice view down hill and across the Gade valley here. As I followed the hedge I saw a lot of Ground Ivy and then some Primroses (the only ones I’d seen on yesterday’s walk were on the edge of gardens).

The path then entered a corner of the private Hob Wood, and turned slightly right. This was a very pleasant stretch through the wood, where again there was a good carpeting of Bluebells. The wood is chiefly deciduous, with occasional conifers. As I followed the attractive path, I remembered that I often saw Buzzards here, and sure enough, as I reached the end of the wood I heard and then saw two of them overhead. I stopped here to take photographs of the views along the Gade Valley and over Great Gaddesden in the valley bottom. The path continued in the same direction, but now descending across a field of oil-seed rape. On reaching the far side, the path turns right to follow the hedge to some cottages and a road on the edge of Great Gaddesden.

There has been a church at Great Gaddesden since Saxon times, as shown by the massive Hertfordshire puddingstones in the foundations. The fabric of the church also includes re-used Roman tiles. The first Rector was recorded in 1255. Gaddesden Place, the grand house on the hillside overlooking the village, was gutted by a fire in 1905, in which the butler died. The house has since been restored.

Across the road (the A4146, from Hemel Hempstead to Leighton Buzzard) I noticed that the stile had recently been replaced by a wooden kissing gate. The path crossed a water meadow in the valley bottom – the long footbridge over the River Gade had also recently been replaced. At some times of the year there can be almost no water here at all, but today the river was as full as I can ever remember seeing it. This point is close to the start of the river, and there are some springs here that add to the river’s volume. Beyond the footbridge (really more like a board walk) the path went half-left across the meadow to another new kissing gate and a residential street in Great Gaddesden.

I followed the street a short distance to the right, then took a footpath on the right. This led uphill through a pasture, linked to the meadows in the valley bottom. There was a herd of cows here, with some young calves, all crowded into the top right corner where I was headed. I had to gently shoo them out of the way to reach the kissing gate I wanted. It became clear that the cows had been congregating here because there were five young bullocks over the fence in the next field, presumably only recently separated from their mothers. The bullocks were friendly and inquisitive, one sucking the salt off the back of my hand. I followed the clear path through their pasture, now more gently uphill to another new wooden kissing-gate. Beyond it, a new wire fence had been put in, separating the path from a paddock on the left, with a wood on my right. At one point I looked into the wood to see if there were any bluebells – instead I saw a small circle of stones, almost like a miniature Stonehenge, with someone sitting on one of them Very odd. At the end of the path I went through another new kissing-gate to reach a lane in the hamlet of St Margaret’s, opposite a Buddhist Monastery.

According to its web site, the Amaravati Buddhist Monastery “is a monastery in the Theravada tradition of Buddhism and a centre of teaching and practice. Its heart is a resident community of monks and nuns, whose life of meditation and work is open for visitors to share, as a living example of the Buddhist path. ‘Amaravati’ means ‘Deathless Realm’ in the Buddhist scriptural language, Pali, a verbal reminder of the highest spiritual aspiration.” There are usually about 60 people living there – 20 monks, 15 nuns and 25 guests.

I went a few yards to my left, then took the footpath on the other side of the lane. This initially goes down the drive of a house, with the monastery grounds beyond the hedge on the right. The path then continues through trees, still with the monastery grounds on the right. I carried on as the path then followed a hedge line steadily downhill, passing a paddock on my right. Ahead of me I could see the edge of the village of Nettleden. This was a very nice section of the route, continuing downhill beside a field of young corn to reach a road in the valley bottom, on the edge of the village.

Until 1895 Nettleden was a hamlet within the parish of Pitstone in Buckinghamshire, though it was entirely surrounded by Hertfordshire. Its name comes from the Saxon for ‘valley of the nettles’. It sits in an attractive valley setting on the edge of Ashridge Common.

I turned right, away from the village, taking a footpath on the right after a few yards. This started off almost parallel to the road but gradually veered further away from it. The first section of the path was rather indistinct, but I made my way through the young corn to a lone tree standing at the end of a side valley. Beyond the tree the path was quite clear. It continued on along the bottom of the side valley, through the middle of the enormous corn field. This path is most unusual for his part of the country, as it goes for over a mile without passing anything at all, not even hedgerows. The sole exception is a pond surrounded by bushes. It was a long steady plod along the gradually rising valley bottom. The ground here is incredibly flinty, it’s amazing anything grows here. When I first walked this path a few years ago, the huge field here was all rough grass, an enormous hay meadow. Last year it was some strange straggly crop that I’d not seen before, this year it’s a much less interesting corn field. I saw and heard several Skylarks here as I marched on.

After passing the pond (the path actually goes left of it, though the map shows it going to the right), the path followed the valley bottom slightly left. Soon I came across a cairn of flint stones, marking a path junction where the Hertfordshire Way came in from the right (I’d earlier followed its route from Hob Wood to St Margaret’s). I finally came to a fence and the end of the corn field. The path went half-left through a small meadow or paddock (I had seen some lovely Fox-and-cubs here last September) to a stile in the corner, where I reached a road on the edge of Little Gaddesden.

Little Gaddesden was once in Buckinghamshire but is now in Hertfordshire. As well as Little Gaddesden itself, the parish includes Hudnall, Ashridge and part of Ringshall. The valley of Witchcraft Bottom is reputedly where the last witch in Buckinghamshire was tried and executed. A local man called John O’ Gaddesden was the physician to the Royal Household in the 14th century – he served the household at the same time as Geoffrey Chaucer and it is claimed the main character in The Doctor’s Tale was based on him. The house John O’Gaddesden lived in still stands in the village (though some claim this house dates to a later period).

I walked down the cul-de-sac opposite, continuing down an alley at the end, before turning right on a short path between gardens to a small playground. I crossed this to the start of a path that entered a wood, part of the huge Ashridge Estate that is managed by the National Trust. The path led me through the trees, dropping down a small embankmentt to join a wide track, which I followed downhill to the left. The track emerged from trees at the bottom of a small valley, where I turned right on a gravel track for a few yards, before forking slightly right on to a path through the grass that covered the bottom of this small valley.

This valley is marked as Golden Valley on the map. There is a broad strip of grass along the bottom, with woods along the tops of either side. It was an attractive walk along the valley, which curved slightly to the left. There was a brick-built bridge over to the right at one point, and I got a glimpse of the top of a tower of Ashridge House over to the left (the house is now a Management College, and there’s a photo of it on Day 9 of my Hertfordshire Way Journal). The path curved to the right as it approached a drive to Ashridge House – I saw a lot of Coltsfoot here, as the path finally reached the drive.

I went just a few yards along the drive to the right, before the path continued on the other side. It was now back amongst the trees again, and this was a very pleasant section of woodland walking. I saw a Peacock butterfly here, and another one that may have been another Comma. After about a third of a mile, the path ran along the garden boundaries of some impressive houses on the right. After a further hundred yards or so, close to part of Ashridge Golf Course on my left, I turned right onto a crossing path (thus joinging the route of the Chiltern Way, which I’d be following most of the way back to Studham Common). This ran slightly uphill between garden hedges, crossed over a private drive and continued on for a short distance to reach the car park of the Bridgewater Arms pub, back in another part of Little Gaddesden.

I crossed the road, and tok a path almost opposite which ran between the fences of some paddocks. I saw a Pied Wagtail on the path ahead of me here. The path led to a gate by some houses, which took me into a small L-shaped meadow. On the far side I crossed the drive leading to Little Gaddesden church, a short distance to my left, standing amongst some impressive trees. I passed through a couple of small empty sheep pastures, and then crossed a large field of young corn, the path here being marked by tractor tracks through the crop. The path headed diagonally towards the far corner of the field, passing a lone mature tree standing almost in the corner. I then went half-left at a rather complicated path junction, initially with some garden fences on my left, the houses here being part of Hudnall. The path continued alongside the right-hand hedge of a large corn field. Ahead of me I could see across the Gade Valley, as the path started to descend steeply. Lower down the slope I reached a field of Oil-seed Rape, and I met a pair of horse riders here, coming the other way at a brisk trot.

In the valley bottom, I re-crossed the Hemel Hempstead to Leighton Buzzard road. For the last half-mile or so I’d seen a couple walking ahead of me, and they stopped just here and asked if I could help them. They were on the first day of a holiday walking along the Icknield Way, but had realised they’d gone wrong. After discussing where they’d gone from their starting point at Ivinghoe Beacon, I realised they’d turned right instead of left when they’d come to a T-junction as they followed the path beside Whipsnade Zoo (I’d passed that point on my walk yesterday!). This mistake was understandable, as the junction wasn’t shown in the guide book they were following. They had then (again understandably) been further misled by signs for the Icknield Trail bridleway, which are remarkably similar to the ones for the Icknield Way footpath. I remembered being confused by these signs when I walked part of the Icknield Way (see my Berks-Essex Walk journal) – as they said, it would have helped if the guide book had mentioned the signs for the bridleway, which runs parallel to the long-distance path.

They had realised they’d gone wrong and turned round (just when I first saw them, by the complicated path junction at Hudnall). I now walked with them, as the path rose steeply up the hillside. Towards the top of the hill, the path switched to the left of the hedge, where it followed a track with a young plantation to the left. At the top of the hill we passed through a small wood (the path is always muddy here). A short distance further the Chiltern Way forked right, but we continued ahead following the edge of a corn field.. In the corner, we continued on along a short drive to reach Common Road in Studham (really a lane between Studham and Dagnall). On the other side, the path went half-right across another corn field, descending into a small valley.

At the corner of the field we reached Valley Road, where I parted from the couple (I’m sorry, I didn’t get their names). We’d had a good chat about walking long-distance paths, and I’d plugged this web site mercilessly! They asked if their was an email address on the web page, and said they’d email to let me know how they get on with the rest of their walk on the Icknield Way. It had been really nice chatting to people with a similar interest in long-distance paths – they live near High Wycombe, and were interested in whether my Chiltern Chain Walk went near them (it took me a minute or so to remember that it goes through West Wycombe!). I checked they knew how to retrace their steps to where they’s gone wrong (funnily enough, it was along the route I’d walked yesterday!) and wished them well with their holiday.

As they set off up the road to the left, I crossed the road and followed a hedgerow along the small valley. I passed Studham School and a couple of cottages on my left, and then reached Studham Common. I turned right on a path that went slightly uphill through trees and bushes. I crossed a road to reach a grassy section of the common, where the Rooks I’d seen yesterday had been replaced by a small group of Jackdaws. I stopped to eat my lunch on a bench (it was now about 1.20pm), enjoying the fine weather and the views. It was then a mere 200 yards or so along the edge of the common to Byslips Road and the car park where I’d started the walk.

This was a very good walk, on an almost perfect day for walking. I knew that I’d enjoy the walk, as it was largely a shortened version of my favourite local walk (see XXX, though the photos I took on that very grey day don’t do the walk justice). There were fewer species of wildflower to be seen today, compared to yesterday’s walk, and the Buzzards were the only interesting bit of wildlife. But I just found it a very pleasant route, largely through fields but with a few good woodland sections for variety.

Chiltern Chain Walk – Walk 1

Friday, April 25th, 2008

Today I walked the first section of the Chiltern Chain Walk, the long-distance path I have been devising over the last six months or so. The following is a rough (totally unchecked) draft of what will become my journal enmtry for the walk. Obviously it will look better with photographs!
Walk 1 25/04/08 – Dunstable Downs and Markyate (12.0 miles approximately)
Parked at the Chiltern Gateway Centre, Dunstable Downs.

At last! It felt good to be setting off on another long-distance path again – I’ve really enjoyed all the walks I’ve been doing in the Chilterns in recent months, but it’s nice to have the challenge and the target that a long-distance path gives me. It’s also nice to be writing a journal again after a gap of about seven months! As the Chiltern Gateway Centre is only five minutes drive from my home, I was able to start walking about 9.20am. I was glad to hear my friend the skylark singing as I laced up my boots in the car park – he’d also sung me off when I started the Chiltern Way here last Spring. That had been in a thick fog – today it was grey and almost overcast, but at least it was dry and I could see the views, although they weren’t as good as on a clear day.

The Chilterns Gateway Centre is situated at the highest point in Bedfordshire, 798 feet above sea level on Dunstable Downs. It cost £2.5 million pounds to build, and was officially opened by TV presenter Michaela Strachan on 23rd May 2007. It provides much improved facilities for visitors to the Downs, including a National Trust run café and a gift shop. Amongst other displays on its walls is the only one I know of for the Chiltern Way. The visitor centre is at the heart of the Chilterns Gateway Project “a flagship environmentally-led regeneration initiative steered by a partnership between Bedfordshire County Council and The National Trust”.

From the car park, I followed the path to the left of the Chilterns Gateway Centre and soon came to what looked like a modern sculpture made of rusting metal – in fact it is part of the environment-friendly heating and ventilation system for the visitor centre. The path went right here, along the top of Dunstable Downs. There were nice views along the Downs and out over the Vale of Aylesbury, but they were not at their best in the rather grey conditions. The path soon reached another car park (where the old visitor centre had stood).

Dunstable Downs are a steep section of the Chiltern escarpment, lying immediately southwest of Dunstable. The views from the top of the Downs extend for up to 40 miles on a clear day, over the Vale of Aylesbury and as far as Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire. The London Gliding Club is based at the foot of the scrub covered slopes, so gliders are usually to be seen soaring overhead, often competing for air space with hang gliders and paragliders that launch from the top of the Downs. Kite flying is also a very popular activity here. The Downs are a very popular local attraction, and were voted one of the ‘Seven wonders of the East’ by viewers of the BBC’s regional Look East programme.

I went through the car park and carefully crossed the road, and set off down a track starting on the other side. Soon there was part of Dunstable Downs golf club beyond the hedge on my left. After passing a metal barrier, I soon turned right through some trees and after a few yards came to the path round Kensworth Quarry, which was visible as a huge white gash in the landscape immediately in front of me, ugly but impressive in its scale. I believe it is the largest chalk quarry in the country, and the chalk from here is pumped in solution to Rugby along a 56 mile pipeline. I turned right and followed the broad track with the quarry fence on my left – I soon saw some Coltsfoot growing to the right of the path.

After a few hundred yards I came to the drive to the quarry, where I turned right for 100-200 yards, then turned left. There was now a thin belt of trees on my left, and across the small field on my right the hedgeline marked the course of Isle of Wight lane, heading towards my home in Kensworth. After a while the path turned left through the tree belt, and on the far side turned right along the edge of a field, with some of the quarry workings visible over to my left. The field boundary on my right gradually curved left and descended into a valley (the one that runs along behind where I live in Kensworth). In the valley bottom, the right of way switched to the right of the field boundary and continued a short distance on a farm track, before becoming a path again as it bore right and passed through a small wood. It then turned left, initially going up a flight of steep steps as it climbed the steep far side of the valley, with the quarry still visible to my left – I saw some Cowslips growing here.

At the top of the hill, I went through a metal kissing-gate and turned right. It was quite muddy along here, as I passed another small wood on my right. Beyond the wood, I had to fork very slightly right, to keep to the right of a young plantation. Looking to my right, I could see a long way across the valley to a row of houses in Kensworth on the opposite hillside (one of which is the home of that trepid Chiltern explorer, yours truly!). The path followed the fence enclosing the plantation as it curved to the left. There then followed a very muddy section of path between bushes, where I saw a couple of Jays fly off ahead of me. As I struggled to pick a path through the mud, I consoled myself with the thought that this would be one of the worst sections for mud on the entire Chiltern Chain Walk. I soon came to a junction where the quarry path went left, but I continued ahead on a track, with a small wooded area now on my left.

Here I had a very unusual wildlife sighting – a black squirrel! My parents have lived in Kensworth since the early 1950’s and say that there have always been black squirrels around. I’ve seen them numerous times in our garden, but have never seen one anywhere else. They are not true ‘Black Squirrels’ which you can see in some parts of Europe, but a variation on the normal Grey Squirrels. I didn’t have the chance to get a photo of this one, but I was lucky enough to get some nice shots of one in our garden about a month ago.

The track soon emerged into a small meadow, where I turned right and followed the path through the grass to a stile that took me into the churchyard of Kensworth church. I passed the twelfth-century church on my left to reach the gate, where I turned left along a lane. The church stands amongst a few houses and a couple of farms in Church End, the original nucleus of the village of Kensworth. Strictly speaking, the main body of the village (which I’d be coming to shortly) is Kensworth Common – it is so named on the OS map, but I’ve never heard anyone call it that.

As I passed through Church End, I noticed an old mounting block to the right of the lane (to help people mount and dismount from horses). I soon came to a crossroads, where I turned right. The lane soon turned right, and after another short distance turned left – at this point (with the old vicarage on my right) I left it, and continued on ahead on a footpath. This descended quite steeply through a field of young corn, down into the same valley I’d crossed earlier. The path continued between hedges up the other side of the valley – there was the first Lesser Celandine I’d seen today at the start of this part of the path, and further along I saw Bluebells and spotted a Blackbird in the field beyond the hedge on my right. Near the top of the hill the path joined a gravel drive that soon took me to the main road through Kensworth. Strictly speaking, this main part of the village is Kensworth Common – it is so named on the OS map, but I’ve never heard anyone call it that.

I turned left, immediately passing the Old Red Lion pub on my left, and then the recreation ground on the right. There has always been a line of impressive Horse Chestnut trees along the edge of the recreation ground, but sadly about half of them have had to be felled recently on safety grounds – the parish council have planted some native woodland tree saplings to replace them. Further on I passed the village primary school (which I attended in the 1960’s!). A short distance further, I turned right on a footpath that crossed a paddock – I was delighted to see Swallows here, the first I’ve seen this year. The horses in the paddock ignored me, as they did in the next larger paddock where the indistinct path went half-left before turning right to reach the far hedge. Here it turned left alongside the hedge, to reach a kissing-gate in the corner.

The path continued as a clear thin line through a large field of young corn, with a junction of two valleys at Kensworth Lynch over to my left. I passed to the left of a small copse in the middle of this huge field, where I had to detour round a fallen beech tree. There were nice views northwards along the larger of the two valleys, through which the A5 headed towards Dunstable. Eventually I reached the far side of the field, where the path went through the hedgerow and across the corner of the next field – this contained oil-seed rape which was starting to turn yellow, and I saw a yellowhammer fly off as I passed by. The path next bore slightly right, alongside a hedge on the left, running parallel to the A5 in the valley bottom to my left. The valley is that of the river Ver (from which St Albans, about 10 miles away, got its Roman name of Verulamiu), though it only really flows here in the winter months and then is not much more than a ditch. I saw my first Greater Stitchwort of day here. At a gap in the hedge I could see across the valley to Markyate Cell.

Markyate Cell is the site of a Benedictine Priory founded in 1145, although the present house is nineteenth century. An earlier house on the site was the home of Lady Katherine Ferrers, the celebrated ‘highwaywoman’ – the classic film ‘The Wicked Lady’ starring Margaret Lockwood was based (very loosely) upon her life.

The path continued alongside the hedge, and on through some playing fields and then a short alleyway to reach a residential street in Markyate. I turned left, then went right on a paved path, continuing more or less straight on over a couple of minor road junctions and then downhill to reach a junction with Buckwood Road (this heads towards Whipsnade and later becomes Buckwood Lane, though known locally as Bucket Lane). I turned right here, by the large Baptist Chapel, and followed the road through a fairly modern residential area. Beyond the last house on the left, I turned left along a footpath, soon coming to a junction where I turned half-right. The path climbed gently across the slope of the hillside, following a hedge on my left. To my right were pleasant views over several rolling hills and valleys, with a surprising amount of woodland in view. Eventually I reached the field corner, where I went through a kissing-gate and continued beside another hedgerow, with a farm visible across the meadow on my right.

The path ended at Roe End lane, Roe End being a small hamlet within the parish of Markyate, consisting of two farms and a few cottages. I turned right, immediately passing a house on my left which has an odd foreign sign on its gate (I think it’s the Italian for ‘Beware of the Dog’, but I’m probably completely wrong). After a few hundred yards, the surfaced lane ended (a bridleway continued ahead) and I turned left along a gravel track. This descended into a slight valley and rose gently up the other side beside another wood. Beyond the end of the wood I noticed a couple of Guinea Fowl – I’d seen a larger group of them nearby the last time I came this way.

When I reached a track crossroads I turned right (the Hertfordshire Way goes left here, I’d been following it most of the way from Markyate). I passed a few cottages – some penned in dogs barked loudly as they always do when I go by here – and then passed a farm and a duck pond in a small enclosure on my right. The track then veered slightly right as it entered a wood, soon passing what looks to be a fairly new pond on the left. After about a quarter of a mile, the track went slightly left, but the right of way continued straight ahead through another section of the wood, now on a narrow path rather than surfaced track. I spotted my first ever Wood Sorrel along here, and there was some type of Violet growing here too. I got a nice photo of a Peacock butterfly here as well, I’d already seen them in several other places.

The path emerged on the far side of the wood, where I turned right for a short way and went through a hedge gap to reach a corner of Studham Common. I turned left along the top of the common (making a mental note to return here in a month or so’s time, as it is a good place for orchids). It was nice looking over the grassy section of common towards the village of Studham. I crossed a road and continued along the top of a second grassy section of the common – I managed to photograph a few rooks that were on the grass a little way ahead of me. Over a second road, the common was a mixture of trees and bushes, and the path turned slightly left and descended a very small valley. It reached a more open area of grass where it ended at a bridleway. Here I went left, leaving the common as I passed some cottages and the village school on my right.

The path continued along a right-hand hedge to reach Valley Road, where I turned right. I saw some Garlic Mustard by the road-side as I went uphill into a corner of Studham. At the top of the small rise I turned left, and followed a lane (where I saw the first Wood Anemones of the day) a short distance to its termination at the village church. I went through the churchyard, passing left of the church, to an old gate in the far left corner. Beyond that, I turned left and went over a stile into a meadow, with a farm over to my left. I followed the right-hand fence through the meadow, passing a couple of mature trees, to another stile on the edge of a wood. I turned right on a bridleway just inside the edge of the wood (when I first walked this path 20 years ago it was almost impassably muddy, but it has since been very well re-engineered with good drainage).

I heard and saw a small mammal just to my left as I followed the bridlway – it stopped still in a position where it was largely hidden from me, but I think it might have been a bank vole similar to the one I’ve been seeing in my garden recently. There was a good selection of wildflowers here too, the Bluebells, Lesser Celandine and Greater Stitchwort that I’d already seen frequently on this walk. The bridleway soon left the wood, and followed a hedgerow through two fields of young corn. Over to my left I could see part of Whipsnade Zoo, and after passing through a small wood the path ran alongside the metal zoo fence. Here I could see many Chinese Water Deer in one of the Zoo’s paddocks, but curiously there were no Wallabies about today. I passed some more Coltsfoot along here.

Whipsnade Zoo is owned by the Zoological Society of London and was opened to the public in 1931, the world’s first open zoological park. It covers almost 600 acres of chalk down land on the northern edge of the Chilterns. There are over 6,000 animals at the zoo, including many endangered species. Unlike some zoos, most of the animals are kept within sizeable enclosures, while others (such as wallabies, Muntjac deer and peacocks) are allowed to roam freely around the zoo. Several animals are part of international breeding programs, helping to ensure the survival of endangered species.

At the end of the path, I turned left along a former lane between Holywell and Whipsnade. Perhaps it was the time of year, but it didn’t seem quite as overgrown as the last time I walked here. I saw several birds here – Chaffinches flew ahead of me along the old lane, and further on I saw a Blackbird and a Robin. In the large ploughed field to my left was a mixed flock of Jackdaws and Rooks, and I heard the distinctive call of a Lapwing (I heard it two or three times before I finally spotted it). I turned right onto a footpath along the end of the ploughed field (the hedge here had recently been relaid, and there was a sign advertising the compny that had done it), and beyond the field corner I turned left through a meadow to reach Whipsnade church. As I took a photograph, a Green Woodpecker flew across in front of me. I followed the path round to the left of the church, and went through the gate onto the large irregular green, around which the dwellings of Whipsnade are scattered. I turned left across part of the green, then turned right and crossed the road. I followed a short drive to reach the entrance to the Tree Cathedral.

Whipsnade Tree Cathedral is a 9.5 acre garden planted with trees in the shape of a Cathedral, with grassy avenues representing the nave, chancel, trancepts, etc. It was created by Edmund Kell Byth as an act of ‘Faith, Hope and Reconciliation’ in remembrance of two of his friends, Arthur Bailey and John Bennett, who were killed in World War I. Work started in 1932 and continued in stages, the first religious service being held in 1953. In 1960 it was donated to the National Trust. Religious services continue to be held occasionally, by several different denominations. There are three houses in Whipsnade named after Blyth and his two friends.

I had a quick look around the Tree Cathedral. It was now well after 1pm and I’d hoped to have my lunch here. You are only supposed to have picnics in a section called the Dew Pond (well, you wouldn’t eat in a real Cathedral, would you?) but when I got there, someone was doing some strange sort of meditation or something (or just sunbathing on a slight bank with their feet above their head!) and I didn’t want to intrude on them. So I carried on, my route taking a footpath along the left edge of the Tree Cathedral (where I saw some more Wood Anemones). I then followed the left edge of a pasture, going gently downhill. There was Jersey cow and some rare breed sheep here, and in the small enclosures to my left were some unusual pigs and hens and ponies.

At the bottom of the hill I went through a kissing gate and then between some wooden barriers to join a bridleway, which I followed to the right. The bridleway ran between hedges, where again there were a good selection of wildflowers. In particular there was a nice mixed clump of Wood Anemones and Lesser Celandine. The bridleway ended near the small car park on Bison Hill. The Chiltern Chain Walk goes right here, but I first stopped to sit on a fallen tree here to eat my lunch, admiring the view towards Ivinghoe Beacon. There was more Coltsfoot here, some nice Violets and several Cowslips.

I then just had ¾ of a mile left. The path followed a hedge or fence line at the top of a huge pasture, with the steep slope of the Downs to my left. There were good views along the Downs and out over the Vale of Aylesbury, but they were not as good as they could be because of the almost overcast conditions. There were a few gliders (the London Gliding Club is at the foot of the downs), but I didn’t see any kites or paragliders. The path passed a wood on the right, then made for the far corner of the pasture. It was then just a few hundred yards further, back to the Chiltern Gateway Centre.

It’s difficult for me to evaluate this walk, as all of it was on my local patch, using paths that I’m very familiar with. I certainly enjoyed it today, especially as I saw a good selection of birds and wildflowers. How interesting it would be to someone who hadn’t walked here before, I’m not sure. But I think they’d have to enjoy the views from Dunstable Downs, the Zoo and Tree Cathedral offered something a bit unusual, and the route passed three interesting old churches. The walk was reasonably undulating, with a mixture of fields and woods, and I think it serves as a reasonably gentle introduction to the Chilterns. But certainly the best bits are yet to come!

Goring and Mapledurham

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

Today I did my last preparatory walk for my planned Chiltern Chain Walk. It was about 12-miles long, from Goring-on-Thames mainly through woods to Mapledurham, then bacj to Goring along the Thames. It was the reveres of a walk I did a few months ago.

It was a nice day, though there was a heavy shower just before I got to Goring for the start of the walk. The first part of the walk followed a bit of the Chiltern Way, as far as Great Chalk Wood (I once got completely lost here, and I managed to miss another turning here today!). Most of the rest of the way to Mapledurham was through woods, which was very pleasant though I saw less in the way of wildflowers and animals than I have on my last few walks.

I had a quick wander in and out of Mapledurham, then followed the bridleway parallel to the Thames through Whitchurch-on-Thames and then back to Goring. There was a very nice stretch between Whitchurch and Goring through a wood beside the river, where I saw several Yew trees. Not far from Goring I saw a Grey Wagtail beside the river, close to a nesting Great Crested Grebe.

This was my third walk in four days. Although I’ve only been doing 11-12 miles, my legs are getting quite sore by the end of the walks. I’m not fit, and I think I’m still suffering the after-effects of some recent minor ailments.

Hopefully I’ll be starting the Chiltern Chain Walk properly soon, and writing up a journal for it to put on my web page (seems so long since I last wrote a journal!). Unfortunately, the weather forecast doesn’t look very good for the next few days, and I’ve got something on on Tuesday, so at the moment it looks like it may be Wednesday before my next walk.

South from Stoke Row (again)

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

Today I walked about 11 miles, in a big loop south from Stoke Row in Oxfordshire (where I also started yesterday). I didn’t really pass through any other villages, just touching on Exlade Street and Checkendon as I made my way back to Stoke Row.

It was a nice walk, on a very pleasant day weather-wise. Much of the walk was on bridleways, which were occasionally muddy but generally OK. A lot of the walk was in woodland, which I always enjoy, and there was a good mixture of woods too – most often beech woods (of course!), but there was a nice section of mainly silver birches, and an area of tall conifers early on in the walk (I heard, but couldn’t see, a pair of ravens here).

This walk was part of my planned ‘Chiltern Chain Walk’. Most of it I’d walked in the opposite direction some weeks ago, but the start and finish were new to me. When I did this walk before, I got lost near the end, so I was interested at the start of the walk to see how I’d gone wrong – not sure how I missed the path I wanted, as it was clear enough, but the map was misleading as the path was not shown as a public footpath.

At the end of today’s walk, I tried a different route back into Stoke Row, as I hadn’t like the start of the route I used last time. I first tried a route that went through a wood and then along the main road into Stoke Row – but the path through the wood was very muddy (obviously not a year-round problem, and it was no worse than a few other paths I’ve used), and the road section had no path or verge and was a bit dangerous. So I went back and tried another route, that went through fields and paddocks. This was better, but I’m not completely happy about it – I may look at the map again, and try to work out another route. This is the nineteenth of the twenty walks on my proposed Chiltern Chain Walk, and it has been easily the most difficult part of the route to devise.

I hardly saw any wildflowers early on in the walk, but later on saw the same selection as yesterday – Lesser Celandine, Greater Stitchwort, Bluebells, Wood Anemones, Violets. I also saw some Cowslips (first time on a walk this year, though I spotted them yesterday near Aston Clinton as I was driving to Stoke Row). I saw far fewer Red Kites than yesterday, and only one Buzzard (though it was a fairly close view).

Stoke Row and Nuffield

Monday, April 14th, 2008

(Entry copied from WAB blog)

Nice 12-mile walk today from Stoke Row in the Oxfordshire part of the Chilterns. I’m usually a fair-weather walker (being retired I can choose which days to walk) but I chose to walk today despite the forecast saying there’d be heavy showers in the afternoon. In the event I had a soaking for about 20-25 minutes just before finishing the walk.

Followed a bridleway for some miles to the hamlet of Hailey, then followed a bit of the Chiltern Way for a mile or so. Then followed the Ridgeway path along an ancient earthwork called Grim’s Ditch for a couple of miles – I saw and heard a Raven here (possibly the same one I saw last week, as Swyncombe was only a couple of miles or so away). I then came to the village of Nuffield with its ancient church. There was a brief shower as I crossed the golf course here, which stopped me photographing a nearby Buzzard.

I soon picked up another part of the Chiltern Way, which led me almost to Park Corner. Here I turned south to Nettlebed, which was where the rain started. I followed bridleways on hard surfaces most of the way from Nettlebed back to Stoke Row.

The Spring flowers are really starting to put in an appearance – more Bluebells, Lesser Celandine, Primroses, Wood Anemones and lots of Greater Stitchwort for the first time this year. Don’t know how I only managed to see Wood Anemones in just one spot last year – I saw them in numerous places today.

I saw three Fallow Deer (from the Bridleway to Park Corner), including a Buck with impressive antlers. Needless to say there were numerous Red Kites too. Driving back I saw more Kites at Longwick and Great Kimble, further evidence of their spreading out from their release sites.

Watlington Hill and Park Corner

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

A 14.5 mile walk today, through the Oxfordshire section of the Chilterns (I may have strayed briefly over the county boundary into Bucks, I’m not sure – but then not knowing which county I’m in is nothing, my friends often wonder what planet I’m on!).

I started at Watlington Hill and followed the road to Christmas Common (almost as delightful a place as the name suggests!). I then went south, down an ancient track and then through College Wood to Pishill. From there a path through fields and then steeply uphill through a wood (where I saw three Fallow Deer) brought me to Maidensgrove. I continued on southwards, heading downhill through trees into the Warburg Nature Reserve (I passed a small meadow full of primroses), where I turned right and followed a bridleway westwards for a few miles to Park Corner.

I continued west for maybe another mile, following part of the Chiltern Way, then followed field paths north and west to meet the Ridgeway near Ewelme Park. I followed the Ridgeway north a short distance, then left it and followed a nice path along the top of the escarpment, overlooking Swyncombe and the Oxfordshire Plain beyond. I heard and then saw a Raven here – I’d heard one in this area about a year ago. I descended through a wood and then across parkland to the 11th century Swyncombe church. Here I joined the Ridgeway again briefly, before turning left and following a path for about a mile over Swyncombe Down.

I descended the steep end of Swyncombe Down, passing several yew trees, and at the bottom turned right on a chalky track. After about a mile, the Ridgeway joined the track from my right, and I continued on the route of this National Trail for just over another mile until it reahed a road just south of Watlington. Here I went right for a short distance, then took a path on the left that took me on a very long but gradual ascent back up Watlington Hill (lots more yew trees here too).

Lots of Red Kites today, and at least one Buzzard. A Jay and a Green Woodpecker too, as well as the Raven I mentioned (only the third I’ve seen in the Chilterns, and my best view of one there). Plenty of wildflowers – many more bluebells than my last walk six days ago, but they are still well short of their best. Lots of Lesser Celandine and Violets, and I saw Wood Anemone again in three or four places (including Watlington Hill).

Very nice walk – nice weather too, blue skies in the morning though it clouded over a bit in the afternoon. Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy the walk as much as I should have done, as I felt very tired in the afternoon. I’ve seen a doctor about the virus I’ve had and a couple of other minor ailments – I probably shouldn’t have walked so far today, and I’ll have to take it easier over the next few weeks. Very frustrating as I’m keen to finish the preparatory walks I’m doing and then set off on the Chiltern Chain Walk.

Circular walk from Cowleaze Wood, near Christmas Common

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

I feel shattered now – this 12-miler was my first long walk for six weeks, and I’m obviously still suffering the after-effects of the virus. I’ve not felt so tired after a walk for a very long time.

From Cowleaze Wood, just north of Christmas Common, I headed west, soon spotting a treecreeper in the wood. I descended into the Wormsley valley, immediately spotting my first Red Kites of the day (I would see them almost everywhere throughout the rest of the walk). I followed paths and bridleways through the valley, and saw a Muntjac deer as I climbed the steep hillside to Ibstone. There was then a section of a mile or so that was new to me (the rest of the walk I did in the opposite direction a few months ago). I stopped for a photograph of Ibstone Church, which I’d not seen before, and a bit later was delighted to see Wood Anemones in Turville Wood. I passed through Turville Heath, and then followed a bridleway along a wooded valley floor for about two miles to reach Christmas Common.

I followed the Oxfordshire Way long-distance path as it descended the steep northern escarpment of the Chilterns, leaving it to follow the foot of the hills for about a mile. I then had a long ascent (at a reasonable gradient) back to the top of the hills – I saw a pair of Buzzards here, and as I crossed a grassy meadow back to Cowleaze Wood I saw 6-7 Fallow Deer.

I have never seen so many Primroses on any of my walks before. I also saw lots of Lesser Celandine, which reminded me of walks on the Chiltern Way this time last year. There were lots of Violets too, and in places a very few Bluebells were in flower. But the Wood Anemone was the real highlight, as I’d only ever seen it once before.

Ashridge walk and more garden bird watching

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

(Entry copied from WAB blog)

This morning I walked for 2-3 hours around the woods of the National Trust’s Ashridge Estate. I saw my first few bluebells in flower. The highlight of the walk was a Treecreeper, which very obligingly posed for me while I took its photo.


I saw a few Muntjac deer, but strangely no Fallow deer at all. When I did this walk a few weeks ago, I saw four different groups of Fallow deer, and it is most unusual for me to do a lengthy walk around Ashridge without seeing any at all.

Muntjac Deer

In the afternoon I did a bit more bird watching in the garden. The siskin I saw yesterday was back, and I got a nice photo of a starling.