Website Update and Chiltern Chain Walk – Walk 5

I have just updated my “Pete’s Walks” website. I have added and amended some photos of birds and wildflowers, and added the journal entries for my first four walks on the Chiltern Chain Walk.

The following is the draft version of my journal entry for the fifth walk on the Chiltern Chain Walk, which I did on Tuesday.

Walk 5 6/05/08 – Wendover Woods and Aston Hill (12.6 miles approximately)
Parked at the Pay-and-display car park at Wendover Woods.

Note: This route is the same as the ‘Wendover Woods and Wigginton’ walk in the ‘Chiltern Hills’ section of my web site.

A really lovely day was in prospect as I set off from home today – bright blue skies with just a few puffy white clouds, and the temperature was forecast to reach 20C. And I was very much looking forward to doing this walk – I did it as one of my exploratory walks when I was planning the route of the Chiltern Chain Walk, and it was so good that I decided to include it in the route without any alterations at all.

It was about 9.40am as I started off from the Forestry Commission car park in Wendover Woods. The car park was fairly quiet, but there were a few joggers and dog walkers about. I followed the track to the right of the car park, heading southwest into the woods. I soon passed an area for barbecues on my right, and further on the hard-surfaced track passed the start of a fitness trail branching off to the right. I soon realised that this was going to be a slow walk, as I was so frequently stopping to take photographs. The trees looked beautiful with their bright green leaves – everything seemed fresh and new. After a while, there was a bank of earth to my left, possibly part of an Iron Age hill fort (indicated on the map) here on Boddington Hill. To my right was the steep slope of the Chiltern escarpment, and occasionally I would get a glimpse through the trees to the lower ground of the Vale of Aylesbury. I passed a signed viewpoint where there was a gap in the trees, where I took some photos looking out over Wendover.

Wendover Woods, named after the nearby Buckinghamshire village, cover about 800 acres in the Chiltern Hills. They consist of a mixture of coniferous and deciduous trees, and are owned by the Forestry Commission. They are a very popular local amenity, with walks, bridleways, picnic and barbeque areas, and a café by the large (but sometimes full!) car park. The woods cover several hills, including Boddington Hill, which is surmounted by the remains of an Iron Age hill fort, and Haddington Hill which is the highest point in the Chilterns at 876 feet (Pavis Wood on the flank of this hill contains the highest point in Hertfordshire at 844 feet, so the hill is the highest point in two counties).

There were some good wildflowers along here. I was delighted to see my first Herb Robert of the year – this is my favourite flower, and I thought it was supposed to start flowering last month, so I have been looking out for it. I also spotted a flower I’d not seen, which I later identified as Woodruff (thanks again to the clever and helpful folk at the ‘Wild About Britain’ web site!). There was a lot of Dog’s Mercury and some Garlic Mustard too. There were several Violets, seemingly larger than ones I’ve seen previously – I really must get round to learning how to identify the different types of this flower.

The track started to descend gently, and then turned left. I saw some Wood Spurge growing here. The track ended at a junction with another track, where I turned sharply right, still heading downhill. When the track levelled out, I took a short track forking left to reach Hale Lane, where I turned right and followed the lane for about half a mile to reach the edge of Wendover – there were Buttercups and a few other wildflowers growing along the verge, and I passed a flock of sheep beyond a hedge on my right. I turned left at the end of the lane, then turned left again after another 200 yards or so. This was Hogtrough Lane, where I joined the route of the Ridgeway National Trail. The tarmac surface soon ended, but the lane continued as a roughly-surfaced track between hedges. There were views over the attractive valley called The Hale to my left, and to the wooded Boddington Hill that I’d just descended. Again there were plenty of wildflowers along the track – including Greater Stitchwort, Yellow Archangel, more Herb Robert, only the second Wood Sorrel I’d ever seen, and some Forget-me-nots (another plant where I need to learn to identify between the different types).

After half a mile or so, I passed a farm on my left. I followed the track a short distance further through trees, following the Ridgeway left at a junction at the foot of a hill (the Chiltern Link, which I walked almost three years ago, went straight on here). The Ridgeway soon forked right, and I followed it on a well-engineered and well-maintained path that rose gradually through the trees of Barn Wood. There were more Violets and Woodruff along here, and I was surprised to see some Cowslips. It was quite a long but not too steep ascent, back onto the top of the Chiltern escarpment. Near the top, I took a path forking right which soon led to a track along the top of the hill where I turned right. I was immediately struck by the profusion of wildflowers here, almost all the ‘usual suspects’ being present – Lesser Celandine, Bluebells, Greater Stitchwort, Dog’s Mercury, Garlic Mustard. As I followed the track, rather muddy in places, there was quite a good display of Bluebells amongst the trees on either side. After maybe a third of a mile I came to a staggered junction of sorts, where a path came in from the right and a few yards further on a second one went left, which was the way I went. Here the wood was truly carpeted by Bluebells, the best display I’ve seen so far this year. The chap I met in Ashridge last Monday who said they were a week away from their peak was obviously correct! It was delightful walking through the trees, with their bright green young leaves, with the ground a sea of blue either side of the path.

On leaving the wood, the path continued through a narrow tree belt, with fields either side – the corn here seemed further advanced than anywhere else I’ve seen it. At the end of the field, the path went a few yards right, before resuming it’s previous direction through another wood, Baldwin’s Wood. A few yards too my left was a low embankment (covered in Bluebells, of course!), part of another section of Grim’s Ditch, which I’d come across on the previous walk – I’d be following it’s course for the next two or three miles. After a short distance I came to a point where there were openings out on either side, where a footpath crossed more corn fields. But I continued on back into the woods, still enjoying the lovely surroundings. I passed a sign warning of forestry operations, and after a while the path became a wide track badly rutted by the forestry vehicles. There was a very strong and sweet smell here which I didn’t recognise at all.

The track ended at a T-junction of lanes, where I carried on along the lane ahead of me. I thought this lane walk would be a less interesting section, but it was made really pleasant by the wide selection of colourful wildflowers in the hedgerows either side – Yellow Archangel, some impressive Dandelions, more Herb Robert, Greater Stitchwort, Wood Anemones and Violets amongst others. At the end of the lane, after about half a mile, I went left for a few yards then took a footpath on the right, resuming my original direction. This followed the drive of a house for a few yards, then continued on with a wire fence on my left separating the path from a meadow. It continued through a small bit of rather scrubby woodland, where I saw my first Speckled Wood butterflies of the year. I then followed the left-hand hedge of some small meadows or paddocks, passing through a sequence of gates. There was a lot of Green Alkanet growing in the hedgerow.

On reaching another lane, I turned right for a few yards then turned left onto a track (curiously, the finger post here indicated that it was both footpath and a bridleway), continuing in the same north-easterly direction as before. As well as being on the course of Grim’s Ditch, the hard-surfaced track was also running along the border between Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire (on my left). I noticed a large pond across the fields on my left, surrounded on three sides by a wood. Again there were numerous wildflowers along the track, with some Red Dead-nettles being the only one I’d not already seen today. I also saw an Orange-tip butterfly as I walked along. The track eventually passed some houses on the right and shortly after ended at Shire Lane. I continued on a path starting just a few yards to the left, following the right edge of a field of dazzling yellow oil-seed rape. In the field corner I went through a gap in the hedge and went a few yards right, before turning left again.

At this point I joined part of the Chiltern Way again (the Ridgeway path follows the northern escarpment of the Chilterns and the Chiltern Way runs a parallel route a mile or two further east, so its inevitable that the Chiltern Chain Walk should overlap with those long-distance paths in places). I was also back on the line of Grim’s Ditch, here a rather indeterminate ditch running through thin belt of mainly beech trees. The path twisted and turned through the trees, running left of the ditch. There were again many Bluebells here, and some holly bushes amongst the beech trees. At the end of the tree belt I crossed over a broad track between hedges, and continued on a clear path across another field of oil-seed rape. The crop here was not so well developed, and there were only small patches of yellow amongst the predominant blue-green foliage. The path then entered another wood, running along close to its left edge to reach another lane.

Across the lane I went over a stile and continued through a small beech wood, close to its edge with a large cow pasture just a few yards to my right. Beyond the wood the path continued through another very long thin belt of trees. I soon passed a small pond on my left, which I didn’t remember from my previous walks along here. In places the path followed the left edge of the tree belt, alongside a huge field of young corn, with a farm and a few houses visible across the far side. I noticed a pair of Kestrels, seemingly hunting low over the field, perhaps looking for Skylarks nests. When I reached the end of the tree belt, the path continued on through a line of yellow gorse bushes to finally reach the end of the massive field to my left. I went a few yards left to a kissing-gate, and crossed a meadow (bright with yellow Dandelions) to reach a minor road on the edge of Wigginton.

I turned left and followed the road into the village. There was a lot of Garlic Mustard growing in the hedges here. As the road turned slightly right, I went straight on along a footpath with a sports field to my left (I was now retracing part of Walk 4). I crossed a road and continued down the street opposite (the house on the corner has some large dogs which usually bark and make me jump when I go by – this time one was lying asleep on the other side of the fence, and I was sorely tempted to get by own back by barking loudly at it!). At the end of the street the path continued along the edge of a small playing field, and then turned left along the far side. In the corner I went through a gate, and continued down a road ahead of me. Again there was more Garlic Mustard in the hedges here. On the edge of the village I stopped to take a photo of the nice view out towards Pitstone Hill and Ivinghoe Beacon. I then turned left (leaving the route of Walk 4, which came in from the right here), passing some cottages on my left and entering Tring Park.

Tring Park is a large country house near Tring, Hertfordshire. In 1975, the A41 dual carriageway split the grounds – the house, renamed Tring Mansion, now houses “The Arts Educational School, Tring Park”, while the greater part of the extensive grounds are managed by the Woodland Trust. Little is known of the early history of the house, but it was held by Royalists during the Civil War. In the 1800’s and early 1900’s it was owned by members of the Rothschild family (as were many other grand houses nearby – this area was once called ‘Rothschildshire’). The 2nd Lord Rothschild’s zoological collection forms the basis of the Natural History Musueaum at Tring. He also released the edible Dormouse into Tring Park, and had his carriage pulled by Zebras (the town’s symbol has been the head of a Zebra ever since).

I followed the level track into the trees, passing a notice board and seeing some more Herb Robert. I soon came to a junction where I went left, following the good level track along the top of the escarpment – this is “King Charles’ Ride”, Charles I and Nell Gwynne having reputedly been guests at the grand house here. There were a lot of Yew trees along the first section of the ride, which then widened out and was mainly lined by beech trees. I stopped to eat my lunch (it was now just before 1pm) on a bench where there was a clearing giving nice views out over the park, the house and Tring, to the Vale of Aylesbury beyond – I could see Mentmore Towers, and further east the tall spire of the church at Leighton Buzzard, with the start of the Greensand Ridge just beyond. Two Brimstone butterflies cavorted nearby as I ate my cheese sandwiches and cherry scones.

Suitably refreshed, I carried on along the ride, which soon narrowed slightly and ran through an area of young trees, with the ground again covered in Bluebells. On emerging at a lane, I turned left and then went right at a junction, following Church Lane into the hamlet of Hastoe. Again there were a good selection of wildflowers to add interest to the lane walk. The lane ended at a junction, where I continued on a byway almost opposite.

Hastoe is the highest hamlet in Hertfordshire (the high point is in Pavis Wood, quarter of a mile away on Haddington Hill, whose summit is the highest pint in Buckinghamshire). Like Tring Park, it is closely associated with the Rothschild family, who built many of the cottages here for their farm workers. Lionel Rothschild was very fond of hunting and established a kennels in the village.

The flinty track soon came to a house, where I took the path forking to its left. Where the house’s garden finished, I came to a junction of several paths – when I first walked this route, I had to alter my original intentions at this point, as a path marked on the map here doesn’t appear to exist at all, the only such problem I had in all my exploratory walks for the Chiltern Chain Walk. I now went half-right, on a narrow path heading steadily downhill through the trees of Grove Wood. Curiously, this path is one of three or four interconnected byways here – I’d love to know why they are byways and not bridleways. At the bottom of the slope I turned left onto another byway, leaving the wood behind me. The byway ran between tall and mature hedges either side, with paddocks beyond. It curved round to the left to a junction with another byway going right. I went straight on, to reach a T-junction with another similar hedge-lined byway where I turned right.

I soon passed a cottage on my right and reached a lane. The byway continued the other side, initially much narrower but soon widening again. After a while I reached a crossing path, where I turned left to follow a hedgerow on my right. As I followed the path beside two fields of green corn, there were nice views over the field to the wooded slopes leading back up to Hastoe, and ahead to the wooded Aston Hill. Beyond the two field the path ran a short distance between fences and hedges to another lane. I followed this a short distance to the right, before taking another path on the left.

This was the start of a steepish ascent of Aston Hill, the path running along just inside the right edge of a wood, beside a large sheep pasture. There were nice views out to the right, giving me a good excuse for stopping occasionally. Nearer the top of the hill, beyond the pasture, the path continued through the beech wood – I followed a fence on my right, the boundary of an area of woods used by a Mountain Bike Centre (though as I carried on, it wasn’t obvious that this is still operating). The path then continued beside a long wooden garden fence on my left, to reach the end of a drive by a farm. Here I followed the drive to the right, passing some more gorse bushes on my right and then further on some more Yew trees on my left. The drive ended at a road beside the Mountain Bike Centre ( though the only activity here was some logging work) on Aston Hill.

Aston Hill has nice views over the Vale of Aylesbury. It takes its name from the village of Aston Clinton at its foot. The hill has a proud claim to fame in the field of motoring. Between 1904 and 1925 the road up the hill was a renowned venue for hillclimbing, and on 4th April 1914, Lionel Martin made his first ascent in a tuned Singer car. The next month, he was so successful in the Herts County Automobile and Aero Club meeting, that the sporting light car first registered in his name was called an ASTON-MARTIN. There is a plaque by the side of the road commemorating the origin of the famous Aston Martin marque.

The path on the opposite side of the road seems to have been recently diverted. Instead of going through a garden, it starts a few yards further left and follows a driveway to reach the far side of the garden. Back on the old course, it goes left here along a line of trees with another garden over a fence on the right. I then just about squeezed through a very tall gate, and continued on along a green path back into the trees of Wendover Woods. I soon reached a bend in the long drive to the car park, which I followed for a quarter of a mile or so back towards my start point.

Just before getting back to the car park, a sign prompted me to take a short diversion to the left. I followed a path for a couple of hundred yards or so through the trees, to where a group of large stones and a plaque had been erected to mark the highest point in the Chilterns. Until recently I had believed Coombe Hill to be the highest point in the Chilterns, but this point in Wendover Woods, Haddington Hill, at 876 feet above sea level is 20 or so feet higher than Coombe Hill. I retraced my steps and went back to the car park to complete a thoroughly enjoyable walk.

I have always said that Autumn is my favourite season – but after a Spring day as lovely as this, I may be changing my mind! The abundance of multi-coloured wildflowers alongside the paths and lanes, and the fresh green leaves on the trees makes walking so much more delightful at this time of year. But then this walk would be a joy at any time – I had thoroughly enjoyed myself when I first walked it in late Autumn. The walk includes a lot of attractive woods, interspersed with a few sections of field paths, there are some good views (especially from Wendover Woods and Aston Hill), Tring Park and Grim’s Ditch add historic interest, and overall the walk provides a nice variety of scenery. It is certainly a walk that I will be very happy to do again..

Total distance: 59.3 miles

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