Alternative Ashridge Walk

Yesterday (Monday 11/08/08), I did my Alternative Ashridge Walk again (there’s a description and some photos from a previous time I did this walk on my web site at: ). But instead of starting at the Bridgewater Monument I started at the car park near Pitstone Hill, and I did the walk clockwise rather than anti-clockwise.

From the car park I took the long and familiar path to Steps Hill, where I saw another Chalkhill Blue buterfly. I continued along a section of the Ridgeway to Ivinghoe Beacon, then took the path to the car park for the Beacon. A little further along the road I turned right onto the track that is themain path between the Beacon and the Monument. I passed the dogkennels at Clipper Down, and a little further diverted from the track by taking a path going steeply downhill through the trees on the right. I crossed some fields near Duncombe Farm and took a bridleway back uphill through the trees, rejoining the main track just before it reached the Monument.

I took a main bridleway continuing from the drive to the Monument. Here I almost trod on a Frog sitting in the middle of the bridleway (embarrasingly I misidentified it as a toad!). I saw about 35 Fallow Deer  in the large field on my left, next to the Ringshall-Berkhamsted road. I turned left at a major path crossroads to reach the road, and continued along the avenue of bech trees on the other side. I continued on and on in more or less the same direction, eventually reaching Frithsden Beeches and carrying on across Berkhamsted Golf Course.

On reaching a road, I took a bridleway going right and at the bottom of the slope took a feint path on the right. This is one of my favourite paths in the area, running along a valley just inside a wood, with fields just yards to my left. It continues for almost a mile – it was the first time I’d walked it in this direction for probably two years or more. Eventually I turned left onto a field path, which crossed the bottom of the valley and rose up the far side. A little further on I stopped for lunch on the bench I use when I do the walk in the opposite direction, with a nice view across fields towards Berkhamsted. By starting at the car park at Pitstone Hill, I’d timed things nicely, as it was now about 12.50pm.

I continued on after lunch, soon turning right to pass the small estate of bungalows at Northchurch where I saw six or so more Fallow Deer in a paddock on my left. I returned to the main road I’d crossed earlier, and followed it right for two or three hundred yards before re-entering the woods on the far side. The path went downhill and crossed a private drive, where I saw a few more Fallow Deer (I often see them here).The path continued, rising and falling a couple of times, again with fields close by on my left.

I emerged near the end of a lane at Norcutt Manor, where there were just a few spots of rain – it was another dreary grey day, but it otherwsie remained dry. I was soon back in the woods, again with fields close by on the left, as I walked a good distance through the trees to reach the hamlet of Toms’ Hill. I turned right along the lane here, passing a lot of Small Balsam which grows in profusion here. At the end of the lane, by a hairpin bend, I took a path on the left down to Aldbury.

From here it was the very familiar route starting between a stables and the church, soon crossing a golf course to reach Aldbury Nowers (I never know whether this is the name of the hill or of the woods on its slopes). The path through the wood is very pleasant, and is part of The Ridgeway national Trail. After a mile or so I reached the grassy slopes of Pitstone Hill, and as I followed part of the ancient Grim’s Ditch to the top of the hill I had my best wildlife sighting of the day. Four Ravens flew overhead, quite noisily, with two of them enjoying a mock ‘dogfight’ with some impressive aerobatics. I’d heard them earlier, only a mile or so away near the Dog Kennels where I’d heard them once before, so I’m hopeful that they are now resident in this area. It was now just a nice easy descent down the far side of Pitstone Hill, up and over the small ‘hillock’ and I was back at my car. It was now 3pm, the 14 or so miles having taken me 5.5 hours to walk.

I’d carried more weight in my rucksack today. I’d added a heavy book, and later realised I had 2.5 litres of water (I’d forgotten 0.5 litres that I’d loaded a couple of weeks ago when I last walked on a hot day!). The idea was to see how my back got on with a heavier load, as I’d love eventually to be able to walk entire long-distance paths carrying all my own gear. Unfortunately, my back is now (the next morning) very stiff and sore, so I’m afraid I’ll have to give up on this idea. Obviously adding just a few pounds to the weight of my normal daysack is enough to damage my back. Having been unable to do much walking for about three years when I had a slipped disc, I really don’t want to injure myself again. It’s somewhat frustrating, but to be honest I don’t think I could have an opportunity to walk a long-distance path day after day for some time anyway.

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