Archive for September, 2008

Minor web site update

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

I have just updated my “Pete’s Walks” web site. There are just one or two new photographs, and two new local walks in the “Chiltern Hills” section (the Kensworth-Ivinghoe walk I did on Friday, and the “Kensworth and everywhere” walk I did the previous Friday). The text for these two walks is based on my blog entries here, but there are now lots and lots of photos for you to look at!

Kensworth-Totternhoe-Ivinghoe-Dagnall again

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

Yesterday (Friday, 26th September 2008) I repeated a walk I first did a month or so ago. From my home in Kensworth I walked northwards over Dunstable Downs to Totternhoe, then headed south-west through Eaton Bray and Edlesborough to Ivinghoe. I then headed home through Ashridge and Dagnall – a total distance of about 17.5 miles. I will shortly be adding this walk to my web site, using the text of this blog entry as a basis.

I started walking about 9.30am, heading up Common Road, Kensworth. It was a beautiful morning, warm with blue skies and bright sunshine. I turned right on the footpath immediately beyond the small industrial estate, which soon emerged onto a farm track and reached a large grassy field sloping downhill. I could have followed the track downhill (it seems to be a permissive path), but instead chose to follow the footpath. This went half-right through the long grass, which was very wet with a heavy dew, and then followed the hedge down to the bottom of the hill where it rejoined the track.  A few yards further on I turned left through a kissing gate, and followed a path through more wet grass, rising slightly uphill. The path then continued through another grassy meadow, just below the foot of Codling Bank, a small strip of hillside that is too steep for cultivation.

Through another kissing gate, the path continued through a small wood or plantation and then followed a farm track back across the bottom of the valley. The path then switched to the right of a hedge, and followed it as it rose back up the hillside, gradually curving right. To my right was a large stubble field and beyond that part of the enormous Kensworth Quarry. At the top of the hill, the path continued alongside the field for a while, before turning left and passing through a narrow belt of trees. On the far side of the tree belt, it turned right, to run alongside the trees. I saw a fox cross the path about 30 yards in front of me, the first one I’ve seen for a very long time.

When I reached the tarmac drive to the quarry I turned left along it – there were 100 young trees protected by plastic tubing here, which had been planted by local schoolchildren in 2006 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the cement company that owns the quarry.The path then continued on the far side of the drive, following the quarry fence on my left with trees and bushes on my right. I turned left by a yellow marker post, soon coming to a path running alongside Dunstable Downs Golf Club, where I again turned left. Within 200-300 yards I came to the road across the top of Dunstable Downs, which I crossed to reach the old car park.

My brother Tim had called in on us shortly before I set off, and had said that when he’d driven across the Downs instead of seeing the usual extensive views (you can see for 40 miles on a clear day) all he’d seen was the top of a huge sea of fog covering all the lower lying land north of the Downs. Now, an hour or so later, the fog had receded from the foot of the Downs, but I could only see for about a mile and a half and then everything was obscured by the blanket of fog.

I turned left and walked along the top of the Downs, sticking generally to the grass or to old paths rather than the new gravel path that the National Trust has recently had created. I passed the Five Knolls ancient burial site – looking north from here, I could again only see a little way over Dunstable before the view was again blocked out by the bank of fog. I followed the wide grassy slope down into Dunstable, crossed over West Street, and continued along Green Lane. This is an old drover’s road, with hedges either side so that you can hardly tell that you are in a town. Sadly, another new hard-surfaced path has been built along here, which I think rather detracts from a historic and interesting route. I saw a Comma butterfly along here, as I passed two or three dog walkers.

I followed Green Lane back out into the countryside. I came to a track crossroads, where I usually turn right towards Sewell (the Icknield Way, Chiltern Way and my own Totternhoe walk go that way) but today I continued on ahead. I soon saw another butterfly, a Speckled Wood – in fact I almost trod on it. At the next track crossroads I turned left, but only for a hundred yards or so before turning right again. This next track went up and down a small hill, with a very steep drop beyond the hedge on my right – this was the edge of an old quarry, the bottom of this section of the quarry now having been reclaimed for agriculture. Near the top of the hill I met a lady on horseback, and we got chatting for a while – she’d just achieved a lifelong ambition by  having a lesson on a Polo pony.

At the bottom of the far side of the hill I passed close to the car park for the Totternhoe Knolls and Totternhoe Quarry nature reserves. I also crossed over where a new pipeline of some sort was being built. The track continued onwards, heading towards Totternhoe Knolls (the site of a Norman Motte and Bailey castle, on a prominent hilltop). But before getting there, I forked left on a path that descended through trees to reach the main road through Totternhoe near the Cross Keys pub.

Having headed generally northwards so far, I would now be going south-west for several miles until I reached Ivinghoe. A short distance along the road I took another footpath, which ran through a small paddock, crossed a small corner of a cow pasture, and continued beside a left-hand hedge through a large field that was now stubble. In the next field, also stubble, the path switched to the left of the hedge – looking left, I could see the line of Dunstable Downs a mile or so way. The footpath then joined a narrow lane, which soon became a residential street in the village of Eaton Bray. I crossed over the main road through the village and continued down The Meads – at the end of this short street I continued on another field path, with a large stubble field on my right.

In the field corner I went over a footbridge across a fast-flowing stream, and turned left, between the waterway and a tall fence on my right. I went through a small meadow behind some houses in the next village, Edlesborough, and continued along a path between hedges, with some allotments to my right. The path ended at a lane, which I followed to the left, soon reaching a road by the sports ground in Edlesborough.

I turned right along the road – I soon passed the village hall on my left, where there was evidently some event going on for young mums as  several were gathered outside and I passed a few more pushing prams as I continued along the road. I passed a long and impressive old barn on my right, which had recently been refurbished as office space.

After about half a mile I reached the end of the road, with The Bell public house on my right and the now redundant Edlesborough church opposite.  I continued in the same south-westerly direction along a bridleway that started next to the church. I was first inspired to do this walk by seeing this long and straight bridleway on the map, envisaging it to be a chalky farm track, and so I was rather disappointed, when I first did the walk a month or so ago, to find that it had a totally artificial grey gravel surface. Still, it made for easy walking. There were more stubble fields to my left, while initially on my right were large sheep pastures. Ahead and slightly to the left was Ivinghoe Beacon, with the flat expanse of the Vale of Aylesbury to my right. I spotted another butterfly as I trudged along the gravel track, a Small Tortoiseshell. Eventually, the track started to rise gently, now with fields of stubble either side. As the track drew level with the steep slopes of Ivinghoe Beacon on my left, it ended at a road, with the village of Ivinghoe Aston just yards away to my right. As I crossed the road, I also crossed the route of the Chiltern Link, a one-day walk I did about three years ago.

On the other side of the road, the bridleway continued for a few yards along  a tarmac drive, then ran between hedges for a very long distance. At one point it passed a small group of beech trees on the right, but there were generally stubble fields or green pastures beyond the hedges. Eventually there was a golf course beyond the hedge on the right, and a bit further on the bridleway concluded at the end of a short street in Ivinghoe.

I turned left at the end of the street, soon reaching another junction opposite the village church where I again went left. Leaving the attractive houses of Ivinghoe behind, I carefully crossed a major road junction where a road came in from the left (part of my route to Tring, Wendover and all the parts of the Chilterns further west). A few yards further on I took a path on the left, which initially ran for a few hundred yards between fences and hedges – there were occasionally fairly close views of the Beacon to my left, with its two small subsidiary humps and then Steps Hill further round.

The path then emerged in the corner of another large field of stubble , and continued in the same direction as before alongside a hedgerow on my left. This obscured the views of the Beacon, but ahead and to my right I could now see Pitstone Hill, and the small hillock beside the car park there. The path continued to rise gently uphill beside the hedge, the stubble eventually giving way to a large meadow – I saw another Comma butterfly here. After a while the hedgerow turned left, but the path continued gently uphill across the grass to a far hedgerow. There were now splendid views to my left, from Ivinghoe Beacon to Steps Hill and the steep-sided narrow valley of Income Hole. Looking back, I could see Pitstone Mill standing alone in the middle of a field.

When I reached a stile in the far hedgerow, I stopped and sat on a convenient block of concrete to eat my lunch. Looking back the way I’d come, I could see the spire of Ivinghoe church and then, much further off, Mentmore Towers (originally built for one of the Rothschilds, it was later home to the Earl of Rosebery, who was Prime Minister for a couple of years in the 1890’s).

The path continued on through an area of rough grass – there are plentiful wildflowers here in the summer months but now there was little but ragwort and occasionally scabious or knapweed. The views of the Beacon and especially of Steps Hill and Income Hill were very impressive here. The path led to a prominent wooden fingerpost, where I crossed over the Ridgeway National Trail. Pitstone Hill was now to my right.

My route continued ahead, initially along a fence on my right, and then gradually ascending the steep slopes of part of the Ashridge Estate. I was soon heading uphill between trees, with occasional views out to my right towards Pitstone Hill. Near the top of the slope I reached the main track from Ivinghoe Beacon to the Bridgewater Monument. I followed it to the right, still going uphill slightly at first before it levelled out as I passed the dog kennels at Clipper Down. The track carried on, passing a cattle pasture on the right before re-entering the mainly beech woods of Ashridge.

After a short distance I turned left onto another path, which led me through the trees to emerge onto a road (from the Beacon to Ringshall). I crossed over and walked down the long drive to Ward’s Hurst farm (five or six paths meet at the farm, and several of my local walks take me past it) with sheep pastures either side of me.

Beyond the farm I continued on a path through more sheep pastures. The path went gently downhill, soon alongside a narrow belt of beech trees on my left – these were already starting to show their splendid autumn colours. Ahead of me was a charming view over Dagnall and the Gade valley – I could pick out my route from Dagnall to Whipsnade Golf Club rising up the far side of the valley. As I followed the line of beech trees downhill, I heard tree crash to the ground in the wooded slopes of part of Ashridge over to my right.

The path took me to Hog Hall (interesting name, but now just a bungalow as far as I can tell) where I continued steadily downhill along the hard-surfaced drive. Ahead of me I could see the White Lion carved into the steep slopes at Whipsnade Zoo, with Dunstable Downs further to the right. Ivinghoe Beacon and Galley Hill were to my left, and I could also see the wooded hill at Totternhoe where I’d walked earlier.

It was a long but easy walk down the drive from Hog Hall. I spotted a Buzzard flying over a small coniferous wood to my left.  At the end of the drive, I turned right and followed a road through the village of Dagnall. By a roundabout I passed the rather unusual village church. A little further on I turned left, initially through the car park of the village school and then between hedges and fences, with paddocks on my left and a ploughed field to my right. To my delight, a Red Kite flew slowly and gracefully out of a tree beside the path, and headed out of view across the field.

The path ended at a lane (from Dagnall to Studham, where it becomes Common Road – I cross it on a number of my walks). I went a short distance to the right, then took a path on the left. This gradually rose up a steep hillside just inside a wood, with a pasture then the tall fence of Whipsnade Zoo to my left. It was a slow but steady plod up the hill, but it wasn’t too far.

At the top I went over a stile and entered Whipsnade Golf Course. I walked in front of a tee, then followed a line of trees separating two fairways. I came to a marker post where I normally turn left, crossing several fairways to reach the boundary fence of the zoo (the Icknield Way, which I’d been following since Ward’s Hurst Farm goes that way). But today I carried straight on. I passed the green at the end of the fairway on my right, and went through a hedge gap to leave the golf course.

The footpath now went half-left across a corner of a ploughed field, aiming for a gap close to a projecting corner of a hedgerow. As I crossed the field, I heard a small commotion, and saw a partridge fly out of the hedge gap and cross the field, briefly chased by a Spaniel! The dog’s lady owner soon appeared, with a second dog on a lead. Through the hedge gap, I continued with the hedge on my right, heading towards a wood with another ploughed field on my left. I happened to turn round at one point here, and saw a Red Kite again – I watched it fly all along the hedgerow on the opposite side of the field to me, before it disappeared over the wood.

I entered the wood and after a short distance turned left. This path soon brought me to a path junction on the far side of the wood, where I went over a stile to leave the wood and follow a fence across a small pasture, where several mature trees grew. Over another stile, I passed Studham church on my right. I continued past two ploughed fields, then turned left and followed a hedge on my left.

This field path brought me to the road between Holywell and Studham. I took another path on the opposite side, which ran uphill just inside a small wood, with paddocks to my left. On leaving the wood, the path continued beside a fence, separating a paddock from a large arable field. The path then continued, with the garden fences of Holywell on my left and a small wood on my right. Beyond the wood was another ploughed field. The path continued beside more garden fences, soon veering slightly left to run with a hedge separating me from the field on my right.

At the bottom of a slight slope I reached Buckwood Lane, where I went a few yards to the right and turned up Dovehouse Lane. The tall hedges either side formed a cool tunnel over the lane, which rose up a small hillside. At the top of the slope, opposite Shortgrove Manor farm, I turned left onto a very familiar path. This followed an overgrown track through a small meadow, then crossed a very large field of surprisingly tidy grass. On the far side, a metal kissing gate beside a rather ornate field gate gave access to the Whipsnade Road. I turned right, and followed the road the few hundred yards back to Kensworth.

I arrived home about 3.50pm, so allowing for lunch I’d been walking a little over six hours. I was quite pleased that I’d averaged close to 3mph, considering that I’d stopped to take 257 photographs during the day, easily a new personal best! It had been a splendid long walk, on an absolutely heavenly day. The whole walk had been thoroughly enjoyable, but the highlights had been the very scenic path from Ivinghoe towards Ashridge, and then the path from Ward’s Hurst farm to Hog Hall with splendid views over the Gade Valley.

Local ‘Almost everywhere’ walk again

Friday, September 19th, 2008

At last! We finally had a day of nice sunny weather! I made the most of it by doing my ‘Almost everywhere’ walk, which visits most of the villages that neighbour Kensworth. I took over 150 photos, and so will eventually add the walk to my web site.

I started off at 10pm, and was soon walking down Hollicks Lane. I took the parallel path behind the hedge to the left of the lane, descending steeply to the bottom of the valley that runs north of Kensworth, and then climbed up the other side – I should have slowed myself down, I was really puffing and panting when I rejoined the lane near the top of the hill. It was then just a short distance to the hamlet of Church End, the old part of Kensworth.

I took the path through the churchyard, and continued through the hay meadow behind the church. In fact, one corner of the meadow had been planted with Sunflowers. I could have joined the quarry path here, but chose not to as the first section can be very muddy. Instead I continued to the field corner and turned left on to Beech Road (a lane from Church End to the edge of Dunstable). The lane almost immediately turned sharply right, and descended and reascended a small valley. Near the top of the rise I went through a gate on the left to join the path round Kensworth Quarry, which I followed to the right.

Soon there was an open area of grass on my right, giving me views over Dunstable and Luton.  I continued alongside the wire fence of the quarry for about a mile – there were generally bushes beyond the fence, screening the quarry from sight, although I could hear the noise of the diggers and trucks working in the quarry. For much of the way there was a wood on my right. Eventually a short path on the right led through trees to a path junction, where I turned left with Dunstable Downs Golf Club on my right. In about 200 yards I reached the main road across the Downs, and crossed over it to reach the old car park.

Although the car park was about a third full, Dunstable Downs seemed very quiet considering the fine sunny weather. There were just one or two people walking about or admiring the views, but there were no kite fliers or paragliders. I walked right, along the top of the Downs, generally keeping to the grass rather than following the new gravel track that the National Trust has recently put in. I took several photos – along the Downs, across to Ivinghoe Beacon and out over the Vale of Aylesbury. I continued on until I reached the ancient burial mounds of Five Knolls, and then descended the steep grass strip towards Dunstable.

At the bottom of the slope I turned sharply left, to start the path that runs all long the bottom of the Downs. I must have followed this path for about a mile and a half, passing the London Gliding Club on my right. There was usually a wire fence and a hedge on my right, with the steep slopes of the Downs to my left generally covered with scrubby bushes. My attempts to photo this part of the route were not too successful as I was looking into the sun. Eventually I turned left, and joined a steep path rising up Bison Hill. This eventually flattened out, and contoured round the hillside towards the car park by the very steep road that climbs the hill.

From the car park I took a bridleway towards Whipsnade, which ran between hedgerows either side. On reaching Whipsnade, I crossed over the road (close to the Zoo entrance) and followed the edge of the green on the other side, curving round in a semi-circle to the left. At the end of the semi- circle was a nice view of more of the huge and irregularly shaped  green ahead me, with the houses of Whipsnade dotted along its edges.

I turned right onto the old lane to Holywell, most of which has been closed to traffic for many years. After half a mile I passed the point where the zoo fence turned right, with a bridleway running along side it. There are a couple of slight alternative routes for this walk that go that way, but I chose today to continue along the old lane – the path beside the zoo features in other of my walks, whereas this way I would photograph a path I rarely use. I turned right immediately before the first house in Holywell, following a field path with garden hedges initially on my left.  I heard but could not see a Buzzard here. The field was now stubble, the first of many such that I would pass by today. The path turned left at the corner of the hedge, but almost immediately turned right again. I followed the clear path across two small valleys in succession, generally following a hedge on my right and passing more stubble fields, dotted with circular bales of straw.

The path took me to Studham Church. I walked through the churchyard, passing to the right of the church, and continued on along Church Road. Soon I passed a bridleway coming in on my right, where the two alternative routes I mentioned would rejoin the main route. At the end of Church Road I turned right, and followed Valley Road downhill, passing the last few houses on this edge of Studham.  At the bottom of the valley I turned left onto another field path, following a hedge on my left with a stubble field sloping up on my right. I passed Studham school on the left and reached Studham Common, where I turned onto a path going half-right through the bushes and trees of this part of the common.

I crossed a road and continued along the top of the second part of the common (like the third section, this was all grass as it had been used for agriculture during the second world war). I stopped for lunch on a bench along here, admiring the view towards Dedmansey Wood which I would be walking alongside later on. Having finished my sarnies I carried on, crossing a second road and continuing along the top of the third part of Studham Common. In the far corner, I turned right along the left edge of a large field, soon with a wood on my left. I soon turned into the wood, at first following a narrow path then continuing on a broad track after reaching a junction of several tracks and paths.

After a while there was a pond in the trees on my right, and I spotted a red dragonfly. It settled on the track in front of me and allowed me to photograph it – I later managed to have it identified as a male Common Darter. A bit later I passed the yard of Beechwood Home Farm and some cottages. As on previous occasions, I saw some Guinea Fowl around here. I turned left at a track crossroads, and followed a pleasant and well-surfaced track that descended into a valley, with a wood on my left, and rose gently up the other side to reach the end of Roe End Lane.

A bridleway (that I use on some of my walks) went left here, but I turned right and followed the lane past a few houses and a farm. I then turned left, following a hedge on my right through a large meadow – there were fairly extensive views around here which showed just how well-wooded this part of the Chilterns are.Through a kissing-gate in a field corner, I took the leftmost of two paths, following a straight but intermittent hedge line through more arable fields, heading gradually downhill to reach the edge of the village of Markyate. I turned left along Buckwood Road, almost immediately leaving the village, and after a few hundred yards turned left onto another path.

I only walked this particular path for the first time about three years ago, and it is one of my favourite local paths. It followed a hedgerow on the left through a couple of grassy fields, continuing along a small headland between two more fields (the one on the left was being harrowed). The path then joined a wide farm track, going on ahead between more fields and passing a very remote farm shed on the right. The farm track ended here, but the path carries on, now running alongside the edge of Dedmansey Wood on the right. I followed the edge of the wood for about half a mile, as it gradually curved left beside a huge ploughed field.

Eventually I turned right, on a path just inside the edge of what was now Byslips Wood. This took me to Byslips Road (one of the main roads between Kensworth and Studham), where I turned left for a short distance before taking a path on the right. This soon crossed part of a large stubble field, and continued beside a small wood on the right. Beyond the wood, the stubble gave way to what had once been a decent crop of beans, but which was now a blackened scraggly mess, presumably intended for animal fodder eventually. On the far side of the field, my path continued through a small wood to reach the edge of Holywell.

I turned right, following garden fences on my left. The wood on my right soon ended, replaced by another stubble field. The path continued beside the garden boundaries, and descended through  trees to a valley bottom where it met Buckwood Lane (the continuation of Buckwood Road which I’d been on earlier). I went a few yards to the right and turned down Dovehouse Lane. The lane was quite shady, being overhung by the hedges either side. At the top of the small rise, by a former farm, I turned left onto a footpath. This followed a rather overgrown track through a meadow, then continued across a much larger field of short grass. On the far side I reached the Whipsnade Road, and turned right to return to Kensworth.

It was about 3.25pm when I got home, so allowing 10 minutes for lunch I’d been walking about five and a quarter hours. I took over 150 photos, which probably slowed my pace quite a bit. It had been a really enjoyable walk on a gorgeous day – warm sunny, almost windless, with just a few white clouds in the blue sky.

Kensworth-Ivinghoe Beacon walk again

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

Today I did my walk from Kensworth to Ivinghoe Beacon and back, yet again. The weather forecast was for sunny intervals, but they never materialised and so it was yet another grey and gloomy day. I took photographs of the walk hoping to put them on my web site, but because the sun never came out they are all very drab and grey. I’ll have to do the walk again another day, when I’m a bit luckier with the weather.

I won’t describe the route, you’ve probably read it here many times before. There was very little of note in the way of wildlife, though I did see a Buzzard between Studham and Hudnall and there were a flock of Goldfinches on Ivinghoe Beacon. Annoyingly I got blisters on my left foot – I haven’t really suffered from blisters for ages, this was my own fault as there were large holes in my SealSkinz sock! So I limped rather walked most of the way back from the Beacon.

I thought I’d found an unusual wildflower at Whipsnade Heath on my way back, but it turned out to be Lucerne (or Alfalfa) a common fodder crop. I’ve come across fields of it elsewhere, but nowhere locally so I’m not sure how it got to the roadside at Whipsnade Heath.

Hemel Hempstead- Watford canal walk

Sunday, September 14th, 2008

My friend Stu would be proud of me! Yesterday (Saturday 13th September 2008) I did my second canal walk of the week! Again, the reason was the recent wet weather – I figured it would be more enjoyable to walk on the towpaths of a canal (which are usually at least partly hard-surfaced) than to plough through endless mud on regular footpaths. Although this was another ‘there and back walk’, for the first time in ages it was a walk where the entire route was new to me.

I parked in Hemel Hempstead (well, Boxmoor to be precise) and set off walking at 10pm. I walked about quarter of a mile to the canal bridge close to the railway station. I’d reached this point on the Grand Union Canal when I walked the Hertfordshire Way, and after Monday’s walk I’d completed the section of the canal from Leighton Buzzard to here (on various walks). So I turned left, and followed the towpath eastwards, entering what was new territory for me. As I progressed through Hemel Hempstead, I passed numerous dog walkers and anglers. After a while I went over an old narrow brick bridge (painted white) as the towpath switched to the left of the canal, the first of six such switches.

Where there had once been warehouses alongside the canal, there were now modern blocks of flats built in a style that reflected the shape and size of the old warehouses. There were a large number of such blocks round three sides of the marina at Apsley, where there was also an impressive modern footbridge over the canal. The walking was pleasant and undemanding, but there was little of note along the canal. The water itself always added something of interest to the scene, and there were usually thick hedgerows screening the towpath from the industrial and residential areas I passed.

I passed King’s Langley on my right and then Abbott’s Langley on the left, without really noticing either of them. I actually looked out for a road bridge close to the station in the latter town, which I’d crossed on the Hertfordshie Way, but I went past it without recognising it (and did the same on the way back!). A bit further on I passed under the M25. Soon there was a large open green area to my right, once the parkland around  a large country house called The Grove but now a golf course. I crossed another old narrow brick bridge here, and then went under a very ornate bridge that carried a road towards the old house.

By one of the numerous locks I passed I saw a wagtail briefly – I spotted the yellow on it, but was unable to tell whether it was a Yellow Wagtail or a Grey Wagtail. I thought it looked green on top rather than grey, making it a Yellow Wagtail, but the waterside location made a Grey Wagtail possibly more likely. I managed to get a reasonable photo of a Heron at the same lock.

I carried on along the towpath until I’d passed a sequence of road and rail bridges on the edge of Watford. This was as far as I’d planned to go, as the following section was all through a heavly buil-up area. It worked out really well, as it had taken me 2.5 hours to get there which was exactly the length of time I’d wanted to go before turning round.

I stopped and sat beside a lock to eat my lunch about 1pm. After lunch, I felt a little low on energy for a while and felt that my pace had fallen, but in fact the walk back only took 5-10 minutes longer than the outward journey. I got back to my car just after 3.15pm.

It had been a grey and gloomy morning, but just after I turned round the sun came out and it was a very pleasant warm and sunny afternoon. I enjoyed the walk – perhaps I’m losing my long-held prejudice against canal walks! The weather forecast for the next few days is for ‘sunny intervals’, so perhaps I’ll finally be able to photograph one of my local walks and put it on my web site.

Therfield Heath to Sandon circular walk

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

Today I drove over to near Royston, Herts., to do a walk with my friend Stu. Royston is roughly halfway between our respective homes (Stu is a friend and colleague from my days in Ipswich), and as I’ve walked three long-distance paths in that area it makes a sensible place for us to meet for a walk. In fact, this walk was more or less a repeat of a walk we did about fifteen months ago.

We started at the car park for Therfield Heath on the edge of Royston, setting off just after 10am. We walked uphill through the heath, with me pointing out some of the wildflowers such as Common Toadflax and Wild Mignonette, and then followed a path eastwards along the top of the hill. This continued a long way through bushes and trees, alongside a golf course – in fact we walked along the edge of fairways in a couple of places. Across a road, we soon passed through a small section of beech wood, and then crossed the grassy Church Hill (when we did this walk before, we came at the right time of year to see Pasque Flowers here).

Soon we left the golf course and followed a long line of trees beside a grassy horse gallop. We then turned left on a footpath that went through a large farmyard (Thrift Farm) and continued for a mile or more along a farm track between fields of stubble (passing a rifle range at one point). The path then rose uphill quite steeply between hedgerows to reach the village of Therfield, where we went past the ancient timber-framed Tuthill Manor. So far we’d been following the route of the Hertfordshire Way but now switched to a section of the Hertfordshire Chain Walk, as we continued a short distance across a few more fields to the edge of Kelshall.

We deviated from the Hertfordshire Chain Walk, taking a byway I’d not walked before in order to avoid some field paths that I thouht would be very muddy and might not even have been reinstated after ploughing. There then followed a short lane walk, before a footpath led us to Sandon church. We stopped for lunch beside the village pond in Sandon.

We followed the Buntingford road out of Sandon – a Rolls-Royce went past with the number plate ‘1 SDL’ which amused Stu greatly, as those are his initials! We were soon on a green lane, part of the route of the Icknield Way. Stu spotted a Buzzard nearby, over a field to our right. After half a mile or so, we turned left onto a field path but after following hedgelines through a couple of fields we rejoined the green lane. I spotted a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly – thus far we’d seen some white butterflies and a number of Speckled Woods. Further on Stu spotted a female Muntjac deer very close to the left of the track – annoyingly I’d left my camera in my rucksack. The green lane eventually brought us back to Therfield.

We followed the road to the left, then turned right on a path starting immediately before the village pub. We were soon back on another green lane, a clear track running between hedges – at the start we saw two Red Admiral butterflies.  It was now a nice straightforward walk for a couple of miles all the way back to Therfield Heath and our cars. I thinke we walked about 13 miles or so, and it took around five hours.

It was great to see Stu again, and made a change for me to walk with someone else. We had  a good chinwag about our mutual friends and about the misfortunes of Ipswich Town and (especially) Luton Town. It was the first time that I’d walked in that area since I walked there with Stu last year – it was nice to revisit it again. It was generally quite grey in the morning (we even had a few spots of rain at one point) but was quite bright and warmer in the afternoon. There was quite a strong wind for most of the day.

Ashridge and Grand Union Canal walk

Monday, September 8th, 2008

Today I did a ‘there and back’ walk – I walked 7 or 8 miles, turned round and came back the same way. It was only after I got home that I realised this was the first time I’d  done such a walk since I finished  the Swan’s Way, almost a year ago. Most of the walk was along the Grand Union Canal – there’s been an awful lot of rain recently and I thought a canal walk would be a good option as the towpaths are often hard-surfaced and therefore less muddy than other rights of way.

I started at the Monument at Ashridge, and followed the popular track that goes steeply downhill to Aldbury. I noticed that this track, in common with several other major bridleways here at Ashridge, had recently been resurfaced and re-engineered. Every so often a hole had been cut in the right-hand bank to allow rainwater to escape from the track. From Aldbury I took the usual path past the stables, but instead of crossing the golf course towards Aldbury Nowers I turned left and followed a bridleway which took me to The Ridgeway path. I followed The Ridgeway, which soon joined a road and passed Tring Station, then I turned onto the towpath of the Grand Union Canal and followed it eastwards.

Initially I had the canal on my right, and there were tall trees flanking either side of the canal. Further on the trees were replaced with hedges as I approached Cow Roast, where there was a marina and the first of numerous locks and bridges I would come to. A few yards further on I saw a Kingfisher fly by, the first I’ve seen in a long while (since January 2006, in fact). At the next bridge the towpath switched to the right of the canal. Further on, I saw a Cormorant land in the canal just ahead of me – it kept diving under water, then reappearing, keeping pace about 10 yards ahead of me as I walked along. It came up with at least one fish, so it did better than the various anglers I passed today!

I continued along the towpath, heading through Northchurch and on into Berkhamsted. When I passed a bridge just before the railway station, I entered new territory as I hadn’t walked this section of canal before. At the next bridge, the towpath switched back to the left of the canal, but two bridges later it switched back to the right. All along this section through Berkhamsted there were some very interesting notice boards about the history of the town – one stretch of the canal was once known as the Port of Berkhamsted, and boat-building was carried out there.

Beyond Berkhamsted the canal entered countryside again, though there was a railway line to the left and a main road to the right. Like the canal, they were following the valley of the tiny river Bulbourne, which I occasionally glimpsed to my right, sometimes little more than a drain, other times quite a pleasant and clear-flowing stream. I continued on past the village of Bourne End, reaching part of the towpath I’d walked on the Hertfordshire Way (I thought of taking a detour to visit the Outdoor shop at Bourne End, but decided not to). I chose to turn round when I reached the lock at Winkwell –  I remembered the notice board here which mentioned, amongst other things, how a lock keeper drowned in the canal here one Christmas Day.

It was about 12.10pm when I turned round, and I’d been walking for just over 2.5 hours. I stopped and had my sandwiches on a park bench in Berkhamsted, almost opposite the railway station. When I got back to Cow Roast, I considered taking a different route back by following the Chiltern Way to Tom’s Hill, but as I’d walked that way about a week ago I decided to stick to my outward route. Of course, the only uphill part of the walk was right at the end as I made my way from Aldbury back to the monument. I got back to my car about 3.05pm – allowing 10 minutes for lunch, I’d been walking for 5 hours and 20 minutes.

The forecast was for sunny intervals – in fact it had remained grey and overcast all day, so I was glad I hadn’t tried to photograph one of my usual local walks. I still want to put my local walks on my web site, but I want some nice weather so I can get some good photographs. Despite the gloomy conditions,it was an enjoyable walk – I always think canal towpaths are a bit boring after a while as they are by definition flat, but I didn’t get bored today. It was good to see the Grand Union Canal being so well-used – I saw numerous narrowboats going up and down, and passed several more as they negotated the many locks.

I’m hoping to do a walk with my friend Stu from Ipswich this week, probably around the Royston area. Stu’s the one who likes canal walks, so he’d have been right at home on today’s walk!

Redbourn walk

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

Today I walked to Redbourn and back, starting from my home in Kensworth. I’ve done this walk several times before, but today I varied it by doing it anti-clockwise for the first time and by changing the route slightly as I got back to Kensworth. If the weather forecast had been good, I’d have done the walk in the usual clockwise direction, taken lots of photographs and written the walk up on my web site. But the forecast was for grey skies and showers, so I chose to do this slightly different version instead, leaving the usual walk for a nicer day.

I started off along the Whipsnade Road. Just as I turned left onto a field path, there was a brief shower. I put my waterproof jacket on, but by the time I’d crossed two fields and walked down Dovehouse Lane to the junction with Buckwood Lane it had stopped. I followed the path behind the edge of Holywell, turning left through a small wood and crossing a very large field to reach Byslips Road. I continued through Byslips Wood, and then picked up the bridleway that is the continuation of Roe End Lane. Soon after reaching Roe End Lane, I turned left and followed a path to the edge of Markyate (well, Cheverell’s Green, to be exact).

Here I started off down Friendless Lane (Great name! Think I mentioned last time I was here that this is my favourite of all the street/lane names I’ve come across. Someone like Bruce Springsteen should have an album called Friendless Lane!). I soon left it though, taking a very pleasant field path that goes more or less parallel to the lane, to its right. The path terminated by going through a wood and returning to Friendless Lane, which I followed a short distance further before turning right at a crossroads (curiously, the continuation of Friendless Lane is the lane going left here, not the lane on the opposite side of the crossroads – I would meet Friendless Lane again later on, when I returned through Flamstead). I went steeply downhill and at the bottom of the slope turned left onto a bridleway that ran along a valley bottom beside the boundary of some corn fields to reach the hamlet of Trowley Bottom (which I always think sounds like a medical problem!).

There was now a bit more lane walking (very quiet, I think I was maybe passed by one vehicle) for about half a mile or so, then I started off down a very long farm track. This ran for about a mile with huge fields (all stubble) either side, without passing so much as a hedgerow. There were nice views over the surrounding countryside, with a small wood beyond the field on my left. I passed the farm complex at Flamsteadbury and crossed over the M1 on a new bridge (this section of motorway has recently been widened to four lanes, so the old bridges had to be replaced with new ones with a greater span) and soon entered the large village of Redbourn.

I followed the village streets beside the cricket pitch (games were first recorded there in 1666, though Redbourn CC’s history only goes back to 1823) and along the green before turning left just before a chapel. At the end of that street I turned left, and then picked up a path that led past a school on my right and back out into the countryside. I followed a headland between fields for several hundred yards (there was some blue Chicory growing here), then the path went half right along the top of an embankment next to the motorway, with a wood on my right.

The path ended at a farm drive, which I followed to the left, crossing the motorway on another replacement bridge. I then turned left onto another path, which went through a paddock by a house, and then continued through more fields either side of a small valley (where I saw a Buzzard) to reach Flamstead. I made my way through this attractive and interesting village, pausing to read a notice board about the history of Flamstead. I then set off down the other end of Friendless Lane, but soon left it, turning right onto another field path. I soon stopped on a stile to eat my lunch, then continued along the path through a sequence of fields, mainly stubble, to reach Markyate.

There was another brief shower here, causing me to don my waterproof jacket again for a few minutes. I made my way through the streets of Markyate, then took a footpath that initially ran along the right edge of some playing fields. I continued beside a hedge, parallel to course of the infant river Ver in the valley to my right, with Markyate Cell on the far side of the valley. The path across the corner of the next field had not been reinstated after ploughing, but I had no difficulty crossing over.

The reason I have always previously done this walk in the clockwise direction is that I get the rather boring 15-minute walk along the road through Kensworth over and done with straightaway – I just don’t fancy doing that at the end of a walk, it would be a bit of an anti-climax. So I now deviated from my usual route. Instead of continuing ahead on the path that would eventually bring me out close to Kensworth School (wear I lurned to reed and rite!), I turned right and followed the hedge row for several hundred yards to reach Kensworth Lynch, a hamlet of mainly quite old houses clustered at the foot of Lynch Hill.

I crossed over the main road (heading up the hill to Kensworth) and took the the lane called The Lynch on the opposite side. I soon passed through the hamlet and continued along the lane as it ran along a small valley, with hedges either side. I don’t think I’d walked along here since I was a child, and though I’d already done more lane walking than I usually do, I enjoyed this section of lane walking which led after about three quarters of a mile to Church End. The end of the walk was then the same as my last one, along Hollicks Lane and the footpath parallel to the lane, up and down the 1 in 7 or steeper slopes either side of the valley immediately north of Kensworth. At the end of Hollicks Lane, I turned right and was soon home again.

I really enjoyed this walk, which took me about 5 hours. I’d not walked the long section from Cheverell’s Green to Redbourn and then back to Flamstead  in that direction before, so that was interesting and especially enjoyable. I’m not sure if I’ve walked that section of path leading to the Lynch before – I’ve been aware of it for ages (I pass it every time I’ve done this Redbourn Walk in my usual clockwork direction), but don’t think I’ve actually got round to walking it before. And walking along The Lynch to Church End was very interesting for me, as I tried to remember it from my childhood.

The two showers I had were very brief, and for most of the time it was bright and sunny despite their being a lot of clouds about. So if I’d have done the usual walk I would have managed to get some decent photos and so could have added the walk at long last to my web site. Oh well – I wasn’t to know, and I really enjoyed doing the walk this way instead. I was lucky yet again, weather-wise – there were a couple of really heavy but brief  downpours after I got home.