Kensworth-Totternhoe-Ivinghoe-Dagnall again

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.

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