Archive for January, 2009

Pitstone Hill, Wigginton and Hastoe

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Today I did a circular walk from the car park at Pitstone Hill, Bucks. The walk was basically Walk 4 of my Chiltern Chain Walk but in the opposite (clockwise) direction and with an extension westwards from Wigginton to Hastoe (using a bit of Walk 5 of the Chiltern Chain Walk).

It was very cold in a bitter wind as I set off, but I soon warmed up as I climbed uphill to the track between the Monument and Ivinghoe Beacon. I soon descended again, and near Duncombe Farm I saw a small flock of Meadow Pipits. Rising back up into Ashridge once more, I saw some Fallow Deer near the Monument. I descended again, down to Aldbury, where I had to wait for a string of racehorses to pass before I could cross the road. Climbing back up into the trees, I passed some more Fallow Deer near the hamlet of Tom’s Hill.

On the way to Cow Roast I passed two fields with Alpacas in them.  When I reached Wigginton, I continued on the path following a section of Grim’s Ditch, which I use on Walk 5 of the Chiltern Chain Walk. When I reached the track called Browns Lane, I turned right to reach Hastoe, where I turned right again, following another bit of Walk 5  back towards Wigginton. As I followed the path through Tring Park, I stopped for lunch on a seat I’ve used several times before, overlooking Tring Park and a rather misty Vale of Aylesbury.

From Wigginton, the walk back to Pitstone Hill via Tring Station seemed to go very quickly. Again it was bitterly cold in the wind as I walked over the exposed chalk downland of Pitstone Hill, where I saw a Kesterl hunting. I was back at my car by about 2.45, having walked for only 4.5 hours – with hindsight, I wished I’d extended the walk further, beyond Hastoe. Nevertheless it was a very enjoyable walk, on a day that was bright and fairly sunny, and fairly pleasant when you were out of the wind.

Studham Common to Redbourn via Briden’s Camp

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Yesterday (Thursday, 29th January 2009) I did a new walk, starting from the car park on Studham Common, 2-3 miles from my home in Kensworth. By starting there, I was able to reach an area just north of Hemel Hempstead that I’d not explored before. The start and finish of the walk was on familiar paths, but the middle half of the walk was entirely new to me.

I am not going to give a detailed description, but I have created a map showing the route:,-0.460396&spn=0.09403,0.2211&z=12&msid=112467863617014694733.000461b316bfe1da962e0

The start of the walk followed part of my Kensworth-Little Gaddesden walk (and Walk 2 of the Chiltern Chain Walk), from Studham Common to the scout hut and on towards Gaddesden Row. But just before reaching the lane into Gaddesden Row, I turned left, and followed some field paths, crossing the lane at a different point and then continuing on further paths parallel to the minor road through Gaddesden Row. Near the Golden Parsonage I briefly followed a bit of the Chiltern Way, but soon diverged from it to follow paths to the intriguingly named hamlet of Briden’s Camp.

From Briden’s Camp, I followed a long series of bridleways that were entirely new to me, following a sequence of hedgerows and not passing any buildings at all. The countryside was gently undulating hills, typical of this part of the Chilterns, the brown fields interspersed by occasional woods.  I spotted two Buzzards at one point.

I crossed over a lane, and continued on a similar bridleway, before turning left and reaching the lane from Gaddesden Row to Redbourn. I turned right for a few yards, then turned left down an even narrower lane. After half a mile or so I took a path on the right, which after about a mile took me to Flamsteadbury. I dithered about cutting my planned route short here, but eventually carried on as planned. I followed the lane across the M1 to the edge of Redbourn, then turned left along the very edge of the village and re-crossed the motorway.

A delightful path then led through the edge of a wood, and then alongside hedgerows. I briefly followed a bit of the Hertfordshire Way towards Flamstead (passing the spot where I met a boy fishing for Alligators), then following a bridleway into Trowley Bottom.

The rest of my route followed the return section of my Kensworth-Redbourn walk, from Trowley Bottom to Friendless Lane, along the path parallel to the lane, and then from the edge of Markyate to Roe End. I followed the bridleway that is the continuation of Roe End Lane, following it to its conclusion at Studham Common (rather than turning off near Byslips Wood and heading back to Kensworth!).

This was a very enjoyable walk, it had been a while since I’d walked anywhere new. I enjoyed the new parts of the walk very much – the paths and bridleways were all very clear and well sign-posted, and the countryside was pleasant though unspectacular. The walk was 17 miles long (according to Google maps) and took me 5 and 3/4 hours to walk, which was good considering how muddy all the paths were (although I took hardly any photos). I chose not to record the walk for my web site, as the morning started out quite grey, but I’m sure I’ll do this walk, or a variation on it, again sometime when the weather and season is more conducive for photography.

Long Ashridge walk

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

Today I did a long walk around Ashridge, a slight variation on my Alternative Ashridge Walk, turning it into a ‘figure-of-eight’. I started off from the Monument and followed my usual route towards Ivinghoe Beacon, continuing on over Steps Hill to Pitstone Hill and Aldbury Nowers, then taking the path across the golf course to Aldbury. Instead of continuing towards Tom’s Hill, I took the bridleway back steeply uphill to the Monument, where I stopped and had my lunch.

This circular walk is one that I’ve done many times over the last 20 years or so, and I really wanted to record it for my web site. Unfortunately the weather remained grey and rather dull all morning (it brightened up as I approached Aldbury), so I’m not sure whether I’ll be able to use the photos I took today.

After lunch I took a bridleway leading away from the drive to the Monument (the one I use at the start and end of the Shorter Ashridge Walk I’ve put on my web site). I basically kept straight on, crossing the road to Tom’s Hill and Aldbury, until I rejoined the route of the Alternative Ashridge Walk near Norcott Hill. I then followed the route of that walk, past Northchurch and on to Berkhamsted Golf Club, coming back via Frithsden Beeches. I went a different way for the last few hundred yards, just going round the other two sides of a rectangular block of woodland, which made a pleasant change.

It was sunny in the afternoon – if I’d known how the weather was going to turn out, I’d have done the two halves of the walk in the opposite order, so that I’d be able to photograph the walk I wanted to document in sunny conditions. Never mind! It had been quite frosty when I started out, but where the frost melted the paths became very muddy. There was still some ice in puddles in the late afternoon, though.

I saw three or four groups of Fallow Deer. Birds included a Buzzard, a Jay, a Kestrel and a Green Woodpecker. The walk took a little over six hours – maybe because of the mud, but more likely because I’m not fit!

Totternhoe walk in reverse

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

Today I did my circular walk to Totternhoe once more, only doing it in the reverse direction (clockwise). This was the first time that I’d done it that way round. It was a beautiful day for a walk, with blue skies and just a few thin, white clouds high up. It was quite frosty in the morning, the temperature lifting to maybe 5-7C about lunchtime.

I saw a Treecreeper along the bridleway betwen Whipsnade and Bison Hill. I then saw a small flock of Fieldfares on Bison Hill. As I followed the foot of Dunstable Downs, just as I was about to turn left past the Gliding club, I managed to photograph a Kestrel sitting on a nearby bush.

In the bright sunlight there were some quite extensive views from the top of the castle site at Totternhoe Knolls. The footpaths were very muddy today, worse than I’d expected – I’d forgotten just how much rain we’ve had recently, mainly because its largely been overnight. The paths were particularly bad betwen Totternhoe and Sewell, which didn’t surprise me as I remembered them being bad on previous occasions.

I had lunch quite late, about 1.40pm, when I got back to the top of the Downs. It was nice to sit there on a bench, eating my sarnies and admiring the view over the Vale of Aylesbury. I then managed to get a photo of a Rook, which was sitting on a sign by the old car park. Unusually it was its own, Rooks normally flock together.

The path round the far side of the quarry was also pretty muddy, and I was disappointed not to see many birds at all there. Today I seemed to be quite keen to photograph birds rather than just go for a walk, and a few of the shots I took today may end up on my web site as they are better than those already there.

I got home about 3pm, having been walking for around five hours.

Walks added to web site

Monday, January 12th, 2009

I have just updated my web site ( I have added details of four recent local walks to the Chiltern Hills section, plus one or two more photographs.

Kensworth-Ivinghoe Beacon

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

Yesterday (Saturday 10th January 2009) I repeated another of my long local walks, from Kensworth to Ivinghoe Beacon and back. I will eventually put this on my web site, using this blog entry as the basic text.

There were quite extraordinary weather conditions. There had been 1-2 inches of snow about five days earlier, and as the temperatures since had rarely risen above freezing there were still remnants of snow on the ground. It had been particularly cold overnight, and so there was a severe and very attractive hoar frost covering everything. Sunny intervals had been predicted but they failed to materialise – the skies remained pale grey and overcast, and it was also misty or even foggy at times. The combination of the gloom and the beautiful hoar frost was very photogenic, and I took 222 photos during the course of the walk – many of them look as if they were taken in black-and-white!

I had difficulty getting my boots out of my car, where I’d left them – it was so cold the tailgate was almost frozen and it took several strong pulls before I could get it open. The laces on my boots were quite stiff, almost frozen, and I had a bit of trouble tying them up.  Eventually I managed to set off at about 9.45am. Almost straight away I spotted some Redwings on ‘the Common’, a small piece of rough grass and trees between the fork of the Whipsnade Road and the northern part of  Common Road.

I followed the Whipsnade Road for a few hundred yards, then turned left by an ornate metal farm gate and crossed a very large pasture (the sheep that had been here on Wednesday were now gone, as was the electric fence that had surrounded them). I passed an old Dutch barn and continued along an overgrown farm track beside a small meadow. Here I noticed a single set of footprints in the snow heading in the opposite direction – the tracks I’d made on my walk on Wednesday. As on that day, I spotted two male Bullfinches as I reached the end of the path, opposite Shortgrove Manor farm.

I turned right down Dovehouse Lane. There was less snow here than there had been on Wednesday, but instead there was a lot of ice on the road. I had to take great care with my footing, as I would throughout most of today’s walk – the footpaths, as well as lanes and drives, were iced over in places. At the end of the lane, I went right for a few yards along Buckwood Lane, then took the footpath on the opposite side. This ran alongside the garden boundaries of part of Holywell on my right, with a hedge initially on my left. Where the hedge ended I continued on past a ploughed field, soon reaching a wood. I went past the junction where a path goes left (through the wood and across a huge field to reach Byslips Road- a route I use on many of my walks), and soon after passed the end of a residential street on my right.

The wood on my left and the gardens on my right both ended at the same point, and the path continued between wire fences (though there was little wire left in the left-hand fence, just the wooden posts). The field to my left was ploughed, while the one to the right was rough grass. So far I’d been wearing my waterproof gloves over my fingerless woollen mittens, but I now took the right glove off as I can’t press the shutter on my camera with it on, and I’d grown tired of taking it on and off – I probably then looked stranger than usual with my mismatched glove and mitten! I reached a small wood, the path continuing on just inside it’s right edge, with a paddock just yards away. The path ended by a few properties on the Studham-Holywell road. I went left for less than a 100 yards, and took a footpath on the opposite side of the road.

This path followed a right-hand hedge through more ploughed fields, initially rising gently then descending slightly. In a gap in the hedge I had a view of Studham Church over to my right, surrounded by frost-laden trees. I came to a path crossroads, where I went over a stile and continued ahead, now following a wire fence on my right  separating two odd grassy fields that contained several small groups of young trees enclosed by fencing. I then reached a minor road through Studham, which I followed to the right – it almost immediately turned left (at the junction with the lane to the church). It left the houses behind as it descended into a shallow valley. Here, where several paths meet, I took a path going half-right across a ploughed field, rising gently across the opposite side of the shallow valley to reach Common Road, Studham.

I then took the bridleway opposite, initially along a gravel drive where I passed a Cockerel and several hens. The bridleway carried on alongside a mature hedge on my left in a large arable field. It then passed through the left end of a narrow wood – it is usually very muddy here, so I was grateful for the frozen earth today. Beyond the wood was another mature hedge, and a young plantation beyond a wire fence on my right. After a short while, the bridleway switched to the left of the hedge, and followed it steeply down into the Gade Valley. In the misty and gloomy conditions I could only just see the top of the opposite hillside, and Great Gaddesden was completely hidden from view somewhere along the valley to my left.

The bridleway continued on the far side of the road that runs through the valley, now following a hedgerow on the left. For several hundred yards it rose very slightly, only steepening when a hedgerow came in from the right. I looked along the far side of this hedgerow, and in the far corner of this ploughed field I saw about half a dozen Fallow Deer on the edge of a wood. I struggled slowly up the hill, passing some garden fences on my left near the top – these houses were in the small village of Hudnall.

At the top of the hill, I came to a junction, where five paths met. I went half-right, soon passing a solitary tree as I followed tractor tracks across an immense and flat ploughed field. It surprised me how long it took to get across this field, it must have been at least a third of a mile across. Eventually I reached a metal kissing-gate, covered in thick and spiky frost, and continued across two empty sheep pastures. I could see Little Gaddesden church over to my right – the church and all the trees around me looked most attractive in the wonderful hoar frost.

I crossed the drive to the church, and followed a short path through a small L-shaped meadow. The path continued past a few gardens and then between the fences of paddocks to reach the minor road running through Little Gaddesden. I crossed over and went through the car park of the Bridgewater Arms, the village pub. As I followed the path from the car park, I saw a few Long-tailed Tits. The path descended gently to a private drive, where I turned right – at this point I left the route of the Chiltern Way, which I’d been following since just beyond Studham. I don’t normally take photos of individual houses as I think it’s an invasion of privacy, but I was sorely tempted as I followed the drive. To my left was a magnificent house, surrounded by impressive trees, a beautiful winter scene just crying out to be photographed. I consoled myself with the thought that there would be plenty more ice-laden trees in Ashridge, which I was now nearing. Beyond the large house, the drive ended and I continued on a path through a small wood, then along the right-edge of a small area of rough grass to reach a minor road in Ringshall.

I crossed over and went a short distance to the left. Beyond the last house on this side of the road, the magnificent woods of Ashridge began. I turned right, facing away from the road, but almost immediately forked half-left along a bridleway through the trees. I went over a few minor path junctions until I reached a major junction where another, broader, bridleway crossed over – I turned right along it, disappointed that I could see a couple of dog-walkers about 200 yards ahead of me, which meant my chances of seeing any wildlife here were much reduced. In fact I soon passed close to a large parking area on my right, and passed several other dog-walkers in the next few hundred yards – the cold and frosty conditions obviously weren’t a deterrent on this Saturday morning.

The bridleway continued for a long distance through the trees. The surface was badly churned by horses, the mud now frozen solid, and I had to pick a path along either edge. All the trees, including beech, oak and silver birch, were magnificent in their thick white coating of ice. The bridleway gradually narrowed, as it drew closer to the road between Ringshall and Ivinghoe Beacon which ran to my right. Eventually the bridleway turned left, and I continued ahead on a footpath through the trees, now only yards from the road. I passed a junction where a path went right, to the entrance to Ward’s Hurst farm, somewhere I pass through on many of my walks (it was only later that I remembered that this walk is one of them!).

The path then curved round to the left, descending slightly to reach the main track between the Bridgewater Monument and Ivinghoe Beacon. I turned right along the track – again there were a couple of people just ahead of me, so I stopped to let them get ahead as I didn’t want to include them in my photos. I followed the track past the kennels at Clipper Down – the drive beyond the kennels was very icy and this was one of the numerous sections of today’s walk where I had to take care with my footing. I passed a junction where a left fork goes downhill to meet the Ridgeway at the foot of Steps Hill. I continued on the track, meeting several walkers, two cyclists and a jogger coming the other way.

Just beyond a cattle grid, where I entered the Ivinghoe Hills nature reserve (still part of the National Trust’s Ashridge estate), I took another path forking left. I was now out of the tall trees of Ashridge and entering an area of scrubby bushes. I soon reached the top of Steps Hill – there are two parallel paths to Ivinghoe Beacon from here, and I chose the left-hand one (which is the route the Ridgeway takes). I went over a stile and turned sharply right, crossing over the top of the hill. Visibility was very limited here, and I could only just see the Ridgeway path descending in the opposite direction. I could also only just see down into the steep valley of Incombe Hole, and across the top of the end of that valley to the steep slope beyond. Incredibly, in these gloomy conditions there were two people standing on the top of the hill with Paragliders! One seemed to be having a bit of difficulty controlling his, and I had to take a detour from the path to get round him (I wouldn’t normally leave this path, as there are warning signs here about the dangers of unidentified metal objects left over from military training during World War II).

The path entered a small wood, not the grand trees of Ashridge but more a thicket of blackthorn and similar shrubs. It then descended slightly by a fence, then turned right at a kissing gate. I was now in an area of Chalk Downland, the grass here being speckled with wildflowers in the summer months. Now everything was white, against the grey background of the sky and fog. The scattered bushes all had a thick covering of hoar frost. I followed the path as it gradually descended to reach the road at a hairpin bend.

I crossed over, and went half-left up the first of two subsidiary ‘bumps’ that come before Ivinghoe Beacon itself. At the top I turned right, heading gently down and towards the smaller of the two ‘bumps’. I saw another Redwing here, and after going over the almost imperceptible second ‘bump’ I saw a pair of Goldfinches, their bright colours really standing out in the monochrome setting. I then steadily plodded up the steep but short slope to reach the top of Ivinghoe Beacon. On a clear day you can see for forty miles – today visibility was down to less than half a mile.

I usually turn and retrace my steps for a short distance here, but today I set off along the narrow ridge towards Gallows Hill. But I soon turned sharply right, following a path beside a fence on my left, gradually descending around the flank of the Beacon. This path too was icy, and I felt my feet slip here at one point but fortunately I maintained my balance. I passed to the left of the two ‘bumps’, and then turned left along a path following a fence on my right – this was the start of the Icknield Way long-distance path, which I’d now be following for several miles until I reached Whipsnade. On the right of the fence, the rough grass sloped steeply uphill towards the car park for the Beacon. I was surprised at how many walkers were about – I counted a total of 19 that were in view as I followed the path by the fence, including a group of seven that passed me coming the other way. I heard the distinctive sound of a Raven here, though it was too far away in the gloom for me to see it.

After a while, I went through a gate in the fence, and followed a path towards a wood. Just before going through a gate at the entrance to the wood, I sat on a log to eat my lunch and have some coffee. I was worried that I might lose heat and get too cold while I was stopped, but the coffee helped me keep warm and I was fine. A few snow flakes fell, but just for a few seconds – this had already happened a few times, and did so again just after I set off again. I followed a path through the wood, and soon spotted a male Muntjac Deer amongst the trees to my right (I managed to get a fairly poor photo of him). After a few hundred yards, the deciduous trees gave way to the slightly spooky coniferous section of the wood, but I was soon through that and back into more natural woodland.

The path forked left at a track junction, and started up a steep flight of wooden steps with a hand railing – these were put in a couple of years ago, as part of some general improvements that were made to this part of the Icknield Way (a lot of new signposts were put in at the same time). The steep mud and chalk slope that was here prior to that was probably a bit dangerous when wet, I could well imagine someone skidding or slipping over and injuring themselves. At the top of the steps, somewhat out of breath, I followed the edge of a pasture and went through a gate to reach Ward’s Hurst farm (I mentioned it earlier).

I turned left and immediately left the farmyard through another gate. I followed a fence on my left between two sheep pastures – a long line of sheep were processing through an open gateway, heading over to my right. They stopped to let me pass by, then continued on their way. I was now following an embankment on my left, where some magnificent beech trees grew, as the path gradually descended. There was usually a good view ahead of the Gade Valley and Dagnall, but today there was just a blank greyness. The hoar frost on the trees and grass continued to make for good photos though.

I passed a few more sheep, and beyond the end of the very long pasture the path went round the corner of an arable field to reach the drive to Hog Hall. I turned right and carefully followed the drive steadily downhill. It was very icy in places, and I often had to resort to walking on the verges either side. After half a mile or so, I reached the road that runs through the Gade Valley again, on the edge of Dagnall. This walk passes through the three counties of Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire, which all meet at a point just outside this village.

I turned right along the road, into Dagnall. I went straight on at a roundabout, passing the rather unusual church on my right. I turned left immediately beyond the village school, following a path between paddocks on my left and a small field on my right. Ahead of me was a steep slope, part of the Chiltern escarpment, where there was one of the very large open paddocks of Whipsnade Zoo. When I reached the end of the path at a lane, I saw an emu beyond the zoo fence opposite me.

I followed the lane for a few yards to the right, then took a path that rose at a steady gradient up the hillside. There was a sheep pasture to my left, surrounded on two sides by the tall zoo fence, and a wooded area to my right. Further up the slope, I had a garden hedge on my left and I crossed the drive to an isolated house. At the top of the hill, I emerged onto Whipsnade Golf course, with the club house just to my right – there were a surprising number of cars in the car park. The path crossed in front of a couple tees – amazingly, a couple of youngsters were just teeing off from the second of them. I thought the course would have been closed in the frosty conditions.

The path continue through a line of trees between two fairways. A tall marker post indicated a path junction, where I turned left and followed the path across five or six fairways – a number of footprints showed that many people had used these path in recent days. Three other youngsters were out playing – they had just reached the temporary winter green on the last fairway I crossed.

The path then continued for a long distance beside the tall zoo fence, with a mature hedgerow to my right. The fence and hedge were both covered in thick frost, and as the hedge overhung the path it seemed to form a white tunnel. I passed another huge zoo paddock where various type of deer were kept, and further on I spotted some Musk Oxen. I also managed to photograph a Wallaby and a Chinese Water Deer as I continued on along the zoo fence.

By a triangular bit of woodland I came to a T-junction where I took the path going left, almost immediately back alongside the zoo fence again. There were probably a hundred or more Chinese Water Deer in this section of the zoo (which is well away from any visitors) with a few Wallabies mixed in. The path took me to the old lane between Holywell and Whipsnade, which I followed to the left. Again it was icy in places and I had to take care. After quarter of a mile or so, I turned right on a path beside a hedgerow, passing some tall ice-laden trees as the path rose slightly. I went through a gate in the field corner and immediately went left through an open gate. I was now in a small meadow, following a hedge on my right – it was curious to see large round bales of hay with a smattering of snow and ice on top.

The path continued through the churchyard of Whipsnade Church, where I passed two yew trees near the entrance. I then turned right, crossing a section of the huge village green (an irregularly shaped area of rough grass that goes over one small hillside, down the other and up another small rise, with the residences of this msall village dotted around its edges). I headed downhill to reach the minor road (the Whipsnade Road again) by the Old Hunter’s Lodge restaurant, and continued beside the road to the crossroads at Whipsnade Heath.

I crossed over, and made my way through the small car park and small picnic area to pick up the short path through the woods that comprise the greater part of Whipsnade Heath.  Beyond the wood, the path runs beside a large field, between a wire fence and a hedge on the right. It then goes through a kissing gate, and crosses a field of rough grass. As I neared the gate on the far side, I met two people walking a dog – it was one of our near neighbours, and her daughter whom I’d not seen since she was a girl thirty years or more ago. After a brief but pleasant chat, I had the simple task of following Common Road downhill for about quarter of a mile, getting home about 3.45pm.

Despite the freezing conditions all day (I’d not seen any evidence of the snow or ice thawing, save beside the Whipsnade road where it had been gritted), my lovely Paramo gear had kept me nicely warm , and I felt neither cold nor particularly tired when I finished the walk. It had been a really great day out – I really enjoy walking in wintry conditions, it’s far preferable to walking when it’s wet and muddy.

I have walked this route many times now, and have always enjoyed it – I’ve not yet tried it in the opposite anti-clockwise direction, but suspect it wouldn’t be quite so good that way round. It’s a pleasantly up-and-down route, with a nice combination of woodland walks and field paths, plus the lovely chalk downland around Steps Hill and Ivinghoe Beacon. But it was the bizarre weather conditions that made this walk so special – the remnants of snow on the ground,  the spectacular frost coating the trees, bushes, fences,  gates and everything else, the grey skies and fog, all these factors combined to make for some eery yet beautiful scenes. This is a walk that I will certainly remember for a long time, and I will treasure many of the photos that I took.

Local walk to the Downs again

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

This morning I repeated my favourite short local walk yet again, from Kensworth to Dunstable Downs, returning via Whipsnade and Holywell. Although the route was very familiar, there was an inch or so of snow on the ground making the conditions quite different to usual.

I walked up Common Road, Kensworth, and took the footpath on the left, opposite Green End farm, which led across a couple of fields to the wood at Whipsnade Heath. I followed paths through the wood, and crossed over the road to the Downs to the start of a bridleway. This soon took me to a bridleway junction where I turned right, following the lengthy bridleway past a Mobile Home park on my left, then through a small wooded area and eventually to the top of the huge grasy field on top of the Whipsnade section of the Downs.

Unfortunately it was now very foggy, with visibility down to 200 yards or so. I’d been photographing the route to put it on my web site, but may not bother now because I was unable to get any of the views from the Downs. I turned right, along the top of the huge field, went through a kissing-gate in the corner, and turned left, following the fence surrounding the field downhill. At the bottom corner of the field I turned left again, and followed the path next to the fence along the bottom of the field. I took some photos of the snowy conditions, but in the fog there wasn’t much to see.

After quite some while, the path left the fence and started heading gently downhill, cutting across the steep slope. At the bottom of the hill, I turned left and took the very steep path back up to the top of Bison Hill. I’d almost taken a short cut to avoid this steep path because I was a bit worried what it would be like in the snow, but it proved to be no problem – footprints showed that several other people had already managed it.

I stopped for a break near the car park on Bison Hill, to eat an Alpen bar and drink some coffee. I then took the bridleway from the car park towards Whipsnade, but soon took a path on the left. This followed the boundaries of two fields and took me to a private drive near the Sallowsprings Nature Reserve. I followed the path through the tiny reserve, briefly rejoining the drive before turning right and following a path next to Whipsnade Tree Cathedral.

I crossed the large village green in Whipsnade, and took the path through the churchyard. In the second field I came to, I saw a Wren in the hedgerow, but as always completely failed in my attempts to photograph it. Across the Studham Road, the path continued alongside a wood on my left, where some Redwings teased me by continuously perching just ahead of me and then flying off just as I focussed my camera on them.

I then walked through Holywell, and took the path parallel to Buckwood Lane. I then turned left along a very snowy  Dovehouse Lane. Just as I was about to turn left by Shortgrove Manor Farm, I saw two male Bullfinches. I crossed two fields to reach the Whipsnade Road, and got home about 12.40pm.

It was enjoyable walking in the crisp snow (it was only about an inch deep!), it made a change and was preferable to walking through mud. It was a shame that it became so foggy – I’ll have to look at the photos and decide if it’s worth putting them on the web site.

Kensworth to Little Gaddesden and Hudnall

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

Yesterday (3rd January 2009) I did my favourite long local walk, a circular route from my home in Kensworth to Little Gaddesden and Hudnall. I took lots of photos and will eventually add the walk to my web site, using the text from this blog entry as a starting point.

It was a cold morning as I set off just after 10am, with still a lot of frost on the ground, some of which would remain all day. But the skies were clear blue and would remain so all morning – only in the afternoon would some small clouds appear. I started off along the Whipsnade Road – the wide verge on the left was in the shadow of a hedge and was particularly frosty. I turned left through a rather ornate metal farm gate, and followed a path through a large pasture and then through a small meadow to reach Dovehouse Lane. Here I turned right – the lane is bordered by tall hedges either side that overhang, almost forming a green tunnel.

At the end of the lane, I went right for a few yards along Buckwood Lane, before taking a path on the far side. This led through trees and went uphill, soon with the garden fences of properties in Holywell on my right, and later an arable field on my left. Beyond the field was a small wood, and at a path junction I turned left and walked through the wood. The path then continued for several hundred yards across a large arable field, with views towards Studham Common over to my right. The path passed another small wood and then a solitary tree before reaching Byslips Road, which connects Kensworth and Studham.

I turned left along the road for a hundred yards or so, then took a path on the right. This ran just inside the edge of Byslips Wood – at one point it squeezes between two tree trunks. On the far side of the wood I turned right, passing through the right edge of a small triangular area of trees and then continuing ahead on a bridleway between hedgerows (this is the continuation of Roe End Lane, a route I use on several of my local walks). I saw a Buzzard fly off here – I’d seen one here a few days ago, when I saw five of these large birds at four different points on a three-hour local walk. A lady jogger passed me as I walked along the bridleway (a good spot for lovely yellow Meadow Vetchling in the summer months).

The bridleway soon descended into a shallow valley, with a waterworks beyond the hedge on my left. At the bottom of the valley the bridleway joined the cement drive to the waterworks, which I followed a few yards to the right before turning left, going uphill along the edge of Studham Common. It was particularly frosty in the shade at the bottom of the valley, the frost decreasing as I steadily went uphill. Near the top of the hill I reached a corner of the common, where I went through a hedge gap and continued on, now with Great Bradwin’s Wood on my left and another arable field on my right. At the end of the wood, I went through a gate and followed a right-hand fence through an empty paddock, then followed a gravel drive to reach a road opposite a sports ground and a Scout hut.

I turned left, soon reaching a junction where I followed the right fork. The road was now called Pedley Hill – it gradually descends for over a mile to reach the road running through the Gade Valley, near Hudnall which I would reach later on. But I only followed the road for a few hundred yards, before turning left onto a field path. I followed a mature hedgerow on my left, beside a large arable field. I didn’t see any today, but I have seen Buzzards and Red Kites here in the past. In the field corner the path turned right. A short distance ahead of me the hedge broadened out, and where it did so I spotted a small group of Fallow Deer.

The path soon switched to the left side of the hedgerow, continuing beside another huge  green arable field on my left. There were pleasant views either side, and I spotted a Hot-air Balloon just above the horizon. On eventually reaching the field corner, I went through an empty gateway and turned left alongside a smaller hedge. I was surprised to see sheep in this field (contained by a wire fence as there were several gaps in the surrounding hedges) as it is usually arable. The hedge turned to the left and soon came to a corner, where I went through a gap and turned right along the far side of the hedgerow, spotting some Lapwings in the field on my left. At the end of this field (the same huge arable field I’d been in earlier) I went through a gate and followed a tall hedge on my left – this field was also arable, but is usually a sheep pasture, so the farmer has obviously been doing a bit of rotation. After a couple of hundred yards I came to another metal gate, which brought me to a hedge-lined track. As usual there were some barking dogs as I passed a farm on my left and reached a lane on the edge of Gaddesden Row.

I turned right along the lane for a few yards as it went down a slight dip, then turned left on another field path. This went along the left edge of a meadow, then went through a gap and continued on the other side of the hedgerow in a larger meadow sloping up to my left. As I walked along here, I suddenly spotted two foxes exiting the meadow and entering some woodland on the far side – I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen more than a solitary fox. The path soon switched back to the left of the mature hedgerow – there was now a nice view down a side valley leading to the Gade Valley, and on the skyline I could see the temple of a Buddhist monastery that I would pass later.

It was very frosty in the corner of the field where the path entered Hoo Wood (for many years I thought it was called Hob Wood, due to the unfortunate positioning of a line on my map appearing to turn the second ‘o’ into a ‘b’!). The path went half-right through the wood, along a clear gap between the trees. I soon spotted something about 100 yards ahead of me on the path. I thought it might be a Muntjac Deer, but as it ambled off it was obviously a fox, presumably one of the two I’d just seen. It soon re-appeared on the path, and I managed to get a distant poor-quality photo. A bit further along the path, I simultaneously spotted a Goldcrest and a Tree Creeper! The Goldcrest was right next to the path, and didn’t seem concerned at my presence. I spent two or three minutes trying to photograph it, but as usual it was flitting about amongst the leaves of some low bushes and I was unsuccessful.

Beyond Hoo Wood, the path descended across another arable field, with a nice view over Great Gaddesden and the Gade Valley. I turned right along the hedge on the far side, soon reaching the road running through the valley. A fairly new wooden kissing gate on the far side led into a large empty cattle pasture in the valley bottom, where I crossed the similarly new footbridge over the river Gade (spotting another Lapwing), then turning half-left across the pasture to reach the edge of Great Gaddesden. A short distance along a village street, I went over a stile on the right and followed a path through a continuation of the empty pasture, heading uphill to a gate in a field corner. Beyond the gate, the path continued less steeply uphill through another pasture, where five small bullocks were drinking from a cattle trough just to my left. There were nice views here, back over the Gade Valley. The path then continued along the right edge of a paddock to reach the long lane running through the hamlet of St Margarets.

The Buddhist monastery that I’d seen earlier was on the opposite side of the lane. I took a footpath that went just left of the monastery grounds, initially along the drive of a house. Further on the path ran beside an empty paddock on my right. Here I met a couple coming the other way with their two dogs (Samoyeds, I think), who told me they’d just passed a small group of deer. Sure enough, a little way down the path I spotted the Fallow Deer in a small area of trees and bushes between two fences. I met two lady walkers here, and we watched the deer together for a few minutes, as we walked slowly past. The trees and bushes were entirely enclosed by a wire fence, about four feet high, but some of the deer demonstrated that it was no problem to them, as they leapt it from a standing start – I managed to get a couple of photos of them.

The path now lead downhill, with a huge ploughed field on my right. At the bottom of the valley I reached a lane on the edge of the village of Nettleden. I turned right, away from the village, and within a few yards took a path forking right across the huge ploughed field. This path is usually an interesting one, running along the bottom of a small valley for over a mile without passing any habitations or even so much as a hedgerow. However, as I’d descended the hill to Great Gaddesden I’d noticed that the ground was no longer frozen, and so I knew this long path along tractor tracks through the enormous ploughed field was going to be a little laborious. I soon passed the solitary tree standing guard at the entrance to the valley, and started to make my way along the valley, the path very gradually rising. The mud was soon sticking to my boots, and so this section was a bit of a slog, rather than the pleasure it usually is when the ground is dry and there are skylarks singing overhead. I plodded along for about 20 minutes, only passing a small circle of bushes enclosing a pond, but eventually reached a fence and a small paddock (I usually think of it as a meadow, but there was a horse in it today – I have twice seen the lovely Fox-and-cubs here). On the far side I went over a stile to reach the road through Little Gaddesden.

I turned right and followed the road for a couple of hundred yards, passing a couple of families out walking with their pony-riding daughters. I turned right onto another footpath, which soon took me through a stables and onto a track between paddocks. It descended slightly into the shallow valley I’d been plodding through before – I spotted another group of Fallow Deer here, in the paddocks on the opposite hillside, though they were possibly the ones I’d just seen before (they were about a mile from where I’d seen them, further along the same hill). The path went left, and then turned right, going uphill between a hedge and a paddock fence on my right. There were two large Fallow bucks with impressive antlers in the paddock, feeding next to the wood that I was approaching. They watched me nervously as I approached, but didn’t move off and allowed me to get some reasonable photos.

The path entered the small wood, and I sat on a fallen Silver Birch tree to eat my lunch (I usually stop here when I do this walk). As I munched my sarnies, I spotted a couple of Fallow does in the trees, and later on the two large Bucks joined them. Lunch over, I continued the short distance through the wood to reach the continuation of St Margaret’s Lane which I’d earlier crossed by the Buddhist Monastery. Ahead of me was a large area of grassland, sloping down and out of view, part of Hudnall Common (owned by the National Trust). I turned left along the lane, and followed it through the small village of  Hudnall.

I crossed over a minor road, following a dead-end lane past some more residences and then continuing ahead on a footpath along the right edge of a small paddock. In the far corner, I reached a junction where five paths met, and where there was a distant view of Little Gaddesden church. I turned right, heading down towards the Gade Valley once more, initially with tall garden fences on my right. Beyond the gardens, the path steepened as I followed a hedge line down into the valley. I re-crossed the road running through the valley, and followed the equally steep path up the opposite side, now with a hedge on my left. Towards the top of the hill, I caught up with a couple of walkers who’d paused where the path switched to the left of the hedge. We chatted for a minute or two about our walks and the wildlife we’d seen, then I carried on. The path was much less steep now, with a young plantation now on my left. I passed through the edge of a small wood, then carried on beside a mature hedge on my right. A short driveway by a couple of properties then took me to Common Road, Studham.

Across the road, a path went half-right across a ploughed field, descending a small valley. At the field corner I went through a gateway and turned left along Valley Road, Studham. At the top of the hill I turned left into Church Lane. I usually take a path on the left along here, but today followed the lane to its  end and passed through the churchyard. I then turned left over a stile, and followed a fence on my right through a small pasture, passing a couple of mature trees. On the far side a stile took me to the path that I could have joined earlier. I turned right, following the path through the edge of a wood. The path soon left the wood, going right, alongside another tall hedgerow on my right. It descended and reascended a shallow valley, then passed through a small wood to reach the boundary fence of Whipsnade Zoo. The path continued between the Zoo fence and a mature hedgerow – there were plenty of Chinese Water Deer in the compound beyond the fence today, but unusually I didn’t spot any Wallabies.

The path ended at the old lane between Holywell and Studham, closed to traffic many years ago. I turned left and followed it for about a third of a mile, then took another field path on the right. At the next field corner I took a path going left, which ran along the edge of a meadow and brought me to Whipsnade Church. I walked through the churchyard to reach part of the huge and irregularly shape village green, where I walked off to the right, soon heading downhill and joining the road that runs through the village by the Old Hunter’s Lodge, a popular bar and restaurant (it was Anne’s Cafe when I was a kid).

It was just a short distance to the crossroads at Whipsnade Heath (actually there’s been a roundabout there for several years now, but it’s still know as the crossroads). I crossed over and took the path through Whipsnade Heath – as I went through the picnic area I spotted a Muntjac deer disappearing into the trees (all I really saw of it was its white tail). I followed the short path through the woods, and carried on across a couple more fields to return to Common Road, Kensworth. It was then a short downhill stroll back to my home, which I reached about 3.30pm.

This is my favourite long local walk. There are several other really good walks that I do, but every time I do this walk it re-affirms its position as my favourite and always reminds me how fortunate I am to live in a very attractive part of the English countryside. I usually have a few interesting wildlife encounters on the way, but I have to admit that today was a bit exceptional! The encounters with the fox and the deer leaping the fence will be memories that will stay with me for a long time.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

A Happy New Year to you all! I hope you all have a wonderful 2009!

This morning I did yet another local walk, which took me about 2.5 hours. I walked down Hollicks Lane to Church End, then turned right and followed the lane to the Lynch.  I then followed a path parallel to the A5 that took me to Markyate. From there I took the path that led across fields to Dedmansey Wood (where I saw Buzzards again) and then went through Byslips Wood to reach Byslips Road.

I continued along the footpath on the other side, across a large open field to reach a wood on the edge of Holywell. I turned right, then took  a path going left alongside Buckwood Lane. Where the path turned left to enter Holywell, I continued on along the lane to reach Whipsnade Heath. I then returned home by taking the path through the woods of the Heath and crossing a couple of fields to reach Common Road, Kensworth, about a quarter of a mile from my home.

It was a completely grey and overcast morning, with the temperature barely above freezing. But it staill made for an enjoyable shorter walk.