Kensworth to Little Gaddesden and Hudnall

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.

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