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10 June 2017: Ivinghoe hills and Ashridge

Event led by John T
Attendance: 11 men
Distance: 7 miles
Time: start 11:11, end 14:50, lunch 39 minutes
Terrain: grass, chalk, woodland track, farm track
Elevation: start 222m, high 261m, low 163m
Weather: clear blue skies, 22°C, strong southwesterly winds

This was a 7-mile walk around the Ashridge Estate, mostly in Buckinghamshire but starting (just about) in Hertfordshire from the Bridgewater Monument, and including Pitstone Common, Crawley Wood, Steps Hill, Beacon Hill (Ivinghoe Beacon), Gallows Hill, Ward’s Hurst Farm, Ivinghoe Common and Sallow Copse. Parts of the walk followed the Icknield Way Trail and the Ridgeway Trail. It was shared by the Hertfordshire and Milton Keynes & Buckinghamshire groups.

Ashridge is a country estate within the Chiltern Hills that stretches across the counties of Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire, and is owned by the National Trust. It comprises 5,000 acres (20 sq km) of woodlands, commons and chalk downland which supports a rich variety of wildlife. The Bridgewater Monument, near to which we started the walk, is a Grade II* listed tower built in 1832 in memory of Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, who was a pioneer of naval construction who commissioned the Bridgewater Canal, often said to be the first true canal in Britain and the modern world.

The first half of the walk was mostly dominated by hills, views and orchids. We saw common spotted, chalk fragrant, pyramidal and bee orchids, and also patches of wild thyme. The number of chalk fragrant orchids in some places was quite incredible. The views were impressive and we could see entire villages and far beyond. From Ivinghoe Beacon, we could also see Tring Park in one direction and Dunstable Downs in the other. It was extremely windy on the hilltop, so we abandoned the idea of lunch there, and moved further on before taking a (still very windswept) group shot. Lunch was on a hillside in the shade, with views of Dunstable Downs including the chalk lion.

The second half of the walk was mostly dominated by woodland, contained fewer photo opportunities and felt flat in comparison to the first. One wood in particular was rich with the smell of wild garlic which had passed its flowering stage. Before the walk, we were promised a single bluebell in flower, and that’s exactly what we saw: one single blooming bluebell where all others had gone to seed. There was also a farm with sheep and lambs in a few fields. One lamb approached a goose, but as soon as the goose moved, the lamb ran off scared. At the end of the walk, some of us visited the café in Ashridge.

Words and pictures by Peter O'Connor.

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