11 May 2024: Wrest Park, Silsoe and surrounding villages

This walk was a circular route around the valley of the River Hit. From Wrest Park house and industrial estate, the route went E to Meppershall, S to Shillington, SW to Higham Gobion, then NW to Silsoe.

The usual stats:

  • Event led by Khris R.
  • Attendance 11 people.
  • Distance: 10.6 miles (17.1 km).
  • Altitude per GPS: low 259ft (79m), high 259ft (130m), climb 1,085ft (331m), descent 1,120ft (342m).
  • Time: start 11:24, end 17:48 (sunset 20:43), lunch 43 minutes, pub stop 58 minutes, other breaks included in walk-time.
  • Speed: moving arithmetic average 2.25mph (3.62kph).
  • Terrain: path, pavement, field, field edge on footpath bridleway and highway.
  • Weather: perfect for walking, sunny intervals, temperate range between 21°C and 23°C, easterly wind 7-12mph (16-25 kph) with slight chill, felt like 20°C and 22°C.
  • Number of sewage works: 0.
  • Number of churches: 6.
  • Number of golf courses: 0.

The route took us up-and-over the effective valley of the River Hit, giving us some middle-distance views at its higher points. The route sat entirely in the basin immediately due north of the Chiltern Hills, in which the basin itself has relative peaks and troughs. The relative peaks offers beautiful views of rolling countryside and, to the south, the Barton Hills and Pegsdon Hills.

In the past, much of this area of the route was in Hertfordshire. A chunk of Shillington parish transferred to Bedfordshire on 30 Sep 1897 under a Local Government Board Order.

In this area of Bedfordshire, crops fields tend to be notably larger than their equivalents in Hertfordshire. After lunch, in particular, we walked through numerous vast fields of broad bean (or cow bean). The broad beans were in flower, exuding their pleasant, slightly-vanilla fragrance.

Correspondingly, villages are comparatively small, apparently low in population density, and sparse, compared to most of Hertfordshire. The character of the geography in this part of south Beds is closest to that of northern East Herts heading towards western Essex.

There was one castle on the route. Specifically, the site of a motte and bailey castle at Meppershall, which is now a scheduled monument in the back garden Meppershall Manor. The manor house itself is a grade II listed building, dating back to early 17th century. Today, the manor house is superbly preserved and well maintained, its now-elderly residents sat on a bench in their front garden admiring their pond.

We noticed crimson clovers on the route, which appeared in a field edge, presumably used as a cover crop.

One major peak in the basin is Shillington itself, on which the locals built All Saints Church. The church was on today, with either a funeral or wedding taking place. We couldn’t tell: at the start of lunch, we saw people wearing black and the church bells performed a rotation which sounded dour (“for whom the bell tolls”). By the end of lunch, we saw women wearing grey dresses with fascinators – bridesmaids? – and other people arriving to church in brighter colours. This was very confusing. Either somebody being married had a dark sense of humour, or the church was doing a series of services with a really quick turnaround. We didn’t hang around long enough to find out whether a third service might have been the baptism of the child of the couple just married...

The optional pub stop was at the Star & Garter Pub, Silsoe. 8 members joined the pub stop.


Future event ideas:

  • for culture & history: a visit to Wrest Park house and gardens, a glorious exposition of vanity by an upper middle class family who wielded their own ideas about design. The venue offers quite few things to see. Admission would currently cost £16, with donation, booked in advance (£19 on the door on the day). Food would cost extra, either at the on-site cafe or at the Star & Garter Pub, whose menu is pizza & light-bites only.

For more pictures, see https://bit.ly/GOCHertsWrestPark.

Words by Martin Thornhill. Pictures by Peter O’Connor.

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