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12 April 2014: Pirton

Event route planned and designed by Peter O in 2013.

Weather: overcast, dry, westerly winds ~14mph, 12°C wind-chilled to ~6°C.  Turned sunny with clear blue skies immediately upon arrival at the pub at the end of the walk.

Attendance: 23 attendees, no prospective members of GOC. 23 males.  3 attendees departed at lunchtime due to a wardrobe malfunction.

Time: start 1113, end 1650, lunch (including food fair) 50 minutes.  Walking average speed 2.5mph.

Terrain: pavement, roadside, bridleway, footpath, field-edge, on mainly chalk-clay soil.  Completely dry, nearly concrete in most places.  Elevation ranged from 50m to 127m.  Maximum slope 8.8%.

Number of sewage works on the route: 2.

Number of golf courses on the route: 1.

This walk was a circular route of 12 miles from Pirton, NE to Holwell, N to Lower Stondon, W to Shillington, SW to Hexton, E/NE to Pirton via Pegsdon.  The route traversed the southern-most South Midland plains, the "foothills" (actually more like geological rumble strips) of the Chiltern range, then ascended an escarpement to Knocking Hoe, before returning to Pirton.  Thus, was mainly flat except for a really steep hill (steep by Herts' standards) at the end of the walk.

The walk started from the neat, tidy and thoroughly posh village of Pirton.  A wide variety of houses, ranging from posh detached houses, large thatched cottages, Victorian terraces and one brick-built shed-type-thing with patio doors (apparently a dwelling!) to standard 1960s chalets.

On leaving Pirton, we enjoyed long views over fields of bright yellow rape towards Shillington Church, while the Church sat on its hill, taunting us.  It knew that it was our lunch spot, and we were walking away from it!  Amongst the crop fields was a smallholding, featuring freshly-born lambs, awaiting their turn to meet some mint sauce.  Towards the north was our first sight of Sauron.  Sauron was actually a water tower at Upper Stondon and bears a striking resemblence to the dark tower described in Tolkein's Lord of the Rings.  It was a permanent feature throughout most of the walk, watching us take every step.

Our first break was at Holwell Church.  Rebuilt in 1877, the site has carried a church since 968.  About half of the group suddenly disappeared to explore the insides of the church.  Leaving break, we continued to Lower Stondon, arriving at a static caravan park and leaving on the Shillington racetrack, a.k.a. Shillingdon Road, a straight road with limited vergeside walking, with impressive long views towards Shillington.  And the ever-watchful eye of Sauron.  Sauron enjoyed some mild entertainment as one member suffered a wardrobe malfunction: the member's boot literally fell to pieces.  A elegant roadside shrine, which resembled a landscaped allotment, reminded us of how dangerous the road is.

By chance, our arrival at Shillingdon co-incided with the Womens' Institute Food Fair at the village hall.  Ever vigilant for the prospect of cake, we piled into the village hall.  On sale were breads, cakes, meats, cheeses, lemonades, cookwear, tea and various craftworks.  Half the group stayed for tea & cake; we left them with directions to the lunch point.

Shillington Church was the official lunch point.  The church sits on top of a small hill of chalk and commands long views in every direction, the most enticing being the views towards the west and south-west, being the Chiltern Hills.  The Church dates back to the late 14th century, is now grade 1 listed, and, unusually, has a crypt; historians don't know why this church has a crypt.

On the return leg, we passed the Old Mill at Pegsdon, our second sewage works of the walk and Knocking Hoe.  Along this route towards Knocking Hoe, we saw impressive views of all the Pegsdon Hills, including Deacon Hill.  From Knocking Hoe, the top of the hill, we saw wide open views of Bedfordshire and the "foothills" rolling into the South Midlands plains.

The walk ended at the Motte & Bailey pub, which served real ales Wherry and Doom, and local ciders.  The route from the pub to the start point took us past Pirton Church.

Photographs by Peter O'Connor.

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