Event led by John T
Attendance: 7 men
Distance: main route 8.26 miles (13.29 km).
Time: start 11:08, end 15:27, lunch 31 minutes
Terrain: field edge, woodland track, pavement as footpaths, bridleways, highways.
Elevation: start 106m, high 133m, low 46m
Weather: overcast, 13°C, occasional light showers
Number of sewage works: 0
Number of churches: 1 current, 1 former
Number of golf courses: 0
This was a circular walk of 8.26 miles (13.29 km) from Ampthill Park, ENE to Kings Wood, N to Houghton Conquest, SW to How End, S to the ruins of Houghton House, SW to Ampthill Park.
The history of Ampthill Park is rich. Today, it is a grade 2 registered historic park. According to the local council, the area was a seat of royalty since 15th century until 1661, when Charles II gave the park to John Ashburnham. In the late 1700s, Capability Brown converted the formal gardens into an open landscape, forming the basis of the park as we see it today. The park includes football and cricket pitches, a café and two memorial crosses. The first memorial cross is a grade 2 listed building, the Katherine's Cross, to commemorate the imprisonment of Queen Katherine of Aragon at Ampthill during her divorce from Henry VIII. The second memorial cross lists the names of those trained at a camp set up in Ampthill Park and who died in the First World War 1914-1918.
The positioning of Ampthill Park House, and of the later Houghton House, was strategic. Ampthill sits on the edge of the escarpment, Bedfordshire Greensand Ridge. At Ampthill, the elevation faces north, giving long, wide views over Bedford town into Northamptonshire. The view northbound from the escarpment overlooks a basin of ~10 miles as the crow flies, to the next range of hills in the north.
Field tracks in the first half of the walk were muddy, mainly because some cows had a good run of the fields. At one point, we observed a number of Jersey cows wandering aimlessly through a field of stumps. Walk leader John said that when he had tested the route at an earlier date, the fields were full of corn that looked less than ready for the market, so speculated that the farmer had let the cows in to hoover up the crop. This implied that the cows had eaten the whole plant down to the stumps!
One field - at this location - showed signs of having been a ridge-and-furrow field. Nowadays, the field is a flower meadow; over time, the gradient of the ridges have sunken, leaving a gentle, regular wave formation on the ground, when viewed at a right-angle to the ridge-and-furrow.
At Houghton Conquest, we saw All Saint’s Church. The building is clad - and probably constructed of - distinctive Tottenhoe stone. The tower dates back to 1393. The building is grade 1 listed, and - perhaps by consequence - is falling to bits. In 2018, thieves stole nearly of all of the roof’s lead, resulting in rain entering the church. The church is thus almost permanently closed. Friends of the church are collecting funds to replace the lead.
The ruins of Houghton House stand just outside today’s Ampthill Park. Somewhat incredibly, the ruin is a grade 1 listed building (!), implying that the owner must reverse any incremental degradation back to its state of degradation at the time of its listing. (It’s a ruin!! Could. Not. Make. It. Up.) English Heritage now manages the site. The ruins reveal that the building was a “modest” minor-aristocratic pied-à-terre whose service buildings were likely bigger than the house itself (i.e. a small house implying “modest” and the service buildings being relatively large implying aristocratic).
Upon return to Ampthill Park, we indulged in a cup of tea at the caff, the Park Hub Café, enjoying the peace of a football match going on one side of us and two squabbling children learning how to cheat at Outdoors Connect 4, aided and abetted by their grandparents, on the other side of us.
More pictures are at https://photos.app.goo.gl/JsoLrBXbjtjajiuL8.
Words by Martin Thornhill. Pictures by Peter O’Connor.