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12 September 2015: Wrest Park to Shillington and beyond

Event led by John T

Weather: Sunny intervals and windy

Attendance: 17 men (including 1 new member to the Herts group)

Distance: 9.4 miles

Time: start 11:10, end 16:10. Lunch 47 minutes

Terrain: Pavement/road, woodland track, grass, field edge, arable crop field

Elevation: start: 58m, high 84m, low 46m

Number of sewage works on the route: 0

Number of golf courses on the route: 0


This was a circular route of 9.4mi from Wrest Park, SSE to Higham Gobion, S and NE to Shillington, N to Bury End, ENE and W to Upper Gravenhurst, and W back to Wrest Park. About half a mile of the entire route was within Hertfordshire; the rest was in Bedfordshire.


Wrest Park served only as a starting point and a tea-and-cake stop for us today, but the history of the place looks interesting, so we ought to look at it more closely one day.  The Park’s main feature is a French-style mansion with a walled garden.  Today, English Heritage manages it.


The main feature of this walk is its aspect.  The route generally meanders at an altitude of ~60m, and ascends three times to peaks of 75m and 84m (twice), with a trough at the River Hit of 46m.  This means that, in the lowlands, we had superb views of distant hills and, in the highlands (if 84m can be considered high!) we had equally superb views of a chunk of the Chiltern Hills range.


In particular, we enjoyed impressive views to the south of the Pegsdon Hills (pictured) and the Barton Hills.  Deacon Hill made a regular guest appearance.  To the north, Shillington Church commanded the view, alongside Sauron-like water towers along the northern edge of our horizon.  To the north-east, the wind turbines of the Biggleswade array (at Langham, built by the Co-Op, according to the local Friends of the Earth) were in plain sight, being only ~7 miles away.


After a brief wander through the Whitehall Plantation, we ventured to Higham Gobion, where a series of earthworks are the sole remains of a motte & bailey castle.  Today, it was guarded by sheep.


Lunch was at Shillington Church, All Saints, from which the views west and north continued to amaze.  The church was the location of our group shot.


At Bury End, we saw the 1906 Primitive Methodist Chapel , disused in the 1990s on conversion to a house, and has 2006 centennial memorial stone placed by the occupants.


On our first ascent to 84m, we spotted something in the distance that disorientated us more than the Biggleswade array: Lister Hospital, Stevenage, 9 miles away.  The main building dates from 1972 and is basically one huge white block that sits on an elevation and stares all directions from the western side of Stevenage.  From our location, the view of Lister was entirely unobstructed: the map confirmed that Hitchin town should have been directly in the line of sight, but seemingly got out of the way by staying deep within its valley of the River Hiz.


Our return journey visited Upper Gravenhurst, including a Wesleyan Chapel and a disused church of St Giles (due to be converted to housing and only open due to an event on the day, Bike & Hike).  Upper Gravenhurst also contains a road with a name that takes some re-reading, “The Pyghtle”, followed by numerous arguments about how to pronounce it.


On our final approach to Wrest Park, we had a far view view of Lower Gravenhurst Church of St Mary, a grade 1 listed redundant Anglican church, dating to 14th century.


Upon return, some of us ventured into Wrest Park’s café for tea and cakes, passing a wedding reception taking place in Wrest House.


Pictures by Peter O'Connor, 2015.  Words by Martin Thornhill.

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