Event led by Julian S. Route #2910 by Barrie Mackie, from Walking Britain.
Weather: Sunny, hot, humid, very little wind, little cloud cover.
Attendance: 15 men (including 2 new members to the Herts group)
Distance: 12 miles
Time: start 11:10, end 16:45. Lunch 38 minutes
Terrain: Pavement/road, arable field, woodland track, grass, chalk soil.
Elevation: start: 79m, high 186m, low 67m
Number of sewage works on the route: 1
Number of golf courses on the route: 1
This was a circular route of 12mi from Hexton, W to Barton-le-Clay, S to Barton Hills, S to Galley and Warden Hills, E, N and NE to Pegsdon Hills, NW to Pegson, NW, W and S to Hexton. The walk threaded in and out of Herts, into Beds, and back again.
This walk was all about the advantage of altitude. After a brief meander on the flat, the walk ascended one hill and, for the most part, stayed up high, before descending slowly down to the start point.
The views from the hills, northbound, were long and wide. Today offered minimal heat haze and strong sunlight. To the naked eye, the views were pleasant and intriguing. A good camera or pair of binoculars added a lot more detail, including three wind farms.
Later in the walk, we were able to scrutinise Luton (pron “Lu’on-innit”), where a good camera or pair of binoculars could get you into trouble. Warden Hill overlooks the northern half of Luton, as far north as the Marsh Farm, Bramingham, Sundon Park and Leagrave Estates. Into the further distance, we saw the hills to the south of Milton Keynes and Bletchley. This was our closest point to Luton, and our lunch spot.
The three main hill ranges in the walk are all designated in some way. Natural England manage Barton Hills National Nature Reserve, Luton Borough Council manage Galley & Warden Hills Local Nature Reserve, and the Wildlife Trust manages Pegsdon Hills. All sit within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Galley & Warden Hills and Deacon Hill (part of Pegsdon Hills) are Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Interest arises from their rarity: some plant varieties are found only on the calcareous soils in this area, because modern land use has destroyed the habitat elsewhere in the two counties. SSSI citations for Galley & Warden Hills and Deacon Hill are similar. Deacon Hill also hosts the pasque flower, which Herts GOC would normally see only on Therfield Heath in NE Herts.
Beyond nature and altitude, the walk featured only two villages: Hexton and Barton-le-Clay. Hexton has a surprisingly consistent architectural style: many of its buildings featured mock-Tudor beams with pebbledash. Many of the larger buildings are listed buildlings. Another unusual feature is the number of water pumps. Whereas ordinarily one would expect one pump per village, Hexton has one apparently communal pump, but four secondary pumps situated on the roadside, in front of pairs of cottages. All of these pumps are listed buildings.
Barton-le-Clay is a much larger village, with none of the mock-Tudor style. Our route took us down one side of the village, by the Church. The Church is a fine example of Bedfordshire architectural style, being the ‘chequerboard’ pattern typical of the county, and is one of many listed buildings in the village.
We ended the walk at the Raven, Hexton’s pub. The food looks amazingly good value.
After the walk, two of us ventured to Hexton church, a listed building, to find that it is partially dilapidated. A current church, its bell tower collapsed in 1947, and was made good by a modern concrete facia in a crude Victorian style. The result was a bell tower of only two sides instead of the usual four.
Words by Peter O'Connor and Martin Thornhill.
Pictures by Peter O'Connor.