Sandy to Biggleswade or Circular walk
Greensand Ridge Walk along grassy tracks, woodland trails, and 2 pretty villages with pubs - Northill and Old Warden
Main Walk, Sandy to Biggleswade via Northill and Old Warden: 19.2 km (11.9 miles). Four hours 15 minutes walking time. For the whole excursion including trains, sights and meals, allow at least 9 hours.
Long Walk (Sandy Circular), Main Walk extended back to Sandy: 25.3 km (15.7 miles). Five hours 45 minutes walking time.
Short Walk, Biggleswade to Sandy via The Lodge (RSPB reserve): 7.6 km (4.7 miles). One hour 40 minutes walking time.
Explorer 208. Sandy, map reference TL180485, is in Bedfordshire, 13 km E of Bedford.
3 out of 10 (4 for the Long Walk, 1 for the Short Walk).
This Bedfordshire walk was inspired by the weekly Country diary in the Guardian newspaper where from time to time a nature writer, Derek Niemann, writes about the flora and fauna around Sandy.
Although this is an area of large arable fields there is no slogging through crops or over ploughed land. The walk is mainly flat and before lunch mainly follows the Greensand Ridge Walk. The route is a mix of attractive broad grassy tracks along field edges and woodland trails. Along the way you will see a number of information boards telling you about the animals, trees and plants you may see around you. Binoculars are useful as the area is rich in bird-life and a healthy population of muntjac deer and brown hares.
You visit two lovely villages – Northill and Old Warden – which both have excellent pubs. Just after Old Warden you have the chance to do a couple of short out-and-back detours along permissive paths (open from 1 April to 31 October) to see two refurbished Landmark Trust properties in Warden Warren, Queen Anne’s Summerhouse and the Keeper’s Cottage.
In May there is a lot of blossom to enjoy and October is also a good time to do this walk as the tree colour is particularly vibrant. Fast walkers taking an early train may be able to do this walk in winter before nightfall although the terrain is likely to be far muddier and it is recommended that this walk is done between April and October.
There are no stiles on the main walk or the long circular walk back to Sandy.
Sandy (the high mark of Bedfordshire) was originally a Roman settlement and was probably an important trading centre and staging post in the Roman era. An ancient hill fort, now heavily wooded and known as “Caesar's Camp” although more commonly called "the sand hills" or "the lookout", still overlooks the town. This hill is now the site of The Lodge, the national headquarters of the RSPB and an extensive Nature Reserve of woodland, heath and acid grassland (free entry). The Long and Short Walks go through the site on the way into Sandy; you could also make a short detour to visit it at the start of the Main Walk.
Sandy is referred to in the Domesday Book as Sandeia, a derivation from the Old English Sandieg, meaning a sand-island. It is believed that there was a Danish camp on the site of Sandye Place Academy, built in 886 to protect the Danelaw. In 1086 Sandy was listed in the Domesday Book as being held by Eudo Fitzhubert, who is likely to have been the tenant. In addition there were two mills listed, both of which would have been water-powered from the River Ivel. The last mill was built here in 1857.
The River Ivel is a 25 km tributary of the River Great Ouse which rises in Hertfordshire. It has become known for its excellent fishing (barbel, carp and roach). Parts of it are navigable by canoes and there are some attractive short riverside walks around Biggleswade. The Riddy nature reserve is a 7.6ha flood meadow which is home to a wide variety of grasses and wildflowers. Water voles are present too.
The Greensand Ridge Walk is a 64 km (40 mile) trail that traverses Bedfordshire, with brief sections in Cambridgeshire and Buckinghamshire.
Northill is a beautiful village with many thatched cottages and buildings some of which date back to the 14th century including the Church of St Mary the Virgin. This has been sensitively restored over the centuries and has some fine examples of 17th century painted glass.
Old Warden is another picturesque village with a host of interesting houses, thatched cottages and beautifully manicured gardens. The route into the village passes the Abbey Church of St Leonard, which is well worth a visit: it is a Grade Ⅰ listed building with many outstanding architectural features dating back to the 12th century.
The walk route passes close to the Shuttleworth Estate. This has several attractions, including a Swiss Garden and a Birds of Prey Centre. These attractions have entry charges and are just off the walk route; you would need a map or GPS device to reach them as no directions are included here.
The walk route also passes near Old Warden Aerodrome. If you are a fan of old aircraft you might like to check the timetable on their website and do this walk on a date when there is an airshow or other flying display taking place.
Just after Old Warden you climb up into woodland on a grassy track and have the chance to take a couple of short detours to see two beautifully restored Landmark Trust properties tucked away in the woods:
Biggleswade is a market town mentioned in the Domesday Book, now with a rapidly-growing population. The River Ivel runs just outside the town and there are some attractive signposted riverside walks and cycleways.
Before you enter Biggleswade you have the option to extend the Main Walk back to Sandy via the RSPB nature reserve, making a Long (Circular) Walk. Alternatively, the Short Walk from Biggleswade to Sandy would give you plenty of time to explore the paths and trails through this attractive reserve.
Biggleswade and Sandy are adjacent stations on the London Kings Cross to Peterborough main line, with a half-hourly Thameslink service from Horsham through central London (except on Sundays, when there is an hourly service from Kings Cross). For all the walk options buy a return to Sandy.
If driving, the car parks at both stations cost £3.60 after 10am Mon–Fri, £2.80 Sat–Sun (2022).
Take the train nearest to 9:45 from central London unless you are planning to stop at the early lunch pub, in which case you could take a train up to an hour later.
Ther are excellent pubs in each of the two villages on the Main Walk, both with extensive menus and large gardens. The early lunch option (after 5.2 km) is The Crown in Northill (01767-627337); the later option (after 11.8 km) is the Hare and Hounds in Old Warden (01767-627225). Both pubs are likely to be busy on weekends and so booking ahead is advisable.
The Abbey Church of St Leonard (400m before reaching the Hare and Hounds) is a fine spot for a picnic lunch.
There is no lunch stop on the Short Walk, but the RSPB reserve has a picnic area and a shop where you can buy drinks and sandwiches.
Biggleswade has a number of pubs, cafés and restaurants dotted around the central area. For tea, coffee and cakes the suggested place is the popular Surfin café in Market Place, five minutes before reaching the station. It has indoor and outdoor seating and is usually open until 5pm at weekends and 6.30pm on weekdays, but may stay open later in summer.
If you finish in Sandy the most convenient place (just 60m from the station) is The Bell, a traditional pub with a back garden. They will make you an instant coffee and a cup of tea on request.
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Out (not a train station)
Back (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline (bus times): 0871 200 22 33 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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Full directions for this walk are in a PDF file (link above) which you can print, or download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
This is just the introduction. This walk's detailed directions are in a PDF available from wwww.walkingclub.org.uk