Ivinghoe Beacon and Chiltern woodland
Main walk 16.3km (10.1 miles), five hours walking time. For the whole outing, including meals and trains, allow eight hours.
Shorter walk from Ivinghoe Beacon to Bridgewater Monument: 12.8km (8 miles)
Tring to Berkhamsted: 20.6km (12.8 miles)
Shorter walk from Tring to Berkhamsted: 9.4km (5.8 miles)
|Maps||OS Landranger Map: No 165. OS Explorer Map 181|
|Toughness||4 out of 10|
The first part of this route - following the Ridgeway along the Chiltern escarpment to Ivinghoe Beacon - is exhilarating, offering downland scenery as fine as anything on the South Downs. From the Beacon itself, it seems as if you can see half of England on a fine day.
Then, by way of contrast, you are plunged into the ancient Chiltern beechwoods of the Ashridge Estate. Lovingly preserved by the National Trust, they provide fine autumn colours in late October or early November. Tea is at the Brownlow Café, a popular kiosk with outside seating on the Ashridge Estate. All of the climbing is in the first half of the walk: the second half is all flat or downhill.
Towards the end of April and more particularly in early May, this is also a magnificent bluebell walk - arguably the best in the south east. The star attraction is Dockey Wood, just off the main walk. But Flat Isley, passed later in the walk (and reachable by a small diversion from option a) is just as good and less well known or frequented. Lastly, Old Copse to the south of the Brownlow Cafe (on option b, but also reachable from the main walk as a short stroll) also has extensive displays. Being further north and higher up, all these woods are at their best a week to ten days later than others in the south east.
a) Short cut from Ivinghoe Beacon to the Bridgewater Monument: This option avoids Little Gaddesden (and the lunch pub) by using a direct 4.7km (2.9 mile) route from Ivinghoe Beacon to the Bridgewater Monument, for the most part on an easy gravel track through beech woodland but with occasional escarpment views. There is an optional diversion into the woods midway, which also takes you through the wonderful bluebell wood of Flat Isley (see Features above). In all this option reduces the main walk to 12.8km (8 miles).
b) Extension to Berkhamsted: This pleasant walk initially through woodland (with bluebells in season - see Features) and then over open hills offers an alternative ending to either the main walk or option a) above that is 4.3km (2.7 miles) longer than the standard version, making a total walk of 20.6km (12.8 miles) if you add it to the main walk, or 17.1km (10.6 miles) if combined with option a). It has some bluebells in late April and early May.
c) Short walk from Tring to Berkhamsted: This walk goes direct from Tring station to Aldbury and the Bridgewater Monument (both offering refreshment options) and then joins option b) above to make a short walk of 9.4km (5.8 miles), including a particularly fine section of the Ashridge beech woods.>/p>
The 137km (85 mile) Ridgeway is supposed to be the oldest long distance footpath in England. Linking Ivinghoe Beacon with Avebury in Wiltshire, it is a route that has been in use for at least 5000 years. It is part of a track that originally stretched from the Wash in Norfolk to the Dorset Coast, and was used in more recent times by livestock drovers. Until the Enclosure Acts of the mid eighteenth century, the Ridgeway was a series of tracks on the crest of the downs, much as it still is today between Pitstone Hill and Ivinghoe Beacon. There is a map set in stone on the top of the Beacon that details the whole route
The most famous owner of the Ashridge Estate, across which much of the afternoon section of this walk passes,was Francis, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater. Known as the "Canal Duke", his pioneering work in the sector is commemorated in the Bridgewater Monument, erected in 1832 and next to the first tea stop on this walk. You can climb the monument for a small fee from 1pm to 5pm April to October weekends and bank holidays for fine views over the countryside: ask in the tea kiosk opposite to get access if the tower is not open during these hours (it depends on how many volunteers the Trust has available on any given day).
In 1759 Bridgewater employed engineer James Brindley to build a canal from Manchester to Worsley, Lancashire, one his other estates, to transport coal from his mines there. Brindley's innovation - a technique called "puddling" - enabled the canal to travel in an aqueduct across the Irwell River valley. The aqueduct became the wonder of the age, and sparked a canal building boom that lasted till the advent of the railways in the 1830s. Bridgewater himself is buried in Little Gaddesden Church. Ashridge House, which is situated at the other end of the grand avenue leading up to the monument, is now a well known business school. The grounds are owned by the National Trust.
Aldbury seems such a quintessentially typical English village that is hard to believe it is not a film set, and indeed has been used for this purpose on several occasions. With a pond, church, pub, post office, sundial and even a set of village stocks, it seems to have everything a village should have. Its population, 675 people in 1831, was said to have been swelled by the influx of workmen to build the nearby Tring Cutting, a major engineering feat of the early Victorian era, which allowed the London to Birmingham Railway, the first long distance railway line to reach London, to be built.
Berkhamsted (reached on the extension to the main walk) was the childhood home of writer Graham Greene, whose father was the headmaster of Berkhamsted School. Berkhamsted Castle (tel 01375 858486), next to the railway station, is a classic Norman motte and bailey castle, built by Robert, Count of Mortain, the half brother of William the Conqueror. Thomas a Becket, Henry II's chancellor and later martyred when archbishop of Canterbury, lived here from 1155 to 1165. There is not much to see, just a few ruined walls, but entrance is free, and if you have just missed a train at Berkhamsted, it is worth a quick look. The castle is open until 4pm in winter and 6pm in summer.
Three trains an hour run between London Euston and Tring from Monday to Saturday; there are two an hour on Sundays (journey time 35-43 minutes). Take the train nearest to 9.30am to get to lunch in time on the main walk. There is also one train an hour from East Croydon and Clapham Junction via Shepherd's Bush from Monday to Saturday (journey time 75 minutes from East Croydon or 58 minutes from Clapham Junction): on Sunday you have to change at Watford Junction.
Berkhamsted is served by the same trains that call at Tring and is one stop nearer London.By car : Park at the large station car park at Tring, which costs £4 a day from Monday to Friday after 10am or any time at weekends.
The Bridgewater Arms in Little Gaddesden, tel 01442 842 408, locaged 11.2km (7 miles) from the start of the walk, is a fine old country inn which offers a gourmet restaurant and somewhat cheaper bar meals from noon to 10pm daily.
The best spot for a picnic is anywhere between Pitstone Hill and Ivinghoe Beacon, the latter being 5.6km (3.5 miles) into the walk.
On the Shorter walk from Ivinghoe Beacon to Bridgewater Monument, the relatively upmarket Greyhound Inn (tel 01442 851 228) in Aldbury serves lunch till 2.30pm Monday to Saturday and all afternoon (till 7pm) on Sunday. On Monday to Saturday dinner is from 7-9.30pm. Alternatively, the Valiant Trooper (01442 851 203) in the same village is a more basic walker-friendly pub, serving food noon to 2.30pm and 6-9pm Monday to Friday, noon-9pm Saturday and noon-4pm Sunday.
The Brownlow Cafe is a National Trust-run tea kiosk with outside seating at the Ashridge Estate Visitors Centre (tel 01442 851227), next to the Bridgewater Monument. It is open until 6pm daily April to October, and till 4pm in winter, and serves some hot food options as well as a wonderful selection of homemade cakes. The kiosk is closed two weeks either side of Christmas
The Greyhound Inn and Valiant Trooper pubs in Aldbury are both open all afternoon for drinks, and so are possible alternative tea options.
Berkhamsted High Road has various refreshment options if you are finishing the walk there, including Costa Coffee open until 7.30pm weekdays and 7pm weekends (soon to be joined by a Caffe Nero), Bel Caffe, open till 6pm daily, Mario's Gelateria and Espresso Bar, open till 5pm daily and 5.30pm Saturday, and Simmons Bakery, which serves hot drinks, has tables, and a good selection of cakes: open until 5.30pm Monday to Saturday and 5pm Sundays. Among pub options is The Crown, part of the Weatherspoons chain.
An earlier version of this walk was published in Time Out Country Walks near London volume 2. We now recommend using this online version as the book is now dated.
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Out (not a train station)
Back (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline SE (bus times): 0871 200 2233 (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