Chiltern Way Day 11 - Champneys to Whipsnade
Given I had done a long walk, had a relaxing evening and a very comfortable bed, I would have expected to sleep well, but sadly that doesn't always happen. My legs can feel twitchy and restless after a demanding walk, and that can keep me awake for ages. But I couldn't hang about in the morning, as my real life was calling me, and I had to get going so that I could be picked up by David and go home for a choir rehearsal and further preparations for our tour to York this weekend.
Champneys has been a wonderful treat, and considerably nicer than I was expecting. I thought it might have rested on its laurels a little, but not at all, the facilities were great, the food was really delicious and not too ascetic, and the staff were friendly and welcoming. They had also managed to lose the record of the glass of wine I had with dinner, so waved me away saying that I could have it on them. I'll be back, possibly when I'm dressed more appropriately.
I considered taking a very early detour into Wigginton, which had been described by my Chiltern Way guidebook as a nineteenth century centre for straw-plaiting, which supplied the hat-making industry of Luton and Dunstable. But I thought that probably there'd be little physical evidence of that to warrant the extra mile, so continued on the footpath instead. Keats would have loved it this morning, the autumnal season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. Moisture hung in droplets on the berries and the spiders' webs, and in my hair too.
I crossed a number of fields with horses, who were uninterested in me. A couple of younger looking animals were playing together in a further paddock, racing around, nuzzling each other, kicking their back legs in the air, having a high old time. A solitary grey looked wistfully over the fence from the other side, obviously after a bit of the fun action.
Going under the roaring A41 there was some rather half hearted graffiti. I really like the street art in the underpass near Beaconsfield that I discovered during lockdown. I know it could be seen as vandalism, but these places are so grim that a bit of art makes them more appealing in my opinion. A solitary tag seems to be the worst of both worlds somehow.
The woods were wet, and the plethora of footpaths meant I made a couple of wrong turnings before getting on the right route past the Berkhamsted hockey club. I smiled as I walked past an outdoor puppy training class, I have some hilarious memories of being expelled from our first session with our cocker spaniel many years ago. For the dog's behaviour, not mine, I hasten to add. The puppies out on the field looked a lot more biddable than Stella was.
I had been intrigued by the name Cow Roast on the map as I'd planned the route. The village itself was disappointingly only a nondescript row of houses, not the elaborate barbecue arrangement that the name implies. The South Grand Union canal runs behind the houses, and there was an information board that gave me some help. The village was named after the Cow Roast Inn, which was being redeveloped as I walked through. The name of the inn originally came from Cow Rest, and was thought to have been a resting place for cattle drovers on their way to and from London. I spent so much time on drove roads in Scotland, and in the famous Drovers Inn on the West Highland Way, it was great to be in the place that the cattle might have ended up. They probably did get roasted in the end.
I was back on the Icknield Way for a bit, and it crosses the railway over the line from Euston to Birmingham. 3 trains went past in the space of 30 seconds, and as I walked away I could hear them continuing to rumble behind me. It reminded me again, though it's hard to avoid it round here, of the HS2 debacle, given there is clearly a very effective line currently operating to the Midlands.
The next hurdle was Tom's Hill. I don't know who Tom was, but I could have managed without his hill. I ended up climbing it from various angles today, and all were somewhat unforgiving. I took a detour down the side of it, passing a lovely testament to the love between E and A, and went into Aldbury.
The guide book was very enthusiastic about this village, and I was hopeful that there might also be the chance of a coffee. The village has a green and a duckpond, and is very picturesque. But in case the rural idyll feels too charming, it also has the original village stocks and whipping post. Imagining how horrible and degrading that punishment would have been was very unsettling. The beautiful surroundings just served to make it more so.
I definitely wanted a coffee, and was supplied by Poppies cafe, which also did a good line in almond and orange slices. It operates out of the British Legion Hall, and all profits go to the Poppy appeal to support ex-servicemen. I don't think I've encountered a similar cafe in all the extensive cafe research I've done up and down the country. The cake was excellent, and served as a bit of a boost as I laboured back up Tom's Hill. One would imagine that I'd be fit enough now to take a hill like this in my stride, but sadly not, they catch me out every time.
A lot of the rest of the day's walking has been in woodland. The first was in Berkhamsted Common, to the side of Ashridge Park. My guide book had told me that in 1866 this enormous swathe of green space had been enclosed with a high iron fence by the then lord of the manor, Lord Brownlow, with a view to it being split into fields and brought into agricultural use. But an 'outraged Berkhamsted commoner' together with other supporters assembled a gang of 100 London labourers and hired a special train to bring them by dead of night to the Common. By 6am the next morning the fence had been completely dismantled. Years of litigation followed, but in the end an injunction was granted forbidding enclosure. What a fantastic thing to have done, to preserve this space as a green lung for local people and Londoners.
The woods were criss-crossed with footpaths, and the ancient broad leafed trees were just beginning to turn. There were dog walkers out here and there, but it was quiet enough to hear the deer barking to the side of me. They sounded just like the various lurgies I'm trying to keep away from at the moment.
There were grand collonades of beech trees, and then a view down a grass pathway called Prince's Ride to the Bridgewater monument in the distance. I didn't make the journey to see the monument, but I understand that it's to commemorate the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, known as the 'Canal Duke' because of his commitment to the construction of the canal system in the industrial revolution. Within moments I then passed a similar grass avenue, but this time to the greens of the Ashridge golf course. The path crossed the course on a number of occasions, leading to me looking in all directions to avoid being struck by a wayward drive.
Although this morning there hadn't been the extensive views of the previous days, this forest walking was deeply satisfying. But I was in need of some lunch, and knew that unusually there was going to be a pub en route. I stopped at the Bridgewater Arms in Little Gaddesden for a sandwich. I know that many people find the food that I eat to be one of the most exciting things about the blog. I hear you. So today was a whipped feta, pear and pomegranate open sandwich on sourdough with a cheeky little side salad. I mean, it could still be described as cheese, but it was cheese that had stepped up a gear.
Out across open fields again, there was a lovely view across to the fifteenth century parish church of Little Gaddesden. I would normally have walked over to have a look at it, but because all the churches have been locked over the last few days I contented myself with a more distant view. The field was covered in a white flower that Google Lens told me was buckwheat. I'm happy to be corrected though. A pair of white doves was enjoying the field very much, and I enjoyed them.
The route eventually went downhill to what I later discovered was the Bedfordshire boundary. The Chiltern Way crosses through Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire as well as Bedfordshire, but there's never been any evidence on the ground for that, just sometimes on the path signage. Looking over the valley I could see Milebarn farm. From the distance I could see just what a huge enterprise it was, with the buildings spread across a wide area. I wondered how far their fields went, whether they had some in one county and some in another.
As I walked up the hill to the other side of the valley the skies suddenly lowered and dramatic crashes of thunder began to the east, followed by torrential rain with huge raindrops soaking me very quickly. It's been a while since I've had to do a hasty change into full wets, and in fact I just couldn't be bothered with the waterproof trousers, as I knew my lift was only a couple of miles away. It's always a toss up between being protected from the rain against sweating away underneath the waterproofs. And in this instance my decision was vindicated, as the rain, although heavy when it came, was spasmodic and there were also still lots of trees to shelter me. Even glimpses of sunlight periodically through the forest ceiling.
I skirted round the edge of Studham, sadly not having time to check the village out. It's another straw-plaiting place, and according to my guidebook was one of the early strongholds of Non-conformity. I wondered whether that meant wearing trainers on the podium? Letting your hair go silver? Or perhaps solo walking the country at 60? But it seems none of those scenarios were what was meant, it's to do with Protestants who dissented from Anglicanism. There's a very lovely church in Studham it seems, but I bet it will have been locked. Instead, I forged my way across a newly ploughed field, enjoying the sight of the tractor transforming the landscape and simultaneously me breaking out the route of the footpath again.
I soon came to the high and impressive fences that marked the edge of Whipsnade zoo. I cannot tell you how much I wanted to see a giraffe gracefully meandering towards me on this soggy October afternoon.
But they were too sensible to be out and about, and so I walked along the perimeter on the footpath, and eventually came into the village, past the unusual brick built church. Also locked.
But there was David, still masked to protect me against his germs. He arrived at the church at the same second as I did, ready to transport me back to my life. There's a lot going on at the moment at home, but as I'm writing this 24 hours later I'm already missing the adventure. I want to get out and do some more.
Distance travelled: 12 miles
Total ascent: 1162
Calories burned: 1672
Video of the day