Sunday, 2 February 2014

Out and about again... from the Cafe in the Woods in Wendover to the Dunstable Downs, via Tring, Aldbury, Ivinghoe, Dagnall and Whipsnade – 1st Feb 2014

Lorna wasn’t too keen on me going out on a training walk on Saturday morning.
A cynic would say that the idea of getting up at 5:15am and driving me over to Wendover Woods for about 7am was the culprit, but in reality she was just a bit worried about me heading out whilst carrying a pretty heavy chest infection on top of all my other current ailments. I, of course, thought “flibbity-jibbit* that for a game of soldiers!” and so downed a handful of antibiotics, ibuprofen and vitamins; packed a compass, a couple of litres of water, a couple of bananas and a couple Twix bars into a small backpack and jumped into the Volvo... that’s right guys... I’m so rock and roll!
(*the actual word used may have been somewhat more explicit than filbbity-jibbit, but this a family blog :) *)
Lorna had the post code for the Cafe in the Woods in Wendover programmed into the sat-nav, so off we went. Unfortunately where I had planned to be dropped and where I was actually dropped were quite different places – to the tune of about 1.2 miles. I set off in the dark up a tarmac track which turned out to be spiralling up Aston Hill and then onwards up Haddington Hill. Haddington Hill, also known as Wendover Hill, it transpires is the highest point in Buckinghamshire; taller than it’s more prominent neighbour Ivinghoe Beacon. Once I had gotten to the summit, and the Cafe in the Woods, the old compass came out of the pack so that I figure out which direction I’d actually come from on my limited feature map.
From the summit of Haddington Hill, I followed a forest trail south-east through the Wendover Woods, until it met with the Ridgeway National Trail which I followed taking a sharp turn to the east. I am embarrassed to admit it, but I don’t think I’ve ever been over to Wendover before and it is truly a beautiful place, perfect for a day out with the family albeit a bit chilly this morning. The Ridgeway trail goes across a couple of farmer’s fields across a road and onto a bridleway through another stretch of woodland just east of The Crong.
Once out of the woods the trail follows a couple of minor country lanes, Gadmore Lane and Church Lane before turning north up Marlin Hill and then north-east into Bishops Wood and through Tring Park.
Again, I have the guilty confession, that despite living so close to Tring, I have never walked through Tring Park and I highly recommend it. Whenever the tree line to your left breaks, the views across the county are phenomenal.
Once out of Tring Park it’s across a road and another couple of fields skirting the edge of Langton Wood  before you come to a footbridge over the A41.
Now... I’m not afraid of heights.
I’m not afraid of climbing up things, when I am in control and there's no one near me.
But I have discovered that I REALLY don’t like footbridges with waist high railings over busy traffic.
The other thing to note about me, is that all this walking is starting to make me a little loopy. It is not uncommon anymore for me to start talking or singing out loud as I’m walking.
I guess what I’m saying is... if you see a burly guy in a flat cap trundling over a footbridge at a steady pace, staring straight ahead and belting out Ray Parker Jr’s “I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost” as he goes... please don’t call the men in white coats... it’s just little old me having a moment.
Once over the bridge I was accosted by two horses in a paddock who chased me around the edge of their field, intent, it would seem, on relieving me of my banana.
Having bid them farewell, the Ridgeway then crosses another fairly busy road and follows the outskirts of Pendley Manor Park – or at least it would if there wasn’t the six foot trunk of a felled tree in the way. With a 6ft fence either side of this impediment, the only way was over it, so over I went; the whole time thinking “if I fall and break my ankle now I’m going to look like a right spanner!” The thing about this tree trunk was that it didn’t look as if it had fallen, but that it had been cut to the precise width of the footpath to prevent access... very frustrating.
After readjusting the old right boot (unfortunately blisters are part and parcel of all this), I carried on towards the Grand Union Canal in Tring, but rather than following the canal, the Ridgeway Trail spins a right up Station Road, over the railway bridge by Tring Railway Station. Leaving the road the trail heads north-west up and through the Aldbury Nowers, a 19.7 hectare area of woodland and a Biological Site of Special Scientific Interest in West Hertfordshire... which again, I confess, I didn’t know existed... and again, the Nowers are well worth a look on a family day out. It was just before I entered the Aldbury Nowers I saw an impressive bird of prey in the sky, which I believe may have been a Red Kite, although I'm no Bill Oddie, Bill Bailey, or any other bird watching and knowledgable Bill. Having emerged from the Nowers, I climbed up and over Pitstone Hill before heading down towards Stocks Road and back into familiar territory.
The Ridgeway Trail then heads across open grassland towards Steps Hill where it linked up with last week’s route. Steps Hill was much easier this week due to the fact that, although it was muddy, compared to last week it was pretty firm. I was taking no nonsense from any puddles at this point. No more skirting the edges... straight through them!
I climbed up Ivinghoe Beacon where I stopped for water and a Twix. The views were spectacular and a far cry from last week’s fog, but it was seriously windy and cold and, as I was only wearing a t-shirt, a hoody and a flat cap (on my top half!), I didn’t hang around up there for too long.
By the time I had reached Ivinghoe Beacon I had walked about 10.5 miles.
From Ivinghoe Beacon I struck out across the fields following the Icknield Way Walkers Trail, through the woodlands (which were teaming with deer) and up the “steps of doom” before turning past Ward’s Coombe and skirting around several large fallen trees. From there it was along Hog’s Hall Lane then a right turn walking along Main Road North into Dagnall. Once at the signpost for Dagnall, which has convenient benches built all around its base, I stopped for some more water and another banana.
From there, I went over the roundabout to the school, up the footpath towards Dagnall Wood and then skirting its edge, across the Whipsnade Park Golf Course and around the Whipsnade Wild Animal Park perimeter, which incidentally was a damn sight busier later on in the day and in better conditions. As the cars went around the route I couldn’t help but think they were getting as much amusement watching a very tired fat bloke sliding along a mud trail as they were from watching some very sleepy antelope lying down no more than 30 feet away from me.
An elderly couple were walking this stretch of the Icknield Way Trail ahead of me from Whipsnade Zoo, across the common, to the Tree Cathedral; and at a pace which I struggled to maintain! I arrived at the Tree Cathedral in a bit of a coughing fit, the effects of the antibiotics clearly starting to wane by this point. I lay on a wooden bench there for a good 15 minutes, boots hanging over the arm, glugging water and nibbling at my second Twix. Twix bars, by the way, are useless for the walker. They’re too biscuity by far, causing you to need more and more water, and they seem to have very little impact on your energy levels whatsoever. Tracker bars or a Snickers are the way ahead me thinks.
I left the Whipsnade Tree Cathedral with the weather starting to take a turn for the worse. It got very cold and the storm clouds were rolling in. Then as I made my way down towards Dell Farm I came face to face with a bull. This solid slab of beef was stood stock still and defiant on the footpath. As I approached it started to puff and circle slightly lowering its head, clearly not happy that I was audaciously walking towards it. I put my arm out and said quite loudly “easy there mate” which seemed to confuse it more than anything, but which had the effect of letting me get to the stile pretty sharpish!
From there it was along Bison Hill and across the Dunstable Downs, past the Hut and over to the Five Knolls. I stopped for a moment to look back across the landscape that I’d covered today. I had set off at about 7am and now it was about 3pm. By the time I had climbed down from the knolls and walked the couple roads back to Lorna’s parents house, I would have covered about 19.2 miles, according to MapoMeter, and in excess of 22 miles according to MapMyHike. Not a bad training walk considering. I almost managed to get back without getting rained on, but the heavens began to open as I got about 500 metres from the house... still not bad after 8.5 hours of walking.
The one thing I do like about training walks... there’s a lovely hot bath, a sweet cup of tea and some food awaiting at the end of every one. Utter 5 star luxury compared to the real walk! 

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