– Houghton House, near Ampthill
Click on the map to see the full route on the Walk4Life website.
– about 2 1/2 hours
Views– This is one of the highest points on the Greensand Ridge with amazing views into Greensand Country and north over Marston Vale
History– The walk starts at the ruins of Houghton House
Wildlife- Lots of wildflower meadows, butterflies and dragonflies
Good for Kids?
– Maybe. Nothing specific for families to do but a pleasant and not too difficult walk despite the climb. Would not be suitable for buggies.
Good for Dogs?
– Yes. May be livestock in the fields so should be on leads and there’s a short diversion around a farmyard for dog walkers.
– Free parking at Houghton House
– Nothing on the walk, there’s plenty of facilities in Ampthill and a pub in Houghton Conquest just off the walk route
– Unsurfaced paths and field edges so decent walking shoes
– Unsurfaced paths and field edges for much of the walk. Two of the gates into King’s Wood have high sills to step over.
– You could start in Houghton Conquest and join the walk at Glebe Meadows. For a slightly longer walk you could start in Ampthill and follow either the Greensand Ridge Walk, the John Bunyan Way or lots of other footpaths until you connect with this walk.
How To Get There
– There’s a brown tourist sign for Houghton House from the B530 just north of Ampthill. The turning is on a fairly sharp, steep corner so be careful when turning in/out.
– If you’re an old-fashioned paper map user, this walk is right on the edge of OS Explorer maps 208 and 193, with half the walk on each map, so you might want to photocopy it onto a single sheet.
The walk starts from the little car parking area at Houghton House (if you can, I’d recommend reversing into a space here as it’s a bit tight reversing out without hitting the hedge). Walk past the houses and head towards the ruin of Houghton House, pretty unmissable perched up on the very edge of the ridge.
The views start straight away, on a good day like to day you can see clear across Marston Vale, the turbine at the Millenium Country Park and the towers of Stewartby Brickworks. If you time it right you’ll catch a train going down the Marston Vale line as well.
The path to the house is a walk down and back, so you can go exploring now or at the end of the walk (or if you’ve started from Houghton Conquest, this would make a great mid-point to stop and have lunch). The house was built in the 1600s and dismantled in 1797, and is now looked after by English Heritage. You can find much more about it’s history on the English Heritage website.
The house was deserted today, but seems to be the popular spot for local teenagers and can be really busy at weekends. It’s obviously been a tourist attraction for many, many years as you can tell by the very classy 19th century graffiti on the entrance hall columns.
Once you’ve had your fill of ruins, walk back up the path and turn left following the paved track.
The track swings left and looks like it’s going to take you straight up the driveway of Houghton Hall House but look right and you’ll see the big gate and the footpath signs heading past the pond on your right and down the hill.
The smell here is incredible (if you’re prone to hayfever, maybe take some tablets before you come out) and you’re just surrounded by the noise of buzzing bees and chirping grasshoppers. The clover was also covered in butterflies, little bright Common Blues and tiny, pale Small Heaths as well as the usual Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns.
As you walk through the clover you’ve still got views down to Houghton Conquest ahead of you and the silhouette of Houghton House on the top of the ridge behind you.
After the clover, you hit the edge of a slightly less interesting arable field, although still full of little butterflies.
At the bottom of this field you hit the junction with the Marston Vale Timberland Trail.
I crossed the little bridge and turned immediately right. The soil changes here as you hit the bottom of the ridge and after all the rain this week some of the path was a bit claggy and clay-like, and definitely the right decision to put boots on instead of enjoying the sunshine in my sandals.
The paths continues along this field edge and the then wood edge and then just clips the corner of Kings Wood.
As soon as I was through the kissing gate I walked into what can only be described as a flock of dragonflies (I don’t know what the name for a lot of dragonflies is!) dashing around the the hedge side like swallows, feeding on a cloud of little flies around the brambles.
This first meadow is all short grass, but the path is nice and clear and you just follow it round the field edge. At the corner there’s a turning left into the green lane that heads into Houghton Conquest. I stopped here to have a chat with another walker about wildflower lawns and the difficulties of photographing blue butterflies, they headed up into the village and I followed the route into the next meadow.
I was sadly just about a week too late to see the second meadow (which the lady I was talking to called Cowslip Meadow) at it’s best. The whole field was covered in Knapweed, now mostly brown seed heads but it would have been a sea of pinky purple a fortnight or so ago.
A neat grass path goes all around the meadow edge here. I was going to go through the kissing gate in one corner and walk along the wood edge but the path looked quite overgrown and I was enjoying the sun a bit too much to go into the trees just yet.
There’s a gate out of the Cowslip Meadow and back into the first meadow.
As you head back to the point where you came into the meadows there’s a metal gate with a small kissing gate next to it on your left leading into the Kings Wood.
The centre of the wood is closed off at the moment so ignore the Marston Vale Trail marker and take the permissive path heading up and left from the gate.
At this point you start to climb the face of the ridge, it’s a bit of a pull but the path takes a nice winding route which takes the edge off the gradient so I was surprisingly not that out of breath at all when I reached the top.
As you get to the highest point of the wood, you’ll see a kissing gate to the left and a little gap in the trees. I stayed on the woodland path, but if you wanted you could go out of the wood here and follow the path along the field edge.
The wood gets narrower and narrower, until eventually you come to the pointy end of the comma-shape and out into the sunshine again. Suddenly here you’ve got views on either side, and it’s a perfect spot to see how the rolling, wooded hills of the Greensand Country to the south contrast against the great flat sweep of the clay to the north.
My south facing photos haven’t come out as well as I would have liked, the sun really needs to be in a slightly different direction for them to look their best, but this should give you just a taste of how good the views across to the Chilterns are.
The path joins the Greensand Ridge Walk, and you follow the usual marker posts through a little green field with some dog agility jumps then out past the front of a house.
Just before you get back to the car park there’s a farmyard with a warning notice about loose chickens, if you’ve got a dog with you, go through the little gate to the left and follow the surfaced road.
Walk Report- GSCLP