Tree Tunnels at Ampthill

Written by Diana Spencer on . Posted in Uncategorized, Walk Of The Week

 

Location

– Around Ampthill

Distance

– 3 1/2 miles

Click on the map to see the full route on the Walk4Life website.

Time Taken

– about 2 hours

Great For-

Town and Country- Gorgeous country cottages and Georgian architecture in Ampthill

Parks and Playground- Lots of safe open space in the park and a playground for the kids

Good for Kids?

– Yes. Nice playground and plenty of space in Ampthill Great Park. One quite fast road crossing

Good for Dogs?

– Yes, although some walking is through the middle of town.

Admission/Parking Charges

– Free parking in Ampthill Great Park car park, or in the parking bays on the side of the Woburn Road

Café/Toilets

– Cafe and toilets at the start point in Ampthill Great Park, also lots of pubs, cafes and shops in Ampthill itself

Footwear/Clothing

– A mix of tarmac, sandy paths and grass. Mostly dry so any decent shoes.

Accessibility

– Mix of tarmac, sand, grass and some other unsurfaced paths, steps up and down kerbs at the road crossing, two kissing gates.

Alternatives

– You could easily extend the walk up to Houghton House- turn right at the sign for the Marston Timber Trail just past the church then follow the vehicle entrance to the house down to rejoin the walk at the road crossing and the kissing gate into the park.

How To Get There

– The start is at Ampthill Great Park on Woburn Road

Other Info

– If you do this walk on a Thursday morning when the Charter Market is in the free car park by Waitrose in the town centre which makes a nice stop part way round.

The Walk

The walk starts at the car park for Ampthill Great Park where there’s a little cafe and toilets. There’s also a very useful map of the park which I should have paid more attention to as I didn’t quite end up following the path I’d planned on.

My walk started by crossing the road, turning right towards the rugby club ground, and then left up the tree-lined path (the first of many tree-lined paths today!) and onto Coopers Hill.

This is the third major bit of heathland on the Greensand Ridge (the fourth is the RSPB reserve at The Lodge, which will be in a future walk at some point) and one of the biggest.

I was a couple of weeks to late to see it in full, purple bloom (you can see a great video of it in bloom on the Wildlife Trusts You Tube page) but there was still plenty of heather about.

The easiest route around the heath is to keep following the sandy path around the edge, but it’s also worth going a bit off-piste and exploring some of the smaller paths through the heather. There’s still a mix of summer wildlife around at the moment with half a dozen or so Small Copper butterflies taking advantage of a break in the clouds.

In other places it’s starting to look a lot like autumn, with scaly earthballs and these lovely orange fungi I haven’t quite identified yet coming up.

The squirrels definitely think it’s getting colder as they’ve gone into crazy autumn foraging mode, running up and down the paths collecting comes and acorns without taking any notice of passers by.

Following the paths clockwise around the heath you eventually come to the line of trees leading up to the war memorial, surrounded by a holly hedge and these beautiful benches.

The walk heads into town so put your back to the war memorial and head down the lime tree walk with the school on your right and the playing fields on your left.  This avenue is called the Alameda and my book tells me it was planted in 1821 by Lord and Lady Holland.

Through the trees you can see a mix of very new houses and incredibly pretty little thatched estate cottages which look like they should be in a tiny rural village somewhere, rather than in a rather smart Georgian town.

At the end of the walk you go through an ornamental iron gateway, the brick pillars on either side are topped with urns which look like carved stone but are called Coade Stone – a type of ceramic invented by Eleanor Coade, made to a secret recipe and fired like clay. It looks almost exactly like limestone but is far more weather resistant and long lasting.

Through the gates bear right and down the hill into the middle of town then head straight on into Church Street (you have to cross a couple of roads here at the double mini roundabouts).

Walking away from the crossroads you start to see the elegant Georgian houses on either side with lovely ornamental iron fences and pretty gardens in front.

Just as you’re thinking you’ve gone too far a little open square with a cobbled path appears on your left. There are two very smart Georgian houses on each corner, a timber framed 16th century almshouse on one side and the church taking up most of the other.

The walk goes up the little street just to the left of the church with the church on the right and Dynevor cottages on the left.

Past the graveyard the path bears round to the left (just on the right here is a track down to the car park which then continues up to Houghton House if you fancy adding a bit of distance on to the walk).

Just past this junction is a lovely carved sign pointing onto the Holly Walk.

This is a proper tree tunnel, an old green lane with high banks, braced with old, coppiced elms, and planted with holly on each side and arching up overhead. There were more feeding squirrels in the trees beside the path, this time collecting sweet chestnuts as well as the acorns, and briefly a Muntjac dashing across the path. The trees make the path beautifully silent and it feels suddenly as through you’re miles from anywhere, even though you can clearly see the roofs of the town just to your left.

The traffic noise reappears and you reach the main road. The path into the Great Park is over the road and to the right, where the green signs are attached to the fence. The road is quite fast and busy here so take care crossing.

Once you’re through the kissing gate turn right and into the Laurel Walk.

This is another banked-up green lane, with some very nice views out to Bedford and the Cardington hangers through the low gaps in the bank to the right.

At the very end of the Laurel Walk you can see where the walk originally continued on to Park House, with the gap blocked with new green iron railings, very different to the brown, older park railings on either side.

I turned left here then right through the kissing gate and out into a much more open section of the park, all short grass with big, old oak trees dotted around.

I had very slightly lost my bearings here (as I realised later, when you ‘turn right’ through the kissing gate you’re actually just carrying straight on, there’s just a little dog leg in the wood that feels like a proper turn) so kept walking along the edge of this area, following the wire fence. There are lots of big new looking wooden posts being put in which look like they could have trail markers attached to them, which will help people like me who don’t look at the map often enough.

Out to the right over the stubble you can see Park House, which was the main mansion house which the park originally surrounded. The stubble field would once have been grass, park and gardens.

The path in the park goes over a couple of boardwalks crossing the damp sections, with a few red and yellow Darter dragonflies flitting about and sunbathing on the boards.

I kept following the fenceline until the path bent round a fenced off standard oak and through a gate into the busier section of the park.

A wide sandy path goes off the to the right here, and I followed that round through lots of tree clumps and past a couple of benches.

At this point I decided to head up for the high ground to work out exactly where I’d been walking, so I struck off left through a bit of long grass full of huge parasol mushroom and climbed up on to the top of the ridge line.

As soon as you crest the hill you see the two monumental crosses marking the site of old Ampthill Castle, one for Katherine of Aragon, one a war memorial for the Bedfordshire Regiment who trained at Ampthill Park before going out to the trenches of the First World War.

From the hilltop you can see down across the artificial lake to the Park House, this is a real traditional Capability Brown view through a parkland, and there’s a couple of very good information boards showing the Brown layout of the park and pointing out some of the landmarks.

To the right the park stretches down the slope, again in proper traditional Capability Brown fashion with broad sweeping stretches of grass and clumps of trees planted on the tops.

There’s much more of the park to explore but I was slightly running out of time and almost late for a meeting so I turned my back on the last noticeboard (The Grand Lookout) and headed down the hill.

I soon joined a nice grassy path that head down towards the playground then through a kissing gate and back to the main car park where you could have a well-deserved cup of tea and a cake and I had to leap in the car and head off back to work.

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