Old Warden Circular

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

 

Location

– Old Warden, Ickwell and Northill

Distance

– 9 miles

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

Time Taken

– about 4 1/2 hours

Great For-

Reasonably Fit Walkers– One of our longer walks, although fairly flat throughout
Picturesque Cottages and Villages– the walk goes through three of the Greensand Country’s prettiest estate villages with lots of other fascinating buildings on the way

Good for Kids?

– Quite a long walk, nothing particular for kids/families on the route.

Good for Dogs?

– Yes, some sections on roads and there lots of Muntjc and squirrels (particularly in Palmers Wood) so should be under control/on lead

Admission/Parking Charges

– Free parking at Old Warden church

Café/Toilets

– Pubs in Old Warden and Northill. Shuttleworth Collection/Swiss Garden is roughly at the halfway point on the route and has a good cafe and toilets

Footwear/Clothing

– Very mixed surfaces and a bit damp in some places, but good walking shoes/boots would be fine.

Accessibility

– Mix of grass, farmland, woodland tracks and tarmac. Several kissing gates and narrow gaps

Alternatives

– You could do either half of the walk separately and return to Old Warden via the road, past the Shuttleworth Collection

How To Get There

– Parking at Old Warden church. There’s no bus service to Old Warden but there are busses from Bedford and Biggleswade to Northill/Ickwell and you can start and finish the walk there

Other Information

– This walk follows the Old Warden circular route, leaflet available on the Central Beds Council website. I walked it in the reverse direction to save the downhill stretch for last. This is a long but fairly gentle walk through a mix of villages, woodland and farmland. It’s pretty well waymarked all round although there are two odd little sections where you’re signposted away from a clear track for no reason and one section where you have to walk directly up a hill and there isn’t a signpost. OS map (or the map leaflet above) would be handy just to check you’re on the right track.

The Walk

The walk starts from Old Warden church where there’s a decent amount of free car parking just by the church itself.

You’ve got a choice here, either to walk back down the church path and turn right on the road, or if you want to walk through more of Old Warden village you can take the signed footpath away from the church and turn left once you reach the road.

Old Warden is a village of little model picturesque chocolate-box cottages spread along the road side. It’s all curved thatch, neat tiles, cream paint and diamond leaded windows. The footpath into the woods goes from the junction up to Shuttleworth College, through the white-painted bollards opposite the village pump.

The first footpath post helpfully has an Old Warden Circular waymarker on it- lots of these to look out for on  the way round.

This path heads up through Warden Warren woods, it’s a mix of pine plantation and rhododendron-lined path, with orange bracken in masses underneath the trees. There was a bit of work going on in the plantations as I walked through, with the crashes of big machinery in the distance, but nothing encroaching on the footpath.

The woods belong to the Shuttleworth estate and are scattered with little picturesque follies and cottages. There are permissive paths up to two of them (open until 31st October) both marked by signs and information boards.

The first one is the bright red brick Queen Anne’s Summer House, perched on top of a hill with a view down to the Shuttleworth through the trees.

The second is the Hansel and Gretel Keeper’s Cottage. Both of these are looked after by the Landmark Trust and are available to rent as holiday cottages.

After a brief nose around the buildings, keep on the path and head to the white gate (and another pretty Shuttleworth cottage) that led out of the woods and on to the road.

Turn right here and walk along the roadside. Across the road you get glimpses of an ornamental lake with just the top of an ornamental bridge showing as well. Just past the lake and on your left you’ll see the signpost for the next footpath, leading through an avenue of young oak trees.

From here keep following the footpath and Old Warden circular walk through the fields and along the wood edge. The only bit to watch out for is a strange little section where the signs divert you right then left through very overgrown woodland, and then brings you back out on the broad, clear path you were on originally, just about 100 yards further on (I’d probably ignore this and just stick on the main track!)

The walk then hits the narrow road through the Shuttleworth estate, keep the yellow bridge on your left, turn right along the road, then left at another waymarker.

This track takes you past a little pond with some rather smart swans then rambles along the field edges around the Old Warden airfield.

The road junction here is the point where you can cut the walk short, turn left and walk directly back to Old Warden. You could also turn left here, and walk a few yards to the Shuttleworth collection for a sit down and a piece of cake before you carry on.

The main walk follows the path signed as the Sheep Walk to Northill.  It’s a clear, broad track to follow but there is a narrow path next to it running through a bit of woodland which you can follow if you like.

The Sheep Walk drops you into the village of Ickwell. Ickwell is a proper, old fashioned village with a huge green (including maypole), thatched cottages and stately looking manor house. It’s also always quite a busy village so lots of people will probably say hello to you as you walk through.

Follow the road signs into Northill, the centre of which manages to have a pretty duck pond, massive church and pub, all close enough together to fit into the one photograph.

The walk turns left at the church along Bedford Road. As most of our walks do at some point, we’ve now joined up with the Greensand Ridge walk and follows the muntjac signs most of the way back to Old Warden.

The walk goes along the road for a short distance then turns left at a black and white timbered cottage.

The path goes straight past a number of paddocks until it reaches the edge of the Home Wood. You can go straight into the woods and keep following the Greensand Ridge Walk, if you’ve got time (and the energy  left) it’s worth a diversion to follow the fish and have an explore of the old fish ponds and warren leading off into the woods on the left.

The ponds themselves are the remnants of a huge medieval fish pond system and a rabbit warren, set up to provide food for the local manor at Northill. There’s a good information board put up by the Forestry Commission showing you a whole plan of the site.

Around the fish ponds are some sizable Yew trees, not that common in woodland, and proving plenty of berries and insects for a busy flock of Goldcrests and Long-tailed Tits.

The Greensand Ridge Walk climbs steadily up through the wood.

There’s another odd little diversion here where the Old Warden walk is signposted over a little bridge and along a few yards of overgrown woodland. You can if you want just go straight on to the t-junction then turn left.

The path leaves the wood and climbs through the fields. Near the top of the hill the post has fallen over but the path goes clearly into a little copse and out through a kissing gate.

The path is a bit unclear here but keep the very fancy farmhouse on your right and turn left across the grassy parkland.

Follow the signs around through the meadows, some of which are still full of plantain and knapweed and must be superb in the middle of summer. You finally cut through a think belt of trees and emerge on the edge of a big stubble field running up the hill. The Greensand Ridge Walk heads directly up this hill on the broad, grassy, unfenced path through the middle of the field.

Once on the ridge, turn left, the path along the field edge has better views but if it’s windy the parallel path in the tree belt is a bit more sheltered.

Keep following the waymarkers through a pair of hay bales and straight on.

Att the very well waymarked post above go right then immediately left onto another high, ridge top path.

You pass a couple of footpaths to the left, the Cardington hangers to your right and crab apples in huge piles by the side of the path.

Keep going until you hit the white-topped metal posts.

Turn left here with the hedge on your right and start heading downhill, over the little bridge, along another field edge until you reach Palmers Wood.

The path makes a little dog leg then goes through a tunnel of trees into the woods.

Surprisingly for a woodland so close to Old Warden village, these woods are incredibly peaceful, full of Jays and a whole herd of completely oblivious Muntjac mooching about across the path.

Once out of the woods it’s just a short downhill stretch past the very successfully disguised phone tower and back to the churchyard at Old Warden.

Walk Report- GSCLP

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