London Walks - 3 & 4
3 Ashridge, Hertfordshire
This pleasing walk descends from an elegant monument to a pretty ancient village. It then continues along part of a prehistoric trackway over the Chiltern hills. Finally the return is made through the famous beeches which surround the monument and also provide a dramatic backdrop to the village.
1 From the parking area walk the road leading to the monument which was erected in 1832 in commemoration of the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, known as the ‘father of British inland navigation’. He lived from 1736 to 1803. Between 1762 and 1772 he constructed, using the plans of the celebrated Brindley, the earliest canal in England, 42 miles long, uniting Worsley with Manchester and Runcorn on the Mersey above Liverpool. The monument, with an urn on a 100ft Greek Doric column, stands on the highest part of the ridge above Aldbury. From the viewing platform at the top you can look down a long grassy ride that runs for nearly a mile between an avenue of trees to Ashridge House, once the Duke’s home.
2 Bear left of the monument to pass the National Trust visitor centre and shop. The thousands of acres of woodland of the Ashridge estate are now in the care of the Trust and are open to the public. Descend the continuing roughish track and, at the Y-junction, take the right branch. Go on down to join the road and turn right into the centre of Aldbury. It is an ancient village, with a duck pond and a triangular green. About the latter stand timber-framed, brick-and-tile cottages, mostly 16th and 17th century. The church of St John the Baptist stands close-by within which lie rather grand medieval effigies of Sir Robert Whittingham and his wife.
3 After viewing the much photographed duck pond bounded by picturesque cottages, go on towards the grey flintstone church, which you may wish to visit. Beyond the church, take the footpath on the right, signposted Pitstone Hill. At the next stile, pass through a hand gate, on the left, to walk beside a barn of Church Farm. Stroll on the stiled way where, in autumn, the blackthorn bushes are heavy with deep blue sloes. Ignore all left and right turns to head on along the side of the golf course. At the top of the slope go on through a small wood and bear left at a signpost, and then right, to join the Ridgeway. This prehistoric trackway has waymarkers, which carry the distinctive acorn motif. It extends for 85 miles from Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire to Avebury in Wiltshire, following the line of a chalk escarpment.
4 Climb the steps and remain on the airy ridge with glorious woodland about you. Then follow the chalky Ridgeway out onto the open sheep cropped downland turf and go on over Pitstone Hill, with its superb views. Keep to the right of a knoll and then gently descend to a gate to the road. Cross and take another gate and carry on along the delightful way to another. Beyond, turn right and saunter on this pretty route through the glorious Chiltern countryside.
5 At Clipper Down bear left, following the arrowed way, part of the boundary trail of the Ashridge estate. From now on no instructions are needed as you stroll easily through the fine woodland, where great trails of chalk-loving clematis grow - known locally as daddy’s beard. This delightful way takes you all the way back to the foot of the monument. If you have any energy left, why not climb the winding staircase to the top?
Start/finish Parking area south side of the road leading to the foot of monument, grid ref 975128. This lies between the villages of Northchurch and Ringshall, just off the B4506, three miles north of the A41.
Distance 6 miles/9.5km
Time 3 hours
Height gained 680ft/220m
Terrain Grassy tracks over the downs; chalk and flint paths in woodland. After rain some paths can be slippery.
Refreshments The Greyhound pub; Farm tea room; Trooper’s restaurant and The Valiant Trooper pub, all at Aldbury
Toilets At visitor centre.
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Public transport Trains from Euston to Tring. Bus to monument, summer only, inquiries 0871 200 2233. Or walk, for under a mile, from Tring Station to Aldbury and start the walk from the village.
4 Reservoirs, Hertfordshire
In their heyday, the reservoirs north of Tring were a key location in Britain’s industrial might, ensuring that the narrow boats carrying raw materials and manufactured goods between the Midlands and London passed smoothly over the Chilterns along the Grand Union Canal. The three reservoirs - Marsworth, Startop’s End and Tringford - were built around the time of Waterloo (1814) to make sure that the Chiltern Hills were no obstacle to transport by water. Even today, narrowboat men are still able to defy gravity as they rise to 400 ft the canal’s highest point in the hills - by opening and shutting the six locks of the Marsworth flight. As they do so, the boatmen flush vast, gushing spates of water along the man-made river; the reservoirs make sure that the water is always replenished. Two centuries later, they are a delightful backwater, providing good walking. They are a national nature reserve and site of special scientific interest - don’t forget your binoculars.
1 With your back to the Grand Union Canal, leave the car park by steps behind the pay and display machine. Climb to the top of the wall of Startop’s End reservoir and go ahead on a wide, smooth track with the water to your left and a great view of the countryside on your right.
2 Continue on the path along the top of wall of the reservoir as it turns sharp left. Cross a wooden footbridge over a weir and then continue where the path narrows and passes through some bushes to come to the side a road. Cross to rejoin the path again and go on along the wall of the smaller, wilder Tringford Reservoir. Soon the path leads you away from the banks of the reservoir, narrows and passes through pleasing woodland, from where you have glimpses of the water through trees and bushes. Go with the path as it gradually comes back to the water’s edge where there is a bird hide. Take a pause here where you might see dabchick, kingfisher, great crested grebe and pochard.
3 Continue on the way as it passes through more woodland and then emerges from the trees into an open area on the edge of Little Tring. Do not go through the gate, but follow the arrow directing you round the ‘panhandle’ of the reservoir before entering more woodland. Press on along the zig-zagging path from where you have a brief view across the water to Marsworth Church. Carry on, with a small stream beside you. Emerge from the trees and stroll on.
4 Climb the steep steps ahead to attain the side of the Wendover Arm of the Grand Union Canal. On the opposite bank is a modern housing estate and a large flour mill. Turn left and continue towards a fine road bridge over the ‘cut’. Turn right and, with care, cross the steeply arching bridge which obscures motorists’ vision. Once over, immediately turn left and climb a stile back down to the chalky path beside the delightful curving waterway as it passes through meadows. Because the Arm was only a tributary, it seems more like a river and engenders a feeling of remoteness.
5 When you can see Marsworth church once more you find that this stretch of walk through the open countryside is about to end. Around the next bend, you arrive at another bridge. This one crosses the Arm at the point where it joins the main canal. Go under the bridge, turn right and, almost turning back on yourself, go over the bridge. This brings you to the highest point on the Grand Union and the top lock in the Marsworth flight.
6 Follow the towpath as it runs alongside the locks, which drop 42ft between the highest and the lowest. After passing the second lock, the banks of the Marsworth reservoir start on your left. Make a short detour off the towpath when you can see the banks of Startop’s End reservoir and turn left to walk to the start of the wall between the two reservoirs. Here you are surrounded by three sections of water, two reservoirs and the canal.
7 Return to the towpath and walk on to the car park. Or you may prefer to continue on to just before the next bridge to the Blue Bells tearoom or, on the other side, the White Lion inn. Just off the canal is the Angler’s Retreat.
Start/finish Car park, just south of Marsworth and the B489, grid ref 919151
Distance 3.5 miles/5.5km
Time 2 hours
Height gained Level walking
Terrain Easy walking on good paths
Refreshments Blue Bells tea room: The White Lion: The Anglers Retreat
Toilets Tring or Marsworth
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Public transport: Trains from Euston to Tring. Walk short distance south west along Station Road. Join the canal towpath and walk north west for a mile and a half to pick up the route at point 6 in route planner. For more information call Traveline 0871 200 2233.