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If you are considering walking this route yourself, please see my disclaimer. You may also like to see these notes about the maps.
Google map of the walk
Walk 1 25/04/08 – Dunstable Downs and Markyate (12.0 miles approximately)
Parked at the Chiltern Gateway Centre, Dunstable Downs.
If you are interested in walking this route yourself, click here to see the route description (but only if you have already read my disclaimer and notes regarding route descriptions). (NOTE: To save the parking fee at Dunstable Downs, an alternative is to park for free at the car park on Bison Hill, Whipsnade, and join the route there, thus beginning the walk by following the top of Whipsnade Downs to the Chiltern Gateway Centre on Dunstable Downs).
At last! It felt
good to be setting off on another long-distance path again – I’ve really
enjoyed all the walks I’ve been doing in the Chilterns in recent months, but
it’s nice to have the challenge and the target that a long-distance path gives
me. It’s also nice to be writing a journal again after a gap of about seven
months! As the Chiltern Gateway Centre is only five minutes drive from my home,
I was able to start walking about . I was glad to hear my
friend the skylark singing as I laced up my boots in the car park – he’d also
sung me off when I started the
 The Chilterns Gateway Centre on Dunstable Downs
From the car park, I followed the path to the left of
the Chilterns Gateway Centre
 and soon came to what looked like a modern
sculpture made of rusting metal – in fact it is part of the
environment-friendly heating and ventilation system for the visitor centre. The
path went right here, along the top of Dunstable Downs
. There were nice views
I went through the car park and carefully crossed the
road, and set off down a track starting on the other side. Soon there was part
of Dunstable Downs golf club beyond the hedge on my left. After passing a metal
barrier, I soon turned right through some trees and after a few yards came to
the path round Kensworth Quarry
, which was visible as a huge white gash in the
landscape immediately in front of me, ugly but impressive in its scale. I
believe it is the largest chalk quarry in the country, and the chalk from here
is pumped in solution to
After a few hundred yards I came to the drive to the
quarry, where I turned right for 100-200 yards, then turned left. There was now
a thin belt of trees on my left, and across the small field on my right the
hedgeline marked the course of
At the top of the hill, I went through a metal kissing-gate and turned right. It was quite muddy along here, as I passed another small wood on my right. Beyond the wood, I had to fork very slightly right, to keep to the right of a young plantation. Looking to my right, I could see a long way across the valley to a row of houses in Kensworth on the opposite hillside (one of which is the home of that trepid Chiltern explorer, yours truly!). The path followed the fence enclosing the plantation as it curved to the left. There then followed a very muddy section of path between bushes, where I saw a couple of Jays fly off ahead of me. As I struggled to pick a path through the mud, I consoled myself with the thought that this would be one of the worst sections for mud on the entire Chiltern Chain Walk. I soon came to a junction where the quarry path went left, but I continued ahead on a track, with a small wooded area now on my left.
Here I had a very unusual wildlife sighting – a black
squirrel! My parents have lived in Kensworth since the early 1950’s and say
that there have always been black squirrels
 around. I’ve seen them numerous
times in our garden, but have never seen one anywhere else. They are not true
‘Black Squirrels’ which you can see in some parts of
The track soon emerged into a small meadow, where I
turned right and followed the path through the grass to a stile that took me
into the churchyard of Kensworth church
. I passed the twelfth-century church on
my left to reach the gate, where I turned left along a lane. The church stands
amongst a few houses and a couple of farms in Church End, the original nucleus
I turned left, immediately passing the Old Red Lion pub on my left [UPDATE: 7/01/12: The pub is now closed and converted to a private residence], and then the recreation ground on the right. There has always been a line of impressive Horse Chestnut trees along the edge of the recreation ground, but sadly about half of them have had to be felled recently on safety grounds – the parish council have planted some native woodland tree saplings to replace them. Further on I passed the village primary school  (which I attended in the 1960’s!). A short distance further, I turned right on a footpath that crossed a paddock – I was delighted to see Swallows here, the first I’ve seen this year. The horses in the paddock ignored me, as they did in the next larger paddock where the indistinct path went half-left before turning right to reach the far hedge. Here it turned left alongside the hedge, to reach a kissing-gate in the corner.
The path continued as a clear thin line through a
large field of young corn, with a junction of two valleys at Kensworth Lynch
over to my left. I passed to the left of a small copse in the middle of this
, where I had to detour round a fallen beech tree. There were nice
views northwards along the larger of the two valleys, through which the A5
headed towards Dunstable. Eventually I reached the far side of the field, where
the path went through the hedgerow and across the corner of the next field –
this contained oil-seed rape which was starting to turn yellow, and I saw a
yellowhammer fly off as I passed by. The path next bore slightly right,
alongside a hedge on the left, running parallel to the A5 in the valley bottom
to my left
. The valley is that of the river Ver (from which
 Path through corn field, heading towards the small copse
 Looking north along the A5, heading towards Dunstable
The path continued alongside the hedge, and on through some playing fields and then a short alleyway to reach a residential street in Markyate. I turned left, then went right on a paved path, continuing more or less straight on over a couple of minor road junctions and then downhill to reach a junction with Buckwood Road (this heads towards Whipsnade and later becomes Buckwood Lane, though known locally as Bucket Lane). I turned right here, by the large Baptist Chapel , and followed the road through a fairly modern residential area. Beyond the last house on the left, I turned left along a footpath, soon coming to a junction where I turned half-right. The path climbed gently across the slope of the hillside, following a hedge on my left . To my right were pleasant views over several rolling hills and valleys, with a surprising amount of woodland in view. Eventually I reached the field corner, where I went through a kissing-gate and continued beside another hedgerow, with a farm visible across the meadow on my right.
The path ended at Roe End lane , Roe End being a small hamlet within the parish of Markyate, consisting of two farms and a few cottages. I turned right, immediately passing a house on my left which has an odd foreign sign on its gate (I think it’s the Italian for ‘Beware of the Dog’, but I’m probably completely wrong). After a few hundred yards, the surfaced lane ended (a bridleway continued ahead) and I turned left along a gravel track. This descended into a slight valley and rose gently up the other side beside another wood . Beyond the end of the wood I noticed a couple of Guinea Fowl – I’d seen a larger group of them nearby the last time I came this way.
When I reached a track crossroads I turned right (the Hertfordshire Way goes left here, I’d been following it most of the way from Markyate). I passed a few cottages – some penned in dogs barked loudly as they always do when I go by here – and then passed a farm and a duck pond in a small enclosure on my right. The track then veered slightly right as it entered Gravelpit wood , soon passing what looks to be a fairly new pond on the left. After about a quarter of a mile, the track went slightly left, but the right of way continued straight ahead through another section of the wood  (now called Great Bradwin's Wood), now on a narrow path rather than surfaced track. I spotted my first ever Wood Sorrel along here, and there was some type of Violet growing here too. I got a nice photo of a Peacock butterfly here as well, I’d already seen them in several other places.
The path emerged on the far side of the wood, where I turned right for a short way and went through a hedge gap to reach a corner of Studham Common. I turned left along the top of the common (making a mental note to return here in a month or so’s time, as it is a good place for orchids). It was nice looking over the grassy section of common towards the village of Studham . I crossed a road and continued along the top of a second grassy section of the common  – I managed to photograph a few rooks that were on the grass a little way ahead of me. Over a second road, the common was a mixture of trees and bushes, and the path turned slightly right and descended a very small valley. It reached a more open area of grass where it ended at a bridleway. Here I went left, leaving the common as I passed some cottages and the village school on my right.
The path continued along a right-hand hedge to reach Valley Road, where I turned right. I saw some Garlic Mustard by the road-side as I went uphill into a corner of Studham. At the top of the small rise I turned left, and followed a lane (where I saw the first Wood Anemones of the day) a short distance to its termination at the village church . I went through the churchyard, passing left of the church, to an old gate in the far left corner. Beyond that, I turned left and went over a stile into a meadow, with a farm over to my left. I followed the right-hand fence through the meadow, passing a couple of mature trees, to another stile on the edge of a wood. I turned right on a bridleway just inside the edge of the wood (when I first walked this path 20 years ago it was almost impassably muddy, but it has since been very well re-engineered with good drainage).
I heard and saw a small mammal just to my left as I followed the bridleway – it stopped still in a position where it was largely hidden from me, but I think it might have been a bank vole similar to the one I’ve been seeing in my garden recently. There was a good selection of wildflowers here too, the Bluebells, Lesser Celandine and Greater Stitchwort that I’d already seen frequently on this walk. The bridleway soon left the wood, and followed a hedgerow through two fields of young corn . Over to my left I could see part of Whipsnade Zoo, and after passing through a small wood the path ran alongside the metal zoo fence . Here I could see many Chinese Water Deer in one of the Zoo’s paddocks, but curiously there were no Wallabies about today. I passed some more Coltsfoot along here.
At the end of the path, I turned left along a former lane between Holywell and Whipsnade. Perhaps it was the time of year, but it didn’t seem quite as overgrown as the last time I walked here. I saw several birds here – Chaffinches flew ahead of me along the old lane, and further on I saw a Blackbird and a Robin. In the large ploughed field to my left was a mixed flock of Jackdaws and Rooks, and I heard the distinctive call of a Lapwing (I heard it two or three times before I finally spotted it). I turned right onto a footpath along the end of the ploughed field (the hedge here had recently been relaid, and there was a sign advertising the company that had done it), and beyond the field corner I turned left through a meadow to reach Whipsnade church . As I took a photograph, a Green Woodpecker flew across in front of me. I followed the path round to the left of the church, and went through the gate onto the large irregular green, around which the dwellings of Whipsnade are scattered. I turned left across part of the green, then turned right and crossed the road. I followed a short drive to reach the entrance to the Tree Cathedral .
I had a quick look around the Tree Cathedral . It was now well after and I’d hoped to have my lunch here. You are only supposed to have picnics in a section called the Dew Pond (well, you wouldn’t eat in a real Cathedral, would you?) but when I got there, someone was doing some strange sort of meditation or something (or just sunbathing on a slight bank with their feet above their head!) and I didn’t want to intrude on them. So I carried on, my route taking a footpath along the left edge of the Tree Cathedral (where I saw some more Wood Anemones). I then followed the left edge of a pasture, going gently downhill. There was Jersey cow and some rare breed sheep here, and in the small enclosures to my left were some unusual pigs and hens and ponies.
At the bottom of the hill I went through a kissing gate and then between some wooden barriers to join a bridleway, which I followed to the right. The bridleway ran between hedges, where again there were a good selection of wildflowers. In particular there was a nice mixed clump of Wood Anemones and Lesser Celandine. Further on I came across some Yellow Archangel – this was the first time I’d seen the native version, though I’d seen the garden variety with the silver effect on the leaves on several recent walks in Oxfordshire. The bridleway ended near the small car park on Bison Hill . The Chiltern Chain Walk goes right here, but I first stopped to sit on a fallen tree here to eat my lunch, admiring the view towards Ivinghoe Beacon. There was more Coltsfoot here, some nice Violets and several Cowslips, and a lot of Dog’s Mercury (something that I have seen very frequently on my recent walks).
I then just had ¾ of a mile left. The path followed a hedge or fence line at the top of a huge pasture, with the steep slope of the Downs to my left. There were good views along the Downs  and out over the Vale of Aylesbury , but they were not as good as they could be because of the almost overcast conditions. There were a few gliders (the London Gliding Club is at the foot of the Downs), but I didn’t see any kites or paragliders. The path passed a wood on the right, then made for the far corner of the pasture. It was then just a few hundred yards further, back to the Chiltern Gateway Centre.
The walk had taken me about 4 hours and 50 minutes, a ridiculously long time for a 12-mile walk. But the reason became clear when I got home, and discovered that I’d taken 209 photographs, far more than I’d ever done before.
It’s difficult for me to evaluate this walk, as all of it was on my local patch, using paths that I’m very familiar with. I certainly enjoyed it today, especially as I saw a good selection of birds and wildflowers. How interesting it would be to someone who hadn’t walked here before, I’m not sure. But I think they’d have to enjoy the views from Dunstable Downs, the Zoo and Tree Cathedral offered something a bit unusual, and the route passed three interesting old churches. The walk was reasonably undulating, with a mixture of fields and woods, and I think it serves as a reasonably gentle introduction to the Chilterns. But certainly the best bits are yet to come!
Total distance: 12.0 miles
Back to the main page for The Chiltern Chain Walk
Next page - Walk 2 26/04/08 Studham and Little Gaddesden
(To see this walk repeated IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION on 1/7/12, CLICK HERE)