Sunday, 8 June 2014

Dunstable Downs

A one hour car journey from Harringay takes you to a ridge walk along the Chilterns, with skylarks serenading and spectacular views across the large fields and toy villages of the Value of Aylesbury in Bedfordshire. It's said on a clear day you can see 35 miles to Oxfordshire. Gliders take off from a field at the base of the downs and paragliders surf the currents above offering a bit more interest for kids. You can often spot red kites. Hunted to near extinction 100 years ago in the UK they were reintroduced to the Chilterns 20 years ago and are now a common sight.  This short walk also has a surprising smattering of history. 

Red Kite 
A tarmacked path runs along half the ridge walk making at least some of the walk accessible for buggies and wheelchairs (but you'd need to park at the Chiltern's Gateway Centre shop to access). 

The walk is 4 miles and takes 2.5 hours and a good walk for all seasons. 

How to Get There
Easy to get to, straight up the M1 to junction 9 and then follow signs to Whipsnade. As you begin to go down the hill after Whipsnade, you find the parking place on your right. Avoid arriving after Whipsnade has been open for an hour or so, as you'll just join a traffic jam. 

Tea and Cake 
A National Trust cafe and shop 'the Chilterns Gateway Centre' with brilliant view, sits atop the downs.

The Walk 
There are several walks you can take, you can find a longer 6.5 mile one here.  

I can never resist striding out along the ridge as the views are so exhilarating after being in the city. But if you like to feel you've earned your coffee and cake it would be more sensible to descend to the bottom of the downs and do the walk the other way round, so you end up at the cafe towards the end of the walk. 

Unfortunately blogger no longer allows you to paste the Ordnance Survey map code into a post, so a screen shot will have to do. The flag marks the start and finish, the purple line the route. The Ordnance Survey Explorer map is 181

The beginning of the walk looking over to Ivinghoe Beacon from the car park.

On Pascombe Hill looking back along the ridge you've just walked with the gliding centre below

Looking back up to Pascombe Hill with a just visible paraglider. 

From spring to late summer skylarks should accompany you along the walk, apparently 

In the 1850s a good male skylark could fetch 15 shillings as a caged songbird in the markets of London. A high proportion of the Skylarks sent to London came from a small area of Dunstable Downs at this time as the area had free access, allowing the lark catchers to work unhindered. Records show that in one winter nearly 50,000 birds were captured in this area' 

Dunstable Downs was also the site for one of the beacons which stretched from the east coast to Cornwall via London in the 16th century. An early warning system put in place when Spanish invasion was feared during Elizabeth I reign. 

Pascombe Hill juts out towards the end of the downs. From the 12th century it housed a warren providing locals, most probably the priory, with meat and fur. I was surprised to learn rabbits aren't indigenous to Britain and were brought over by the Normans from France. Warreners would have been employed to guard the rabbits. 

At the far end of the ridge before you drop down you come to Five Knolls with its distinct bumps, a burial site in the late neolithic (3,200 BC - 2,200 BC) and bronze age (2,500-800BC) and then reused by the Romans.

Geography and Wildlife
Dunstable downs are chalk escarpment with the butterflies and flowers you'd expect to see on downland. These snaps were taken in May.


Forget Me Not and Cow Parsley
Apple Blossom


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