Route details, maps, pubs, features, local history and folklore for a wide variety of walks focusing primarily on Norfolk and Suffolk

Saturday, 27 November 2010

The Icknield Way - Tring to Sundon

A 22 mile walk along the Icknield Way between Tring and Sundon

Some exhilerating walking through the Dunstable Downs with accompanying magnificent views. The Icknield Way has now been routed around the urban sprawl around Dustable and Luton.

Tring Station to Sundon Country Park Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
Tring StationView in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
Sundon Country ParkView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
22 miles
Walk difficulty
Some good hill walking through to Dunstable after which it was easy

Accommodation:

Wild CampView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Description
Wild Camp on the edge of Sundon Country Park

Transport:

Network Rail - Train Service
Service Number
Euston - Main WEst Coast line train services
Timetable

Walk Data

Date of Walk
2009-06-18
Walk Time
13:00 to 22:00
Walkers
Griffmonster
Weather Conditions
Warm and sunny to start - increasing heavy clouds as the day went on

Walk Notes

Tring station is the closest point served by the rail network to Ivinghoe Beacon where the Ridgeway ends and the the Icknield Way starts. There was no agenda on this days walk as I had no accommodation booked which left it up to me as to how far I could walk from the time the train arrived at the station at 12:45 until the sun went down. The first stage was to walk the last 3 miles of the Ridgeway which was a pleasant reminder of walking this section as the start to the Ridgeway Walk two years previous.

I managed to cover a lot of miles in this days walk, more than anticipated. It was exhilarating walking through the hills to Ivinghoe Beacon with fond memories flooding back of my previous Ridgeway walk. These hills are impressive and no amount of photography can capture their magnificence. This was also the case walking across the Downs into Dunstable - it was an awesome sight to witness the planes and gliders taking off below me.

As stated earlier, I had no destination to reach on this days walk. There was the possibility of trying to find B&B accommodation in Dunstable, but a Friday night in a large town was certainly not appealing. It was 5 oclock when I reached Dunstable so I decided to continue with the idea of reaching Sundon before dusk. At Sundon I hoped I could find a place to wild camp in the country park. The distance to Sundon was covered fairly quickly albeit with a good pace being set. After a rather disappointing drink at the Sundon Crown I headed up the hills towards the country park to search out a suitable site to pitch camp. The only time I had previously wild camped was many years ago when, together with a mate, I hitch-hiked to the Isle of Skye to attend an Echo and the Bunnymen gig. On that occasion we pitched on the edge of a rough old Glasgow council estate, by the side of a track that led into a field. It was dark when we camped and on rising first thing in the morning we found our tent sitting proudly in the middle of the farm track - luckily no tractors wanted to get down there during the night!

I was a little apprehensive of wild camping this time with thoughts of angry landowners kicking me off their land. However, I considered that if I set up camp at dusk and decamped at dawn I should have the best chance of going undetected. I contemplated pitching camp at the edge of a farmers field which had views of the the M1 snaking its way into the distance. Here I sat, pondered and watched as the sun moved down to the horizon. Eventually I decided to walk on a little more to the country park itself. Here I found a small piece of grassy ground amidst a copse of trees in front of the sheep fields that made up the country park. This seemed a decent enough place to camp so I quickly pitched in the fading light. No sooner had I pitched then I was visited by some young chap claiming that he had lost his keys. We chatted for a minute and after finding out that I was hiking the Icknield Way he wandered off. It was clear that he had no lost keys and was just investigating this strange bloke setting up camp. As the night went on, I was disturbed by music coming from a about 100 yards away. At first I thought I must have pitched alongside a house with a party going on but it soon became apparent with numerous cars coming and going that it was just a car park which appeared to be used by the local youth to drive into and play their stereos loud. Eventually in the early hours the noise stopped and I managed to grab a bit of sleep.

The start and end of the walk - on the left is the start, climbing up to Ivinghoe Beacon, and on the right ,looking for a place to wild camp as the sun goes down.The start and end of the walk - on the left is the start, climbing up to Ivinghoe Beacon, and on the right ,looking for a place to wild camp as the sun goes down.
On the left The start and end of the walk - on the left is the start, climbing up to Ivinghoe Beacon, and on the right ,looking for a place to wild camp as the sun goes down.; On the right The start and end of the walk - on the left is the start, climbing up to Ivinghoe Beacon, and on the right ,looking for a place to wild camp as the sun goes down.

Directions

The Ridgeway passes Tring station, turn right on the road across the railway and follow the waymarkers through to Ivinghoe Beacon. The Icknield way returns back down the hill from the beacon then heads off in the opposite direction to the Ridgeway. The path is clearly waymarked so with the official guide book and an OS map it was easy to navigate. It passes through Dagnall village before skirting round the southern edges of Whipsnade Zoo then follows the ridge along the Dunstable Downs until it heads down into Dunstable. The original route went through Dunstable and Luton, but these days the urban sprawl is avoided by taking a track to the west of Dunstable and north of Houghton Regis before heading off northwards through the villages of Wingfield, Chalgrave and Fancott. Here its turns eastwards and crosses the M1 motorway and goes up into Sundon Country Park. There was one obstacle just north of Houghton Regis where a fallen tree straddled the footpath. It was clear that the authorities had kept the path passable up to this obstacle after which the path was seriously overgrown. From this point it was unclear of the exact route but getting bearings with the OS map I was soon back on track. The route was also unclear as it approached the M1 and I ended up walking out of my way before finding the path to the bridge to cross the motorway.

Five Knolls on top of the Dunstable Downs
Five Knolls on top of the Dunstable Downs

Pubs

The Red Lion, Dagnall View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
Address
The Red Lion, Dagnall

Pub on the main A4146 through the village.

Review

The pub was very quiet when I arrived. Being the onky customer, the landlord was happy to sit and chat with me. He did not know his pub stood on the Icknield Way and remarked that a couple of other hikers had popped in a week earlier. Fullers London Pride was very satisfying.

The Plough Inn, Wingfield View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Address
The Plough Inn, Wingfield
Website

A charming thatched country pub with gardens both front and rear. This 350 year old building was a former coaching inn and is allegedly haunted though I can find no details of the ghosts in question. Home cooked food and Fullers ales.

Review

The pub was doing brisk trade on food orders. I tried a pint of Gales HSB, which these days is part of Fullers. Gratifying beer for some aching legs! A recommended stop-off point

The Fancott Arms, Fancott View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
Address
The Fancott Arms, Fancott
Website

A large family pub which is part of the Wallman Pubs group. Food available plus it has its own miniature railway located in the gardens to the pub!

Review

A selection of ales on offer but the pub is geared around a high tunover of food and I did feel a little out of place supping at the bar.

The Crown, Upper Sundon View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Address
The Crown, Upper Sundon

A town pub with no ales. Has more recently being turned into an indian restaurant.

Review

A very boisterous Friday night. No ales and as it was plainly apparant that I was the stranger and was attracting interest from the local youths whom patch I had invaded I took to quickly supping the rather bland lager and leaving.

On the left, the meeting point of the Ridgeway and the Icknield Way at the foot if Ivinghoe Beacon; On the right, the Windcatcher, the air intake for the Dunstable Down Visitor Centre heating systemOn the left, the meeting point of the Ridgeway and the Icknield Way at the foot if Ivinghoe Beacon; On the right, the Windcatcher, the air intake for the Dunstable Down Visitor Centre heating system
On the left On the left, the meeting point of the Ridgeway and the Icknield Way at the foot if Ivinghoe Beacon; On the right, the Windcatcher, the air intake for the Dunstable Down Visitor Centre heating system; On the right On the left, the meeting point of the Ridgeway and the Icknield Way at the foot if Ivinghoe Beacon; On the right, the Windcatcher, the air intake for the Dunstable Down Visitor Centre heating system

Features

Ivinghoe BeaconView in OS Map | View in Google Map

Ivinghoe Beacon is a prominent hill and landmark in the Chiltern Hills, standing 757 ft above sea level. While physically quite prominent, and higher than the surrounding ridge, the Beacon is not the highest point in the Chilterns, which is a few miles to the west at Coombe Hill near Wendover. There is a carpark at the bottom of the hill and the steep climb up to the beacon will, as on this occasion, often be greeted with the surprise sight of a host of middle aged, pot bellied men flying model aircraft. Apparently this is a usual sight as they take advantage of the lift from the winds blowing up the ridge. The Beacon is also the host to an Iron Age fort dating from the 7th-8th centuries BC. There are also numerous barrows to be found around the site and a raised causeway links the beacon and the fort.

Whipsnade ZooView in OS Map | View in Google Map

The Icknield Way runs alongside the southern perimeter fence to Whisnade Zoo. On this occasion I saw a herd of deer but not much else. Whipsnade Zoo was an idea initiated by Dr Peter Chalmers-Richard of the London Zoological Society. Despite opposition and setbacks the park finally opened on Sunday 23 May 1931. It was the first open zoo in Europe to be easily accessible to the visiting public. The white lion figure is carved in the hills on the northern side and can be seen from Ivinghoe Beacon.

Whipsnade Tree CathedralView in OS Map | View in Google Map

Whipsnade Tree Cathedral is a 9.5 acre garden planted in the approximate form of a cathedral, with grass avenues for nave, chancel, transepts, chapels and cloisters and "walls" of different species of trees. There are four chapels which represent the four seasons. It was planted by Mr Edmond K. Blyth as an act of "Faith, hope and reconciliation" in response to his memories of World War I. The cathedral contains many varieties of trees including Ash, Beech, Cherry, Cedar, Cypress, Hornbeam, Horse Chestnut, Lime, Lombardy Poplar, Norway Maple, Norway Spruce, Oak, Rowan, Silver Birch, Scots Pine, Whitebeam, Willow and Yew In 1960 the Tree Cathedral was donated to the National Trust. An annual service is held in the cathedral at the end of June.

Dunstable DownsView in OS Map | View in Google Map

The Dunstable Downs are a chalk escarpment forming the north-eastern reaches of the Chilterns. Because of its elevation, the Downs hosted a station in the shutter telegraph chain which connected the Admiralty in London to its naval ships in the port of Great Yarmouth during the years 1808 to 1814. At the foot of the downs is the base for the The London Gliding Club and from the Icknield Way as it winds its way along the ridge of the downs, you can watch the unsual sight of gliders and planes taking off below you. Much of the downs are managed by the National Trust which has a visitor centre known as The Chilterns Gateway Centre, on the very top of Downs. You cant help but notice the unusual metallic monolith known as the 'Windcatcher' which stands 100 yards in front of the visitor centre. This contraption naturally draws air underground to one end of a pipe. Here the air is warmed by the earth’s latent temperature which is then piped through to the visitor centre.

Five KnollsView in OS Map | View in Google Map

The Five Knolls are seven burial mounds dating from the neolithic and bronze age eras (4000 - 1000 BC). The mounds consist of two bowl barrows, three bell barrows and two pond or saucer barrows. In 1928 Mortimer Wheeler excavated the most northerly of the bowl barrows where he discovered the burial of a crouched woman. At a later period two cremation burials were added to the barrow. During the Saxon period some 30 people were buried in the barrow with their hands tied behind their backs, perhaps the victims of a massacre. The finds are now in Luton Museum. In more recent times the site was the location of the public gallows.

Maiden Bower View in OS Map | View in Google Map

On the northern side of Houghton Regis and to the east of the Icknield Way is a mound which is the site of an iron age fort named Maiden Bowers. The name is taken from a woman who wagered the king that she could encamp a large army of men within a bull's hide. She achieved this by cutting the bull's hide into thin strips then lay them end to end to form a circle on the ground. Then a ditch was dug and a rampart of the fort constructed following the outline of the bull's hide. Maiden Bower has some of the ramparts showing through the edge of an old chalk quarry where there are Bronze Age remains of an older Fort. According to W.H. Matthews (Mazes and Labyrinths, 1922), a turf maze once existed at "Maiden Bower".

Whipsnade tree cathedral
Whipsnade tree cathedral

Images

Below are a selection of images taken from from the photo album for this walk. Feel free to browse through these or click on any image to view a larger version in the Gallery.

Click on an image below to view the Image Gallery

Maps

Below is the route depicted on the OpenStreetMap, Ordnance Survey Map and Google Map. Links to full page versions are found in the Essential Information

Summary of Document Changes

Last Updated: ... 2016-01-16

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