The Ridgeway #1: Ivinghoe Beacon to Wendover

I'd continued looking for a new walking "project" after having really enjoyed walking the South Downs Way in 10 sections over the course of 7 or 8 months. More recently I'd tried a couple of bits of the Sussex Ouse Valley Way, which had been OK, but I hadn't finished either section eagerly awaiting the next. Earlier forays along the North Downs Way had similarly left me a bit cold, attempts to follow the route of Belloc's the Four Men had floundered a bit after the first outing as the logistics were a bit challenging, and similarly Offa's Dyke, while marvellous, is just a bit too far from London.

I think I'm starting to understand what makes a good route for a project like this:
  • A meaningful start and end. Circular routes are fine for one off walks, but as a "project" there isn't much sense of achievement if you end up back where you started.
  • Great scenery. Which typically means elevation. The South Downs Way (or at least big chunks of it) had been great for hilltops and ridges with commanding views over the surrounding landscapes. Other walks I've done which haven't had the necessary elevation had tended to be a lot less appealing.
  • Remoteness. Related to the above, being constantly on the edge of towns and villages isn't much fun. The bits of the South Downs Way I'd enjoyed most had been those that offered isolation and a sense of wilderness.
  • Good transport links. Obviously contradictory to the above! ...but the ability to cut the route up into chunks which start and end at stations which aren't too far from London, or failing that on bus routes which can get me back to a station, is pretty vital.
It seemed the obvious answer for the next project was the Ridgeway. I'd been dimly aware of this route for years, having done a couple of bits of it decades ago when living in Berkshire, and more recently I'd also touched on a bit of it on a short walk to Avebury. I've become a bit fascinated with Avebury since visiting for the summer solstice last year, and accordingly also went for the winter solstice (although didn't really do much walking that time). When I realised the modern Ridgeway trail actually starts not far out of London - near Tring in Hertfordshire - I really liked the idea of a walk which begins in the rather mundane commuter belt in the home counties, and ends in the primal landscape of Wiltshire, amongst the famous ancient stone monuments. A journey from banal modernity to atavistic antiquity.

I had prepared myself to accept that the first leg of the walk today might be a bit dull, but that would all be part of the journey. I had done a few forays north of London to bits of Hertfordshire (see here), mainly chosen for the sake of not having to spend too much time travelling, and had found the countryside I'd experienced to be OK, but nothing spectacular.

However, as it turned out today I was pleasantly surprised by the landscape of this part of Hertfordshire / Buckinghamshire, particularly the very start of the Ridgeway at Ivinghoe Beacon. This of course was helped by today's glorious winter sunshine and uninterrupted blue skies, made all the more picturesque in places by a light dusting of frost on the ground.

I got the train out of London to the appealingly named Tring station, where I arrived at 10:36, and from there took a somewhat overpriced taxi (£15 for less than 10 minutes drive!) to the foot of Ivinghoe Beacon.

Although aesthetically pleasing, the frost made conditions rather slippy underfoot, and the initial climb up to the top of Ivinghoe Beacon - on the rather steep path I had chosen - was a tad challenging. When I'd got about three quarters of the way up I slipped over, and my water bottle fell out of my backpack. It then proceeded to roll most of the way back down the hill, only stopped by a thorny bush which it then nestled right in the midst of.

So my ascent of Ivinghoe Beacon had a rather Sisyphean quality to it, but I did eventually make it to the top, a little red faced, and when I got there I was treated to far reaching views across Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.

From Ivinghoe Beacon, the Ridgeway heads to the south and gradually bends round towards the west as it also slowly descends the hill. With the combination of the frost, the mud, and the incline it was very slippy underfoot, and I fell a further twice along this section. On the final fall, although I didn't get hurt, I did manage to get my hands covered in mud whilst breaking my fall, and they remained that way for the rest of today's walk as I didn't find anywhere to wash them until Wendover station.

This first section of today's walk, was certainly the most scenic, but correspondingly also had the most people. I don't recall ever seeing such a concentration of other walkers at any point along the South Downs, but I suppose this is quite an accessible spot, and probably a big draw for people from the surrounding towns - plus the weather was spectacular today.

I was complimented on my tweed suit a total of three times today!

The Ridgeway in fact passes right by Tring station, but I hadn't wanted to do the same walk twice, thus the taxi earlier. By about 12:30 I had passed by Tring station again, making the walk from Ivinghoe Beacon to here about an hour and three quarters. I did briefly consider the idea of just calling it a day at that point, suspecting that I had already seen the best bit of today's walk, but pressed on in the direction of Wendover.

A little after Tring station - which is some way out of the town itself - I crossed over the Grand Union Canal, then a little further on over the A41. From there the route passed through fields to the north of the little village of Wiggington. I consider a possible detour here for lunch at the village pub, but in the end decided to just press on, and make do with the snacks I had in my backpack.

Beyond Wigginton lay Bull's Wood and the path followed a wide forest track along the southern edge of Tring Park, providing occasional views through the trees, across the park land, to Tring in the distance. Obviously the signs of civilisation spoiled the views a bit, but I suppose the people of Tring have to live somewhere.

 Near the south west corner of Tring Park was a nature play area, accessed via a wooden arch which was rather appealing. I didn't explore inside the play area, but thought it would have been nice to have had Erika with me for this bit in particular.

The route then followed the road for a bit, and passed through the little hamlet of Hastoe (I wonder if twinned with Hassocks?), before then going back into another wooded section (Pavis Wood and Wendhill Wood).

 The Ridgeway went in and out of the woods a few times from here on, with occasional sections through open fields. There was a particularly nice stretch just beyond Chivery (Hengrove Wood or Hale Wood perhaps?) where the path went down into a recess, filled with leaves, and trees lining the bank either side. More ditchway than ridgeway, but with the sun already starting to hang low in the sky - it was around 2pm by this point, there was a lovely golden light shining through the trees. Very mellow here.

I was then nearing Wendover, and finally a section of country lane brought me to the church at the southern edge of the town, where the sun was shining through the churchyard in an appealing fashion.

I had never been to Wendover before (I hadn't even heard of it to be honest!), and it seemed to be quite a pretty little town, although alas I didn't have much time to explore as the trains to London were only one an hour, and I was keen to be back in time to make dinner for the girls. Once at Wendover station I rejoiced at the opportunity to give my hands a thorough wash, and having walked about 12 miles today without really stopping I was pleased to be able to have a sit down on the train on the way home!

Route: OS Maps
Distance: 10 miles
Time: 4 hours
Pub: No pub stop today!