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Sunday, 9 March 2014

Time to get fit again

Well, since I'm on the Challenge, I guess I'd better try to get myself fit again before the off. Plus, novel as it may seem, I'm thinking that maybe I ought to give all of my gear a thorough shake-down as well. And I've just got a new pair of new boots, which need walking in. So what better excuse could I have?

We'd taken the lorry up to Grendon, so it was out of the way when the electricity engineers were working on the pole in the corner of our paddocks, and it needed to come back again on Saturday 8 March. So I decided I'd drive it to the paddocks in Ampthill, and then walk back home. I took just a light day sack with my waterproofs and some water. I didn't take my camera ... but I rather wish I had. I wasn't thinking about writing the walk up for my blog at the time. I didn't have my watch, either ... as time didn't really seem to matter. But I guess I started walking some time between 1 and 2 pm, probably closer to 1 than 2.

I didn't carry maps, either, because I was on home terrain. I didn't know the exact routes of all the paths I was intending to use. But I knew the country well enough that I didn't think it would matter all that much. I knew approximately where the paths were, and I knew the lie of the land. And in this part of Bedfordshire, you can navigate by airship hangar. So off I trotted.

Our paddocks are on Station Road, Ampthill, TL 023373; and I walked up Station Road, across the A507 Ampthill bypass, and turned left onto the bridleway over Cooper's Hill. I have ridden this bridleway many times. I have not walked it nearly so often. Then I turned right at the school, walked up the avenue, continued by the back roads over Ampthill Park Hill and turned left onto the B530 Bedford Road. After the Laurel Wood I took the path to Houghton House, and spent a little while looking at the ruins. And it is here that I wished I had brought my camera.

Houghton House, built in 1615 for the Countess of Pembroke, is generally accepted as having been Bunyan's inspiration for the "House Beautiful" in Pilgrim's Progress . It is ruinous now, and in the care of the National Trust. But enough remains to give a good impression of what it must have been like. And as for the views from its commanding position ... well, you just have to visit it yourself to see what they're like, because I didn't have my camera with me.

Well, without benefit of maps, the plan I'd had was roughly this: "Follow the Greensand Ridge Walk to Haynes, then take the bridleway to Wilstead, and the bridleway from Wilstead to Elstow". At Houghton House, however, the waymarking for the Greensand Ridge Walk is not all that great, and I managed to miss it altogether. Probably as well I did, though, because with the benefit of the map, it appears that the GRW does not follow the most direct of routes to Haynes. Instead, I found myself taking the footpath through Houghton Park - once a favourite hunting ground of Henry VIII - and exiting Explorer 193 to Explorer 208 at TL 039400.This path is well marked, following the field boundaries - but the going is pretty heavy. This is, after all, Bedfordshire clay we're talking about; the valley floor hereabouts is supposed to have been Bunyan's inspiration for the Slough of Despond.

Arriving at a T junction, I figured that going left would get me back to the main road, and I didn't want to go there; so I turned right, and soon found myself at the edge of King's Wood. This is a beautiful nature reserve, one of the last remnants of the ancient forest which once filled the vale; and there are some beautiful meadows to the north of it, too, which are also in the hands of the conservationists. This footpath led me eventually into Houghton Conquest, where I turned and followed the road to Chapel End. Had I had the map with me I should have known that if I turned left at Chapel End, onto a small road which looks to all the world like a private farm track, then shortly after I would come to a footpath which would lead me to Wilstead church. I knew that there was a footpath to Wilstead church; but i wasn't sure where to find this end of it. So instead of taking it, I followed the road I was on all the way to the A6, crossed over, and followed the main road a short way before turning for Wilstead.

On the way into Wilstead there are some benches where I sat to rest my feet for a bit, taking them out of my boots, and had a glug. I then continued on my way, taking the footpath to Manor Farm, and then following the lane to Cotton End Farm. Again, had I had the map with me, I should have known that I need only turn right, and I should find one branch of the bridleway to Elstow less than 50 metres up the road. But I was relying on memory, and I was under the mistaken impression that both branches were to my left. So I walked through the village for a way and took the Western branch of the bridleway, which I followed all the way to Medbury Farm, and so into Elstow.

The sun was just setting as I reached home. The walk had been about 20 km, a good mix of roads, made-up paths, and good old Bedfordshire clay. My new boots had rubbed a couple of blisters on my heels, but nothing to worry about. They'll be healed by next weekend, when I shall take my boots out again, possibly to explore the new bridleways they've been making round the new mid-Bedfordshire Centre Parcs. I'll try to remember to take my camera!

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