The three young horses had been made skittish by this morning’s sharp wind, and they jostled each other and leaped off the ground as we crossed their field on the outskirts of Woburn.First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
There was a bite in the Bedfordshire air and a nip in our fingers today, with winter stealing in across the wooded countryside on a tide of gold and crimson.
Enormous fungi sprouted in the thick clay of the ploughed fields. Along the way in Little Brickhill Copse and Buttermilk Wood – names redolent of the traditional brick-making and dairying of this low-rolling county – the scarlet caps of fly agaric, spotted white, gleamed in the shadows under the silver birch and pine trees. How many unsuspecting infants must have been tempted by those sweetie-resembling but deadly fungi; likewise the dense crowds of bell-caps called ‘granny’s cakes’ that clustered so invitingly on the cut tree stumps. No wonder our forebears warned their children off the winter woods with tales of gingerbread houses and wicked old witches.
We passed Hundreds Farm and went through woods of sweet chestnut, oak and birch where a golden rain of falling leaves slanted across the path and the iridescence in the pools betrayed the presence of iron in the greensand rock below. Then suddenly we were out of the trees and striding across open fields of grass tussocks. In one prairie-like pasture a crowd of young bullocks frolicked past with the wind in their tails, and we took refuge beside an old thorn tree in the centre of an ancient moated platform until they had cantered away.
The peerage sucked its aristocratic teeth when the 13th Duke of Bedford opened his ancestral house of Woburn Abbey to the public in 1955, but the pioneering stately home proved a roaring success. We strolled the broad acres past the big white-faced pile of the mansion and on through the deer park. Woburn’s famous herd of Père David’s deer, rescued from the brink of extinction by the 11th Duke, cropped the grass unconcernedly; and three magnificent red stags lay in close company, occasionally lifting their great heads to roar in a reminder that the rutting season was well and truly under way.
Start: Woburn High Street, Beds, MK17 9PX (OS ref SP949331)
Travel: Bus Service 10 (babus.org.uk), Leighton Buzzard to Milton Keynes
Road – M1 Jct 12, then follow brown signs via Eversholt.
Walk (7½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 192):
Walk north up High Street (A4012, Bedford direction). Pass A4012’s right turn to Bedford; in another 10 m, left (948334, fingerpost) along fenced path. Across fields through gates (black arrows/BLA, ‘Woburn Walk’/WW, yellow-topped posts/YTP). In 3rd field, go half left to top left corner (941333, YTP). Left for 30 m past pond; right across footbridge (YTP); across field and through hedge gap (940333), on through hedge to left of Horsemoor Farm (937333). Left (WW) for 50 m; right (BLA) up woodland path and ahead for ½ mile to Hundreds Farm (928332).
NB: If diversion round reservoir works is still in place, follow taped path through woods from 935333 to 930333; turn left here (3-finger post) to Hundreds Farm.
Pass Hundreds Farm, following BLAs and YTPs. By notice ‘To 10th Tee, Club House’, keep ahead on sandy path. By notice ‘To 6th Tee’ fork left on woodland path, soon passing BLA post. Cross track (924328) and on to road (925327).
Cross; right along path parallel to road (fingerpost). Ahead for 100 m; then left (‘Circular Walk’/CW, arrows and WW). On along woodland path. In ⅓ mile join Greensand Ridge Walk at junction of tracks (926321); ahead for nearly 1 mile to road (933311). Right along verge for 250 m; left along minor road (933308, ‘Potsgrove’) past house. In 50 m, left through kissing gate (fingerpost), across fields and through gates (BLA). NB There may be frisky bullocks running in these fields! In 2nd field, aim past old moat (939313), to turn left through kissing gate in hedge beyond a line of disused fence posts (942313). North up field edge with fence on left. In 300 m (943316), BA points half right across field, but don’t go too far right! Better to keep ahead up fence/hedge to end of field, then turn right to kissing gate half way along top hedge (944319). Go through; right (BLA) along hedge to YTP (945318); half left (BLA) across field to YTP (948319). Ahead across corner of next field; left across ditch (949320) and walk north over next field, aiming for small treetop on its own in a dip. At YTP (949324), right along hedge. Follow farm track round left bend; in another 20 m, left through holly hedge (952323) and on along raised bank; then follow hedge as it bends right (951324) and descends to A4012 (952326).
Cross road; go left of Ivy Lodge (CW fingerpost); on along fenced path for ⅓ mile to deer gate (957326). Bear left (‘public footpath’ fingerpost); follow track (YTPs) left of Shoulder of Mutton Pond (959330) and Horse Pond (960331). Bear left round Park Farm; ahead through gate (959333; BLA, ‘Camping Centre’). In 150 m drive bends right (957333, ‘Camping Centre’); keep ahead here on path among trees for ⅓ mile, past Upper Drakeloe Pond to road (952333). Left to A4012 (949331); right into Woburn.
NB: Section from Potsgrove lane to A4012 unsuitable for dogs – cattle running free!
Lunch/Accommodation: Longs Inn, Bedford Street, Woburn MK17 9QB (01525-290219; longsinn.co.uk).
Woburn Abbey: 01525-290333; woburn.co.uk/abbey