Tring to Cheddington, Ashridge in the Chilterns
March 01, 2020 by Extinction Rebellion
The West Coast Main Line, on its last push into the built-up South East, rises through a tantalising swathe of rolling, yearning countryside.
The trains breast the scarp in minutes. Then this narrow ribbon of the Chilterns is gone. How many travellers, since Robert Stephenson built the line in the 1830s, must have thought: ‘If only I had time,’ or ‘One day I shall…’
On behalf of those unrequited millions, I take the stopping train to Tring and charted a walk to the preceding station Cheddington (8 miles, 12km).
Tring Station has a rare distinction. The Ridgeway National Trail actually passes through it, on a footbridge over the tracks. I will join this quicker route, to its end, later on.
I take the longer way through the heart of the National Trust’s Ashridge Estate, a rich mix of old woodland and chalk downland astride the Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire border.
Ashridge is one of the first wide tracts of open, freely accessible countryside north of London. But there’s an environmental penalty to pay. The estate attracts torrents of cars to its free parking spaces. All the more reason to promote the walking option. (Is it time, incidentally, to revive an advertising tradition as old as the railways, to entice Londoners into the countryside by train?)
A happier trend is the phalanxes of cyclists who spin through the Chilterns and stop here. They have their own cafe, Musette, just a mile from the station.
Another mile on, up a steep slope, is the visitor centre in the heart of Ashridge. It’s worth joining the long queue outside the excellent cafe. Towering above it is the Bridgewater Monument. This granite column honours the third Duke of Bridgewater, who founded the most serene form
of inland transport yet devised, the canal system of the Industrial Revolution.
I follow the Ashridge Boundary Trail north to a startling landscape transition. The path suddenly bursts out of dense beech trees onto the wide open Chilterns scarp, with views deep into the north. This is original chalk downland, dancing with marbled white butterflies over nodding harebells in the summer.
There is a sumptuous passage of downland to Ivinghoe Beacon. Various paths lead down to the village of Ivinghoe. I recommend the Rose and Crown, a stout independent country pub. Pitstone Windmill, one of the oldest post mills in Britain, is worth a detour.
As an appropriate conclusion I walk a short stretch of the Grand Union Canal, then take a footpath to Cheddington station to head home.