The Three Shires Way

The Three Shires Way

The Three Shires Way long distance bridleway runs for 37 miles from the village of Tathall End in north-east Buckinghamshire, through north Bedfordshire, to Grafham Water in Cambridgeshire. The route traces the outlines of ancient trackways and passes through a beautiful rural landscape. Along the way it skirts several small, historic villages, meanders through remnants of ancient woodland, and has many spectacular views. In Buckinghamshire the ride links up with Swan's Way, which is 65 miles long and also a long distance bridleway. It runs from Salcey forest to Goring on Thames. In Cambridgeshire the bridleway ends with an attractive circular ride around Grafham Water.

How To Get There

BY BUS - Telephone Bedfordshire Bus Information Line : 01234 228337, 8.30am – 5pm open 5 days a week or Travel Line 0870 6082608.
BY TRAIN – For timetable information, please telephone National Rail Enquiries 08457 484950.
BY CAR – The village of Tathall End, in north-east Buckinghamshire, lies approximately 5 miles north-west of Newport Pagnell. Take the B526 north from Newport Pagnell and turn left just after the village of Gayhurst.
Click here for the National Rail Enquiries website

Route and Access Information

Distance: 37 miles (60 km)
Access Information:
Pending Update.

Before You Begin

Besides horseriders, the route is open to walkers and pedal cyclists. It is a rural route, much of it on clay, and will be muddy at certain times of the year, so make sure that you're wearing appropriate clothing and footwear. This leaflet shows the route and describes some of the interesting places you'll find along the way. Post Offices and telephones are indicated on the map in case of emergency together with public houses and suitable parking places. Water is not always readily available, so you're advised to carry a collapsible bucket. The bridleway is clearly signposted and waymarked with the Three Shires Way logo. We hope you enjoy the ride. Should you have any comments to make concerning the route please contact the appropriate County Council, so that any necessary changes can be made.

Route Description

1) The Three Shires Way begins its journey east, in the village of Tathall End in Buckinghamshire. The linking south-bound Swans Way runs through the village on its 65 mile journey from nearby Salcey Forest to Goring on Thames. Here it meets the Ridge-way, a National Trail along which riders can continue west, finishing just before Avebury.

The church of St. James the Great in Hanslope with its slender and graceful spire is a notable landmark seen from the start of the route. The church had a 205 foot spire until it was struck by lightning in 1804. The replacement is still, at 190 feet, the tallest in the county.

2) Gayhurst House, to the north of the Three Shires Way, was completed by Sir Everard Digby shortly before he was hanged for his part in the Gunpowder Plot. After the grounds were landscaped in the eighteenth century, the village of Gayhurst was obliterated, and only the much-rebuilt church was left. Tyringham Hall was built in the 1790s by Sir John Soane, though the dome and much of the external decoration is more recent. The lodge and the bridge over the Great Ouse were also designed by Sir John Soane, The house is now a clinic offering a range of natural therapies.

3) As the route passes between Filgrave and Emberton, several railway embankments can be seen. In 1864, a branch line was built from the railway at Wolverton to Newport Pagnell. It was intended to extend it on to Olney and work began the following year. Even though it was never completed, the embankments remain. The Three Shires Way wends its way through the pretty stone village of Emberton, which has been inhabited since Roman times. Until recently, the main road ran through the village, turning sharply around the clock tower, which was built to commemorate Margaret Fry, wife office village rector. Emberton Country Park is in the village and well worth a visit.

4) The route passes around Olney, which was the home of the poet, William Cowper. His house is now a museum. With John Newton, an ex-slave trader, who became a priest, he wrote the Olney Hymns. The church of Saints Peter and Paul stands close to the river, and, with its dramatic spire, is a major landmark.

5) After crossing the River Great Ouse at Lavendon Mill the bridleway approaches Lavendon Grange, built in 1830, but occupying the site of a twelfth century abbey. The remains of medieval fishponds are visible in the surrounding fields. The River Great Ouse stretches for over'150 miles from its source at Biddlesden, near Brackley, Northamptonshire until it eventually flows into the Wash. It is now only navigable to Bedford, though the remains of Roman quays have been found at Gayhurst. The river valley has been dug for gravel and limestone. 'Cornbrash', a shelly limestone, is used for building in many of the local villages.

6) Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire meet where the path enters Threeshire Wood. This is part of what was once one large woodland area along the boulder clay ridge. Fragments of ancient oak and ash woodland are scattered along the route, and in spring carpets of bluebells provide a beautiful ground covering. The Three Shires Way follows the county boundary on the Northamptonshire side. It is probably the line of an ancient trackway along the top of the ridge. Part of the woodland was cleared to create Harrold Park between Dungee Wood and Park Wood.

7) Crossing into Bedfordshire the ride follows Forty Foot Lane. Now a beautiful green lane, this is an ancient routeway, thought to have pre-Roman origins. Both Forty Acre Wood, and Great Hayes Wood are remnants of ancient woodland, and Forty Foot Lane provides an important wildlife corridor linking these habitats. Forty Foot Lane is classified as a Road Used as a Public Path, and therefore motorised vehicles have a legal right to use it. Much voluntary work has been undertaken on it to improve the surface by East Northants Land Rover Owners Club.

8) Podington Airfield is found about mid-way along Forty Foot Lane. It opened in August 1942, and expanded in early 1943. Units of the American 8th Air Force mounted daylight formation bomber raids from here until the end of the war in Europe. The airfield was returned to agriculture in 1961 and since 1966 part has been known as Santa Pod Raceway, home for the high speed American sport of drag racing. Please note: Drag racing can be very noisy. It is advisable to check racing times and days before using this section of the route. (Tel: Santa Pod Raceway, 01234 782828). The route continues over Sharnbrook summit which is a nature reserve open to members of the Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire Wildlife Trust. Visitors on foot are welcome to the reserve. The railway line was constructed during the 1850's by the Midland Railway as part of the track linking Bedford with Leicester. The line was opened in 1857 and is still used today. The baulk supports many colourful plants, including species such as cowslips, oxeye daisies and hairy violets. The thickets of bramble, rose and hawthorn provide nesting sites for a wide variety of birds.

9) West Wood, to the east of the A6, is another ancient woodland now owned by the Forestry Commission. The ride passes around the edge of the wood, before passing into Knotting. St. Margaret's Church dates back to the 12th century and is built of limestone rubble.

10) In Yielden the Three Shires Way visits one of Bedfordshire's major earthworks, Yielden Castle. The remains of this Norman (late 11th or early 12th century) motte and bailey castle is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The remains consist of a substantial mound (the motte), on which a timber or stone tower probably stood, and two embanked and ditched baileys can be seen. Just off the route in Yielden, St. Mary's Church represents a later phase of church building than in Knotting. It is a good example of a predominantly 14th century church.

11) In Shelton the bridleway passes Shelton Hall, set back but still visible from the road. The Hall stands within the infilled and landscaped remains of a medieval moat. Close by St. Mary's Church is built of coursed limestone rubble, and dates mainly from the 14th century.

12) The Three Shires Way crosses the county boundary into Cambridgeshire near the Three Shires Stone, half a mile west of Covington on the A45. The Stone marks the place where the old counties of Huntingdonshire, Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire met. The village of Covington is dominated by its church, as are many of the villages enroute, in this case the lovely 12th century church dedicated to St. Margaret. Covington is thought to derive its name from Cofa's Farm.

13) Following minor roads, hedge-lined green lanes and droves, the route traverses the escarpment to the village of Spaldwick. Spaldwick used to be an important estate for the Bishop of Lincoln, who owned the Palace at Buckden 8 miles away where Katherine of Aragon was once imprisoned.

14) South of Spaldwick is the former hamlet of Upthorpe. Its name means 'upper farm' as opposed to the larger lowland village of Spaldwick. Nothing remains of the hamlet except a few earthworks and ponds. The village of Easton is approached by an old drove from Upthorpe. Easton formed part of the Manor of Spaldwick and derives its name from 'east farm'.

15) Hartham Street, the old road from Easton to Grafham village, lies to the south-east and again traverses the escarpment down to Grafham Water itself. Hartham Street is a lovely green lane once known for its rare orchids and other plants. Much of this valuable flora has been lost through scrub invasion but active management of the site by annual cutting and clearing of scrub is encouraging its return. Hartham Street runs along the northern edge of Calpher Wood, an ancient woodland first recorded in 1271. The woodland consists of oak, ash, maple and a typical ancient woodland species, spindle. The woodland is at its most attractive in late spring when the ground is carpeted in dogs mercury, bluebell and primrose.

16) Over the ridge, Grafham Water Reservoir opens out before you, giving a dramatically different feel to the landscape. The whole reservoir is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is of importance to migrating and over-wintering birds such as the great crested grebe and tufted duck. The reservoir also attracts a great variety of breeding wetland birds including little grebe, gadwall, water rail, and shoveller. Wetland plants such as golden dock, marsh dock and hairy buttercup can also be found in the area. A waymarked circular ride around Grafham Water provides an excellent way to start or finish the Three Shires Way. A separate leaflet describing this circular ride is available from Cambridgeshire County Council.