Totternhoe Knolls

Totternhoe Knolls

Totternhoe Knolls is part of the Chiltern Hills, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The chalky soil of this forty acre nature reserve and picnic site supports a wide variety of characteristic and unusual chalk downland plants and wildlife. In addition, Totternhoe Knolls has a fascinating historical legacy and offers superb views towards Dunstable Downs and Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire, also part of the same Chiltern Hills chalk formation.
Totternhoe Knolls is owned by Bedfordshire County Council and can be visited at any time of the year. It is an ideal place to combine a picnic with a short or longer stroll in the countryside.

How to Get There by Public Transport

BY BUS: Bedfordshire Bus Information line: 01234 228337, Mon – Fri 8.30am – 5pm.
Travel Line: 0870 6082608, 7 days a week, 7am -10pm.
BY TRAIN: National Rail Enquiries: 08457 484950, 24 hour service.
Click here for the National Rail Enquiries website

How to Get There by Car

Totternhoe Knolls is situated 2 miles west of Dunstable off the B489.
There is parking at the picnic site off Castle Hill Road.

Start/Finish Point

From the picnic site car park.

Access and General Information

Surface types: You will walk across a range of surfaces, from hard and firm with no stones greater than 5mm in size, to grass or uncultivated paths. The chalk surface can be very slippery when wet.
Linear Gradient: There are slopes of between 1:6-1:9 and 1:10-1:13. The site is on a large mound but the road on the northern side is generally very accessible.
Cross Falls: There are cross falls of 1:9 or steeper.
Width Restriction: There is a minimum width restriction of 430mm.
Steps: There is a flight of 87 steps up to the motte and bailey from the beechwood. These are very steep and have a maximum step height of 155mm.
Barriers: Access to Castle Mound is via kissing gates with a restriction less than 1000mm.
Public Toilets: None recorded
Picnic Tables: There is one picnic table in the car park.
Refreshments: There is a pub and shop in Totternhoe.
Seats: There is a seat in the car park.

The Picnic Site

The picnic site is found in what was once a small chalk quarry and, although not part of the designated nature reserve, teems with wildlife. Here in spring and summer you can enjoy a picnic amongst orchids and cowslips, surrounded by butterflies and birdsong. Park your car here for a visit to the nature reserve, or to start a walk in the surrounding countryside.

The Nature Reserve

The reserve is split into three distinct habitats: the Beechwood, Castle Mound and Little Hills areas.


Beechwood is a beech plantation, planted in about 1870 on the steep slopes beneath the castle mound. Beech is characteristic of the trees growing on the chalk of the Chilterns. The beech trees cast a dense shade in summer beneath which few plants can survive. Several paths lead through the wood.

Castle Mound

Castle Mound is the earthworks of a motte and bailey castle built in the late 11th or early 12th century. Little is known about the castle, why it was built or by whom. What is known is that it was called the castle of Eglemont (Eagle's Hill). The motte (or mound) may have been topped by a stone keep, as stone footings have been found. The castle yard is the outer bailey (defended enclosure) of the castle.
The castle itself was only used for a relatively short period of time. However, the yard has since been used for arable farming, as sheep pasture, as a village sports field and as the site of an annual fair. It is now managed as a hay meadow to encourage the growth of wildflowers which attract butterflies, and to benefit other wildlife. The castle mound and yard is a scheduled Ancient Monument.

Little Hills

Little Hills is the most important part of the nature reserve. It was an important stone quarrying area in medieval times, producing Totternhoe stone or 'clunch', from at least the early 12th century. This is a hard form of chalk used in many local churches and other buildings, and further afield in such famous landmarks as Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle.
The mounds covering Little Hills are the spoil heaps resulting from this medieval quarrying. These mounds are now important sites where a wide range of chalkland flowers, such as orchids, flourish. Butterflies are found throughout Little Hills. The varieties to look out for include the chalkhill, small, holly and common blues, while in summer meadow brown, wall brown and marbled white butterflies are very noticeable. There are also forty species of bees and wasps.
Along with the Beechwood and Castle Mound and Yard areas, Little Hills has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and a local Nature Reserve, due to the rare chalkland plants to be found here.
Little Hills is fenced so that it can be grazed by sheep in the winter months. Grazing helps protect the area from scrub invasion and colonisation by tough, rank grasses, which would soon swamp the wildflowers. To help in the site's preservation, please keep to the paths and keep dogs on leads, especially when the site is being grazed. Use the stiles provided in the fenceline for access. Little Hills is managed on behalf of Bedfordshire County Council by the Beds and Cambs Wildlife Trust.

Other Things to Do

Totternhoe is surrounded by an excellent network of lanes and footpaths, and is a good starting point for several country walks. Comprehensive and attractive circular walk leaflets are available to provide you with further information about these walks.
For more information about Totternhoe Knolls please telephone The Wildlife Trust: 01234 364213 or Dunstable Downs Countryside Management: 01582 608489