Bradger's Hill (The Lynchets)

Bradgers Hill (The Lynchets) Walk

The walk begins at the John Dony Field Centre, where the Luton Museum Service maintains displays of local natural history and conservation. The centre is situated on Hancock Drive at the heart of the Bushmead Estate.
The complete walk will take about 2 hours; shorter walks can be devised by leaving out some stations. To visit particular types of habitat, variations to the route can be made (e.g. to look at trees and woodlands, stations 1, 10, 11 & 15 would be appropriate). Good outdoor clothing and footwear is advisable. Owing to the terrain, some sections of the walk may not be suitable for pushchairs or wheelchairs.

How To Get There by Passenger Transport

BY BUS – Telephone Bedfordshire Bus Information Line : 01234 228337, 8.30am – 5pm open 5 days a week or Travel Line 0870 6082608.
BY TRAIN – Luton station is on the Bedford to London Thameslink line. For timetable information, please telephone National Rail Enquiries 08457 484950.
Click here for National Rail Enquiries website

How to Get There by Car

Following the A6 north from the centre of Luton, turn right at Kingsdown Avenue, carry straight on into Bushmead Road and past Bushmead School into Hancock Drive where you will find the John Dony Field Centre.

Start/Finish Point

Leaving the main entrance of the centre, the start of the trail can be found by either returning along Bushmead Road past the old farmhouse to the finger-post marking the Public Footpath, or by passing the Bird and Bush public house, crossing the road and following Kilmarnock Drive to the bottom, turning right into the passage that leads on to Bushmead Road. The finger post is a short distance to the left.

Access and General Information

Access Information
Surface Types: You can expect to walk across varied surfaces ranging from a hard, firm surface with stones no larger than 5mm to grass or uncultivated earth paths.
Linear Gradient: The steepest linear gradient is steeper than 1:6 as part of the walk is up the hill.
Cross Falls: The steepest cross fall is 1:9 or steeper. There are also crossfalls of between 1:10-1:15.
Width Restriction: There is no width restriction less than 1000mm.
Steps: There are 28 steps with a maximum step height of 200mm between points 2 and 3. There is another flight of 16 steps at point 6, and 22 steps between points 17 and 18.
Barriers: There are three kissing gates with a restriction less than 1000mm.
Refreshments: There is a pub (The Bird and Bush) and several shops near to the John Dony Field Centre.
Public Toilets: Located in the John Dony Field Centre.
Picnic Tables: None on route.
Seats: None on route.

Point 1

The finger post marks the first point of the trail, where a double hedgerow leads off to the north. The hedgerow is mainly of hawthorn, with a few examples of other shrubs, such as elder, blackthorn and wayfaring tree. This suggests the hedge is not of great age and probably dates from the enclosures of the late eighteenth century. Sycamore is also present, having seeded from the fine mature tree on the other side of Bushmead Road. It is known locally as Dobbin's Tree after a horse which was once often tethered there. Hazel, ash and field maple grow close to the base of this sycamore.
Go past the finger post (20 yards), turn left behind houses and walk across the rough grassland towards the hill, but turn right behind the houses on this side of the nearest post and wire fence (the most used path is now in the field). Continue until you reach the gap in the hedgerow at the far end of the houses and then turn left towards the hill.

Point 2

This hedge marks the southern edge of a large field that has now been partly built upon. It is gappy and consists mainly of hawthorn and elder. The grass here is frequently mown, like a lawn, and only a few wild flowers, such as daisies, clover, buttercups, plantains and dandelions can survive. The recently planted clumps of trees are native species, such as ash, field maple and wild cherry.
Follow the gravel path and then climb the two flights of steps until the path levels out.

Point 3

The mature bushes here support a range of climbing plants such as ivy, bittersweet and old-man's-beard. Look for the wild dog rose, black bryony (a member of the yam family) and white bryony (a member of the gourd family). Climbers and scramblers need the support of the trees and bushes to reach the light. Some twist their way around the host stems, some have tendrils, while others have special structures to attach to their supports. A small patch of chalk grassland at the top of the steps contains a number of species, including the nationally rare great pignut.
A little way along the path a gap in the bushes allows views over the town. Stopsley Common Farm now lies surrounded by new houses. The older mature houses have gardens rich in trees and bushes, while lichens grow abundantly on their roofs. The new houses provide fewer habitats for wildlife at present.
Retrace your steps down the first flight of steps, and turn left into the broad path enclosed by vegetation leading southwards.

Point 4

The older, mature scrub to the left of this path has developed on the steep slope of the lynchet. Shade tolerant plants like ivy thrive here, but there is no grassland. On the right of the path younger scrub has destroyed much of the grassland by shading, although few shade-loving species have colonised the ground. Patches of the original downland survive where the canopy is not too dense. These different areas show the damaging effect of uncontrolled scrub growth on downland and its traditional communities of plants and animals. Clearings could be made in this area to reduce the shade and preserve the fragments of grassland before they too are overwhelmed.
Continue along this track until you reach the prominent evergreen tree on the left.

Point 5

This is a yew tree, probably the most mature specimen on the hill, although many seedlings can be found. Yew is very poisonous, but birds eat the flesh of the fruits leaving the seeds untouched. In this way the yew is spread, and those on Bradger's Hill may well have come from Stopsley churchyard. Garden plants have also spread onto the hills in this area, while conversely one resident whose garden backs onto this hill has recorded a hundred different wild flowers in her garden. This interchange of native and domestic plants is of interest to those who study the botany of urban areas.
Continue along this track until you reach the path which climbs steeply off to the left. Follow this up around the edge of the overgrown pits.

Point 6

These old pits, known locally as the lime-kilns, were small chalk quarries active in the late Victorian times. The chalk was used to make lime for the mortar used in local building. They were later abandoned, although it is said that the soldiers in World War 1 used them for practicing trenching and revetment skills. They are now very overgrown, and the bare chalk is obscured by soil, bushes and trees. Clearing some of the undergrowth to allow more light into this area would greatly benefit the wildlife, as open chalkpits are often excellent sites for flowers, butterflies and other animal life.
Passing the pits on the right, take the main path to the left, in front of the area of stumps from recently cut hawthorns. Continue for a short distance along this path.

Point 7

The path skirts an area of dense shrubby growth dominated by dogwood and hawthorn. The former can be identified by its attractive reddish twigs, although its presence in such quantity is unwelcome in an area rich in wild flowers under the bushes. Among these is kidney vetch, which is the only food plant of the caterpillars of the small blue, a butterfly sometimes called the Bedford blue owing to its prevalence in the county. Now much rarer than in the past, this part of Bradger's Hill still has a substantial colony. To protect this colony and other wild flowers and insects, much of the scrub on this grassy area was cut during 1993-4.
Continue along the path until it broadens out into a wide meadow area.

Point 8

This meadow is one of the richest parts of the site for wildlife. You can find the common spotted and bee orchids, and many other wild flowers typical of chalk grassland, including autumn gentian, eyebright, fairy flax, rockrose, yellow-wort and harebell. The butterflies include the unusual small blue, dingy skipper and marbled white, together with many more common species. Many different grasses occur, including the beautiful quaking grass, while the glaucous sedge is also present. A few rabbits live in this area, which helps to keep the turf short, but in the absence of grazing, an annual autumn hay cut is needed to protect this valuable area.
Follow the main path through the meadow until you see the laid hedgerow at the far end. Take the small path to the right leading up through the scrub and join the main track which divides the hill into two, through a kissing gate. 10 yards on the right, go through another kissing gate and turn right to the playing fields.

Point 9

In stark contrast to the natural richness of the last meadow area, the playing fields are practically devoid of wild flowers. However a strip of land adjacent to the hills is now being left out of the regular mowing regime to allow recolonisation of wild flowers and provide a buffer zone for the hill itself. Flocks of birds such as crows and gulls may be seen on the fields.
Follow the Public Footpath across the playing fields to the corner of Hay Wood, where it meets a derelict hedgerow.

Point 10

Hay Wood is a relict woodland of ancient character that was felled in the early years of this century, but has now been allowed to grow up once more. In contrast to the chalky soils of the lynchets, this area is underlain by clay and so has a more acidic soil. This has led to a woodland where different species to those found on the hill can grow. The wood is dominated by oak, while rowan and gorse are frequent in the understorey, and even elm may be found. It is a good place to look for galls, where insects have caused deformities to the tissues of host plants; the spangle gall and oak marble gall can usually be seen. Although smaller than it once was, Hay Wood remains as a remarkable wildlife haven amid the barren sports pitches of Stopsley Common.
Return across the playing fields to the top of the footpath bisecting the hill. Start to descend the hill until you reach the second kissing gate on the right. Pass through this to reach the foot of the clump of large trees in the corner of the site.

Point 11

There are few mature trees on Bradger's Hill itself. However, in this area may be found oak, ash, beech, field maple and hazel. These trees provide an important source of nuts for small mammals, and seedlings of many of the trees can be found elsewhere on the hills. Mice and voles are common on the hill, although seldom seen, and along with the grey squirrel are responsible for the spread of the trees. The knopper gall can be found on the cups of the acorns. The trees were probably planted originally for their timber value on the edge of what were once cultivated fields.
Continue on the main path and turn right into the open grassy glade. Continue until you reach the centre of this area.

Point 12

This area was cleared of scrub a few years ago, to expose the grassland. It has been cut annually since then, and was grazed in the spring of 1992, after the fences had been erected. Although not as rich as the area (8) previously seen, this glade supports many cowslips. Butterflies are common and include the scarce dingy skipper. The effects of the annual mowing are visible in the relatively uniform appearance of the turf; grazing would produce a less regular sward.
Continue northwards along the track, passing the two cleared areas to the left and on until you reach an area containing many low scrubby bushes.

Point 13

Although cleared of scrub, this meadow has not been cut regularly since, and young bushes have grown up once more. On the terrace below, dominated by a single birch tree, is the only part of Bradger's Hill where scrub has never taken hold. Consequently, the grassland is some of the richest, partly grazed by rabbits, and contains pyramidal orchid, wild thyme, milkwort and squinancywort. Ferrets have colonised parts of the lynchet in this area. Continuing along this path you may find the clustered bellflower, common spotted orchid and many cowslips. As you near the scrub at the far end of the hill there are many anthills. The grizzled skipper butterfly has been seen here too.
Continue along this path as it enters the area of very dense scrub beyond the grassland.

Point 14

The scrub in this area has completely shaded out the grassland, leaving just moss and a very few shade loving species. The cool, damp conditions favour mosses and even ferns. However, that this area was grassland until recently is shown in the ghost-like presence of old anthills now only visible as weathered piles of soil under the bushes. The ants, which prefer a warmer, drier, open habitat have long since abandoned these sad relics.
Follow the path through the scrub for quite a long stretch and bear down the hill to the left until the track opens into a wooded area.

Point 15

This sycamore copse represents the next stage in the succession from open grassland to woodland. On many parts of the hill the colonisation of grassland by hawthorn scrub can be seen, but here the hawthorns themselves have been overwhelmed by the fast-growing sycamores. Many tall, spindly, dead hawthorns testify to their failure to compete for light once the canopy closed above them. The ground flora is poor, which is typical of a secondary woodland; a few straggly elder bushes, lords-and-ladies and cow parsley are scattered over bare ground. However, one species which has begun to colonise is twayblade, an orchid which can tolerate shade. Easily recognised by its single pair of oval leaves (two blades), it has a spike of greenish flowers.
Continue down through the sycamore wood until you reach the path running along the bottom of the hill. Turn left and continue for some distance, passing the glade with the birch tree on your left. Eventually the path opens into a cleared area beyond a large ash tree, where two grassy terraces are visible.

Point 16

The upper terrace is of good quality grassland, with some scrub regrowth, while the lower terrace is dominated by an invasive grass, chalk false-brome or tor-grass. This gives the lower area its uniform, barren appearance - few other species can survive amid the dense mat of this serious weed species. The terraces themselves are the lynchets by which this hill is also known. Believed to be Medieval, they represent elongated strip fields once cultivated along the length of the hillside. At the far end of the open area are the remains of a hedgerow which once ran down the hill and across the field to Dobbin's Tree.
Keep to the path along the upper terrace, past the hedgerow, and turn immediately right onto the Public Footpath. At the foot of the flight of steps is a kissing gate; pass through this and into the field.

Point 17

An arable field until the autumn of 1991, this area has now been put down to permanent grassland under the Countryside Premium scheme. This will protect the hillside from potentially damaging agricultural practices, such as spraying, while increasing the area available to wild plants and animals. The birds will also benefit, and a number of interesting species can be seen on Bradger's Hill and in the fields and hedgerows around. They include skylarks, grey partridges and corn buntings. Lapwings nest in this field, while kestrels and other birds of prey hunt overhead.
Cross the field towards the finger-post where the walk started, past the edge of the houses and onto the triangle of rough grassland.

Point 18

Cultivation of this area ceased when the building of the Bushmead estate began, and it has reverted to a coarse grassland typical of waste ground. Thistles, docks and brambles are becoming established. Such areas provide food and shelter for many species of birds and animals, especially in urban areas, but unusual species are unlikely to be seen. One striking species is the large black slug or arion, which emerges from the vegetation in damp weather. This area is due to become allotments soon.
Continue across this area to the finger-post where the walk ends.

Facts and Figures

The hill is the smallest recognized unit of chalk down land in South Bedfordshire.
The southern part of the hill is a Public Open Space, owned by Luton Borough Council.
The northern part of the hill is privately owned land, although there is no restriction of access.
The private land is open to visitors, by courtesy of the Trustees of The Old Bedford Road Estates.
It is believed that parts of the hill were cultivated until about 1914.
It is said that this is the longest continuous set of lynchets in Bedfordshire.
The term lynchet or linchet is defined as ‘A strip of green land between two pieces of ploughed land’ or ‘A slope or terrace along the face of a chalk down’ in the OED.
The site is designated as a Prime Site of Nature Conservation Importance (PSNCI).
In Luton Borough Council’s Nature Conservation Strategy, provision is made for the area to become a Local Nature Reserve.
Conservation of the downland of Bradger’s Hill is funded by the Countryside Stewardship scheme.
Please follow the Country Code when visiting the hill. Walkers are asked to keep dogs on leads if there are sheep present, to close all gates and to take litter home. Thank you.

Acknowledgements

The author is grateful to all individuals and organizations who have provided records of flora & fauna that have been referred to in the text.
Text: Trevor Tween
Produced by Luton Museum Service, Wardown Park, Luton, Beds. LU2 7HA. Tel.: 01582 746722