Whipsnade & Dunstable Downs Circular Wlk

Whipsnade & Dunstable Downs Circular Walk

Tucked away in the south-west corner of Bedfordshire is one of the county's best-kept secrets. The Chiltern Hills offer picture postcard landscapes and stunning views, and have been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
This walk covers a variety of terrains including heathland, chalk quarries, chalk downland and grasslands. Look out for flowers, insects (especially butterflies), birds and wildlife.
Whipsnade and Studham are typical examples of the area's attractive villages. An intricate network of public footpaths and bridleways bisects each village, offering easy access to the beautiful surrounding countryside.
Only fragments remain of the extensive early medieval (1066-1300) woodlands which covered the Whipsnade area. Over the centuries the woodlands have been cleared - either for agriculture or to make space for large greens, commons and heaths, such as Whipsnade Heath, which can be traced back to the mid 14th century.
New Chilterns settlements often sprang up around the edges of these greens during and after the medieval period (1066- 1485), and Whipsnade was no exception. Buildings dating back to the 17th century can still be seen - Hill Farm, the Old Rectory and the Old Hunting Lodge are all good examples.

How To Get There by Passenger Transport

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

How to Get There by Car

Whipsnade is situated on the B4540, about 3 miles south-west of Dunstable. There are carparks at the National Trust’s Whipsnade Tree Cathedral in the centre of the village, and at Dunstable Downs, Bison Hill and Whipsnade Heath.

Start/Finish Point

The Whipsnade Tree Cathedral is the suggested starting point for the walk, which is described in a clockwise direction from there. However, you can begin at other points on the route. Grid Ref TL 010180

Access and General Information

Distance: 4½ miles Time: 2 hours
Access Information
Surface Types: The surface types you will encounter range from hard, firm with stones no larger than 10mm, a variable surface with loose, variable sized stones to grass or uncultivated earth with ruts or mud.
Linear Gradient: The steepest linear gradient is steeper than 1:6 in part.
Cross Falls: 1:9 or steeper in places.
Width Restriction: There is a minimum width restriction of 460mm close to the Wild Animal car park.
Steps: None recorded.
Barriers: There are a number of different barriers: six kissing gates with an opening restriction less than 1000m, one kissing gate with an opening restriction of between 1000 - 1500mm. Two one-way opening gates with a width restriction more than 750mm. One staggered barrier with a minimum restriction less than 950mm. There is one one-step stile and two two-step stiles.
Refreshments: The Hunter's Lodge public house in Whipsnade. There is also a refreshments kiosk at Dunstable Downs.
Public Toilets There are public toilets at Dunstable Downs
Picnic Tables: None recorded .
Seats:There are two seats at Dunstable Downs

THE ROUTE

POINT 1. From the Tree Cathedral car park, follow the road towards Kensworth, past the Old Hunting Lodge public house, until you reach the Whipsnade crossroads.

POINT 2.

Follow the path through Whipsnade Heath fields until you reach the road opposite edge of the Kensworth Common settlement.
Whipsnade Heath is common land now overgrown with scrub. The many hollows are a result of commoners quarrying for chalk and flints which they used for tasks such as liming fields and surfacing roads. A circular path runs around the site, which is managed by Bedfordshire County Council's Leisure Services department.

POINT 3.

Cross the road and follow the footpath to the right of Greenend Farm, which leads downhill and on to Codlings Bank.
Old Greenend and Greenend Farms are reminders that this was once the western edge of Kensworth Green. The green disappeared with enclosure in 1801, along with the more extensive Kensworth Common to the east. However, Whipsnade Green, Whipsnade Heath and Studham Common were fortunate to largely survive the enclosures.

POINT 4.

Continue along the path, which cuts through a recent plantation of trees and emerges on to a track at the edge of a disused section of Kensworth Chalk Quarry, then turns sharp left.
Kensworth Chalk Quarry began life in 1936 as limeworks and is continually being extended. The Rugby Portland Cement Company Ltd owns the quarry, and since 1965, has supplied chalk, pumped as slurry through in underground pipeline, to Rugby in Warwickshire for cement production.
At this point of the walk, the quarry floor has been restored to agriculture. The whole quarry has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) as the exposed faces allow study of the chalk formations. Many fossils have also been found.

POINT 5.

Leave the track and cross the arable field to the right. Continue past Greenacres to Isle of Wight Lane.

POINT 6.

Turn right and follow the road as far as the T-junction at Robertson Corner. Take great care on Isle of Wight Lane, as it is narrow but heavily used by vehicles.

POINT 7.

Cross the road on to Dunstable Downs.
Dunstable Downs is another area of common land owned by the County Council and managed by their Leisure Services department as a country park. It forms part of the chalk scarp slope of the Chiltern Hills which runs from Wiltshire to Norfolk. Circular Walks leaflet No11 offers a number of other waymarked circular walks around Dunstable Downs. Visit the Countryside Centre at Dunstable Downs or tel: (01234) 228310 for a copy.
Walk downhill from the Downs car park, across the open grass area, to the edge of the scrub. Turn left and walk along the top of the scrub area until you reach a gate. Continue straight across a long grass field (with excellent views) to another gate.

POINT 8.

Continue straight ahead for a few yards, then turn left towards Whipsnade along the bridleway, which runs across open grass at first and then becomes a lane.
This open area around the National Trust's Bison Hill car park is also common land - Eaton Bray Common - and has also been used for chalk extraction. Some very large pits and hollows can be seen.
This lane is a good example of a holloway - a track deepened through centuries of use and occasional clearance. This was probably part of the main medieval route between Whipsnade and Eaton Bray, and was replaced by the present, more westerly road around 1800.

POINT 9.

Leave the bridleway just beyond the newly-built house and follow the footpath to the left, which leads back to the Tree Cathedral.
In the fields to the left of the path, you can see the remains of further chalk pits, including one particularly large one.
At the tree Cathedral, continue straight ahead to return to the car park.
The Tree Cathedral is a unique example of natural architecture composed entirely of different varieties of trees, laid out in the design of a great cathedral. It was planted in the 1930s by Edmund Kell Blyth to commemorate the deaths of two friends killed in the First World War. The trees have been incorporated to give the effect of nave, transepts, cloisters and chapels with a natural dew pond as a central point. The Tree Cathedral belongs to the National Trust and is occasionally used for services. It is open all year free of charge.

Acknowledgements

This leaflet was produced by the Leisure Services group at Bedfordshire County Council.
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