Walk Details – Harlington
Thought for the walk: If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.” – Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz . And so it is with this walk in Harlington, Beds.
I pray that I never stop being grateful for the area in which I live, Harlington in Bedfordshire. It is not one of those areas nationally noted for its beauty – the Lake District, Snowdonia, the Peak District, etc. It is not my “spiritual home” in Dorset. It is not an area I have trudged across on one of my long distance trails – The Isle of Wight, The Lea Valley Walk, The Pilgrims’ Way, The Ridgeway. It is, however, where I have been planted and where I continue to grow. I think that this late February day as I took a 6.5 km walk around the area taking in the countryside and footpaths as well as a tour of its local history, I began to detect the first signs of Spring. We have not had a hard winter this year, but I think like many of us I do begin to come alive again as the days lengthen and the bulbs begin to bloom.
The Carpenters Arms, Harlington
I began walking from Harlington village hall (easily reached from the mainline railway station, by turning a direct right out of the station and walking up the hill to the village crossroads). Immediately opposite the car park is the Carpenters Arms pub and on the front a plaque commemorating the “first English National steeplechase”. This took place in 1830 and was run from Harlington to the nearby village of Silsoe over a distance of 4 miles. There are a total of six blue plaques around the village of Harlington and the stories behind each of them are detailed fully in a well-researched leaflet from Harlington Heritage Trust that is definitely worth downloading before undertaking this walk.
Walking past the Carpenters Arms and following the hill down Sundon Road, one passes several pretty old cottages and eventually just after Kent’s Yard reaches a well-hidden footpath sign on the left of the road. This footpath leads out on to a field, but rather than taking the path over the field I turned immediately left up a very steep short slope and entered onto New Grounds Recreation field. Turning right and following the hedgerow I aimed towards Hornes End Spinney ahead of me. This was purchased by Harlington Parish Council in 2008. Thank you Harlington Parish Council. I find this woodland very peaceful and often meditate whilst sitting on one of the old logs here.
An activity book has been produced for children about this woodland and can be downloaded here.
After walking around the Spinney I carried straight on into the field opposite and descended down the hill with Sundon Hills ahead of me. These are thought by some to be Bunyan’s “delectable mountains” from Pilgrim’s Progress.
Bunyan’s Oak, Harlington
Keeping the hills to my right and a distant view of Sharpenhoe Clappers I continued along the hedgerows for half a mile until I saw a farm ahead of me and took a right turn to join the lane known as “The Bottoms”. Turning left along the lane I could hear that early Spring birdsong that lifts the spirits and had the view of the Clappers ahead of me. Whenever I am out walking locally I can always get my bearings from the sight of this ancient woodlands and chalk escarpment. 100 metres or so along “The Bottoms” by the next farmhouse, I turned sharp left along the bridleway and up a steep hill back into the outskirts of the village. On reaching the main road taking a right turn and immediately crossing over the road I came to the blue plaque signposting Bunyans Oak. This large oak tree is said by tradition to be the place where John Bunyan preached in the open air prior to his arrest. In 1987 an oak altar table and tall feature table were made for St Mary’s Church Harlington from a large branch which had fallen from the tree. In 1988 a service was held at the oak and David Bellamy planted a new tree to commemorate the tercentenary of Bunyan’s death. The footpath follows the hill downward and is then signposted as “John Bunyan Way”.
I continued to follows the waymarked signs until I left the muddy footpaths and met a long gritted track going in a Northerly direction and well away from the village. The track contained lots of bits of broken crockery, and I recalled some wonderful memories of my childhood when I used to dig in my Nana’s garden in St Albans and pretend that the bits of old plates I found were in fact Roman ruins. I know better now, but I still wonder at the stories which lie behind all the objects I see when out walking and I wonder what future generations will make of the artefacts we leave behind.
I love this area of the locality. I find it hard to believe that the transport links of the M1 Motorway and main train line into London are so near and yet I rarely meet anyone when walking around here or the nearby hamlet of Samshill. At the end of the long track, after about a kilometre, Sampshill Road, (I came across both spellings of “Samshill”) running out of Westoning is met. Taking a very sharp left through some barriers to stop vehicular access a very muddy, well-ridden bridleway is reached. This took me past some stables and eventually out onto a field sown with oil seed rape. Skirting this field and the next one, I was rewarded with views of Harlington in the distance from the outskirts of the Upper School.
Site of Harlington Manor House
I followed the path down the side of the school grounds. It was warm enough for the lads to be playing kicking a ball around in their shirt sleeves. At the end of this footpath when I met the main road, Goswell End Road, I encountered another blue plaque. In the field adjacent to the school once stood Harlington Moated Manor House. Sir Ralph Pirot was one of King Edward 1sts professional soldiers and the house was built by the Pirot family in the 13th to 14th century. The site was excavated in 1958. Again the surrounding facts are detailed in the leaflet here
I crossed the road and went up Monmouth road and turned right past the shops. We are blessed in Harlington with places for refreshment. As well as the pubs, The Old Sun and The Carpenters Arms, we have a lovely little cafe called “Sugar and Spice”, selling all sorts of tempting delights and I would definitely recommend a stop-off here.
St Mary’s Church, Harlington
Upon leaving the Lincoln Way shops, I continued until Barton Road and crossed straight over past the daffodils reminding me that Spring is just around the corner. I walked towards the Church across Bury Orchard and spied another blue plaque. This again commemorates the First English Grand National run from the site of the church steeple.
John Benet, Vicar of Harlington
Now in the Conservation area of the village, there are several blue plaques to be found. Another found on the house opposite the Parish Hall (old schoolrooms) commemorates John Benet, Vicar of Harlington and English chronicler in 15th Century.
Then, walking towards the village crossroads and turning right one can see Harlington Manor where John Bunyan was held on the night of his arrest before facing the magistrates and being confined to Bedford Gaol. Again a blue plaque marks the dwelling. How wonderful to live in a village where our local history has been so well researched and how wonderful to have such pleasant peaceful byways on my doorstep. The village hall car park where the walk began is just across the crossroads.
This is not a difficult walk physically but a pleasant one taking in the simple joys on my doorstep, reminding me to be ever grateful for the blessings in my life. It is easy to reach by public transport, has good refreshment stops and downloading the information from the links given above would greatly enhance the enjoyment. I returned home feeling pleased with the exercise and refreshed at having blown away some of the cobwebs in my mind.
Further walks around the Harlington area
Can be found at : “Harlington Bottoms – a Journey from Hope to Gratitude”