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On this beautiful spring morning the lovely T and myself set foot from our home in Harlington on one of my favourite rambles around the area. There is something intoxicating about inhaling the air on a morning such as this and we felt that the chores could wait and we must be “out-of-doors”. We took the footpath on the right when going out of Harlington village from Sundon Road full of anticipation and immediately passed into a field. After going through several kissing gates and skirting Wood Farm, we had to return to the lane out of Harlington for a short while until we reached The Bottoms.
So quickly one feels away from the hurly burly of everyday life and out in nature. T pointed out the insistent drumming of a woodpecker which must have come from several hundred yards away, but the early morning air was so still the sound carried easily. Taking the permissive path from The Bottoms we began to climb up to Sundon Hills.
We passed some remains of old workings and at the sign post which says “John Bunyan Trail” straight ahead we turned sharp left and wound our way through the woods. Here we were met with the first set of man made steps and climbed up into the old quarry workings.
I love this little haven. The grass here is that soft rabbit nibbled springy turf that makes me want to take my shoes off and walk barefoot. However, after seeing several rabbits bolt back into their burrows I kept my boots on and climbed the steps out of the quarry area.
Over to the right the water tower at Pulloxhill can be picked out and further round to the right Sharpenhoe Clappers which we would be passing later on in our walk. This Promontory hill-fort, located at the edge of an ice sheet formed during the last ice age, has a comanding view over the surrounding flattened plain. Now the hillfort is within trees, but it can be seen very clearly from Harlington. We crossed the field and turned steeply down the hill and descended some more steps into a hollow, turned sharp left and followed the length of the path which runs below Sundon Hills above. It would, of course, be possible to take path up above here and walk across the top of the ridge of Sundon Hills in the direction of Sharpenhoe, but today we decided to stay alongside the woods and enjoy the complete seclusion with only the sound of birdsong for company.
The path eventually leads around to Moleskin Hills. Like the better known Sharpenhoe Clappers this somewhat quiteter area is also owned by the National Trust. When walking here I very rarely pass anyone and can feel complete peace and seclusion. We turned right off of the path after about a mile and almost turning back on ourselves made a steep climb up to the top of the ridge where Sundon Hills meets Sharpenhoe Road running from Streatley.
There are a couple of useful picnic benches at the entrance to the Clappers but it was still early in the day and we continued our walk along the main footpath to the Clappers themselves. For a useful refreshment detour see (**) below)
Visible from miles around and very useful as a navigation point when out walking, The National Trust describes Sharpenhoe Clappers “as a classic chalk escarpment and part of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is crowned with traces of an Iron Age hill-fort and an impressive beech wood”. The hill rises to 525 feet, providing excellent views, and is fringed by Clappers Wood. The word ‘clappers’ derives from the Latin ‘claperius’ for a rabbit hole. Rabbit warrens provided meat, fur and leather and used to be an important part of the economy here. One is rewarded with far-reaching panoramic vistas when looking out across the surrounding countryside.
To me it “feels” like an ancient place and indeed is said to be haunted by the ghost of Cassivellaunus, a British chieftan who led this island’s defences against the Romans in 54 BC. Sharpenhoe will always stay a magical place to me. From the memories of a little boy in red welly boots, kicking knee deep the beech leaves in Autumn; to examining the knarley old tree roots twisting this way and that that serve as steps; to looking for the celandines in the skirting woods where my Nana said the fairies lived. On a quiet day the area in amongst the trees is remarkably still. Peaceful, and well sheltered, if one comes up here at dusk it feels almost too secluded. The early Spring sun threw long-reaching shadows out from the beech trees reminding one of simple but powerful ancient monuments.
We turned right and took the path around the Clappers and looked at the distant view of the Barton By-pass. Here I was reminded of enjoying a picnic with my young son 25 years ago, watching the diggers build the bypass and saying that “someday, son, you will be a big man driving a car down that road they are building”…….. um, how time flies! Where did all those years go?
To leave Sharpenhoe Clappers and descend into the hamlet itself there are yet more steps – 149 I was reliably informed by the lovely T. The old Lynmore pub has been turned into a private residence now, but if one wanted refreshment on this walk, it would only be a short detour back** when crossing Sharpenhoe Road to turn right into the village of Streatley and visit The Chequers.
The sun was still shining as we walked through Sharpenhoe and took a footpath left at “the place where the mud never seems to dry out” . A plod across this field, spirits high, singing Scarborough Fair (still no-one else around, to hear us!) and after following several hedgerows we were rewarded with a view of Bunyans Oak. This large oak tree which I visited on my walk “Harlington Blue Plaques and Byways” 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.
Chasing but never catching the yellowhammers flitting in and out of the hedgerows ahead of us, we then crossed a small footbridge to one of my favourite little secret spots, and stood silently for a while. Yet again, I was reminded that I do not need to venture far from my own back door to find the peace and beauty of nature and “special places”.
I find a spiritual connection both when out trudgin’ and also when standing quietly and just breathing and listening to the sounds of nature around. There is so much research around now that shows how being outside in nature can help mental health and I think for me it is a combination of the physical activity of walking; the distancing from anaesthetic “false” environments; the smells and the sounds. This article, in particular focusing on whether listening to birdsong can “boost the brain” is fascinating and although the research is ongoing, I think there is already significant evidence for us to draw our own positive conclusions.
The Bottoms, Harlington
We crossed several more fields back to the Bottoms and turned left. What a delight to see some ducks waddling across the lane on this sunny morning. I am always amazed at the vibrant intensity of the plumage. I don’t think paint manufacturers could come up with such a depth of shade and sheen.
From the Bottoms it is only a short walk over fields for T and I to return home. I was so glad that I had got up and out early this morning and enjoyed what felt like the first day of Spring. The air had that fresh clean smell when everything is new and unspoilt; the birds were in full song and the sun warmed our winter weary limbs. The walk was around seven miles, (with a fair few steps!) but could be shortened or lengthened slightly by climbing right up to Sundon Hills at the start and by detouring into Streatley. The Ordnance survey Map is Explorer 193 , but not really needed as it is difficult to get lost in this area with Sharpenhoe Clappers always in site. Thoroughly recommended!
Further Harlington Walks:
Further walks around the Harlington area can be found at “A Harlington Walk – A Walk from Hope to Gratitude (and a dog named Donny” – here)
Also more information about walking from Harlington to Sharpenhoe can be found here.