I find it difficult to believe I have lived in Harlington eight years and never walked the Wood End Trail. The excellent P3 leaflet had been sitting in the study for a while and prompted by a couple of conversations with villagers and also having sight of some of the old maps of the area I decided it was time to put matters right.
This is a great two to three hour walk in the Harlington area, flat and easily accessible. However, the day I walked it there were a couple of missing footpath signs and overgrown areas and I was pleased that I had the maps and leaflet to hand. Full route details are on the leaflet (details below)
After passing Harlington Manor House, where Bunyan was interrogated by the local magistrate Francis Wingate, prior to his incarceration in Bedford Prison, I continued down Station Road. Unfortunately the footpath sign just after the bungalow on the right hand side had been broken down but I could see the gap in the hedge where it should have been and I continued across the newly ploughed field for a break in the hedge on the other side. The leaves were just starting to change to their glorious autumnal colours in the hedgerow.
I thought I could hear the sound of the River Flit as I reached the edge of the field; instead it was the buzzing of the electricity pylons! I always feel slightly spooked passing under pylons so I quickly cut through to the main A5120 road. The only unattractive part of this walk was crossing the road and it is probably not something I would have attempted with children.
However, it occurs to me that one could begin the circular walk in Westoning and avoid crossing the main road. Once over the road I walked along to the layby (another alternative parking place)and behind it found the old dairy lane. Although I could hear the M1 in the distance I managed to block the noise out of my head and quite soon found the solitude which I so enjoy. After a mile or so, and skirting the remnants of an elm hedge the pathway opens out onto a field. Over to the left is the area where the Jacobean Mansion, Wood End House, would have been situated. The Astrys owned the Wood End estate from the mid sixteenth century and lived there until 1766. Several of them made gifts to the local villages. Their mansion was reputedly destroyed in the late eighteenth century. I could see just one more modern house left in the area. Then upon turning left two further Victorian Cottages.
Just past the cottages I found my way blocked over the waymarked bridge. But it was easy to miss out the bridge and skirt around to the side of the obstacle. The bridge was covered in brambles (unfortunately I walked too late in the season for there to be any blackberries left).
After crossing the open field the walk became more sheltered as it approached Wood End, Westoning. I had often driven along the road heading towards Woburn and seen the Wood End sign but never been down that lane. One thing that I love about walking is that it gives me a whole new geographical perspective on where places are situated relative to each other. I met a horse in a fine coat in the field backing on to the Wood End houses.
After crossing the Woburn Road I joined the footpath again and crossed what the leaflet described as an “all weather racing track”. I don’t know what this is used for – maybe horses – and perhaps someone can enlighten me? There is a small spinney to negotiate here and another bridge over the River Flit before following the trackway along into Church Road Westoning. We have had such beautiful Autumn weather this year with little rain but the cows were lying down. An ominous sign of things to come perhaps?
I love this old area of Westoning and passed by St Mary Magdalene Church. Apparently this was mentioned under “Hertfordshire” in the Domesday Book. The trail continues along Church Road passing several substantial dwellings and a pretty thatched cottage and down a footpath between more modern houses but I used this point as a convenient break and went into the village to buy some provisions at the shop. It would also be a good stop off point for a pub lunch. There are two pubs in the village: The Chequers and The Bell.
Returning to the footpath I skirted around Westoning Stud Mews and enjoyed watching some horses being exercised. Just after this again the area around the footpath became overgrown. My way was blocked completely at one point but I was fortunate in being able to negotiate around the overgrown area.
After passing the Lady Astry Charity strips (the rent of which was left by Lady Astry to provide bread for widows in the area) the leaflet takes you briefly back along the lane and then follows a footpath back to Harlington Wood End. Rain was threatening (the cows were right) and so I took care crossing back over the A5120 and returned into Harlington along Westoning Road.
An enjoyable walk, although somewhat overgrown in places at this time of year. It was made much more interesting by the sight of the old maps showing how the area used to be. I felt solitude whilst walking in the fields and could almost imagine the mediaeval yeomen and sixteenth century aristocrats around me. I had not been out walking since completing my Pilgrims’ Way trek and so for me this was somewhere different to explore and stretch my legs.
Details: “Wood End Trail; Footpath Guide 3”. I obtained my copy of the leaflet from Harlington Heritage Trust. The leaflet also states that copies are available from the Parish Clerk. I cannot find a downloadable copy on the internet, but will update these notes should I become aware of one.
Please add your e mail address below for further details of my walks in Beds, Herts and Bucks, including walking the Hertfordshire Way. I have also undertaken lots of walks in Dorset and completed walking the Ridgeway National Trail. My book “The Woman Who Walked Through Fear” about my Gratitude Pilgrimage walking the Pilgrims’ Way from Winchester to Canterbury will be published shortly.