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Walking in the countryside around Ampthill, Maulden and Clophill today demonstrated, as I always find, that such a simple act has so many benefits.
Following on from a family funeral the day before and the onset of a headcold, probably bought on by emotion as much as sitting still in stuffy hot rooms for too long the fresh air beckoned. Walking is for me the perfect combination of action and contemplation; the physical act of getting the blood pumping around the body together with the meditative quality of just placing one foot down before the other with no other concerns.
This 12 mile walk starting from the car park at Ampthill Park (leaflet here) contains a superb combination of a Georgian town, small villages, riverside, fields and woods, together with plenty of refreshment stops, historical references and quiet places for contemplation. There is so much to cover I have split this article in two. This first part covers the route from Ampthill to Clophill.
The trees had mostly discarded their Autumn foliage as T and I set out from Ampthill Park into the Town Centre. Along with the Georgian architecture, the town contains pretty thatched cottages, Victorian terraces and more modern housing. Passing through into Kings Arms Yard and following the path we could see an interesting public garden over to the right. However, it was closed on the day we walked. It would have been pleasant to walk around it. We skirted the housing estate on the edge of Ampthill and ended up at the roundabout close to the A507.
I wonder how many people realise that just past this roundabout on the fields adjacent to the A507 are the remains of a medieval moated grange at Ruxox Farm. A sign nearby tells how the farm provided food for the monks at Dunstable Priory as well as the people of Flitwick. The name of the farm comes from the Saxon Hroc’s Oak, possibly named after Hroc, who may have farmed here 1,000 or more years ago. The current farmhouse is a typical ‘Model Farm’ constructed in the 1850’s by the Duke of Bedford’s estate. Roman and Saxon finds have been recorded nearby. Quite often we travel so far to see interesting historical sites, forgetting that there are so many in our own neighbourhood.
After skirting nearby Flitwick and Flitton Moors, the route joined part of the way covered on my recent Two Moors Walk and I could see Flitton Church in the distance long before reaching the pretty village. We plodded along, both of us deep in our own thoughts. The day was cloudy but so very still. Arriving in Flitton we were too early to stop at the White Hart and unfortunately the Church was also locked. I remember on my walk of the Pilgrims’ Way how almost every Church I passed was open and I did find such interest and peace in each one I entered.
Continuing through Flitton we reached Wardhedges (again slightly too early for the Jolly Coopers to be open but useful for other walkers to know about should they require refreshment) before returning to cross several fields.
Just outside Silsoe we reached a plaque explaining the Beaumont Tree. The legend goes that at one time an elm grew here out of the remains of an executed highwayman and the tree had magical curative properties. The slightly macabre custom was for people suffering from ague to drive an iron nail into the tree trunk with a strand of hair or toe nail attached just as the church clock struck midnight. Pieces of the tree, along with iron nails and samples of hair and nails are now in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge. The original tree died of Dutch Elm disease in the 1970s and an oak has been planted in its place.
Once thoughts of pieces of hair and toenails had been dismissed from our minds a mile or two of very peaceful walking across fields and woods followed before crossing the busy A6. Soon we found ourselves in Clophill. Again there are a couple of pubs in the village together with a village store for those in need of supplies. We sat and ate our lunch on a bench on the village green whilst watching a workman spend an interesting amount of time spraying blue paint around pieces of uneven pavement and taking photographs of the same.
The walk continues through some of the housing areas of Clophill before working its way uphill along a tree lined lane heading Northwards. Randomly and thoughtlessly and then much more purposefully and determinedly kicking the leaves bought back childhood memories of 1960s child size 10 wellington boots tramping along similar paths near St Albans.
The fallen leaves were ankle deep on the ground and my thoughts turned to the passing of time and the fragility of our lives. I had read Prospero’s Speech from “The Tempest” at the funeral the day before:
“Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits, and Are melted into air, into thin air: And like the baseless fabric of this vision, The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff As dreams are made on; and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.”
Part 2 of this walk continuing on from Clophill, through Maulden Woods returning to Ampthill is featured here.
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