Houghton House – A Walk from Houghton Conquest, near Ampthill, Beds.
Maybe it is just because I have recently become a Nana but during this walk through Kings Wood and up to Houghton House just outside of Ampthill my mind was filled with old stories and memories that I must pass on in time to the newborn infant.
After easily parking in Houghton Conquest Village Hall Car Park I crossed the road opposite the Fourteenth Century All Saints Church to take an alleyway down to Rectory Lane and on to the Kings Wood and Glebe Meadows Nature Reserve.
The leaflet I had downloaded takes one around the edge of Kings Wood (thought to be named after the Monarchs who visited Houghton Park), however I was drawn to the more claustrophobic atmosphere under the canopy of emerging leaves into the depths of this ancient woodland. Very soon I was rewarded by the sight of a teddy bear coloured Chinese Water Deer delicately prancing straight across my path.
The path climbed steeply to the Greensand Ridge and continued amongst both decaying branches and emerging wild flowers, wandering in a Tolkeinesque-type grove.
As a child my Nana took me for walks across Bernard’s Heath in St Albans and told me tales of a magical world amongst the woodlands. Most importantly I will never forget that fairies live amongst the celandines. Amongst the bright green shiny leaves reminding me of heart shaped apple lollipops (she worked in a sweet shop!) and buttery yellow flowers I can still see the little sprites and elves peeking out shyly at us scared at our great big feet and noisy chatter.
The leaves of bluebells were showing through the leafmould and I made a mental note to return to this area in a month or so. I am sure that the sight and scent will be exquisite.
I also knew, as a child, that tree roots were Nature’s own steps and that the time worn hollows in tree trunks were the places where all the baby animals gathered and held their tea parties. Today I spotted anemones where the fairy folk would gather under the protection of this primitive flower to hide from the rain. Violets? – the little girl left by her wicked stepmother in the icy cold wood, who didn’t die but transformed herself into a beautiful blue flower that appeared just at the start of Spring.
On emerging from Kings Wood I was greeted with panoramic views over the Bedfordshire countryside. I could see across to Maulden and beyond to my left, Kempston to my right and the Stewartby Brickworks towers were straight ahead.
Quite soon I reached the remains of the Seventeenth Century Houghton House built for the Countess of Pembroke’s hunting parties. The remains stood high on a ridge surrounded by mistletoe-bearing trees.
Houghton House is thought to be the inspiration for “The House Beautiful” in Bunyan’s Pilgrims’ Progress and it bought back memories of my own pilgrimage a full six months ago – such a lot had happened in that time. The house had fallen into disrepair in the 18th century and stood abandoned until the 1930s when Professor Richardson of Ampthill sought to preserve it.
The path then continued downhill and across fields until the source of the plaintive bleats which I had been hearing for some time became apparent.
Leaving the grazing matrons I followed the hedgerows just greening up with hawthorn and starting to blossom with blackthorn before reaching what was shown on the map as “duck decoys“. I have to admit that I did not know what these were and had to look them up on reaching home. Now I know I wish that I did not. I had recently fed some ducks which had come to me as I passed a pond near Houghton House.
Built for the use of Houghton House this is apparently the only recorded decoy in Bedfordshire. Attempting to leave all thoughts of Jemima Puddleduck being served up on a platter behind I skirted around the Western edge of Kings Wood and crossed back through the Nature Reserve into Cowslip Meadow. I was probably just a week or so early to see this at its best. One solitary brave crinkled-leaved beauty was softly nodding its head.
And the “key of heaven” or “fairy cups” – if you suck the nectar from the bottom of the stem it will make you grow. No, I never tried it!
This was a super and varied walk and one I shall definitely return to at bluebell time. The leaflet which can be downloaded here says it is three miles, however, probably because I wandered off track from time to time I walked more like five. There was an initial climb in Kings Wood but after that it was not particularly physically challenging.
For further details of my walking adventures along National Trails, including the Pilgrims’ Way, The Ridgeway, and the Hertfordshire Way please enter your e mail address in the box at the foot of the page. The website also incudes details of walks in Beds, Herts and Bucks and in my spiritual home of Wessex.
My book “The Woman Who Walked Through Fear” about my Gratitude Pilgrimage along The Pilgrims’ Way will be published shortly.