The North Chiltern Trail – Leg 1
I have walked so many byways in this area over so many years now – why had I not come across The North Chiltern Trail?! It puts together most of the area I have already explored into a disciplined order ripe for my re-discovery. LHD * dropped me off early one Saturday morning at the start of the North Chiltern Trail in the beautiful village of Lilley and leaving behind the silver lion I began to revisit some of my favourite local places.
Usually in late August/early September I travel for my walking. This year my meditations, connections and exercise have been taken much closer to home. I have indeed rediscovered the beauty on my doorstep. The Chiltern Society have produced a super book detailing not only the route but with fascinating information on the natural history, geology and ancient and more modern history of the area. Thank you! Having lived in Bedfordshire/Hertfordshire for all my life I discovered a few things I did not know!
I passed Lilleypark wood (full of intoxicating bluebells each Spring) and found myself with a familiar view. About 20 years ago after taking refreshment in the excellent nearby Lilley Arms I attempted to run up this hill carrying a bicycle – the result was not too pretty! Today the fields were peaceful and quiet.
Lilley is so very close to the industrial town of Luton which soon came into sight. I always love trying to pick out landmarks I know in the distance. For such a busy town it still has some beautiful countryside close at hand.
Just before reaching the Nature Reserve of Warden and Galley Hill I stopped, stood and took in a deep sense of Summer’s fulfilment. This is the height now – that most strange and precious lark-filled Spring has passed; we are beginning to adapt to the “new normal”; the harvest is being gathered and Nature goes on as always.
For so many years I lived in the Warden Hills area of Luton (15?) and I should be able to tread these paths by instinct. And yet, I got slightly lost and went off of the signposted North Chiltern Trail. It necessitated a climb all the way back up the hill. But in retrospect I was pleased. If my memory serves me correctly aged 28 I used to have to stop and take a breather half way up. Today with a backpack carrying a full coffee flask and water bottle, an ongoing hamstring injury and 33 more years on the clock, and probably a lot more willpower I reached the summit without a break.
More memories awaited as I approached Galley Hill – always my favourite part of this area. The chalk downland is beautifully managed and even the golf course is surrounded by wildflowers, butterflies and bees. How many years ago is it I used to climb up here – Big Blue, Albert and Derek in hand, along with mini cheddars, chocolate drops and egg custard tarts – just right for a Teddy Bear’s picnic with a five year old.
After crossing the golf course the North Chiltern Trail passes through Maulden firs (couldn’t see any) and then turns into a slow, straight, slightly disconcerting plod along the route of the power lines. I don’t understand why overhead electricity makes so much noise? I had seen for a while rain in the distance over Luton and it hit me all of a sudden. I stopped and looked behind to see……………….. just the “Three Horsemen”. All rather bizarre in these different times.
Swedish Cottage was reached and then a frightening crossing of the A6. As I get older I get more afraid of crossing extremely busy roads – and I’m rather glad to have completed this leg of the trail now as I feel it is unlikely I will choose to cross here again.
The ducks in Streatley pond were probably the only ones enjoying the weather by now. How fortunate LHD was close at hand to pick me up and take me home.
This is a really stunning walk. Spectacular views from the hills; fields and a small wood. Good terrain (chalky slopes may be a little slippery in bad weather). Pubs at beginning and end. 5.5 miles but the very helpful Guidebook gives a different circular route back to the start at Lilley if you wanted to make the walk longer or had left your car at the start. This was my first leg of the North Chiltern Trail – I knew all the footpaths (I thought!) but I still love it. Going on this experience I am very impressed with the guidebook, signposting and route and am looking forward to the rest of the trail.
OS Explorer 193 and Chiltern Society 25 and 30. (and buy the Guidebook!)
*LHD – lovely, hybrid driver. Formerly known as “the lovely T”, “red Hyundai driver” and various other names – but this one is sticking at present.
(Yep! – I’m obsessed)