Once again the weather smiled on the 11 Ramblers who braved the throng at Euston Station for the short ride to Tring, as it so often does for this last-Saturday-in-September outing . A slight delay for a laggard arrivee brought the number to an old-fashioned non baker’s dozen, and then we were off on an exhilarating walk into the woods and wide open views of the Chilterns.
Should have been straightforward: just follow the Ridgeway all the way to Ivinghoe Beacon is what the guidebook said. (The 87 miles of the Ridgeway from the Beacon all the way south west to Avebury in Wiltshire make up Britain’s oldest road. It has been walked since prehistoric times by pedlars, soldiers and travellers.)
Well trod it may be, but we Ramblers managed to swerve too far east at an early stage, in spite of (or perhaps because of) a plethora of routes and signposts. Error eventually discovered by Our Man with the Compass, and rectified by a shortcut over the golf course adjoining Stocks. This Georgian country house was — some remembered — notorious in the 1970s as the place where would be Bunnies were trained for the Playboy Club in Park Lane. No sign of them on this Ramble, though.
Distracting only golfers and distracted only by blackberries we regained the Ridgway through the delightful Albury Nowers woods, with increasingly big views over the Aylesbury Vale, full of Rothschild mansions. Five miles away loomed one of them, Mentmore, the 19th century extravaganza that was controversially Not Saved for the Nation in 1977: no Bunnies, perhaps.
Out of the woods, and running late, we toiled up to Ivinghoe Beacon, the end or the beginning of the Ridgeway but only a turning point for the Ramblers, who still faced quite a walk before the reward of lunch. Lots of other walkers, and an obliging passerby took the statutory group photograph, in a rising wind.
Then we turned back, not quite the way we had come, through the increasingly towering beechwoods of the National Trust’s Ashridge Estate. Not yet autumnal, despite the funguses. This is a very popular Day Out attraction, and the Trust has little electric carts for the assistance of visitors. One Rambler hitched a lift.
The rest of us admired the looming Bridgewater Monument, commemorating the third Lord Bridgewater the great canal impresario who was (says the inscription) the father of inland navigation. With a name like that perhaps he had little choice. A timely phone call assured us that the target pub was (unexpectedly) serving food all the afternoon, and that renewed the spring in our steps, or the autumn.
Lunch was finally taken at the Greyhound Inn in the slightly too picture-perfect village of Aldbury. Decent food and drink, efficiently served in a big establishment. The traditional deserts were partaken and approved.
And then a short return to Tring Station across open farmland, except for the two Ramblers who brandished their Freedom Passes and abandoned us to make the journey by bus. Some of the walkers picked a few not very effulgent blackberries, but hardly a pieful.
Participants with smartphones and motion-aware apps assured us that we had walked not the just over six miles promised by the guidebook but 15km, whatever that is.
The prehistoric Ridgeway travellers lacked these artificial aids, of course, having only their feet at their disposal. Perhaps it is Better Not to Know.
Words and pictures by Ann and Peter
Want to relive past walks? Find them in the Archive