Exploring the Chilterns
PUBLISHED: 07:21 13 March 2015 | UPDATED: 07:21 13 March 2015
The hills, woods, waterways and estates of the Chilterns in the west of the county offer some of the best walking and views in England. Liz Hamilton of the Herts branch of Campaign to Protect Rural England takes the high road
Tring station is an ideal starting point from which to explore the lovely Chilterns countryside in the west of Hertfordshire. The vast Ashridge Estate to the east of the station is a popular destination, but for a change, head south and west towards the hill-top village of Wigginton and the adjacent Tring Park.
The towpath of the Grand Union Canal, easily reached from the bridge close to Tring station, makes an interesting start to the walk. The canal here is 390 feet above sea level as it crosses the Chilterns. Heading south you soon emerge from a cutting into open countryside with views to higher land on either side. A walk of one and a half miles brings you to the lock at Cow Roast and the adjacent marina, busy with colourful boats.
From here you can leave the canal and make for Wigginton. The gap through the Chilterns is narrow at this point, with the canal, the railway and the old main road all close together on the valley floor. Venture beyond the new A41 to reach quiet countryside with fields and small woods. Climbing steadily towards Wigginton there are fine views back across the valley towards Ashridge and the wooded Northchurch Common. For lunch or a drink head for the Greyhound pub in Wigginton, or if you’ve packed food, a picnic seat with a view of Tring Park, immediately to the west of the village, is an ideal spot.
Royals and Rothschilds
King Charles’ Ride in Tring Park runs along the edge of a steep escarpment overlooking Tring. Both the Ridgeway National Trail and the Icknield Way Trail run along the ride, which is popular with walkers and sheltered by tall trees along much of its length. This route is also a bridleway and accessible to cyclists. At the foot of the hill lies open parkland and the distinctive Mansion, and the views extend across Tring to the villages of the Aylesbury clay vale and Mentmore on rising land to the north.
The Mansion at Tring Park was designed by Christopher Wren and built in the late 17th century for Henry Guy, the Groom of the Bedchamber for Charles II. The property changed hands several times and in 1872 the freehold was acquired by the Rothschild Family. Major changes to both the mansion and the surrounding land followed. The Rothschilds were renowned for providing employment, housing and public welfare and amenities in Tring and the surrounding villages. A son of the family, Walter Rothschild had a passion for natural history and assembled the largest private natural history collection ever put together by one person, still housed in the Natural History Museum in Tring.
The Mansion is separated from most of its former park by the route of the modern A41 and is now the home of the Tring Park School for the Performing Arts. Originally the Arts Educational School, it relocated to here at the beginning of the Second World War.
Tring Park is now managed by the Woodland Trust and is an important wildlife site, with the second largest area of unimproved chalk grassland in the county as well as substantial areas of woodland with many fine trees. The site is also listed on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens, with remains of once-extensive gardens, woodland rides and structures including a summerhouse or temple and the obelisk known as Nell Gwynne’s Monument. Walkers are welcome to explore the park on the extensive path network. Try the 30 minute parkland walk or the longer woodland walk, both guided by waymarks.
For the best views as you return to Tring, take the Ridgeway which skirts the northern end of Wigginton. As you gradually descend towards the valley floor, the sweeping view takes in Ivinghoe Beacon, Aldbury village, and the Bridgewater Monument emerging from the wooded Ashridge skyline. Away in the distance down the valley the outskirts of Berkhamsted are just visible.
Returning towards Tring station you might wonder why it is nearly two miles away from the town centre. Lord Brownlow of Ashridge and other landowners fiercely opposed early proposals for the London to Birmingham Railway to run up the Gade valley to Dagnall. The route was changed to run through Berkhamsted, but the lie of the land made it difficult to bring the railway to the centre of Tring. Instead it runs across lower land to the east and even this route required a substantial cutting – the longest on the length of the line. Tring Station opened in 1837.
Frequent train services run to Tring. Cars can also park at the station or on nearby roadsides subject to space.
Use OS Explorer Map 181 to discover more about this area of Hertfordshire’s countryside and visit walkinginherts.co.uk for more ideas for walks here ranging from one to 12 miles.
Visit cpreherts.org.uk to find out about how the Campaign to Protect Rural England works to protect Hertfordshire’scountryside.