103 – Chilterns loop from Ashridge Estate 9.3 miles – 19th March

In short: an icy trek in the snow with magnificent views, treacherous climbs and descents and ultimately a poorly signposted final section which left us completely lost! Ice and deep snow mean good walking boots absolutely essential and still probably insufficient. Free National Trust parking at the Bridgewater Monument; clean, accessible public toilets at the start & finish; lovely (outdoor!!) café at the end. 4 hrs 50 mins walking + 15 mins pitstop.

The weather has been atrocious with a final (?) blast of real wintry snow and ice so we decide to take a chance on this having hardened a few paths and head out to tackle some hills – in the Chilterns. We fix on the Bridgewater Monument on the Ashridge Estate as our starting point and find it’s a fairly easy drive out here apart from the access road itself which is quite icy. We park in the free National Trust car park beside the visitors centre, postcode HP4 1LX.

We pick our way across to the Visitors Centre, make use of the on-site public toilets and make the mistake of not buying a map – we have a simple one with the walk we are following but it turns out this isn’t adequate if at any point you deviate from the set route.

Our walk can be found on the Chilterns AONB website – titled Ivinghoe Beacon Ridgeway Circular walk – albeit we have decided to start at the Bridgewater Monument and make our way to the stated start in the village of Aldbury.

We do this by taking the path behind the visitors centre and heading off left. This path takes us downhill through trees to join Toms Hill Road at the bottom. Here we turn right and find ourselves in the centre of this very pretty village.

We continue straight on, passing the village green and pond on our right and making our way towards the church.

We enter the churchyard to take a closer look at the church and exit again onto the road, Station Road, at the far end. Shortly after we take a footpath right which runs to the left of a field towards a farmhouse on the left. We unfortunately misinterpret the signage and initially miss the fact that the footpath cuts left into the farmyard – or at least between the fence and an outbuilding. Mistakes like this today unfortunately leave us up to our thighs in deep snow!!

Having found the correct path we follow it between two fields to a junction where we are absolutely delighted to get our first proper look at a pair of red kites sweeping across the field in front of us.

They are totally breathtaking and we desperately try to capture them on camera…not very successfully I’m afraid.

At our field junction we turn left, walking again between fields until we reach another footpath crossroads. Here we turn right onto the Ridgeway – which we follow for quite some time.

We climb gently at first, past Aldbury Nowers nature reserve and then through some woods. Here we have our first encounters with some genuinely treacherous stretches of path – very slippery with ice.

Finally we come out of the woods and, passing through a gate, we climb a short steep section of hillside to emerge onto the ridge. We now have spectacular views all around – which we admire in the short bursts where we feel our footing is secure and we aren’t about to be blown away!

To be honest the descent from this ridge is considerably more scary than the climb and we are becoming aware of the fact that this whole walk is taking much longer than it really should.

After passing a little peak (we pass on the opportunity to climb it for its supposedly fabulous views!) we descend to a car park. Here we cross the road and continue ahead on a broad icy path. It now starts to climb more steeply as we approach the south side of Incombe Hole.

At points now we are having genuine difficulty keeping on our feet and once or twice we actually fall. We decide to persist – for now at least – we follow the walk instructions and keep left at a gate at the top of the climb. From here we pick our way across scrub and start an incredibly difficult descent to a road below.

From here we are due to climb to the top of Ivinghoe Beacon ahead but we decide the descent from there might just about finish us off so we decide to cut off this corner by taking an alternative path – also across the road but to the right of the ascent of the Beacon.

This path takes us to a gate into a field – where we are almost waist high in a snowdrift! – and we follow this through a field of sheep – bearing right in front of a hill.

Eventually this path brings us out to a gate with footpath signposts – including a sign for the Ashridge Estate boundary trail. We decide this would be a good path to follow from here and follow the sign to the boundary of the next field, along a path beside trees and to the next field boundary. Here we must certainly miss a sign – or at least with forensic hindsight this is my conclusion.

We continue straight on along a path across a field (almost certainly we should have turned right I think) and turn right onto a lane towards a farm. This appears to be a dead end – except that there is a field path off left along the field edge towards some woods at the far end. We decide this looks promising and accordingly head this way. On reaching the woods we turn right onto a clear path and head towards denser wood ahead.

Unfortunately we now hit a major snag – a wire fence runs between the patch of woodland we are in and the denser woods beyond – most frustratingly there is a stepped and clearly signposted path on the wrong side of this fence – and we just can’t find our way through.

We head uphill towards a gate – but its been sealed up – then down in the direction of the farm in case there’s a gap somewhere; nothing. We retrace our steps uphill – surely one of these obvious gates must still be operational – but no!!

In complete desperation I spot a small gap in the wire fence – and decide that with a bit of limbo and a lot of willpower we can squeeze through…and so we do… Wow. With a thousand apologies if we were in fact trespassing – but in our defence the signage wasn’t clear and the Ordnance Survey map we consulted later shows paths running through the woodland joining the one we were trying to attain.

Anyway…we are now on a recognised Ashridge Estate path and we turn left to head uphill. After a while we emerge from the woods, pass a farm and at a field junction turn right, following a footpath sign, to head towards a road, Beacon Road, which runs along the north east edge of the Estate.

We turn left onto this road and follow it for a short while – looking for a path off right. After a while we find a small car park on the right and take a path from there into the woods. From here we pick our way on various paths trying to orientate our way back to our start point. We have long since given up on the idea of the pub we were going to have lunch in…we really just want to get home – enough is enough for this adventure today.

It takes a good half an hour to get back to the Bridgewater Monument – we are using the tracker app on my phone to do this – and for a remarkably long time we don’t see another soul. But after what seems a tremendously long time we finally find ourselves in front of the Bridgewater Monument and to our immense relief the café at the back of the visitors centre is still serving food!

We launch ourselves on the most delicious sandwiches and a very welcome cup of coffee – oblivious to the fact that it’s barely above freezing sitting at an outside table! Unbelievably welcome at the conclusion of this mad adventure.

It would be genuinely fantastic to return here…but the ground must be firm underfoot otherwise its just too difficult to complete a long walk here.

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