A choice of two short walks on the Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire border, with an abundance of nature regardless of the season.
Distance: 3 miles extending to 4 and more.
Terrain: easy with some moderately steep climbs. Fields and a bridleway.
Height: up to 450 feet.
Starting Point: Motte & Bailey Pub, Pirton, nr Hitchin, SG5 3QD
You’re getting two walks for the price of one here. Both routes are on the edge of the Chilterns and around 3 miles long. The first is circular, done clockwise or anti-clockwise. The second is straight up the hill to the edge of Knocking Hoe Nature Reserve and back. If you want to extend your walk, you can follow the way marks from this point and go further into Bedfordshire, although an OS map would help! Part of the route is on the Icknield Way, which extends from Dorset to Norfolk and has the claim of being 'the oldest road in Britain' as it is made up of prehistoric pathways.
Both walks start in Pirton, a small village forty miles north of London, on the border of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. Just thirty minutes by train from Kings Cross, it makes an easy escape from the city and the chance to breathe in some fresh air. Plus you'll get to see a traditional Doomsday village complete with old cottages, two pubs, a duck pond and Highdown House, an old Jacobean mansion with an interesting history.
Although this walk is popular with families on Boxing Day, any other time of year you won't typically pass more than a couple of dog walkers making it a good option to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. There are a couple of steep hills peaking at around 450 feet. In summer you can get by with almost any type of shoes, but if it’s been raining you need boots because part of the lane gets muddy. I’ve ended up on my bottom more than once, but thankfully no one saw me. In early autumn there are plenty of blackberries, so take a container or eat as you walk. What’s nicer than a warm, juicy blackberry, straight from the hedge?
I walk from my front door as I work mainly from my home in Pirton, but if you're travelling in, park outside the Motte and Bailey pub. If you have caught a train from London, get off at Hitchin Station and get a taxi to the pub in Pirton (it's about a 5 mile trip and will cost approximately £8). From the pub, walk left to the main road to Hitchin, passing a wooden Pirton sign with hands holding straw on your left. In case you're wondering about the straw sign, this walk is part of the Straw Plaiters walk. In the 19th century, Pirton’s women and children collected the straw, from wheat growing on the chalk soil, for the hat making industry in nearby Luton.
Cross the road and go straight ahead to Wood Lane, with a large house on your right. You can walk up the shady lane which has a canopy of trees or, for better views, walk along the edge of the field running parallel, where an ‘unofficial’ path has been worn. After a quarter of a mile or so there is a path to your left across the open field (waymarks are here.) Turn left if you want to walk clockwise. Carry straight on for an anticlockwise route, turning sharp left at a wooden seat. Go straight on up the hill for the second walk to Knocking Hoe Nature Reserve.
These directions are for the clockwise route. Follow the path over the field and keep right to a kissing gate. Go through the kissing gate and climb the steep hill. Highdown House, a Jacobean mansion once a Cavalier stronghold, is on your left. There is supposedly a ghost in it and a headless horseman who rides across the field on 15 June.
As you walk, keep your eyes open for wildlife: free range guinea fowl belonging to the house, muntjac, pheasants, buzzards and roe deer.
At the top of the hill pause and look across the fields. You can see for miles and there are usually buzzards circling overhead. This is a great spot for a picnic – a couple of massive old oaks and soft grass.
Don’t go to the end of this field, but bear right down the hill to another kissing gate. In spring there are masses of bluebells in the wood to your left - Tingley Wood. (You can’t go in- it’s private – but you can stand at the gate and admire the view.) At the bottom of the hill there’s a wooden seat – a favourite picnic spot for walkers. You’d complete the circuit by turning right. For the second walk, turn left at the seat and continue up the hill.
At the top of the hill, bear right towards a wood. Very soon you will see the sign for Knocking Hoe Nature Reserve opposite a seat with a wood behind. There is public access into Knocking Hoe, but the footpath to further routes continues outside the reserve, down the hill, where there are some way markers. These can take you to the B655 road which you cross to access other walks.
In the Nature Reserve in summer you will find lots of butterflies and wild flowers, some of them rare. The views are lovely, it’s usually quiet and you can easily find a sheltered spot to eat or drink. Definitely worth the climb to get there!