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Ashridge Park (Ashridge Estate)
Everything costs so much these days and it seems that the older my daughter will get, the more expensive days out will start costing me so I try to make the most of free places which get my daughters attention, and one thing which never fails is a walk through the woods. If it is Summer, my daughter loves having a picnic in the woods and playing ball, in the Autumn, running through the leaves and kicking them in the air is an extremely fun pastime, Spring allows my daughter to see some baby animals in the quieter parts of the wood (if she can keep quiet long enough!), and even in Winter when wrapped up warm, a lovely walk through the trees to a café is always a pleasant thing to do. Woods, there is nothing like them, and I am lucky enough not to live too far away from some really large and beautiful woods.
WELCOME TO ASHRIDGE
Ashridge Park, or Ashridge Estate as it is widely known as, is on the Herts and Bucks border, between Aylesbury and Hemel Hempstead, approximately three miles north of the A41 between Tring and Berkhamstead. If coming from the Dunstable direction, it is just off the A489. Buses drop you off right in the heart of the Ashridge Estate at various drop off points. For the monument you will need to catch the Arriva 30/31 from Tring or the Arriva 30 from Berkhamstead. For Ivinghoe Beacon you need the Arriva 61 Aylesbury-Tring-Dunstable-Luton service. The nearest train station is in tring which is approximately 1 ½ miles from the monument in the center of Ashridge. There is also a train station in Cheddington, which is 3 ½ miles from Ivinghoe Beacon.
As you drive along the main road there are many places alongside the trees to park your car and go for a walk, though if you prefer something a little more central, I would suggest parking in the monument car-park which is up a long driveway into the heart of the woods. Here there are loads of spaces to park your car and is central to all the different walks on the estate as well as the small café. It is here that you will want to park for any events which occur in Ashridge Estate also. All parking is completely and utterly free, as is entrance to all of Ashridge Park. There is sometimes a small entrance fee for specific events which occur throughout the year though generally this is not too much. We went up to the Chilterns Festival a few weeks back and it was only about £2.50 per adult to enter. Even when events are on, though, you can still visit the woods and café for free.
Within the monument area, there is a large open clearing which is perfect for picnics, and many walks through the forest have clear footpaths which are perfectly wide enough for wheelchairs and buggies. Some of the footpaths, however, are as you would expect in the woods and have more rougher and sloping natural terrain.
There is a lack of toilets here, in fact there is only one toilet which is an adapted toilet for disabled people with a RADAR lock. The key for this can be picked up from the visitor centre right next to it.
Now we have the formalities out of the way, let me take you into the woods!
INTO THE WOODS
Ashridge Estate spans out for miles with some spectacular walks and views between Ivinghoe and Berkhamstead, Tring and Little Gaddesden. Just driving along the road through this amazing place is a breath of fresh air, but walking through the trees along the many walks is just peace on Earth!
Although you have pretty much free reign of the woods with regards to where you walk, there are about five main routes which are recommended, each with varying degrees of difficulty and all ending up at different places. All the following walks start from the monument which is central to the estate.
The shortest route is the Aldbury route which is only four miles long. This is pretty much a circular route with some steep terrain though with a lot of firm surfaces. This route is recommended for cyclists, though anyone can go on it whether they have bought a bike or not. This route, as the name suggests, takes you right around Aldbury, which I find rather beautiful. It is a small village with a green complete with pond, and stocks and whipping post still in place from years gone by. You will also find a lovely pub which does some lovely food (though this was a while back we ate here so do check before going there!) and also some café's and other small shops which break up the walk well.
The Duncombe Terrace Route is five miles long (return) and takes you along some mixed surface tracks including farm tracks. If you take your bike along here, there is a cycle rack at the bottom of the beacon to leave it if you wish to walk up to the top to see the fantastic views.
The Ashridge House route is a six mile return route which has some good quality firm surfaces all the way. This is a lovely walk through some of the nicest parts of the woods and you end up right near the house. In the summer, I believe that you are allowed into the gardens though we have never been in there so do check this before going there at the visitor centre.
The Pitstone Windmill route is seven miles (return) and heads off towards Ivinghoe and has some really steep sections which might make you want to turn back, though do carry on to the windmill as it is a lovely sight to see. The seventeenth century windmill plus the lovely views make this route certainly worth all the effort. If you get thirsty from all the walking, you need to walk a little further and go right into Ivinghoe for refreshments in the local pub or café.
The longest route is the Ashridge Circuit which stands at 17 miles long. As it states, this does go around in a circle so there is no need for backtracking, though it will take you quite a long time to walk, especially if you stop to look at all the sights. This route takes you past the canal and right around the outside of Ashridge. It also takes you into Ivinghoe which can be a bit busy at times, though I have heard it is a great walk for the more experienced. Unfortunately, I am certainly not one to walk too far especially with a two year old in tow so I can not comment fully on this trail.
Of course, you do not need to follow any particular route to enjoy the woods. We have often gone up here and just wandered around and we always see something different. It is absolutely beautiful (even more so) when the bluebells are in season, and walking through the different parts of this large estate is in some ways like walking into another world what with the historical remains from Iron Age to Victorian era dotted around.
Back in the centre of Ashridge Estate you will find the monument. This monument is simply a tall monument which offers some great views. It is only open between March and October and unfortunately only at weekends in the afternoon. There is a small cost of £1.50 per adult and £0.70 per child. It is a steep climb and I feel a little claustrophobic in there though once at the top I found it worth it.
You will also find a small café in the centre just near the monument. Prices here are a little overpriced though not as much as you might expect in a place like this. It is only outdoor seating so a little cold in the winter months though they do a lovely cup of coffee and a great selection of cakes to warm you up!
As mentioned above, there are often events which take place here for a small charge. Every year the Chilterns festival is held here, to which we attended last month. It was a lovely event with many stalls of crafts, both for sale and for children to make, animals to pet, sights and smells to enhance the senses, a wide range of food to try and much more. Unfortunately it was quite cold this year though there was still a huge turnout and it was very well organised.
I do not think I could do Ashridge Estate justice in either this review or my photos as it is such a glorious place to visit and much better seen with your own eyes. It has some amazing walks with some beautiful views and lovely animals and gives an overall sense of peace. To add the icing to the cake, it is one of those places which continues to be absolutely free (apart from a small charge for certain things). Every time we go, we see something different, and although I have lived not too far away all my life, there are still parts of the grounds in which I have never explored and look forward to exploring with my daughter as she grows up. Walking in the woods is a time old fun tradition which I fully appreciate and love going there to spend a day with my family and practise my photography. It is well worth a visit any time of the year and apart from the lack of amenities, I think that it is perfect.