Icknield Way Part 2 - Chalk Hill to Pirton

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Start: White Lion Pub Watling St, Houghton Regis, Dunstable, LU6 1RS
Finish: The Motte & Bailey, 1 Great Green, Pirton, Hitchin, SG5 3QD
Other Routes Touched: Chiltern Way, John Bunyan Trail, Walk on the Wild Side
Distance: 19.4 Miles / 31 km. +469m ascent

It had been 2 years since I’d started the Icknield Way and I was eager to get back to it. Other adventures had got in the way, but I had a new motivation for it once I’d decided to explore the “North Chilterns Exclave”. This is the North-Eastern part of the Chiltern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) that’s cut off from the rest of it. The Chilterns’ rolling chalk hills stop abruptly after Dunstable Downs followed by a flat gap featuring Dunstable, Luton, the A5 and the M1. I’d have to get through this section before the pleasant parts start again near Sundon. So, when I was looking for this year’s Winter Solstice long walk, the next section of the Icknield Way was the obvious choice.

In a change to my previous Solstice walks, I wasn’t alone as my friend Brian came too. It was great to have a buddy this time and there was an added logistical advantage by being able to leave a car at each end. After a bit of parking logistics we set off from the White Lion pub as the sun rose over the newly built distribution centres. We were already firmly in logistics country: a corridor of fields along the M1 that are being gradually replaced by huge warehouses. Within a mile of our start we were already on a diversion of the trail as it skirted round a building site that would soon be a new growth on Dunstable.

At Wingfield we were back on course and in pleasant countryside again. The next 5k was fairly unremarkable as the trail crossed the gap between the 2 parts of the AONB, crossing the River Flit, M1 and mainline railway. Immediately after rail bridge, the trail ascends 60m reaching Upper Sundon and the border back into the Chilterns. This next section before lunch was lovely with great views for miles to the North and a pleasant route along the John Bunyan Trail and into Sharpenhoe National Trust land.

Streatley is a great stopping point a little over half-way into the route. It also had the only pub that we found on the trail and it conveniently opened for lunch shortly after we arrived. After a pretty large surf-and-turf and an hour of warming up we headed South back on the trail. The route briefly dips out of the AONB as it skirts the Northern edge of Luton before a steep climb up through South Beds Golf Club to the top of Warden Hill. Here we took a minor diversion from the trail to bag our first Trig Pillar of the day. From the Trig you can see right across Luton, which sits right in the middle of the gap in the Chilterns, and Dunstable Downs in the distance.

The final few miles was on a straight path heading North-East and keeping on high ground. We took another diversion up Deacon Hill to bag the 2nd Trig Pilar of the day. By now it was getting dark and misty so we quickly returned to the trail and start the final descent to Pirton. My energy was noticeably depleted after Deacon Hill and the final mile seemed to go on for ever. The end point at the Motte and Bailey was a very welcome sight, as was the table by the fireplace to warm up next to before the drive home.

I’m not sure when I’ll be back for Part 3. There’s still a long way to go on the Icknield Way. Part of me wants to cycle the rest in 1 go but the slow progression of winter walks also has its appeal. One way or the other, I’ll be back at Pirton soon to rejoin the trail.

Start point at The White Lion Pub,Chalk Hill


End point at The Motte & Bailey, Pirton


Richard gowerComment