What have Harry Potter, Star Wars and me, Mike, all got in common? We’ve all been filmed at Ivinghoe Beacon. Now, admittedly I was filming myself for this hiking blog. But still, I’m in some esteemed company there.
A short drive from London you will be wandering on part of Britain’s Oldest Road, through woodland, and on a grassy path over rolling green hills with stunning views of the Chiltern Hills.
The Ivinghoe Beacon Walk is the type of accessible countryside that soothes the city’s weary soul. Along the way look out for giant white lions, wild deer and romantic windmills.
A video I made while walking Ivinghoe Beacon.
The Ashridge Estate is a big ol’ place – a whopping 2,000 hectares in fact – and it’s yours to explore (for free!).
There are a whole heap of routes of varying lengths that take you off in all directions. We opted for the Bridgewater Monument North Trail which takes close to 4 hours.
Ivinghoe Beacon stands at 233 meters above sea level. It’s a prominent hill with fine views but the walk itself is not strenuous. Most of it is pretty flat which is probably why it’s a favourite with dog walkers.
An alternative route could add on nearby Pitstone Hill and take in the picturesque 17th Century Pitstone Windmill, one of the country’s oldest wirly things.
Getting Here & Away
A large National Trust Car Park is waiting to house your trusty steed whilst you stride out amongst the surrounding countryside. The best bit is its free parking. Happy days!
If you don’t have a car then Tring Station is your closest train stop. But it’s not that close. Although from there you can take in the Ashridge Estate and Ivinghoe Beacon Hill on a 11-mile looped walk.
As always I recommend you pack a few nibbles, a sneaky pack of Nik Naks or a cheeky Penguin or two. But don’t worry there is a cafe next to the Bridgewater Monument which does a solid breakfast roll. And once you’ve done there are a host of pubs nearby.
Intro – Triumphant Return to the Chiltern
I love London. I do. But to appreciate it you’ve got to leave it behind once in a while.
That’s what weekends are for. Get out to the country and shake off the city with a good arm-swinging walk. Today’s adventure was a joyful jaunt to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire.
After my Chess Valley Walk, I’d become quite enamoured with the idea of a return to the Chilterns and I’d heard from reputable sources that the Ivinghoe Beacon Walk was a thoroughly enjoyable day out.
Unlike my Chess Valley walk, this time I wasn’t going alone. My girlfriend Sara was along for the trip, safety in numbers and all. So we put the shimmering glass towers of London in our rearview mirror and headed off to Buckinghamshire for a dose of countryside.
I love a good large car park. I especially love a good free car park. And the National Trust Ashridge Estate Visitor Centre Car Park or the NTAEVCCP as everyone calls it for short is a great car park.
Not only was there ample space – this being a Saturday in November it probably wasn’t peak busy – there was also a nice and aptly named Ashridge Monument Café (formerly Brownlow Cafe).
Our breakfast at the Ashridge Monument Café
Now a word of warning, there’s only outdoor seating at this here cafe. This being November we thought about eating our breakfast rolls in the car before deciding that would’ve been a little sad for hardcore hikers like us. So we did a few star jumps and enjoyed our bites on the picnic bench.
I’m glad we did. Because for the next ten minutes, we witnessed what can only be described as a smorgasbord of every dog species under the sun parading past us either starting or finishing their walks.
Both animals and their people were in fine spirits and we got some licks from the dogs and “hellos” and “fabulous days” from the gentle folk of Buckinghamshire. All before we’d even started our walk.
Another word of warning, we got in before the rush but as we were leaving the queue for sarnies was fairly massive. So I imagine during the Summer it’s quite the wait. Although in summer they also have a resident ice cream van. So swings and roundabouts.
Our Ivinghoe Beacon Walk started and ended at the Bridgewater monument, a phallic-looking pillar jutting out of the grass raised in honour of Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater also known as the “Canal Duke” due to all the canals he built around the UK.
I mention this admittedly boring factoid not to look smart but because my friend Andy once fell in the Bridgewater Canal in Manchester. Hahahaha! Anyway I digress.
During the summer months April to October, the monument is open to the public and you can climb the 172 steps to the top. On a clear day, you can see the Shard glimmering in the sunlight. If you like that sort of thing. But it was November so we just looked up at the top, shrugged and moved on.
The Bridgewater monument
From the monument, we followed the signs and headed into the woodland for the first section of the walk. It was fairly flat going and we passed a photogenic old wooden shooting lodge along the way before reaching a small dwelling known as Clipper Down Cottage.
You’ve got a couple of options here, straight on will get you to the top quicker, while we veered to the left which eventually took us out of the woods and onto the field edge with views over to Pitstone Hill.
Keep heading up and you will eventually pass what’s known as Incombe Hole, a small steep-sided valley.
On the map was also something called Grim’s Ditch. We didn’t get to it but it sounded a bit, well, grim. Kinda like the place you might end up buried at the beginning of an episode of a gritty ITV detective drama.
It’s not, it’s a prehistoric earthwork. But still. Not for us this time.
Alongside a host of Bronze Age burial grounds, Income Hole and Grim’s Ditch are the type of thing that earns the whole Ivinghoe Hills area the honourable Site of Special Scientific Interest title.
Me in some woodlands
After Incombe Hole, which is less a hole and more a small valley, you will cross over Beacon Road which those with shorter legs or less time use to drive to a small car park much closer to the top.
Once over the road, any of the paths will take you to the trig point at the top. Look out for wildflowers and fluttering butterflies along the trail as you climb.
At the top, I discovered Beacon Hill has great views but doesn’t have a beacon, at least not anymore. There were just two stones on the ground. I was expecting a great big flashing pole-like thing you find at the top of the Wrekin. So I was a little confused.
It turns out the hill used to be part of an old signalling network using the tops of prominent hills to send messages. But now we have phones and there’s less invading Vikings, so it’s not so needed.
I got over my disappointment at the lack of beacon pretty quickly by nibbing on some scrumptious Nik Naks and set about hoisting my missus onto my shoulders so we could take my trademark mini-world photo.
Unfortunately, as I was lowering her I got my angles slightly wrong and managed to drop her flat on her face. Oops!
Classic You’ve Been Framed Material. Jeremy Beadle (RIP) would’ve loved it!
She took it well. Bless her. But I felt a bit bad. So I gave her the bite-sized Milky Way I’d kept tucked away in my pocket for emergencies. That seemed to work.
And the most important thing. The photo looks banging! As I’m sure you will agree.
There’s a trig point at the top. So we got to engage in another of my favourite things on a walk, pointing at things in the distance.
Often it’s just other hills you get to point at. Which is fun if you’ve been up them but a bit dull if not. From Beacon Hill, however, you can spot the cute little Pitstone Windmill Twirling below and something far more interesting. A very rare animal indeed.
Over on a hillside in the far distance, a good squint away is the Whipsnade White Lion. A giant 483-foot-long geoglyph.
Geoglyph is science talk for a giant thing on a hillside.
Now, this isn’t some mystical Iron Age place of worship. And it isn’t rocking a great NSFW penis like the Cerne Abbas Giant chalk figure in Dorset.
Nope, the White Lion of Whipsnade was a genius bit of marketing for Whipsnade Zoo. Completed in 1933 the lion was recently restored with 800 tonnes of chalk.
One story says that in addition to advertising the zoo, the lion was used to warn pilots not to fly too low over the Dunstable Downs area and scare the animals in the zoo.
In addition to the lion keep your eyes peeled on the walk for Ashridge wild deer, a type of fallow deer that roam the estate munching grass. For the twitchers amongst you (that’s birdwatchers not live streamers), look out for red kites, chiffchaffs and willow warblers. All call the Ashridge Estate home.
From the peak looking over the rolling greenery and chalk grassland of the Chiltern Hills, it’s easy to imagine England as it used to be before motorways carved up the landscape.
When human activity was a little slower. A little less active.
Ivinghoe Beacon is one end of The Ridgeway, an 87-mile long-distance path that runs from the village of Overton Hill in Wiltshire to the Ivinghoe Beacon here in Buckinghamshire, passing through the Chiltern Hills and several other landscapes on the way.
It’s been used for five millennia by travellers, farmers and armies. It’s known as Britain’s Oldest Road and it would take about a week to complete. Don’t worry dear readers it is very firmly on my “To-Walk List”.
Although 87 miles would require a lot of Nik Naks.
Note, dear readers, I’m not sponsored by Nik Naks, I just like them a lot. This blog is completely independent.
But imagine if I was sponsored by them. Life would be complete. I would’ve won.
On the way down to the National Trust car park we wandered through a golf course and ended up passing through the village of Aldbury where we saw with our eagle-like eyes the sign for a pub.
The Greyhound Inn is a proper English pub for a proper English bit of countryside. The food looked decent but we only had time for a celebratory pint. Just one now, we had some driving to do to get back to the city.
Another 20 minutes on from the Greyhound and we were back at the car around 4 pm just as the light started to fade as it does in the British wintertime.
We waved goodbye to the Ivinghoe Beacon and hit the road.
A terrible picture I took of the Greyhound Inn. I swear I only had 1 pint
The Chilterns are fast becoming my go-to place when I feel the need for an escape from London. They are basically on the doorstep and there is such variety.
The Ashridge House Estate is a fabulous location to see a little wildlife, take in some stunning views and discover some fabulous walks.
Ivinghoe Beacon is an enjoyable walk with a well-marked trail and views that are far more rewarding than you deserve as the climb itself is pretty easy.
The countryside here is so steeped in history that it’s impossible to be bored. Whether you head for a pub lunch or to explore a 17th Century windmill. You can’t really for too wrong.
Until next time happy hikers. Byeeeeeeeee!
This reflects the estimated time the majority of users will take on this trail. If you are slower, add time to the top-end figure. If you are fast, then you may complete this route faster than this time range.
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