Monday, 26 March 2012

Pitstone Common (Ashridge - Circular Walk)

In which the sun comes out and my tree painting friend and I wander around Ashridge on a brief tour of some Significant Trees of Awesomeness, and I am oddly grateful to be back at work.

Map: None used (eek!), although it's on good ol' Explorer 181
Distance: 2 miles (guesstimate)
Time:  45 mins -1 hour

Rating: Easy Walk

This walk wanders through part of the Ashridge Estate, and although I've tried to make it as accurate as possible I would like to place a small health warning on this walk - as my friend had to take me off the path to show me Significant Trees of Awesomeness several times, I may be a bit woolly here and there...

Starting at door the Bridgewater Monument, walk down the left hand side of the road towards the actual Manor house. After - maybe- 200m or so you will see a pond to the woods in your left, and bearing left into the woodland there is a signposted path. This is the one we took.

The path leads around to the left and you join a wide avenue through the trees. My friend seems quite happy to wander off into the woodland in search of exciting trees, which is probably why she paints them so well. I, however, am not so keen to bimble off into the woods without a map. I really like walking through woodland, but as long as I'm with people. If I'm on my own it often feels pretty menacing - probably some old evolutionary hangup I have. Maybe I have ancestors who were menaced by wolves in the woods.

Interestingly enough, I feel a lot happier if I'm in woods with water. Subconsciously I think this may actually have less to do with wolves and more to do with my atrocious sense of direction. To me, woodland looks like woodland looks like woodland, but if you have a river, you always know which direction you came from. It's harder to get lost.

Once you're in the woods having followed this path, you get a wide carriageway looking kind of path, rutted in places with the tracks of 4x4s.

The sun was shining and it was moderately warm, our children were being quiet and everything was pleasant. We had a bit of a moan about the usual things we moan about - people who seem to present that everything is amazing with being a parent, the judgement we perceive from others if we don't seem to be towing the line. It's not that we don't like our children, we do, we think they're great, I just think we're less inclined to wax lyrical about it. I knew this woman and I would get along the day she cocked an invisible shotgun at her son who had been awake 3 times in the night. Mothers rarely do that in public. We're all usually pretending we're brave little soldiers, then going home and crying.

Of course, I am now failing to tow the line by having gone back to work part time. Society seems difficult to know how to deal with us, really. It nods in approval at us for going back to work, and it also nods that we are partly sacrificing our careers for our children, but at the same time there is the sense that society sucks its teeth at us for exactly the same reasons. All I can say is that I think part-time work is best for me. It might not be best for everyone, but oddly - and unexpectedly - I'm really grateful to be back at work. At work, there are rules. The hours I'm supposed to be there are clearly delineated, and the expectations of me are made clear. People tell me what to do, I do it, they don't give me shit. What they don't do is throw 4 different advice books at you, conflicting Health Visitor advice, and no-one spends time posting articles on Facebook about how what I've been doing is wrong.  It is, I must admit, a refreshing change. If the Chap didn't howl every time I dropped him off at nursery, I would be completely satisfied.

In due course, pass a turn off to the right and then take a marked path to the left further on. Continue along this path and (this is where is gets a bit hazy, so forgive me) I think it will eventually lead you left to one of the Significant Tree is Awesomeness much admired by my friend. This was her daughter's Castle Tree, and it sits in the middle of the path along what used to be a boundary line for the old Roman farms that used to exist on Ashridge. Standing next to this tree and looking to the left and right, you can see the bump of the earthwork that indicated the boundary lines. The trees all along it are really old and gnarled, and - so I was told - are all pretty old because, being on the boundary line, were all left to indicate... well, the boundary.
Middle right, the rooty hand clutching at the soil...

We then took at detour off the path to view another Significant Tree - heading right from the Castle Tree, you pick your way through the undergrowth to a huge rooty thing that was festooned with blue rope for swings. It's hard to explain quite how big it was. I was also particularly menaced by the fact it clearly has a five-fingered hand grasping onto the Earth. I am half convinced it uproots itself and night and wanders round the woodland.

Back on the path with the Castle Tree, we followed the path through Pitstone Common until a path marked by a post with a mushroom on it branches off it. This path bears right and I was surprised to find brought us back to the other side of the pond we had gone past about 45 minutes earlier, and lead us back to the car park. It's a nice wander, on the whole, made even more pleasant by sunshine and a spot of putting the world to rights!

Things I Learnt

  • The woodland at Ashridge is all pretty new, as the land was farmed for a long time after the Romans stopped. The oldest trees are the ones along the boundary lines.
  • My sense of direction, poor at the best of times, completely deserts me in woods.
  • For a couple of years I have been a total wazzock with regards to Ashridge, taking the same dull path every time. I am really excited to have been shown other routes and find other things!