Ridgeway It's 87 miles from Wilts to Bucks, as the acorn flies, but only the last few are on my walkingagenda. The official path passes Tring station, easy. Up the road, up the track. beech Officially 'beech hanger' woodland, the best in Herts, that's Aldbury Nowers. Gnarled tree roots, budding ferns, supposed to be full of butterflies (but maybe the lady striding ahead scared them all off). skylark Above the grassland, one tiny bird sings its heart out, then swoops down. I ought to recognise it, don't - thankfully a crowd of excited ornithologists are on hand with binoculars and raised voices. chalk The escarpment goes on and on, tumuli above, broad views down across fields and flat distant villages. The postmill is almost 400 years old, on a wheat island surrounded by hedges. Climb the track above the dry valley... a glacier carved that.
Ivinghoe Up on the beacon, almost the top of the Chilterns. Not so far from the car park, so it's busy here, mostly families, even little princess Rosie can manage this. gliders Four men are hurling gliders off the escarpment into the thermals - they soar, they stall, they swoop, somehow they stay up. Unpowered flight only, insurance papers must be shown, aerial combat strictly prohibited. Easyjet Roaring engines descend, casting a moving shadow across a field of bright yellow rape. Luton airport's over that ridge, just beyond the Whipsnade chalk lion. Landing gear down. angry farmer The walk through the forest emerges in a farmyard. Big red sign on the barn says "the footpath now goes this way", but "this way" is ambiguous so I go the other. Two yappy dogs appear, followed swiftly by their yappy owner. "Oi, did you not see the sign? Next time you come this way, go that way." Two minutes later, the next ramblers receive the same frosty reception. lamb Mum chews in a field, littl'un rests contentedly in her shadow. bluebells A carpet of blue covers the Ashridge woodland, in selected glades, heads bowed in dappled sunlight beneath the beech trees. I'm not impressed - I walked to Emmetts Garden on Sunday, and the bluebells there were simplystunning. Egg Trail Hundreds of children, parents in tow, wander past clutching an official Cadbury's leaflet. Look, here's the answer Rufus, write it down. They're not venturing too far from their cars, are they? car park It's rammed, more crowded than the National Trust's chief marketing could ever have imagined. Bodies lounge across the clearing, it's a long wait for shepherd's pie, and don't even ask about the queue for the ladies loo. monument The Bridgewater Monument - a Doric colum - has 172 spiral steps. Hold tight on the upper platform beneath the copper flame, there's not much room. On a good day you can see Canary Wharf, but only when it's smog-free. Keep your fingers crossed you don't pass too many climbers on the way down. stocksAldbury village has a duckpond, two old pubs and a medieval place of punishment. They're an ancient monument, the old stocks, but too ancient to be functional, let alone touch. lolly The lady behind the counter in the village stores is chatty and lovely, though not overrun. If this were Midsomer Murders (and Aldbury has been), she'd so get it in part three. Tring It's a long way from the station to the town of the same name, far further than I was expecting. A two mile slog, across the canal, knowing it's still two miles back. quaggaBaron Rothschild loved his zebras, lived in the park nextdoor, started his collection aged 10. Now his taxidermy menagerie is an official outpost of the Natural History Museum, six galleries of stuffed cassowaries and tigers and slow loris. Stick it on your "to visit" list. whale Remember that bottlenose whale which swam up the Thames five years ago? It's here in Tring, or at least its skeleton is. And its dorsal fin, in a pickle jar. Good to see you again, ma'am.
PS If this rambling is of no interest whatsoever, perhaps today's the day you need my Olympic ticket tips.