It’s one of those late season sunny Sunday afternoons, when Ashridge visitors take in the fading English countryside – time to engage with them as volunteers.
Arriving at the Beacon car park, it’s full to over-flowing with cars, but few people – they were off perambulating around the Ivinghoe Hills on a regular Sunday walk. Dropping down into the coombe, striding across the arable fields cultivated by Mr Leach from Town Farm, rising up to Gallows Hill, and returning along the ridge to the Beacon – a one hour energetic stroll, walking in the footsteps of ancient drovers, pilgrims, traders, royalty and the clergy.
A party of young walkers were gathered around the new information board looking for a route back to the Monument – we would help them on their way. They were intrigued by the white blot on the hillside at Whipsnade. The lion’s head now showing up as a chalk hill figure following a make-over, and glistening in the late Autumn sunshine. They were from Switzerland and Czechoslovakia living in London, and found the Chiltern landscape different.
Time to move on to the next stop-over, to collect the litter from Steps Hill. Pulling into the car park a column of smoke could be seen across the road rising up from behind a large people-carrier. As this is a no-fire zone it needed a look. Two families with a toddler in tow had come prepared for a late lunch with their barbecue. The hubble bubble pipe is a giveaway. The lamb chops and naan bread are simmering on the embers and a delicious smell wafts across the grasslands. It seems rather churlish to talk about prohibiting fires at this point especially when they offer up a tasty treat! It’s a proper barbecue unit, not one of those disposable aluminium ones which burn the grass and end up in the hedgerow because it is too hot to handle. They are Persian, a proud people who left when the Shah was deposed – culturally different from present day Iranians.
It’s getting late so we move off to the car park at Pitstone Hill. This is a pleasant enough spot as car parks go, with a built-in picnic area surrounded by hedges. Aylesbury Vale District Council regularly cut the grass but they don’t touch litter – the Trust maintain the rights of way and remove any fly-tipping.. A regularly used area for dog-walkers because of the open access on the farmland where Mr Roe from Down Farm leaves some fields in winter stubble for the birds, and provides wide field margins encouraging wildlife and the dogs. The resident corn buntings had moved off to join the winter roost at Marsworth reservoir and all is quiet. Lots of day-walkers pass through this way, following the Ridgeway. A late lone walker is captivated by the resident kestrel swinging in for his last look before nightfall. Kestrels are birds of habit and the car park edge is on his daily round. He centres his last hovering at the bridleway gate in the corner. A bird of many names- hoverhawk, windsucker, windhover are among the country names to identify his distinctive hunting style. The short-tailed vole is the staple food – a luckless creature which unwittingly marks it’s path through the grass with urine. This reflects ultraviolet in the evening light that’s detectable by the windhover. The kestrel slips forward but the wind drops and he drifts homewards.
The sun is now dipping down behind the hill, as we spot movement on the summit – strange figures silhouetted against the sky, and there is music in the air. The Sundown Dancers from Ivinghoe are revelling – what a delight apart from one member flying a drone!
The volunteering shift is now over so we designate the Ivinghoe Hills as a litter-free zone!
To be continued….
Thanks to John Lewis- Stempel for his snippetts.