aid-up members of the National Trust get an unguided tour of the landscape when visiting Ashridge – unless there are volunteer rangers on hand to spread the word. Visitors like to head for the hills to get the extensive views over the Aylesbury plain and are generally unaware of the flora and fauna that surrounds them, or the valuable work carried out by the volunteers to maintain a timeless landscape. No sooner than they leave the comfort of the car they are mesmerised by the sudden widening – and wilding – of the landscape. On a spring day the fresh green shades of the Coombe contrast stunningly with a clear blue sky, while in a summer heat-wave the freshness of the air on the Beacon is something to rejoice, along with the flowers and butterflies. In autumn it is the vista of the rusty orange hues which delight. And in winter it is not unusual for the ground to be blanketed in snow. It is their membership fees which pay for the upkeep of the habitat.
People like a walk on the wild side. They return with the expectation and subsequent relief that the hills are the same as they were when they last visited – forever and for everyone.
On a clear day at the summit they are treated to a 180 degree vista of an ever changing landscape up to thirty miles away. The Aylesbury vale scenery changes year on year with blots on the landscape. The loss of a Didcot power station over there and a Pitstone cement works here, replaced by an Ivinghoe solar farm here gleaming in the sunshine, and a lone statuesque wind turbine over there at Heath and Reach.
Apart from some soil erosion caused by the ever present walkers, the hills have not changed in over two thousand years, since the time of the Anglo Saxons when they occupied the hill fort on the Beacon in the iron age. George Bernard Shaw the writer thought it a bad idea for travellers to return to a once favoured spot because it would have changed for the worst, and they would be disappointed – not so with the Ivinghoe hills.
The hills have always been a sheep walk creating a fine sward, and there would have been some cows too. Being part of the extensive Ivinghoe common the local villagers were allowed to graze livestock there in the summer time, known as transhumance. Now that the cattle are back after a short absence the regular scene has been restored. The cattle today are the Lincoln Red Shorthorns, one of the oldest native breeds of beef cattle – a bit more frisky than the departed Belted Galloways.
Around the 1750’s the arable land east of Piccadilly Hill in the Coombe which can be seen today, was carved out of the common land. Fields were much smaller then and they each had a name so that workers knew where to go to cultivate. Two of the fields were named “Horse race piece”, confirming that there was an early race course on the common before cultivation took place. Truly a place for everyone on the hills!