Oakman Series – 3 Ampthill

Wilkes Walks is based in Berkhamsted alongside our first walking holiday called The Charming Chilterns. Our hotel there is the classic coaching Inn called The Kings Arms, now one of the family of Oakman Inns Pubs, Restaurants and hotels. Earlier this year Oakman asked us to write a series of promotional touristic itineraries for a long weekend at some of their hotels. Amphill is the third in a series based from their accommodation there, called The White Hart

This is also an example of the experiences on offer  on some of the Wilkes Walks tours:

Catherine's of Aragon's cross

ARRIVAL DAY – Friday ARRIVAL

The small and friendly town of Ampthill sits deep in the heart of Bedfordshire, with The White Hart at the centre of activities there since the 18th Century. For the traveller there are many splendid options, both close by and further afield. Once the location of a Palace used for hunting, the Royal House at Ampthill was a favourite haunt of King Henry VIII. His first wife, Catherine of Aragon, used the Palace as a refuge whilst Henry sought an annulment to their marriage. Today the Palace is gone but the site is marked by two stone crosses within Ampthill Great Park.

High on the Greensand Ridge, this is a place of great natural beauty whose stunning views are only 10 minutes’ walk from the hotel. On arrival, though, why not explore the ‘town trail’, starting from Waitrose. Alternatively, children might enjoy investigating the town using Treasure Trails. Other important sites in town include the 800-year-old Market, St. Andrews Anglican Church, and Cooper’s Hill wildlife nature trust reserve. A tourist information service is available from The Hub, in the Great Park.

If you arrive early in Ampthill, a visit to the county town of Bedford could be an option for you. Bedford takes its name from an ancient passing place on the river Great Ouse, which meanders through the southern part of town and provides pleasant daily walking options for Bedfordians. It’s just 20 minutes by car, or 30 minutes by bus, to the centre of town. In Bedford, you’ll find history everywhere. The king of Anglo-Saxon Mercia, Offa, remembered for the construction of a 150-mile dyke forming the Wales/ England border, is believed to have died in Bedford around 796AD. In the 17th Century, the town’s most famous citizen, preacher John Bunyan, wrote his famous book ‘The Pilgrims Progress’ while in gaol. This book has been translated into more languages than any other, save the Bible, and you can find out all about his life and imprisonment from visiting the John Bunyan Museum. The second of the town’s museums, ‘The Higgins Bedford’, is free and is a combination of the art and the history of Bedford. Cecil Higgins was another famous Bedfordian, who owned a brewery and turned collector of paintings, ceramics, and ‘objets d’art’. Described as “a hidden gem”, this museum gives you the chance to dig deeper into the history of Bedfordshire. The Panacea Museum tells the story of the eccentric Panacea Society. Started in the 1920s, the society claimed to offer a form of spiritual healing – the ‘panacea’ or cure for all illnesses. Rather than make your own way round the town, a good way to quickly get under the surface of Bedford would be to hire a walking guide.

DAY TWO – Saturday WOBURN, LOCAL WALK, BLETCHLEY PARK

Why not set off on safari in deepest Bedfordshire, and have a fun family day out at Woburn Safari Park? There, you’ll encounter wild animals from around the world, close up and from the safety and comfort of your car. Learn more about the wildlife from a daily programme of keeper talks and demonstrations, then work off your lunch in a Swan Pedalo on the lake. All this is available just 10 minutes’ drive from the White Hart in Ampthill. Alternatively, a magical family fun day can be had at Gulliver Land, especially suited for children between 2-13.

Woburn Abbey, a huge rolling parkland filled with deer, is the top visitor attraction in the area, and for good reason, although there has not been an Abbey on the site for over 500 years. Cistercian monks traveling from Yorkshire originally founded an Abbey here in 1145, and stayed until 1538, when Henry VIII initiated the dissolution of the monasteries and the Chief Abbot is said to have been hung from an old oak tree outside the Abbey gates. Despite this, the name Abbey stuck. The King bequeathed Woburn Abbey and its estates to John Russell of Chenies who became the first Earl of Bedford. In 1694, the family were given the title of Duke and the Abbey is still the home of the Duke and Duchess of Bedford. Woburn Abbey was visited by Queen Elizabeth I in 1572, and King Charles I in 1645. In 1746, the then Duke decided to rebuild the House in a Venetian Palladian style, and the white facade of the house is now incredibly striking in the lush green Bedfordshire landscape. One of the most famous family members was Mary, wife of the 11th Duke and otherwise known as the ‘The Flying Duchess’. Known for her incredible piloting legacy, she was also a keen mountaineer, canoeist, ornithologist, and photographer, as well as being responsible for opening a Red Cross hospital in Woburn village prior to the first World War. The drive into Woburn Abbey is through the 3000 acre ‘Deer Park’, home to nine species of deer. A visit to the house is over three floors and showcases some classic rooms and art collections. The Long Gallery houses the famous picture of Queen Elizabeth I by George Gower, the ‘Armada Portrait’, and Canaletto paintings abound in the amazing dining room. The grounds of Woburn Abbey were designed by the last great English landscape designer of the 18th Century, Humphry Repton. After a tour of the house, enjoy refreshments in the Duchess tearoom outside, before heading to the gardens where there is a Hornbeam maze to negotiate, Kitchen Gardens, and beautiful overflowing herbaceous boarders in summer.

Another option in fine weather would be a hike: a circular walk from Ampthill to Maulden using the Greensands Ridge. If you chose this option, you wouldn’t need the car, but you’d see plenty of great views, and have a day of fresh air on this 7-mile walk. The route passes the ruins of Houghton House, which is free to enter. Set high up on the hill, its wide vistas look north towards Bedford, with information boards available or an audio tour provided by Historic England.

Alternatively, the vibrant heritage attraction, Bletchley Park, is 25 minutes to the West by car. Home to the secret WWII codebreakers, whose work was essential to shortening the war, the house holds fascinating stories, and there is plenty to see and do for all ages.

DAY THREE – Sunday SHUTTLEWORTH or WREST PARK

The Shuttleworth Estate, located 12 miles to the East, in the little chocolate box village of Old Warden, is set in a forgotten part of scenic Olde England. There is such a variety of things to do and see here, including the Shuttleworth Collection. This houses the oldest flying aircraft in the world, from 1909, amongst over 50 vintage airworthy aeroplanes, and a collection of vintage cars, motorcycles, tractors, and steam engines. Next to the collection is the 9-acre Shuttleworth Swiss Garden, designed in the 1820s Regency fashion for landscapes in the alpine style, and it may be possible to visit the beautiful Shuttleworth House. There are extensive parklands, playgrounds, and paddocks included in your ticket, as well as a developed play area for children of all ages, picnic areas, a café, and numerous local walking options to suit the most relaxed or energetic rambler. There are often events held within the ground, so check to see if your visit corresponds with one of these. The Hare and Hounds in Old Warden is a great place to stop and reflect on your day, before the journey home.

Alternatively, after just 10 minutes’ drive East from the hotel, you can be at Wrest Park, one of English Heritages finest properties. The De Grey family established the Manor of Wrest as their main residence in the 14th Century. The current Wrest House was built in the 18th Century, in the French Chateaux style, and sits alongside formal Gardens restored to their original 17th Century design. The House is at one end of a stunning vista which partly supports the ‘Long Water’, and beyond is the spectacular Archers Pavilion. Hidden gems are to be discovered during exploration of the grounds, like the Chinese bridge and temple, or the ornate marble fountain. As always, the history is brought to life when you join a guided tour, or follow an audio tour included in admission price. At Wrest Park, there is a Café, and shop at the entrance.  

WWII Aeroplane

FINAL DAY – Monday

If you fancy a further excursion, why not pay a visit to Twinwood, the old RAF airfields? The control tower there is now converted into a museum honouring the famous wartime bandleader, Glen Miller, and his Orchestra. Bedford was the secret location of the BBC during WWII, and this was where Glen was based before his fateful last journey in 1944.  

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