Sunday, May 5, 2013

STONE AGE WALK | UK's Dunstable Downs

Dunstable-Kensworth-Whipsnade area.
Dunstable Downs is a fine place from which to explore the Stone Age. It is the highest point in the East of England and commands views of five counties.

It is also a gliding and kite-flying destination, with a National Trust Visitors Center providing food and a gift shop. They sell kites at the kite-flying shop - simple ones and complex. If other kite-flyers are at work, this is  evidence of sufficient wind for kiting.

To get here, start with the M1 going north from London. Then at Harpenden, north of St. Alban's, Herts., follow the A5 northwest. When the A5 reaches Dunstable it makes a rough triangle with the B4540 and B4541 roads. Within this triangle with Dunstable at the top are the village of Kensworth and the Kensworth Quarry.

West of the B4541 is a smaller triangle that includes the Dunstable Downs, the Visitors Center and the historic Icknield Way, which was originally a path made by migrating herds of animals and then became a trade route. The chalky area was a good one for finding flint for arrows, other weapons and for starting fires. South of this smaller triangle is the Whipsnade Zoo.

There are three pleasant walks in the area, each of which can consume an hour or more. I have done parts of two of these walks and the entire third.
Northern direction (#1) on the Stone Age Icknield Way.

(#1) Along the ridge of Dunstable Down on the Icknield Way, going north from the Visitors Center - half an hour or more, depending how many of four destinations one visits and for how long. They are near one another, marked on the Dunstable Downs map available from the Visitors Center.

(#2) Along the ridge going south, the Ickneild way takes you to Whipsnade and the Tree Cathedral, which is the fifth destination on the Dunstable Downs map.

(#3) A walk along the Isle of Wight Road to the Village of Kensworth (home to a general store and the excellent Farmer's Boy restaurant), where there is a footpath that cuts through to a roundabout connecting B4540 and B4541, beyond which is the historic Old Hunters Lodge, close to the Tree Cathedral and the Whipsnade Zoo. This walk is the most complicated and requires a printout of the map provided here: