Beyond the Great Ouse – exploring Bedfordshire’s other rivers
Bedfordshire’s best-known river is probably the Great Ouse which threads its way across the north of the county, through a valley with many pretty limestone villages.
However, Bedfordshire is home to more than one river and here we explore some of the walks and attractions along their routes.
The Upper Lea Valley walk starts at Leagrave Park. The park is home to Leagrave Marsh, a fragile wetland habitat which is home to several rare plants, and Wauluds Bank which is a Neolithic Henge close to the source of the river. The walk then heads towards past community gardens and orchards into Luton where the river cuts through Wardown Park and feeds the lake.
The Flit Valley walk allows walkers to explore Greensand Country by following the River Flit between Westoning and Silsoe through an area rich in history and wildlife. The 7.5 mile route encompasses peat bogs, ancient woodland and historic buildings. Flitwick Moor nature reserve is an important wetland habitat and a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
There have been watermills on the River Ivel at Stotfold since at least the time of the Domesday Book (1086). Today the restored Stotfold Mill is a heritage attraction open to the public. The Mill stands in an eight-acre Local Nature Reserve with native trees, hedges and a wildflower meadow. Ponds of varying depths benefit the local wildlife and there is a lovely one mile walk which meanders through the meadows and along the riverside. Stotfold’s conservation group, Teasel, have produced six short linked walks many of which also include stretches of the river.
Leighton Buzzard is home to the Ouzel Meadows, these flood regularly in autumn and winter but are dry throughout the summer and support a wide range of plants, birds such as kingfishers and herons, and bats. The seasonal flooding creates a special habitat where damp meadow species can thrive. There are a number of tracks across the meadows with links to neighbouring footpaths and The Grand Union Canal towpath.
The Hicca Way at Arlesey follows the River Hiz. The name draws on the history of King Offa of Mercia who founded a religious settlement in Hitchin. The path takes the route the Hicca tribe would have more or less followed from Hitchin to the Danish Fort near the south east corner of Henlow. The Old Moat Reserve is home to frogs, toads, newts and dragonflies while the Glebe Meadows are rich in wildflowers.