Living Countryside Awards 2023 – the walks
For our Living Countryside Awards judging team, one of the joys of the visits is getting out and about exploring sites across Bedfordshire.
During June 2023 we visited 18 projects spanning the whole county. Inspired by those visits we’ve curated a set of six walks for you to enjoy.
Lacemaking and thatching
The inspiration for the first two walks came from meeting people passionate about traditional, local crafts.
Aragon Lacemakers engage the public with both the history and craft of lacemaking. A successful bid from the Bedford High Street Action Zone Fund enabled them to make a video capturing the recent history of lacemaking and the High Street. Lace items made by members are currently form part of a colourful display at The Higgins, Bedford, showing the beauty of today’s lace. The group are also inspiring the next generation through workshops and their Young Lacemakers groups.
One of the Bedfordshire villages associated with lacemaking is Turvey. Some fascinating local history can be found on the village website.
A leaflet with a six mile circular walk can be downloaded here: Turvey Circular Walk (PDF)
Or you can take a virtual tour of the village before exploring it for yourself.
Chris Dodson’s re-thatching works in Bedfordshire have been focused on ensuring that the roof is renewed so it is aesthetically pleasing, long lasting and above all functional. Work is carried out sympathetically with the building, complying with guidance notes issued by Historic England. Local suppliers of both straw and water reed are used as much as possible. Sustainability also includes passing on skills and knowledge to the next generation of thatchers.
One Bedfordshire village particularly associated with thatched buildings is Old Warden. Most of the houses originally belonged to the estate. In the early 19th century, they were all modified by the 3rd Lord Ongley in a picturesque style
A leaflet with a seven and a half mile circular walk which takes in the villages of Old Warden, Northill and Ickwell Green can be downloaded here: Old Warden Walk (PDF)
More walks can be found on the village website.
If you visit the nearby Swiss Garden, you’ll find some of the garden buildings are also thatched.
Exploring the countryside
The choice of these walks were inspired by the countryside near two projects.
Hay Lane Flowers provide high quality cut flowers with minimal air miles and all plastic and insecticide free. They have recently acquired another acre of land where they are opening a new flower field for PYO and community events, such as picnics, treasure hunts and outdoor yoga classes. Hay Lane Flowers also provide student work placements, training and mentoring, along with freelance opportunities. They work with local businesses and Bedford town centre organisations to enhance the urban environment through projects such as the Giant Christmas Wreath.
Visiting Hay Lane Flowers took us to Stagsden with its rolling farmland landscape and wooded areas.
A leaflet with a choice of four and half or nine mile circular walks can be downloaded here: West of Stagsden (PDF)
Barton Hill Farm near Lilley is an arable farm which takes increasing the biodiversity on their land seriously. They are adding new habitats, creating environmental features and maintaining hedgerows sympathetically. Wildlife is encouraged through lapwing nesting sites, barn owl boxes, bat boxes and over 40 “skylark plots” which are used by skylarks and hares for foraging and sun bathing. Education is a key part of their environmental work and they run farm walks and work with local schools to help children understand where their food comes from.
The Chilterns Society have produced two walks which explore the area. The Chalk Hills Walk has two and five mile options. The Lilley and Warden Hill walk is five miles. Both enjoy views of the distinctive chalk and farmland landscape.
Managed by friends
A number of projects were managed, or part managed, by active friends groups. Here we share two walks from opposite ends of the county.
The Friends of Harrold-Odell Country Park are a group of volunteers that support all aspects of work in the park. For four days each week, they help with practical projects that benefit wildlife, maintain and enhance habitats and make the park more accessible and safer for all users. They help look after woodland, wildflower meadows, hedgerows, a community orchard, river meadow, wet woodland, lakes and river habitat. The Friends have paid for volunteer training and supported people getting experiences helping them back into work. The group has been instrumental in the park being awarded 15 green flags in a row.
You can find out more about walks in the country park on their website.
A six mile circular walk taking in the villages of Odell and Harrold can be downloaded here: Harrold Odell Circular Walk (PDF)
The Friends of Studham Common was formed in 1997 to restore this neglected green space. Guided by expert conservationists, its volunteers have restored around 500 metres of hedgerows, reclaimed lost grasslands and woodland glades, re-opened footpaths and bridleways and installed nesting boxes to encourage wildlife. The Common’s varied habitats support an impressive range of flora and fauna which includes rare species such as skylarks, hazel dormice and orchids. Its hay meadows provide a great habitat for butterflies, other insects and nesting birds. Today Studham Common is a much valued and well used green space.
There is a one and a half mile circular walk round the Common – the leaflet includes information about what wildlife you might spot. Studham Common Walk (PDF)