A Pilgrim's Progress Through Ampthill
Route type: Hike
Distance: 10.79km, 6.70 miles. Like (6)
Ampthill gained its charter for a weekly market as far back as 1219, and its park was used by Henry VIII for hunting (Catherine of Aragon lived in a castle here during their divorce). However, most of the fine period buildings that surround the Market Place and line Church Street, in particular, date from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Ampthillâs location on a prominent greensand ridge made it a popular stop-off for travellers on coaching routes, while today itâs more notable for an inordinate number of antique shops. To the north, and just off the walk, is Houghton House, built in 1615 for the Countess of Pembroke and systematically dismantled and emptied 179 years later by the Duke of Bedford. The shell of what must have been a fine building is still worth inspecting, especially as the views across the county from its open hilltop location are first rate. Bunyanâs Spiritual Purpose. Houghton House was supposedly the inspiration for âHouse Beautifulâ, and a nearby stretch of Bedford Road the âHill Difficultyâ, in John Bunyanâs Pilgrimâs Progress. This famous work of spiritual allegory, an ostensibly simple tale of a pilgrimâs daily encounters as he wanders through the local countryside, was first published in 1678, since when it has been translated into more languages than any other book except the Bible (the John Bunyan Museum at Bedford has more than 170 translations). John Bunyan was born in 1628 at Elstow, near Bedford, the son of a tinker, and initially followed in his fatherâs footsteps. But seeking deeper, more spiritual explanations about heaven and earth he turned to the newly formed independent religious congregations that were springing up around Bedford. When laws were passed in an attempt to thwart the dissenting congregations, Bunyan refused to comply and was jailed for continuing to deliver public sermons. He spent the next 12 years in prison, during which time he wrote a prolific amount of papers and books, including the Pilgrimâs Progress, and on release spent the rest of his days preaching and public speaking. While you're there: If you want to find out more about John Bunyan, visit the John Bunyan Museum on Mill Street in Bedford (open Tuesday to Saturday, March to October), housed in the impressive Free Church. What to look for: Two areas of woodland are touched on in this walk. Kingâs Wood, owned by Bedfordshire County Council is run as a nature reserve, while the Forestry Commissionâs much larger Maulden Wood contains waymarked walking trails. Where to eat and drink: In Ampthill, The Old Sun and Engine and Tender (both on Woburn Street) are full of character, while The Cottage Bakeryâs Church Street premises has a small coffee shop at the rear. The White Hart at Maulden is an attractive thatched pub, while The George serves food daily and welcomes families. Directions: From the Market Square in the centre of Ampthill walk east along Church Street and left to reach the handsome Church of St Andrew. Go along Rectory Lane, to its left and, at the end, go left through a gap by Rectory Cottage for the lovely Holly Walk. At the far end cross the road and turn right. Walk up the pavement and, at the top of the bend, cross back over to join a concrete lane opposite. To visit the remains of Houghton House fork left by some houses, otherwise fork right to the reservoir gates where you switch to the farm track the other side of the hedge. Walk along this panoramic hilltop track to Kingâs Wood, a locally run nature reserve. Go through the gate to the right and follow the path around the edge of the wood (or there is a parallel path through the trees if you prefer). After 0.25 mile (400m) turn right for a wide track that crosses first open fields, then Brickhill Pastures farmyard, then follows its drive to the lane at the end. Go left and, just before the turning for South Limbersey House, turn right on a public footpath across the field just to the right of the buildings. Follow this across and down to a kissing gate, then along a field-edge path to go through another gate. If you want to shorten the route by 1.5 miles (2.4km) go straight on to reach Maulden church, otherwise turn left through a further gate for a shady path to Maulden Wood. At the junction of tracks by its entrance turn first right for a clear bridleway that ends up skirting the southern edge of the woodland on an undulating fenced route. At the eye-catching octagonal lodge (private) turn right and walk along the track via a picnic area with wooden sculptures, and all the way down to join the surfaced lane at the bottom by Green End Farm. After 220yds (201m) go up the steps in the grassy embankment on the right for a waymarked route around the right-hand side of Old Farm. Bear left beyond the farmhouse to continue through fields, cross the end of a drive and another short field to reach St Maryâs Church at Maulden. Follow the surfaced path out of the far side of the churchyard (the wide black gate beyond the mausoleum) and down to the road. Turn right to walk along George Street through Maulden. After 300yds (274m), just before Cobbitts Road, turn right along a narrow walkway between houses. Where it veers left, go straight on past the end of a house to reach the road, and cross over. Continue through fields, to the left of Kings Farm and, at the end of a narrow fenced enclosure, go along a short green lane. Turn left at the junction of routes at the end, and after following successive fieldedges bend left on a track and, just before a ruined barn, turn right for a path that eventually drops down to Gas House Lane. Go left, then right to follow the main road back into Ampthill.