If you haven’t experienced the view from the National Trust visitor centre at the top of Dunstable Downs you should put that right very soon – it is spectacular! The gliders who enjoyed the strong thermals also had a good day but watching some of them coming in to land was alarming.
We went on this 6 mile walk on a beautiful Saturday morning. The wind was strong as we walked along the ridge but once we got over the top and down to the Tree Cathedral this improved, although the mud churned up by the recent rain presented something of a challenge. We enjoyed the fact that we were walking along the Icknield Way, one of the oldest trails in the UK – it was in existence before the Romans arrived.
The tree cathedral was planted by Edmund Blyth who served in the infantry in World War I and suffered the loss of dear friends Arthur Bailey and John Bennett, who died in the March retreat of 1918. By 1930 another WWI comrade, Francis Holland had been killed in a car crash and Blyth felt that all his friends deserved something more worthy in their memory. From 1930-1939, with the help of just one man, Albert Bransom, he began planting. Trees soar upwards in feathery arches – tall limes, dark cypresses and strong-veined hornbeam almost meeting in the middle – with cedars and cypresses standing sentinel at the ‘west front’, always the grand entrance to a cathedral.
It is beautifully kept and we also enjoyed the precision hedge cutting which was being done while we were there.
Shortly after our cathedral visit we enjoyed lunch in the Old Hunter’s Lodge in Whipsnade village and then continued our circular walk. Our substantial lunch gave us the fuel to climb back through Whipsnade Heath up to the NT visitor centre, where once again the wind almost blew us off the hill with the gliders, but we settled for a welcome cup of tea!
Written by Frances and Rebecca