Ivinghoe Hills butterfly walk
Ivinghoe, Buckinghamshire (near Tring, Hertfordshire)Route details and mapDownload as a print friendly PDF
This walk reveals all the butterflies known from the Ivinghoe Hills, including the rare Duke of Burgundy and other specialists of rough chalk downland such as chalkhill blue, dark-green fritillary and marbled white. The lower slopes hold one of the strongest colonies of Duke of Burgundy left in England. Also look out for dingy and grizzled skippers, brown argus and green hairst
- Bus stop
Start: National Trust Steps Hill lower car park on west side of C road (Beacon Road), grid ref: SP964157
From the south-west corner of the grassy Steps Hill car park on the west side of the road, take the public footpath by the large brown sign marking the old military training area. Follow this recently widened path as it meanders through glades in scrubby woodland, turning right onto the bridleway before the crest of the escarpment. Follow this bridleway, through scrub and young oak woodland, passing the first gate out on to the downs on your left.
A general interest area, with speckled woods, gatekeepers, meadow browns, ringlets and small Essex and large skippers. Brimstones, commas and peacocks patrol in spring, and red admirals in late summer.
Take the second gate on your left, by another large brown sign, onto the down above Incombe Hole. You don't need to go down into the steep combe of the Hole. Instead, follow vague sheep tracks that run above the right-hand crest of Incombe Hole, past isolated scrub bushes. Head for the ancient earthwork (embankment and ditch system) than runs down the spur on the right side of the combe. Follow this ditch almost down the scarp slope to the bottom, but bearing right to cut across to the vehicle track that runs along the foot of the escarpment, joining the track to the right of a cattle trough.
Look for dark-green fritillaries, painted ladies and small tortoiseshells on the thistle patches just inside the gate on your right. The embankment and ditch leading down the spur is a good area for grizzled and dingy skippers in spring.
By the fence, bear right along a chalky track that runs along the foot of the downland slope. Carry on exploring this track until you reach a rickety gate.
A good general area for chalk grassland butterflies and six-spot burnet moths. Look for male Duke of Burgundies in the more sheltered hollows, especially past the cattle trough.
After a stile by the rickety gate, turn right up a sunken track sheltered by tall bushes. Here you have an option to make a detour before turning right: carry on along the slope bottom path, through a shady section with a badger's sett into a large paddock of rough grassland and bushes. This is a good area for dark-green fritillary and chalkhill blues on the shorter turf upslope. Then retrace your steps and turn left up the sunken track.
The sunken track leading uphill is good for Duke of Burgundy, especially the broad open bay on the right just past a cattle trough on the left. The linear bay is a gathering ground for Burgundy males. Look on the bushes in spring for green hairstreaks too. Further upslope, the track leads past short turf banks, just before a bend in the road. Chalk blues fly over the short turf banks in August.
Just before the road bend, bear right to pick up the vehicle track that leads up along the scarp slope crest southwards. (You can do another detour here: cross the road bend carefully, follow the broad chalky path for 110yds (100m), but then veer off left to explore short turf banks and gulleys, before recrossing the road and rejoining our route). On the vehicle track, ignore the footpath leading off to the right and carry on up the steep slope through open grassland.
A short, general interest section, with marbled whites, gatekeepers and other butterflies. (The detour will reveal more chalkhill and common blues, small heath, brown argus and Duke of Burgundy).
Just before the track disappears into scrub, fork left down a bumpy track that ambles through glades amongst hawthorn scrub. Then turn left to join a rutted track, which leads back to the car park where you began.
The grassy, bramble-filled glades offer nectar and shelter to a great variety of butterflies, including species like peacock, red admiral and small tortoiseshell, gatekeeper, marbled white, and large skipper. This is also a good area for birds, such as the willow warbler.
End: National Trust Steps Hill lower car park on west side of C road (Beacon Road), grid ref: SP964157
- Trail: Walking
- Grade: Easy
- Distance: 2 miles (3.2km)
- Time: 3 hours
- OS Map: Explorer 181; Landranger 165
Circular route down, along and back up the Chilterns escarpment, using the more gentle inclines. Some muddy paths, brambles and prickles.
- How to get here:
By foot: Off the Icknield Way east of Ivinghoe
By bike: Access on road only to the Ivinghoe Hills via B489 or B4506 (both leading to Beacon Road). No cycle trails along the walk
By bus: Bus stop on B489 above Ivinghoe Aston, within a mile or so of the route
By train: Tring, 2 miles (3km)
By car: Turn south off B489 or west off B4506. Park in the bottom, southern end, of the National Trust car park on the west side of this C road (Beacon Road)
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