Whipsnade and Dunstable Downs walk

Chilterns Gateway Centre, Dunstable, Bedfordshire LU6 2GY

Route details and mapDownload as a print friendly PDF
Northwards View from Dunstable Gateway Centre © Amanda Miller

Northwards View from Dunstable Gateway Centre

Picture of Duke of Burgundy Butterfly © Kate Sheard

Picture of Duke of Burgundy Butterfly

Watch the gliders take off and land at the bottom of Dunstable Downs © Kate Sheard

Watch the gliders take off and land at the bottom of Dunstable Downs

Whipsnade Tree Cathedral © Amanda Miller

Whipsnade Tree Cathedral

Chiltern Gateway Centre at Dunstable Downs © Amanda Miller

Chiltern Gateway Centre at Dunstable Downs

Route overview

A walk which takes in stunning views from Dunstable Downs, as well as tracking a route along part of the ancient Icknield Way.  There's a chance to rest and wonder at the Whipsnade Tree Cathedral before climbing up through Whipsnade Heath and returning to the Chilterns Gateway Centre. The view northwards from the Chilterns Gateway Centre is a good place to start and finish your walk.

Route details

See this step-by-step route marked on a map

Route of the Whipsnade and Dunstable Downs walk in Bedfordshire
  • Directions
  • Route
  • Bus stop
  • Parking
  • Toilet
  • Viewpoint

Start: Chiltern Gateway Centre car park, grid ref: TL008195

  1. From the car park, walk down past the Chilterns Gateway Centre towards the windcatcher, then turn left at the waymarker post onto the bridleway that runs alongside the hedgerow.

    Show/HideView north from Chilterns Gateway Centre

    The view northwards from the Chilterns Gateway Centre is a good place to start and finish your walk. From the windcatcher, watch gliders taking off from the fields below.

    Northwards View from Dunstable Gateway Centre © Amanda Miller
  2. Continue along the bridleway, which runs along the line of the Icknield Way, into the long grazing area and continue toward Bison Hill car park. The 'oldest road' in Britain, stretching from Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire through to Kettishall Heath in Norfolk, the Icknield Way consists of a network of pathways which date from Neolithic times and links the Ridgeway in the west to Peddlars Way in the east.

  3. On approaching Bison Hill car park, turn left and continue along the bridleway with hedgerows on both sides. This is a good example of a holloway - a track deepened by centuries of use and occasional clearance. It's believed to be a medieval route between Whipsnade and Eaton Bray.

    Show/HideChalkhill blue and Duke of Burgundy butterflies

    Look out for butterflies such as the chalkhill blue and Duke of Burgundy (pictured). Listen to larks ascending high above the chalk grassland and in June you can see wild orchids, including the common spotted orchid and the bee orchid.

    Picture of Duke of Burgundy Butterfly © Kate Sheard
  4. Continue along the bridleway as it opens out, passing the Whipsnade Zoo car park on your right. As you proceed along a housing boundary to your left, look out for the footpath sign to the left.

    Show/HideGliders

    Watch gliders taking off and circling over the vale of Aylesbury. They were originally towed up onto Dunstable Downs to be launched manually but now take off with the assistance of a winch or tow plane.

    Watch the gliders take off and land at the bottom of Dunstable Downs © Kate Sheard
  5. Turn left at the footpath waymarker and follow the path through a kissing gate, with a field on one side and fencing on the right. Follow the footpath through to the next gate, which leads to the Whipsnade Tree Cathedral.

    Show/HideWhipsnade Tree Cathedral

    Set in a hayfield as a memorial to lost friends in the First World War, the Tree Cathedral is laid out in the pattern of a medieval cathedral. Wander along the transepts of chestnut and tulip trees or along the wide Cloister Walk of ash trees, or simply sit and enjoy the tranquility of this unique memorial.

    Whipsnade Tree Cathedral © Amanda Miller
  6. Continue along the footpath with the Tree Cathedral on your left. Walk through the car park and keep to your left as you approach the B4540. Cross the road with care and proceed past the church and downhill, past the Old Hunters Lodge pub to the roundabout.

  7. Cross the roundabout with care and head towards Whipsnade Heath car park on your left. Follow the tarmac path and then take the footpath straight up through the woodland.

  8. Continue through the woodland and follow the footpath straight on to the kissing gate. Keep to the path as it runs alongside pasture and into a field, where it comes out onto a quiet road opposite Green End Farm.

  9. Cross the road and follow the footpath signs to the right of Green End Farm, then walk along the footpath, which traces a route round the edge of the field. Continue downhill and through to the kissing gate on your left. Walk diagonally uphill across Codlings Bank and through to the kissing gate in the chain link fence.

  10. Turn immediately left and follow the footpath down through the wooded area, past a small brick shed and onto the footpath by the quarry fence.

  11. Continue along the footpath and bear right to join the rising headland path along the left hand field edge, in the direction of a mixed woodland and tall aerial on the skyline.

  12. Follow the path into the copse and out onto the roadside, turning right to join Isle of Wight Lane. Proceed along the lane with care to the junction with the B4541 at Robertson Corner. Cross the road with care and return to the Chilterns Gateway Centre with it's café and toilets.

    Show/HideChilterns Gateway Centre

    Stop off at the Gateway Centre for a drink and bite to eat.

    Chiltern Gateway Centre at Dunstable Downs © Amanda Miller

End: Chilterns Gateway Centre and café, grid ref: TL008195

  • Trail: Walking
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Distance: 4.5 miles (7.2km)
  • Time: 2.5 hours
  • OS Map: Landranger 166; Explorer 181 and 193
  • Terrain:

    Parts of the walk can become muddy after wet weather; sturdy footwear is advised. Stiles, gates and some moderate slopes and steep gradients across grassland and woodland floors. Please keep dogs under close control, particularly around livestock, and don't let them foul on paths and around picnic areas.

  • How to get here:

    By foot: Footpaths from West Street and Tring Road, Dunstable

    By bike: Public bridleway from West Street in Dunstable and Whipsnade. Cycle parking available at the Gateway Centre

    By bus: Arriva 61, Luton station to Aylesbury, alight West Street, Dunstable. Daily, except Sundays. From here, you can join the walk at the Chilterns Gateway Centre

    By train: Luton station 7 miles (11km), from here take Arriva 61 bus service

    By car: On B4541 west of Dunstable and Whipsnade. Postcodes for Sat Nav: LU6 2GY or LU6 2TA for older versions

     

  • Facilities:

    National Trust car park - closes 6pm in summer and dusk in winter

    WCs, café & gift shop open daily 10am - 5pm (10am - 4pm in winter). Closed on 24 & 25 Dec).

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