Autumn colour trail at Ashridge
This route takes you through some of the most spectacular woodland and parkland at Ashridge.
Stunning views of Ashridge's autumn splendour
Every corner you turn, or hill you climb, will give you more breathtaking views of Ashridge in autumn. You will see some of the best of the autumn colours in the less-trodden areas of the estate.
Ashridge Estate Visitor Centre, grid ref: SP970130
Facing the visitor centre, turn left and walk round the back of the car park towards the gate. Beyond the gate, follow the path alongside the meadow.
When you reach the corner of the meadow, continue straight on into the woods. The path bears slightly left eventually passing the edge of an area of recent coppicing on the right. Visit this area again in spring to see the bluebells.
When you arrive at Five-ways - so called because five paths meet here - take the path straight on, though it does bear slightly right (this would be the third exit if it were a roundabout). Following this path you should soon be able to see open fields ahead and to the left, through the trees. These are the old dairy fields and frequently contain livestock as well as fallow deer so please keep dogs on leads. The footpath comes very close to the corner of the field but do not turn left alongside the field, instead continue straight on the main track.
Before you reach the road coming up from Aldbury, you will come to a crossroad where you will see a number of waymarkers. Take the track to your left following the footpath signs into mixed woodland. Soon you will see traffic on the B4506 through the trees. Before reaching the road you will pass a large pit and an enormous ancient beech tree at the field edge to your left.
Much of the Ashridge Estate is common land and these large pits scattered across the landscape are thought to be connected with commoners' rights to extract raw materials from the commons. Some of them are known to be clay pits used in the brickmaking industry which flourished here at one time.
Take care as you cross the B4506. On the other side you will find yourself in a small National Trust car park. There are several paths at the back of this car park, two of which are clearly visible but the others less so. Take the well-trodden path, called Lady's Walk, close to the National Trust sign. The left-hand side of the path is flanked by a large boundary embankment, on top of which are a number of ancient beech trees. To your right you will see a group of veteran sweet chestnuts and several pits. Please stay on the footpath and do not climb the bank as it is a delicate archaeological feature which is being worn away by footfall. Approximately 330yd (300m) further on you will begin to see a field ahead and to the left - keep this field on your left. The isolated trees you can see in this field are remnants of parkland planting.
Lady's Walk is one of the most spectacular areas of the estate during the autumn.
Before reaching the corner of the field you will notice that several paths converge. From the right you will see a path flanked by an avenue of silver birches coming down the hill. Ignore this one and take a similar one straight ahead, also flanked by silver birch, which soon veers to the right, away from the field. As this path begins to rise slightly it bends to the left and in a few yards you will start to see the outline of Woodyard Cottage through the trees. Continue forward as the path skirts to the right of the cottages. Ignore a new path to the right and continue turning right onto a well-surfaced track and follow it to Great Coldharbour Farm.
Deer in the autumn woods
If you are lucky you may catch glimpses of muntjacs or the fallow deer herd through the trees. In autumn the fallow deer are particularly active as the bucks are busy trying to attract during the rut.
In front of the farm is a crossroads with way markers. Turn left onto a well-trodden path and take the left-hand option when you reach a fork in the path. Follow this path until you see an open field ahead - this is part of Berkhamsted Common. On entering the field, turn left and keep to the field margin along this edge. In summer, this area is alive with a variety of butterflies.
Continue along the field edge, ignoring several paths to the left, until you reach the corner of the field where you should find a bridleway signpost set back. Follow the path straight on, as marked, until it leaves the field, passes through a narrow stretch of woodland and emerges onto College Road which passes in front of Ashridge House. Cross the road and continue straight ahead, up hill on a surfaced path marked 'Private road, no vehicular access'. Keep on following the permissive bridleway sign towards Little Gaddesden. As the road reaches Roddinghead House, it divides in two - keep left alongside the house. The path soon blends into a narrow bridleway with a large field visible over the hedge to the right - this is the South Park.
Leave this narrow bridleway through a kissing gate; please remember to keep your dog on a lead in this area as it is often grazed by cattle and livestock. Follow the path across the field as directed. There are a number of beech trees here so take the opportunity to enjoy the view and the splendid autumn colours down the valley towards Nettleden. Follow the track down the field keeping the boundary of Ashridge Management College on your left. There are many beautiful mature trees inside the boundary and you will catch glimpses of the house itself through the branches. At the far side of the field pass through a gate into another open field and continue forwards following a bridleway sign around the contour of the land into Golden Valley.
There are a number of young 'boxed' trees in this area. The boxes protect the trees from deer and cattle damage. These protected trees are part of the ongoing project to re-establish the historical parkland planting.
Cross the track which dissects the valley from left to right, following the line of the valley itself. Continue to follow the valley as it winds upwards until you reach a tarmac road.
Golden Valley was constructed by 'Capability' Brown in the 18th century when there was a fashion for naturalistic landscape design which favoured vistas and open parkland. The valley was reshaped by removing trees from the bottom and the sides and thinning sections higher up the slopes to allow glimpses of Ashridge House through the trees.
Cross the road by the Ashridge Estate boundary trail sign and follow the worn track ahead which goes slightly up hill. There is a bridleway sign hidden in the grass at the top right-hand side of this little path. You now have an open field in front of you with a golf green below and to the right. Turn left and skirt the edge of the field.
When you reach the top corner of the field you will find yourself at the edge of the great lawn, which is covered in golf flags. Stop a moment and immerse yourself in the view of the house. You will notice a track coming from the left and crossing in front of you like a T-junction. Turn right, skirting the edge of the great lawn and heading for a small stand of trees. Keeping these trees to your right and moving away from the house, continue to follow the path through an open area then bear left into a group of impressive ancient sweet chestnuts. Pass through the trees to the iron railings round the golf course. Keeping this railing to your left, follow the path until you reach a sign directing you towards the National Trust Visitor Centre and Bridgewater Monument. Follow this sign.
Colorful sentinels en route
There are beech, oak and lime along the final stretch of the trail from Ashridge House to the visitor centre, each adding their unique shades to the overall colour palette
Turn left onto Prince's Riding and walk towards the monument which you can see in the distance. Don't forget to look behind you to see Ashridge House framed by beautiful autumn colours. You will need to cross two roads, taking great care, before reaching the visitor centre where the trail ends.
View from above
If you have time then make the most of the opportunity to climb the monument where you can really appreciate the stunning views and take in Ashridge's autumn splendour.
Ashridge Estate Visitor Centre, grid ref: SP970130
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