In the footsteps of Capability Brown
Discover The Golden Valley, a hidden gem of the Ashridge Estate, on this 4.3 mile walk. Designed by the famous ‘Capability’ Brown this masterpiece ranks amongst his finest works. Following historic rides and paths, this route takes you through the faded grandeur of Ashridge Park with stunning views of Ashridge House and the historic deer park. A shorter route is included if you would prefer to just visit the Valley. For this route we suggest you park at point 11 on the map.
Ashridge Visitor Centre, grid ref SP 971131
With your back to the Bridgewater Monument, walk down what was originally part of Prince's Riding but is now known as Monument Drive, towards the B4506.
Cross over the (always busy) B4506 and head around to the left of the wooden fence that blocks your path. This ‘deer leap’ was part of the perimeter fence of the deer park, which you have just entered. Follow Prince's Riding all the way to the sign for Ashridge House, a short way before the metal fence.
This grand, grass ride is one of the oldest Parkland features at Ashridge and dates back to the seventeenth century - not long after the English Civil War. The avenue of beautiful veteran trees frames the view from Ashridge House to the Bridgewater Monument which commemorates Francis, the ‘Canal Duke’. It was never intended to be used as a path but it makes a very pleasant walk.
Turn right onto the surfaced path around the golf course green. At its end, follow the rough track into the copse of trees ahead. Here, do take a minute to admire the ancient Sweet Chestnut trees. Follow this track along the boundary between the great lawn (often marked out as a sports field) and the wilder grass until you come to the tree-line in front of you.
This is the first of Brown’s work we encounter on the walk and as always, he fools you into thinking that you are seeing an entirely natural scene. In actual fact, he shaped these copses by felling the rest of the woodland that encircled the house. He hated the straight lines of older features like our Prince’s Riding and replaced them with his own ‘naturalistic’ designs whenever he was allowed: at Ashridge Duke Francis wouldn’t let him!
Leave the path that leads into the woods and keeping left, follow the tree line down the slope.
Be careful as you cross the road and bear right into the Golden Valley, walking along the valley floor.
Brown has been called ‘the master of illusion’ and he certainly uses all his tricks here in the Golden Valley. He felled and planted many trees and had tons of earth moved to get the valley looking just the way he wanted it. Everything you can see is made up of perfect, sinuous curves, as if you’d just walked in to a landscape painting. He blocks the view with fingers of earth coming out from the valley sides and uses the natural curve of the valley to give the impression it continues into infinity. Anybody who was anybody at the time had to have a Brown landscape and almost 300 years later he is still the most famous of all the landscape gardeners.
Turn sharp right here, almost turning back on yourself, and follow the path uphill. When this meets the road, turn left and continue along the road to the front of Ashridge House. Feel free to walk on the grass for safety.
This imposing gothic mansion was commissioned around 1800 by Francis, the ‘Canal Duke’ who earned the family their vast fortune. It was he who had employed Brown, thirty years earlier to work on the Parkland. With the longest frontage of any house in England he was showing off his wealth and status, though he died long before it was finished. It was styled to look like the medieval monastery that was pulled down to make room. It is now a private business school and is occasionally open to visitors.
Continue along the road in front of the house until you come to a right hand fork with a barrier across to stop vehicles. Nip around the barrier, following the purple ‘Bridgewater Monument and Visitor Centre’ sign. This rough track was once Thunderdell Drive, a grand private road for carriages and riders who were visiting the House.
If you are walking the short route, starting at Gaddesden Green car park - point 11 - turn right at the barrier. Follow the treeline round the Great Lawn to reach point 4. For the long walk keep straight on, up the track.
Where this path touches the corner of a field is one of the best places to see deer on the estate. Continue straight on.
The Old Park
The fallow deer you can see at Ashridge are the direct descendants of the herd brought from France over 600 years ago. Whilst they were originally a farmed herd, they now roam free. You may also notice some tree planting in the field. As part of our ongoing restoration work we’re replacing the 200 ancient trees that were killed by ploughing in the 1940s. Our ambition is to return the park to its glory days and, eventually, we'll reinstate the medieval ride that swept through the view and take down the modern fences.
You have now reached Thunderdell Lodge: the black and white chequered gatekeeper's house, by the side of the main road. Notice the gates which would always have been closed to keep the deer in. Cross carefully and turn right following the path along the edge of the road until you reach the bottom of Monument Drive. Follow the drive back towards the Bridgewater Monument.
Ashridge Visitor Centre, grid ref SP 97874 12527
You made it
Following this trail on mobile or tablet? Share your experience.