Icknield Way Path
Total distance covered; 115 miles (181kms)
8 days walking, based in Cambridge
The Icknield Way is part of the oldest and longest road in Britain, which once stretched from the English Channel Coast in Dorset to the east coast and The Wash. At its western end the Icknield Way picks up where the Ridgeway National Trail finishes, and at its eastern end it gives way to the Peddars Way. Established to take advantage of the high downland with its good visibility and dry underfoot conditions the route as a whole was originally used during prehistoric times by Neolithic traders of flints and axe heads, and later by herdsmen and armies.
At its western end the route starts from the high point of Ivinghoe Beacon in the Chiltern Hills AONB and initially passes through a landscape of chalk grassland interspersed with ribbons of deciduous woodland. Beyond the Chiltern Hills the Way runs through the rich farmland of Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire before finishing on the wide open spaces of Knettishall Heath in the Norfolk Brecklands.
Highlights of the route include the far-reaching views from Ivinghoe Beacon, Deacon Hill and the Sundon Hills; the 'Tree Cathedral' (NT); the medieval wall paintings in Chalgrave church; the flowers on Therfield Heath; Linton historic clapper stile; Devil's Dyke; the reconstructed Saxon village at West Stow Country Park; and the mature Scots pines windbreaks on the Norfolk Brecklands.
Of course, the Icknield Way has plenty to offer aside from history. The calcareous grassland in the Chiltern Hills supports an abundance of wild flowers, butterflies, insects and birds, and the light woodland is a haven for roe deer. The Chiltern Hills are a stronghold of the wonderful Red Kite. Further into the walk the chalk is overlaid with rich loams, which support not only a thriving arable agriculture but also a wealth of wild flowers in the path verges and hedgerows. Knettishall Heath is characterised by a distinctive mix of heather, birch and handsome Scots pines, and a wealth of birdlife including, if we are very lucky, the rare Stone Curlew.
Day 1: Ivinghoe Beacon to Wingfield 14 mls (22kms)
Day 2: Wingfield to Pirton 16 mls (25kms)
Day 3: Pirton to Therfield 16 mls (25kms)
Day 4: Therfield to Great Chesterford 16 mls (25kms)
Day 5: Great Chesterford to Brinkley 14 mls (23kms)
Day 6: Brinkley to Gazeley 12 mls (19kms)
Day 7: Gazeley to West Stow Country Park 11 mls (18kms)
Day 8: West Stow Country Park to Knettishall Heath 14 mls (23kms)
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