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A Pilgrim's Progress Through Ampthill

Step out in John Bunyan's Bedfordshire around the elegant Georgian town of Ampthill.

Distance 7 miles (11.3km)

Minimum time 3hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 607ft (185m)

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Variety of field paths, farm tracks and lanes, 12 stiles

Landscape Low greensand ridges, gentle, rolling farmland and woods

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 193 Luton & Stevenage

Start/finish TL 034381

Dog friendliness On lead near livestock, good on enclosed tracks

Parking Car parks in Ampthill (Church and Bedford Streets)

Public toilets Bedford Street, Ampthill

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1 From the Market Square in the centre of Ampthill walk east along Church Street and left to reach the handsome Church of St Andrew. Go along Rectory Lane, to its left and, at the end, go left through a gate by Rectory Cottage for the lovely Holly Walk. At the far end cross the road and turn right. Walk up the pavement and, at the top of the bend, cross back over to join a concrete lane opposite.

2 To visit the remains of Houghton House fork left by the houses, otherwise continue to the reservoir gates where you switch to the farm track the other side of the hedge. Walk along this panoramic hilltop track to King's Wood, a locally run nature reserve. Go through the stile to the right and follow the path around the edge of the wood (or there is a parallel path through the trees if you prefer).

3 After ¼ mile (400m) turn right for a wide track that crosses first open fields then Brickhill Pastures farmyard, then follows its drive to the lane at the end. Go left and, just before the turning for South Limbersey House, turn right on a public footpath across the field just to the right of the buildings. Follow this across and down to a kissing gate, then along a field-edge path to go through another gate.

4 If you want to shorten the route by 1½ miles (2.4km) go straight on to reach Maulden church, otherwise turn left through a further gate for a shady path to Maulden Wood. At the junction of tracks by its entrance turn first right for a clear bridleway (to the right of the ditch) that ends up skirting the southern edge of the woodland on an undulating fenced route.

5 At the eye-catching octagonal lodge (private) turn right and walk along the track via a picnic area with wooden sculptures, and all the way down to join the surfaced lane at the bottom by Green End Farm. After 220yds (201m) go up the steps in the grassy embankment on the right for a waymarked route around the right-hand side of Old Farm. Continue through fields, the end of a drive, and another short field to reach Maulden church.

6 Follow the surfaced path out of the far side of the churchyard (the wide black gate beyond the mausoleum) and down to the road. Turn right to walk along George Street through Maulden.

7 After 300yds (274m), just before Cobbitts Road, turn right along a narrow walkway between houses. Where it veers left, go straight on past the end of a house to reach the road, and cross over.

8 Continue through fields, to the left of Kings Farm and, at the end of a narrow fenced enclosure, go along a short green lane. Turn left at the junction of routes at the end, and after following successive field edges bend left on a track and, just before a ruined barn, turn right for a path that eventually drops down to Gas House Lane. Go left, then right to follow the main road back into Ampthill.

Ampthill gained its charter for a weekly market as far back as 1219, and its park was used by Henry VIII for hunting (Catherine of Aragon lived in a castle here during their divorce). However, most of the fine period buildings that surround the Market Place and line Church Street in particular date from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Ampthill's location on a prominent greensand ridge made it a popular stop-off on coaching routes, while today it's more notable for an inordinate number of antique shops.

To the north, and just off the walk, is Houghton House, built in 1615 for the Countess of Pembroke and systematically dismantled 179 years later by the Duke of Bedford. The shell of what must have been a fine building is still worth inspecting, especially as the views across the county from its open hilltop location are first rate.

Houghton House was supposedly the inspiration for 'House Beautiful', and a nearby stretch of Bedford Road the 'Hill Difficulty', in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. This famous work of spiritual allegory, an ostensibly simple tale of a pilgrim's daily encounters as he wanders the local countryside, was first published in 1678, since when it has been translated into more languages than any other book except the Bible (the Bunyan Museum at Bedford has over 170 translations).

John Bunyan was born in 1628 at Elstow, near Bedford, the son of a tinker, and initially followed in his father's footsteps. But seeking deeper, more spiritual explanations about life he turned to the newly formed independent religious congregations that were springing up around Bedford. When laws were passed in an attempt to thwart the dissenting congregations, Bunyan refused to comply and was jailed for continuing to deliver public sermons. He spent the next 12 years in prison, during which time he wrote a prolific amount of papers and books, including the Pilgrim's Progress, and on release spent the rest of his days preaching and public speaking.

Where to eat and drink

In Ampthill the Old Sun Inn and Engine and Tender (both on Woburn Street) are full of character, while the Cottage Bakery's Church Street premises has a small coffee shop at the rear. The White Hart at Maulden is an attractive thatched pub, while the nearby George serves food daily and welcomes families.

While you're there

If you want to find out more about John Bunyan, visit the Bunyan Museum on Mill Street in Bedford (open Tuesday to Saturday, March to October), housed in the impressive Free Church. The museum tells his story - from humble beginnings to devout and prolific Christian writer - and how he suffered for his religious beliefs.

What to look for

Two areas of woodland are touched on during the walk. King's Wood, owned by Bedfordshire County Council and run as a nature reserve, is an ancient wood of mainly oak and ash, while the Forestry Commission's much larger Maulden Wood is more mixed, and contains waymarked walking trails.

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