A walk in rolling hills between Preston and Kingswalden with its splendid former deer park.
Distance 5 miles (8km)
Minimum time 2hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 115ft (35m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Mix of field paths, green lanes and village lanes, 5 stiles
Landscape Rolling arable country and deer park
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 193 Luton & Stevenage
Start/finish TL 180247
Dog friendliness Mostly arable land, but sheep graze in Kingswalden Park
Parking Preston village green, near Red Lion pub
Public toilets None on route
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1 From Preston village green walk down Hitchin Road and turn left into Chequers Lane. Beyond Chequers Cottages go left at the footpath sign. On reaching a lane go briefly left, then right at another footpath sign, to head diagonally right through pasture. Passing between a shelter shed and Pond Farm, bear left and follow the field path to a kissing gate. Here turn right on to a green lane, called, lugubriously, Dead Woman's Lane, the parish boundary between Preston and King's Walden. Follow it uphill to a left turn on to another green lane, which curves left. Follow it downhill. Upon reaching a tarmac lane turn right.
2 Near Wantsend Farm turn left into Plough Lane, which curves uphill. Just before the Plough pub go right, over a stile. The path reaches a lane through a children's playground. Out of this turn right to the road, then left past School House and left again, signed 'Offley, King's Walden'. At a road junction bear right to a footpath sign beside a de-restriction sign.
3 Turn left on to this footpath, descending alongside the winding hedge. Turn sharp left to pass a modern farm building. Follow the track until it turns left - here your path turns right, along the edge of a wood. Turn left at the next footpath post. At the end of the field turn right, over a stile, into a lane to descend to King's Walden Church.
4 From the churchyard you can glimpse Kingswalden Bury. Retrace your steps uphill, past a fine yew hedge, and at a footpath sign on the right, 'Frogmore Bottom 1' turn right. Now you are in Kingswalden Park with views of Kingswalden Bury house's north front. Cross a lime avenue to a superb stretch of deer park. Go diagonally right. Just beyond an oak, at a footpath post, bear left towards a house with a big gable, outside the park. Leave the deer park through a kissing gate. Turn right on to a lane. Turn left at the junction past Whitehall Farm.
5 At a footpath sign go right by a modern farmbuilding, then go diagonally left, descending across some arable land and keeping to the right of Whitehall Wood. Across a lane the footpath climbs on a grassy track, then runs alongside hedges and through a horse paddock to reach a lane. Here you turn left. When you reach a junction turn right. At the boundary wall of Temple Dinsley park, now home to Princess Helena College, turn left, back to Preston village green.
Kingswalden Bury house can be seen from the adjacent churchyard and from the footpath to its north. The deer park is a particularly happy one, sloping from the house into a superb dry valley which means that, as it disappears downhill, the owner could be forgiven for thinking it stretched to infinity. Its grassland, dotted with fine parkland trees - mainly oaks and sweet chestnuts - is now grazed by sheep. Before you reach this part of the park you will have crossed a lime avenue that frames a view to the house's north front.
As you look down the lime avenue it would be reasonable to assume you are looking at a Georgian mansion that goes with the park's 18th-century character, but this isn't so. Suprisingly the present Kingswalden Bury house dates from only 1972. The Hale family owned the estate from 1576 until 1884. Their altered and enlarged 17th-century house was drastically recast in Neo-Elizabethan style by the new owners in 1890. It was finally demolished to make way for the current house which was designed by the then leading contemporary practitioners of the revived Georgian or Palladian style, Raymond Erith (1904-73) and Quinlan Terry (1937-). The style is still popular with country house owners. Quinlan Terry's best known solo work is probably the Richmond Riverside complex by the River Thames. In Kingswalden Bury the pair produced a mansion of which Andrea Palladio himself, the great 16th-century Venetian architect, would have been proud. It has pantile roofs and a five-bay centre, with a pediment and two storeys of columns, flanked by simpler two-bay projecting wings. It's a most successful composition, I think, and complements the setting admirably.
Back in Preston you pass the entrance to Princess Helena College, a girls boarding school, which moved here from London in 1935. The gate piers are genuine Georgian ones with 'rubbed', red brick arches to its niches. From the gates you can get a glimpse of the mansion itself, set in Temple Dinsley Park. The Georgian core was built for Benedict Ithell in 1714, but the rest of the building is by Edwin Lutyens and E J Lander who swamped it in 1908-11 and 1935 respectively. The gardens were designed by Lutyens' famous and eccentric collaborator, Gertrude Jekyll. Temple Dinsley gets its name from the Preceptory (a small community) of the Knight's Templar, founded here in 1147 by Bernard Balliol. When the Templars were suppressed in 1312 it passed to the Knights Hospitallers until the Dissolution of the monasteries. A house replaced it in 1540 but was subsequently demolished and only a few stone coffin lids have been dug up over the years.
The Red Lion in Preston has been a community-owned pub since 1982. The Plough at Ley Green is in a house formerly known as Godlets Hall. Both pubs are built of 18th-century red brick.
Roughly 2 miles (3.2km) east of King's Walden is St Paul's Waldenbury or The Bury. Built by Edward Gilbert around 1720, the mansion was altered and then radically recast in 1887 for the Bowes-Lyon family. The Bury was the childhood home of the late Queen Mother. Its superb, 40 acre (16ha) gardens have changed little since they were laid out in the late 1720s. Elements of the gardens include woodland, temples and statues. They are open on some summer Sunday afternoons.
The hamlet of Cox Green, west of Preston has a number of impressive, 16th-century farm buildings. First, to the left of the route, Leggatts Farm has a late medieval hall and Tudor cross wing. Turning right you descend to Wantsend Farm with a big four-shaft early 17th-century chimneystack and a Tudor cross wing.