||Route 2: The 'Heath Alps' Walk
Heath & Reach - Overend Green Footpath Circuit
3 miles - 90 minutes, including time to enjoy the views
There are two stiles to be negotiated
Start at the Village Pump on Heath Green. The building and well were built by public subscription in 1873. They cost £50, including a brass pump which itself cost £20. The original 'handle' pump was replaced by the present mechanism in 1924. The well is 120 feet deep and before it was available the cottagers had to collect their water from the 'town well' - probably in Leighton Buzzard. The big houses had their own wells and there is, for example, still one in Heath Manor (1600s), another at Wellington House (1856) and three at Kingswood Farm.
This area was the 'Piccadilly Circus' of the village at its peak, when the villagers were either selling things to each other or praying! Stand facing the Duke's Head and turn slowly clockwise. The white house to the right of the pub was the original Wesleyan Methodist chapel built in 1822; the Old Bake House was one of three in the village; the huge Wesleyan Methodist chapel on the hill was built in 1877; the white cottage to the left of the pub was the last of the bake houses and closed in 1956 (the third is opposite the garage at Sheepcote Corner); and the house immediately left of the pub was the old police house and still has a 'lock-up' in the yard!
The village had 5 butchers, 3 bakehouses, 2 undertakers and one mid-wife, 2 hardware merchants (one of whom walked 20 miles every day selling from baskets), a fishmonger, a blacksmith. a wheelwright, a village crier and several provisions shops including a post office in Lanes End. An Irish woman, Elizabeth O'Connor (known as 'Liz Corners') carried a yoke with two buckets of water and sold them door-to-door at 'a penny a gate'.
The village also provided for the soul, with chapels for Wesleyan Methodists, Primitive Methodists (now Chapel Flooring) and Calvinistic Baptists as well as the parish church. 'Church voted Tory and chapel voted Liberal', and the 'primitives' were very active nationally in the founding of the trade union movement.
Cross the road and walk towards the shops. Pause at the top of the hill. If you walk up the narrow sloping path on your right and then turn up the steps you are on the site of the Calvinistic Baptist chapel. This was built in 1822 and improved several times up to 1960. The last service was held in 1976, it was sold in 1985 and demolished in 1986. Back on the road, the grass bank opposite resulted from a road-widening scheme to double the width of the road, before which it was single lane with traffic controls!
Continue across Gig Lane and along Reach Lane. Look up on your right as you cross Gig Lane and note the house with the white gables - you can use this as a reference point later in the walk. The elegant cream house on the corner of Thomas St was the mid-wife's to which 'Tory Leighton mothers were shipped to ensure that their offspring had the more up-market birth address of Heath and Reach'! Looking back, the 1946 OS map shows a pit railway crossing Reach Lane parallel to Thomas St and ending at Sheepcote Corner. Carry on 20m along Reach Lane and the gates on your right mark the start of the old Footpath No1 which was closed in the 1970s to allow the excavation of the sandpit. Reach Lane meets Bryant's Lane and rejoins the main road at the Cock Horse car park. The square building to the right of the pub on the edge of the car park was the blacksmith's forge (the landlord doubled up) and the large house opposite was the wheelwright's premises.
Cross the main road onto the pavement and walk away from the village. Note on both sides the 'roadside verge nature reserve', probably eligible for entry into the Guinness Book of Records! On this verge the experts have found 130 species of beetle (including 5 or 6 that are 'nationally notable'), and you should find Sheep's Fescue, Lady's Bedstraw, Whitlow Grass, Mouse-ear Hawkweed and Sheep's Sorrel as well as the rarer native Meadow Saxifrage (small white flowers on hairy stems) flowering from May to July and Goldenrod (describes itself) flowering from July to September.
Cross the Great Brickhill Road and then, opposite the entrance to Stone Lane Quarry, re-cross the main road. You are now at Fox Corner and the end of the diverted Footpath No 10. Blind Lane left the main road (Stone Lane) here, and zigzagged over the meadows to meet Bryant's Lane. This subsequently became Footpath No 10, which was legally diverted in 2000 until 26th June 2015 to allow the expansion of Stone Lane Quarry.
Follow the pointing finger post and make your way uphill on the footpath. The small pit on your left is the privately owned Fox Corner Quarry and it adjoins King's Wood, a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and National Nature Reserve (NNR).
Heath and Reach is one of the few local villages not mentioned in Domesday Book (1086). The King held Leighton as his manor, and this possibly stretched right to The King's Wood, including the intervening land which became Hethe manor in the 1300s.
On your way up the hill, look down into Stone Lane Quarry. Visualise it in the future, graded and grassed and an adjunct to Stockgrove Country Park. In the spring this path is home to Cowslips which have re-established themselves since 1999 - once the meadows were awash with the pretty yellow flowers. It is very unusual not to see at least one kestrel hovering over the pit.
Turn right at the top of the hill and pause to admire the views. This is the highest point in the parish, and you have a 3600 panorama covering the newly in-filled and grassed Sheepcote Quarry, Stockgrove, the Greensand Ridge, Potsgrove/Battlesden, the Chilterns and the village (note the white gable). There is a hint that an ancient road, Whitsun Way, ran through the wood opposite from about here to Watling Street (the A5). Look in the hedge for some imposing pillars - which elegant house did they grace before the pits?
Follow the footpath to Bryant's Lane, cross the 'three-sleeper' bridge, turn left and walk to the junction with Overend Green Lane. Opposite is the remnant of Footpath No 2 which now crosses only one field but which, before being closed in 1956, went to the A5. There is no legal requirement on the pit owners to reinstate this path, but a 'written promise' is believed to exist to do so not later than 2042. Lean on the gate to admire the view! It is possible that the mound immediately to your left is an archaeological remnant, and if you look carefully you should see the marks of 'ridge and furrow' agriculture.
Turn right towards the buildings of Overend Green, an ancient hamlet. In spring you will see Red Campion in profusion along the road verge. The fields on your left contain more archaeological remains, and in the quarry on your left are an SSSI and a Site of Geological Interest. Note the fine collection of trees in the walled garden on your right.
Turn right after the farmhouse on your left over a stile onto the remains of Footpath No 1 (you saw the other end at Reach Lane). At the next stile turn right onto a diversion, which could remain until the 11th November 2023!! Follow this diversion round the quarry and down the hill. Note the almost horizontal Black Poplar, one of only four in the parish (the others are on the Winterbourne Brook - see the Miletree-Hockliffe Walk) under which are remains which could indicate the site of a building (there is one marked on the 1946 OS map).
From here you are looking over Bryant's Lane and Reach Lane Quarries to the houses on Gig Lane (note the white gable!). Reach Lane, the far side, will probably be worked until 2010 and Bryant's Lane to 2023. It is unlikely that these pits will be in-filled. Walk down the footpath until it meets Bryant's Lane. It is worth deviating here, and walking up the lane for 100 metres to look at the brickwork and stonework in both verges which show the position of Bryant's Row, a terrace of cottages demolished because the pit owners refused to modernise them.
On your right as you go back towards the Cock Horse car park is the future village cricket field. The unsightly containers dumped on the open ground (site of a big house called Reach Green?) are supposed to become the cricket pavilion! Now follow Reach Lane back to the Village Pump.
If you have any comments on the walk or these notes, please contact Dick Denton on 237746 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org