Monday, 25 July 2016

Running up Warden Hill, Luton

Warden Hill, and the adjacent Galley Hill, are situated on the northern edge of Luton. They feature on both the recent Chiltern Way walking/running route and the ancient Icknield Way, and have been designated part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest as an example of chalk downland featuring some rare plants. Since 1993, they have been managed by Luton Borough Council as 'Galley Hill and Warden Hill Nature Reserve'.

They surely needed this protection as in the past 40 years the town has spread closer and closer to the hills with new housing developments replacing previous farmland. Yet immediately behind the houses on the local 'The Riddy Lane Trail' you are next to barley fields looking towards Warden Hill.
Riddy Lane Trail sign, located off Old Bedford Road near junction with Barnfield Avenue
 As a teenager I spent a lot of time on and around what we just called 'The Hill', as I lived nearby on one of the encroaching housing developments at the end of Old Bedford Road. And for a period when I was at Luton Sixth Form College me and my friend Nick ran up Warden Hill in the mornings. The healthy effect was perhaps slightly offset by stopping at the top of the hill each morning for Nick to have a roll up, but it was a good start to the day. 

I left Luton nearly 30 years ago, and my run up Warden Hill last week (in the course of an 8 mile run from Luton to Dunstable) was only the second time I've run up there since. Just as I remembered it, its trickiest feature is its false summit - running up the main pathway up you appear to be approaching the top but then find you are actually just at the start of the next section. Anyway it's quite runnable, maximum height  is 195m (there is a trig point on the top), and if you wish you can follow the path along the top of the hill and on to Galley Hill next door.


 From the top of the hill one direction faces over the town and the South Beds golf course  whereas the other way overlooks the open countryside towards the Bedfordshire/Hertfordshire border (as well as affording a view of the Stopsley hill that has figured in the town's cross country course, scene of national championships in the 1970s and 80s). Easy to imagine with your back to the town that you are in an ancient landscape. Neoltihic burials and the Drays ditches earthworks have been found in the vicinity, and Galley Hill apparently takes its name from Gallows that once stood on the hill top.

Amidst the wild flowers and bird life- swifts buzzing overhead, the song of yellowhammers - I was pleased to see evidence of modern teenage life, even if I wished that they had taken their rubbish home with them.  Schools had broken up for the summer a couple of days before, and burnt remains of exercise books scattered the hill top. But apart from a couple of dog walkers I passed on the way down I had the hill to myself.

'let them run riot and scream from the mountain tops'- creative writing burnt offering

Luton Wardown parkrun

While up in Luton at the weekend I also took part for the second time in Luton Wardown parkrun, which has now been running every Saturday since April 2015.  253 people took part this week, the highest number other than at their first birthday run in April. Great inclusive parkrun in a lovely park, this week it featured a group graduating from a Stopsley Striders beginners group to run their first 5k.


English National Cross Country Championships at Stopsley, Luton, 1975 -
won by Luton's Tony Simmons (founder of Stopsley Striders)

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