The day had got off to a pleasant enough start. After a week of unfavourable weather forecasting the sun was shining both in Euston where Pam and I met and in Bletchley where, after a good old chinwag on the train, we caught up with Adam, Teresa, and Shep.
Adam kindly drove us all to Aspley Guise as that particular branch line doesn't operate on Sundays. From the train station there we commenced our walk. Almost immediately I heard Shep. who was walking a little in front of me, exclaim 'what a cute rabbit'. I looked down the driveway where the sighting had been but saw only a cat. The cat dipped behind the hedge and came out carrying a live rabbit in his mouth. The rabbit made a squeaking noise like a cuddly toy and the cat disappeared off to 'play' with it. As Adam remarked to the cat's owner this feline not only had similar markings to his wild tiger cousins but had inherited some of the feral behaviour too.
We soon reached St.Botolph's church. A medieval construction heavily restored in 1855 with a Perpendicular tower. From there we cut down the side of Aspley House, the first of many ludicrously massive homes we'd see throughout the walk, on to Bedford Road.
In a field on Bedford Road there were two ponies. Each surely the beloved pet of a little girl. The tell tale signs were in the braiding of said ponies hair. After admiring these Hasbro unicorns we ascended an estate of terraced brick cottages and Georgian homes. There was supposed to be a pub, The Wheatsheaf, here but it was no more. Converted into a dwelling as is the story so often in rural locations.
About a mile or so down a country lane we met, and crossed, the busy A4012 and turned into the gates of Woburn Safari Park. We weren't going into the park itself but we were lucky to catch a glimpse of some of the deer they keep in the grounds surrounding it.
Woburn's the largest deer sanctuary in the country in terms of number and types of species. Apparently they all look pretty similar to the lay person but the cast list includes Axis or Chital, Chinese water, fallow, muntjacs, Rusa stags and swamp deer with their bat shaped ears.
As we passed beneath the Go Ape zip wires the wildlife spotting increased stratospherically. A couple of Asian elephants, some rhinos, a field teeming with bison. Yes, we could see across to the safari park itself and although surreal is an overused adjective it seemed apt for the sight of these exotic beasts relaxing in the Bedfordshire sunshine. The tailback of cars adding further bizarre aspect.
One particular Asian elephant seemed to be on show for the benefit of walkers only, of which besides ourselves there were very few. Do people not know you can save your family £100 and see the wildlife for free? We watched the pachyderm trunking up bundles of grass for some time before heading towards another entrance of the park.
There we saw camels and zebras but once you've seen an elephant other animals don't get much of a look. I was more concerned with losing 50p in a vending machine trying to buy a Magnum.
From here we ascended a short, steep hill affording us further views over the Safari Park before gently rolling downwards past a series of small lakes and ponds. Now we were in the deer park proper. We had to walk through about 100 of these noble animals. We watched for some time as they gracefully trotted back and forth, stopping occasionally to give us a good look over.
I could've stayed for longer. I think we all could've. But we'd not seen a pub yet and some of the TADS were getting thirsty. We reached a mock-Tudor pavilion and then cut through the grounds of Woburn Abbey itself.
The west aspect of said Georgian pile faced us in all its grandiose glory. Impressive though its creamy white stone and Ionic columns no doubt were, and still are, it's not an elephant is it!?
We opted not to go in and ponder its collection of Van Dyck, Gainsborough, and Reynolds paintings. But to yomp on to Woburn village itself. Our book had recommended a stop at The Royal Oak pub and whistles were getting dry.
The Royal Oak, like the earlier Wheatsheaf, was, however, no more. Not a problem. Straight into The Black Horse. A pint of Yardbird Pale Ale please for Pam & I. A Hooky for Adam & Shep. A glass of Chenin Blanc for Teresa who also enjoyed a tiny tiny little loaf of bread to eat.
Knowing there'd probably be no more pubs en route we made another stop in The Bell Hotel. We looked up the Leicester/Man Utd result on our phones as we sipped Abbot Ales.The landlord informed us he kept the best beer in all Woburn which didn't seem to be that impressive a boast but his pub, and The Black Horse, were both nice enough.
We now headed back to Aspley Guise, through the diminutive and friendly hamlet of Market Place where the unfortunate denizens were treated to the sight of a slightly merry mob of minstrels passing through.
The road petered out into a dirt track that passed through field after field of glorious golden rapeseed. Whilst four of us were happy to pose in it one of our group found it at first boring and, finally, offensive!
As our poses, especially mine in my big coat, looked like something from a 1980s Echo & The Bunnymen album cover Pam loaded up The Cutter on her phone and we had a little singalong.
This took us, quicker than expected, into Aspley Guise itself. A quaint village but low on amenities. No pub stop here but a visit to a joint Indian/Thai restaurant. Blue Orchid or Little India depending on your preferences. Our female 40% opted for Thai. The male two thirds went Indian.
Both menus offered standard choices but everyone agreed their selection was tasty. In TADS tradition Shep inquired about the possibility of a Bangla beer and in TADS tradition they didn't have it. He also requested they change the music as they were playing stuff that could be best described as elevator muzak. The waiter tried to explain it was supposed to be relaxing and then put something even blander on.
Finished off the Cobra. Drove back to Bletchley. Train back to Euston. Bus back to SE23. I love it when a plan comes together.