We start our walk today from the new barn on Flitton Moor:
The Flit Vale Discovery Centre: Information about the valley is on four panels, covering geology, history and wildlife sites, from its source near Chalton to Shefford; where it is joined by the river Hit and becomes part of the Ivel Valley navigation.
There had been an old tractor shed on the site, which was previously owned by Silsoe Agricultural College. This was removed by Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) who generously paid for much of the work; and together with a £10,000 grant from Biffa Award, and smaller amounts from Aragon Housing and F&G PC, we now have the new barn and all the information inside it.
The Barn is dedicated to Jack Crawley, a local artist and wartime pilot, and you can see his work & read about his life in the barn.
Flitton Moor: County Wildlife Site and Local Nature Reserve. It was created from farm land around 30 years ago and owned by CBC, but managed by a dedicated group of local volunteers – the “Friends of Flitton Moor”. You will see evidence of the work we have been doing as you walk around the site. We had a Biffaward grant of £33,600 – plus £5,000 from Grassroots Grants – and a grant from Mid Beds DC for the pond platform. We entered the Biffaward project in the Biffa national competition – and won! The site has recently been given a ‘Green Flag’ award – a national award which recognises the work done by volunteers to improve wildlife sites.
From the barn area turn right beside a ditch to circuit the moor. If you wish you may enter the woodland on your left by the small gate to follow the paths in the woodland plantation, including the view from the pond platform. Exit by the same gate to continue the circuit of the moor.
Just past the next corner the footbridge on right crosses a late 18th century ditch. In earlier times the river here meandered in several changing routes through a large peat bog with no obvious features. The whole area was known as Flitton Moor, and there was no designated boundary between the parishes of Maulden and Flitton until these channels were cut. The Roman fertility goddess illustrated on the Ruxox board was found in a ditch near here.
Field enclosure was very late here, as when it was first attempted at end of the 18th century there was a threat of riots as the local tenants gathered to protest as they feared losing their livelihood. Only the exhortations of the vicar managed to calm things down.
Reaching the far corner of the moor:
On your left as is an experimental osier bed – from which we take ‘withies’ for basket making and ‘binders’ for hedge-laying. There is evidence that Flitton was a centre for basket making in the 12th century – so osiers were grown here then.
Having walked around 3 sides of Flitton Moor exit through a gate beside the parish “Millennium Seat” to turn right alongside:
The River Flit: or Fleot in Anglo-Saxon; meaning fast flowing stream as in Fleet Street. Here the river is another canalised straight cut dug later in the 19th century.
Passing a bridge on your left turn right at the end of the field to walk up an avenue of Lime Trees. At the end of the avenue you reach:
Ruxox Moat: The exceptionally large D-shaped moat surrounded a medieval monastic site – a moated grange – a farm which provided food and other produce for the monks at Dunstable Priory, as well as the church & the poor of Flitwick. It had a chapel dedicated to St Nicholas, from 1150 till Henry VIII’s dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540. The Roman intaglio, a carved stone ring seal of Bonus Eventus (god of initiative and good events) which is the figure on the Heritage Trail waymark discs, was found near here, and can now be seen in Bedford museum.
Continuing on the wide track you reach:
Ruxox Farm: the name may derive from the Saxon Hroc’s Oak, which could be named for Hroc, who may have farmed here 1,000 or more years ago – but is now believed to mean rook’s oak. The present farmhouse is a typical ‘Model Farm’ constructed in the 1850’s by the Duke of Bedford’s estate. Note the very large sliding doors on the barns on the right as you walk away from the farm.
Continuing up the farm road cross the Maulden road onto:
The Ridgeway: this is an ancient track-way, part of a pre-Roman route between Shefford and Woburn. Much of the area you see behind you would have been a hive of activity in Roman times as there have been many discoveries of artefacts and industrial sites and at least one Villa. Also many Mesolithic & Bronze Age flint tools have been found in the area – suggesting continuous habitation for over 9,000 years.
The field on the right has recently been acquired by Flitwick Town Council to become a small Country Park – plus cemetery – and perhaps a café. The stream on the far side of the field, adjacent to the A507, is Running Waters.
Turn left at the junction to pass on your left:
Pussy Pond: This pond gets its name from the Pussy Willows which were collected from here to strew on Flitwick church floor on Palm Sundays.
Walk along an enclosed path behind the Industrial Estate to cross the road and follow the track to enter:
Flitwick Moor: The moor was at one time famous for its water: Flitwick Water, which between the 1890’s and 1950’s was bottled and sold as an iron rich blood tonic. Folly wood, which is on our left as you enter the moor (& was recently bought by the Wildlife Trust with much help from public donations), was originally owned by Henry King Smith, who first extracted the water and sold it from a shop in London. His house, the Folly (on the site now occupied by the Gun Club), was burnt down one 5th November by two local lads – though by this stage it was already a ruin.
The moor is now exceptionally important for its mosses with over 130 species of bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) – more than Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire which is 4 times its size. It is also nationally important for its fungi with over 500 recorded species – again more than Wicken Fen. In the summer you can also see Cotton Grass, more usually seen on upland peat bogs, and in late spring some areas are carpeted with Golden Saxifrage.
Peat was dug from the moor for industrial use – as a filter for coal gas. It was removed via wagons that ran on movable rails – some of which can still be seen – and then taken to gas depots in towns to the north. This only finished in the 1960’s with the advent of North Sea gas.
Having crossed the boardwalk and bridge, continue through an area of Phragmites reed and ponds, to turn right at the kissing gate to walk along the edge of another meadow.
Notice here the large ancient ant hills – and to your right in the fen (just before the next kissing gate) you will see the remains of 2 of the wagons that were used for peat extraction. Flitwick Moor is also the only site in Bedfordshire where the elusive Water Rail breeds – sometimes heard in this area and sounding like a squeaky gate.
Turn right through the next gate to follow the main track through the moor to turn left beside an information board, and the end of the Trail in Moor Lane.
At the end of the lane turn left, then left again until you are opposite:
Flitwick Mill: The present listed building is 18/19th century, but is on the site of a Doomsday Mill. It has an overshot wheel, and much of the mechanism still exists, though unfortunately not working. Until recently it had belonged to the Goodman family for several generations. Corn for animal consumption was last ground in 1987.
It is now owned by Don Palmer & Sarah Parker – who are sympathetically restoring it and living in the new building beside it.
Follow the marked footpath to the river, and re-enter:
Flitwick Moor: a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and now recognised by experts as the most important wetland site in the south east of England. It is managed by the Wildlife Trust who own the majority of it.
On leaving the wooded area continue ahead along the River Flit.
If you are lucky you may see kingfishers flitting along the river. The field on your left is now managed by the Wildlife Trust and is being left to see what develops – note the forest of alder saplings.
Continue ahead at the junction with a new bridge on right (or turn right for refreshment at The Compasses) and after passing a private bridge over the river go through two kissing gates to:
Maggots Moor (part of Flitwick Moor SSSI): As you walk along the edge of the meadow notice the depressions to your left – these are old channels of the river from before it was diverted when Greenfield mill was constructed. The relatively rare Meadow Saxifrage can be seen in this area in late spring.
Pass through a kissing gate to cross the river.
The houses on your right are on the site of Greenfield Mill. This mill was built later than others on the Flit and a number of disputes are recorded between the owner and the Goodmans at Flitwick. There is a drawing of it on the back of the Trail leaflet. It was demolished in the early 1970,s.
The animals in the field on your left are not goats, but Soay sheep – an ancient breed.
Pass through another kissing gate to turn left onto a bridleway (note the recently laid hedge on your left – using binders from the osier bed on Flitton Moor) then right at the junction to cross an arable field. As you enter an enclosed path:
In the hedge on your left is the site of the murder stile! It was here that a farm labourer, returning home from Ruxox Farm one Friday evening in the 1930’s, was hit on the head and relieved of his wage packet!
Continuing on the enclosed path at the side of an ancient water meadow:
The ditch to your right was one of the old courses the river Flit, before the canalised route was dug to the north in the 19th Century.
Cross a bridge and through two kissing-gates to another enclosed path to pass behind a pub garden. This is:
The White Hart: A heavily altered timber framed building of c.1700 with several modern extensions. This fine inn in the centre of Flitton has had a chequered history of late, being closed for some time, but is now open again serving excellent meals.
The thatched house to your left is (No. 3 Brook Lane) – reputed to be the oldest private residence in the county, as it was originally three cottages built to house the labourers who built the 12th century church.
You now emerge in Brook Lane opposite:
Flitton Church & Mausoleum: The present church was built in the 15th century, though there were earlier churches on the site. There is a list of vicars dating back to 1261. The church is built of local sandstone, probably from a quarry in the village. The mausoleum dates from the early 17th century, with later additions. It houses some splendid memorials to the De Grey family who occupied Wrest Park. It is maintained by English Heritage, and can be visited by contacting Wrest Park on 01525 860000.
Turn left to walk down Brook Lane, crossing the Flit again, to return to the barn.