THE CONSERVATION WALKS, EVERTON
In the late-1990s Andrew and Ruth Pym, the owners of much of the land in Everton parish, used the government’s initiatives - the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, the Countryside Access Scheme and the Environmentally Sensitive Areas Scheme to very kindly provide several new footpaths in the southwest of the village. With the economic changes in 2008 several of these paths are no longer available, the land being more profitable planted with cereals than being paid as “Setaside.” If the situation changes they may be “re-opened” so the following description might still be of some use/interest.
If you are following the Greensand Ridge Walk up the hill along Footpath 2 from the Roman Road, once through the kissing gate (TL 196510), instead of following the path up the hill, turn to the north and follow the eastern side of the hedge for about 50 metres, This gives you a choice of routes up the ridge into Everton. White, A4-sized information boards can be seen on posts or trees at strategic points along the walks informing you that
“access has been provided under the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food’s farm conservation schemes, which help farmers and land managers protect and improve the countryside, its wildlife and history. It is permitted access and no rights of way are being created.”
The boards include an extract of the 1:10,000 map showing the paths and tell you that you are welcome to walk over them to enjoy the views of the Ouse Valley and Greensand Ridge. However, they do stress that “No person or dog should enter any woodland for the protection of wildlife.”
These new paths are not as well used as the Greensand Ridge Walk so you have to walk through rough grass to the kissing gate by the trees. Depending upon the time of year, there may well be cattle grazing in this field so be careful where you put your feet. Once through the kissing gate, the path follows a barbed wire fence along the western side of the donkey field. You may spot some bare patches in the grass on the slope above. Donkeys tend to urinate in the same spot and their urine is so acidic that it burns the grass. The field you are walking through has not been farmed for years and has become a meadow with many species of grasses. This path can get somewhat overgrown in summer. Long grass and bramble tendrils can obstruct the way and in rainy weather your clothes and boots may get quite wet. Bending the brambles back and attaching them to plants further back will assist other walkers. Overhanging branches from the oak and other trees further on might get in the way. Breaking off the lower twigs will help.
There is a choice of routes when you come to the end of the donkey field (TL 196512). The one straight ahead takes you north onto the road down the hill from Everton to Tempsford. The path going up the hill to the east takes you into Everton village. The other, through a gap in the hedge to the west, gives you access to the 54-metre-high Warden Hill. It is well worth taking this latter route just to get the views. Another information board tells you that the field was once used for growing crops but has now been returned to grass. Archaeological maps of the area show what could be a prehistoric hut circle on the top. Five similar sites have been identified along the top of the ridge showing that the area was settled before the Iron Age (55BC to 500AD) Local gossip has it that this unusually symmetrical hill is made up of a different type of soil to the surrounding fields and underneath it lays a Viking longboat with a dead chieftain. The Danish invasions during the 9th and 10th centuries had an impact on this area. Whether they attacked and destroyed the Saxon farmsteads along the ridge is unknown. Certainly a Danish naval camp for 30 ships and 2,500 men was located on the Great Ouse at Willington (TL 113503). Gannock’s Castle (TL 160529) guarded the road north, the confluence of the Ivel and the ford at Tempsford. In 921 AD the Danes had built up their forces to advance from Huntingdon to Bedford, no doubt using the river to reinforce their troops. However, they were repulsed and camped at Tempsford. The English forces, advancing from Bedford, attacked them there and the Danish King and many Danish noblemen were killed with the remainder of the army taken prisoner. Might one or more of them have been buried here?
Other suggestions are that Warden Hill was an Iron Age hill fort. Could it have been named after an ancient warden who was stationed at the top of this hill with its commanding 360o view? Locals say that there used to be raised earth banks circling the hill but 19th and 20th century ploughing obliterated them. Another idea is that those people who were wiped out during the Black Death were buried underneath it. Maybe Time Team might be interested in determining what lies buried underneath Warden Hill?
From the top of this hill you can get glorious views along the ridge behind you to the east but most people are unaware that about 2,000 RAF aircrew and personnel from 138 and 161 Squadrons occupied much of the land to the west of this hill during World War Two. It was a secret airfield, details of which can be found in Freddie Clark’s ’Agents by Moonlight’’ and Bernard O’Connor’s ’Tempsford Airfield—Now the story can be Told’. In the wood at the bottom of the hill were officers’ quarters, sergeants’ quarters, airmen’s barracks, ablutions, latrines, a drying room, fuel compound and several pre-cast concrete air raid shelters. On the weekends you might be lucky to see original World War Two aeroplanes flying on a trip out from Shuttleworth or Little Gransden Airfield. Some pilots do aerobatics over the airfield which can be quite fascinating to watch. On summer evenings and also weekends it is more probable you’ll first hear and then spot microlites flying over,
The light sandy soils provide ideal habitat for rabbits. You can spot their droppings in bare patches of earth along the path and may even seen them on the walk. They are especially active alongside field boundaries close to undergrowth in the evening sunlight, just before dusk, skittering off when you approach to the safety of their burrows. Occasionally you may spot some that don’t run away. They are probably affected by myxomatosis, This virus was first noted in Uruguay, South America, and introduced in Australia to help eradicate their rabbit population, which was destroying grassland. It has been in Britain for decades and the signs are swelling of the eyelids and lips, tumours and then blindness. They then fall easy prey for foxes, owls and other birds of prey. If you have a dog, keep it on a lead. You need to retrace your steps to get back to the footpath. One path continues up the hill to the east. Another follows the northern side of the hedge up the hill.
If you continue north, the next few hundred metres is quite uneven and, depending upon the time of year and whether the grass has been cut recently, it may be hard work through brambles and nettles. Once on the top of the rise, you get some quite dramatic views south and west. Depending on the time of day you might see a fox surveying its territory. This small plantation was planted in a disused sand pit, marked on the late-19th century maps. Although the undergrowth tends to be cleared in spring, by late summer it can get quite overgrown. Log steps have been installed to allow you to more easily get down the steep bank. The path emerges on the south side of the road from Everton to Tempsford, (TL 199512), about 250 metres from the top of the hill. Walk up the hill into the village, aware of oncoming traffic, until you meet the T-junction where you turn left.
The other path takes you about 100m. up the slope. In the field to the north you might be able to make out a sunken track leading up the slope to what used to be Warden Hill Farm. In the 1960s a new housing estate was built in the farmyard and back fields. Once you get to the top of the hill, look over the barbed wire fence to the south and you may notice the old stumps of what used to be a line of huge elm trees that used to dominate the skyline, They were cut down when they were attacked by Dutch Elm disease in the 1970s. The path continues eastwards alongside a new hedge planted parallel to the old field boundary, between a field of pasture on the top of the ridge in which you can often see a horse grazing and a field to the north in which you may see one of about two-dozen pools that dot the length of the Greensand Ridge in this area. They were dug out of the clay to create drinking pools for cattle. Some may have been flooded clay or gravel/coprolite pits, moats or reservoirs. It was in this one that one of Winnie Hull’s brothers drowned. After about 100 metres you pass the 16th century thatched, black weather-boarded ‘Winifred’s Cottage’. The Hull family lived in it for most of the 20th century with their eleven children. It was renovated and extended in 1999.
The 19th century Enclosure map records the field to the south of the cottage as Brookland Close and the one to the north as Dovehouse Close. In the back garden of the newer house you can see a fine, white dovecote that is home to about two-dozen white doves. The path emerges onto Sandy Road in Everton where it joins the Greensand Ridge Walk. The semi-detached houses on both sides of the road replaced rows of one-storey thatched cottages during the 1960s. They were built as council houses but, over the last decade, the tenants have bought many of them.
In front of ‘Winifred’s Cottage’ is a renovated black, weather-boarded barn, now used as a garage. Turning to the north, follow the road into the village. Shortly afterwards on the opposite side of the road you can see The Elms. This two-storey double-fronted Victorian villa was built as the Pym’s estate manager’s house but is now occupied by Francis Pym’s son Andrew and his wife, Ruth. Following the road you pass the entrance to Warden Hill housing estate. Standing on the grass triangle you will see the Everton-cum-Tetworth village sign. This intricately carved oak depicts Oliver Cromwell, stooks of wheat and St Mary’s Church tower. It was carved by ** and erected in 19 * * by a group of villagers following a VJ Day celebration. The footings are Greensand from one of the local sand pits. Warden Hill Farm, now a private residence, stands on the northern side of the road.