Permitted Footpath Everton to Deepdale
Direction: NW – SE Distance c.700m
In spring, carpets of bluebells obliterate the undergrowth. The Camdol Tree Nursery can be seen to the south. According to its website it has “a growing stock of over 55,000 trees, with over 200 species and varieties available, of which 70% is ready for the market. The trees are available in sizes between 8cm and 36cm girth, although we do have some larger trees of up to 45cm girth, those species that cannot be measured by girth are measured by height ranging from 50cm to over 8 metres. Trees can be supplied as bare root, root balled or containerised”. There are a variety of indigenous species but also some unusual ones including: - Acacia, Alder, Almond, Ash, Aspen, Beech, Birch, Buckthorn, Cherry, Conifer, Cotoneaster, Crab apple, Elder, Fir, Hawthorn, Hazel, Hemlock, Honey locust, Hornbeam, Indian bean tree, Katsura tree, Larch, Lime, Maple, Oak, Osier, Pagoda tree, Pine, Plane, Plum, Poplar, Privit, Rowan, Service tree of Fontainebleau Spruce, Stag's Horn sumach, Swamp cypress, Sweet gum, Sycamore, Horse Chestnut, Sweet Chestnut, Thorn, Tree of Heaven, Tulip tree, Whitebeam, White wax, Willow and Yew.
After about 500 metres you meet Bridleway 29, the Long Riding (TL 202498), which takes you southwest towards the entrance to the RSPB Headquarters at Sandy Lodge. About 100 metres further on, you enter the wood which has footpaths running through the trees to northeast and southwest. Both follow the line of the track. There is another barrier across the track about 500 metres further at the entrance to Oak Farm (TL 203507). A large pine plantation stretches about 400 metres to the north which has numerous paths through it which are well used by local walkers, children and their dogs. The main track is now concreted. As with many woodlands on Sandy Heath, this one was used during the Second World War for storing ammunition. Good roads through it were vital. In places you can still see concrete hard-standing where boxes would have been unloaded from military trucks. These are now used for parking in some places but the main parking area is by the entrance to the Sandy Heath TV transmitting station. Signs warning of thieves taking advantage of parked vehicles are worth taking note of.
Oaks and conifers dominate the mixed woodland, with ground cover of bracken and bramble. Tim Sharrock, the Bedfordshire ornithologist, commented that
In summer, you may spot the inconspicuous brown Spotted Flycatcher, making sallies to catch a fly and then often returning to the very same perch from an exposed twig just below the canopy. Its song is a mere couple of squeaks and unlikely to attract attention. That of the Goldcrest is beautiful, but very high-pitched and difficult for some people to hear, but will reveal the presence of Britain’s smallest bird, feeding like a tiny tit amongst the foliage of the conifers. This woodland provides timber in which Great Spotted Woodpeckers can excavate their nest-holes. In May and June, listen for the well-known song of the male Cuckoo and also the less-well-known bubbling call of the female.
Immediately to the south of the wood, you will see the 1000kW TV transmitter at Sandy Heath (TL 204494). On 13th July 1965 it first rebroadcast signals received directly from Mendlesham in Suffolk, at 30kW towards Bedfordshire. On 18th January 1971 its 625-line transmitter began transmitting BBC 1 and Anglia Television. The buildings form a maintenance base for a small team of engineers who maintain the transmitters of the Independent Television and Radio companies over an area north of the Thames to Peterborough. As Ultra High Frequency radio waves only travel within line of sight plus a further 10%, a 277.5 metre (750ft) high mast is needed. Some movement is allowed by having a large ball bearing at its base and several centimetre thick hawsers holding it stable in case of high winds. You may be lucky and see the maintenance team ascending one of the hawsers in a pod, rather like a ski-lift carriage,
The huge white cylinder on the top of the mast now transmits analogue services for BBC1, BBC2, ITV1, Channel 4, Channel 5 and digital services Mux1, Mux2, MuxA, MuxB, MuxC and MuxD. Each multiplex can carry up to six television services in the same bandwidth as one analogue service. Attached to the mast are also white egg-box constructions which are transmitters for local and national analogue radio and more recently DAB digital radio. Space is also rented out to other users like BT, Vodaphone and Orange. In 1992 it featured in an Internet hoax with a song claimed to have been written by Liam Howlett of Prodigy called ‘Trouble at Sandy Heath’. An extension to the top means it is now 290 metres high.
Deepdale is thought to have been formed by glacial melt-water following the retreat of the last ice sheets between 13,000 and 9,000 years ago. The melt-water cut out the easily eroded sand and transported it southwards onto Biggleswade Common and into the River Ivel.
The track meets a crossroads (TL 207505). Straight across to the east the path continues for a further 800 metres towards Potton. To the north, this is a BOAT, a bridleway open to all traffic, however, it needs to be said that the route is somewhat overgrown in places and fallen tree trunks make it impassable with even four-wheel drive. Horse-riders and walkers have created paths higher up on the western side of the track. It runs for about 300 metres through the wood along a hollow way and then out along a field boundary. After about ** metres you pass Mill Lane (TL 208502) which takes you east into Potton, past what used to be Potton Windmill (TL213498). Continuing north for about 400 metres the track passes some smallholdings and meets Everton Road (TL 210505).
To the south the road takes you past a few smallholdings built into the west-facing side of the valley. You may notice some ‘Danger — Quarry workings’ on the fence to the west. These were the 19th century coprolite workings which were subsequently exploited for the sand by Redland Gravel and then Lafarge Aggregates. It was in this pit that the remains of an iguanodon were found in 1866. Its claw, teeth and bones can be seen amongst the Greensand fossil collection in the cabinets of the Sedgwick Museum, Downing Road, Cambridge. If you ask the curator nicely they may well unlock the lower drawers and show you other Potton fossils.
Fortune Farm was converted into Deepdale Water Gardens in the 1990s. It specialises in cold water and tropical fish but also sell accessories and supplies, ponds, statuary, birds, rabbits etc. Landscaped gardens with seating around a large fishpond provide a welcome respite for walkers and visitors to the shop. Cold drinks, ice-creams and sweets are available.
Continuing south the bridleway emerges from woodland into an open field to the west, Tim Sharrock, the Bedfordshire ornithologist, commented that
Skylarks may be heard singing overhead and the twitter of pairs or small parties of Linnets. This is also a site for the much less widespread Corn Bunting, with his jangling song likened to the sound of a bunch of keys. Brown and streaky, this is a bird slightly larger than a sparrow, but much chunkier, flying awkwardly, often with its legs dangling, to a perch in an isolated tree, a bush or tall herb.
The vegetation here is mostly ‘weed free’, but the odd unsprayed patch may be a treasure trove of interesting and beautiful plants typical of sandy field margins – Lady’s Smock, Scented Mayweed, Pineapple Mayweed, Field Pansy, White Campion, Prickly Poppy and the purple-flowered Common Fumitory. Around the farm buildings, typical birds are Barn Swallows and Pied Wagtails, finding nest sites as well as food close to Man.
Snow Hill, the next house to the south, marked on the OS map as Grove Lodge, also has beautifully landscaped gardens. They are normally open to the public once a year as part of the Open Gardens Scheme. Posters appear several weeks beforehand with advertisements in the Biggleswade Chronicle and Bedfordshire on Sunday. On the western side of the road there was a small tramway running along the northern edge of the field in the second half of the 19th century. It led down a small valley from the Sandy Heath coprolite works. A horse and cart pulled wooden trucks laden with fossils to one of three washmills for the coprolite works. One of these washmills stood in the corner of the field (TL 206490) where the fossils were washed and sorted before being trucked to the railway station at Potton or Sandy. There used to be a public house called The Locomotive at this junction with Potton Road (TL 207489) but it was converted into a house in 2002. Local people working at the coprolite works used to call in for breakfast at 06.00am before starting work. The house on the opposite side of the road also used to be a pub, opened for the fossil diggers in the late-1860s and appropriately called the ‘Pick and Shovel’.