I'VE always known kingfishers were magical. I remember one baking June day, before I'd started school, netting sticklebacks in a stream choked with reeds. A kingfisher landed six feet away on a wooden bridge. I stopped breathing. He was a tiny bundle of outrageous hues with a large beak and a crest. He preened one wing, then vanished, as he'd arrived, in a rainbow flash. A magician's trick. He stayed less than a minute, but I can see him now as vividly as I did then. So, when brother-in-law Cliff suggested walking the Kingfisher Way in Bedfordshire, I was overcome with nostalgia. We were to follow the River Ivel through 20 miles of my childhood haunts. "We'll take two days . . . have some diversions . . . it won't be crowded," predicted Cliff.
We left the little town of Baldock where it peters out in nettles and allotments. It was glorious June and the water mills, market gardens, bird sanctuaries and historic aircraft of the Ivel Valley lay ahead. We rested on a stile, looking over a meadow ablaze with dog daisies, wild vetch and corn cockles. Butterflies danced around us, goldfinches pecked the tall grass and swallows dived for insects. "This was a rubbish tip two years ago," Cliff said. Restored to glory, the field hummed with life as we crossed to woodland on the far side.
Here, water bubbled up through chalk, giving birth to our river at Ivel Springs. Watercress grew in clear pools and the infant stream gave its first gurgles. A green woodpecker and jay traded insults in a crab apple tree as we strolled beneath elders heavy with blossom. The trail was set up by the Ivel Valley Countryside Project to enhance the environment for people and wildlife. "We had to reverse 50 years of damage," said Cliff. "We are hoping to reintroduce otter and water vole, now that conditions are improving. They're the litmus tests of pollution. We want people to get on the trail, enjoy the country and see why it needs preserving." On cue, we entered a field with more pylons than sheep before ducking under the pandemonium of the A1 (M).
Soon we reached industrial-sized cornfields, weedless and unnaturally quiet. The phrase "silent spring" needled my brain. Nature wouldn't be denied though, and blood-red poppies splashed a corner, Jackson Pollock-style. "Not like the first meadow," I noted. "There's worse," Cliff replied. "Chemicals destroy the food chain. Some places have no skylarks or song birds; their food's gone and so have they." When we rejoined the Ivel it had grown big enough for its first footbridge. Tiny silver fish darted in the shallows and we found a long-tailed tit's nest behind a curtain of wild roses. No bigger than a fist and lined with down, it held both parents and 12 chicks. A little later we watched sparrowhawks manoeuvre low over the Stotfold road as we headed for the Chequers pub and our first pint.
Stotfold has had water mills since Domesday, when four were valued at £4 and 400 eels. Sadly, fire gutted Stotfold Mill, leaving blackened walls and two 18th-century Parisian mill stones. Roach and chub have replaced the eels. Half a mile on, Taylor's Mill survived albeit in the form of a house. Outside the hamlet of Astwick, Bowman's Mill had romantically decayed, its Piranesi-like wheel poised precariously above the mill race and home to a family of snow-white doves. Over the fields, St Guthlac's, the county's tiniest church, proved a great spot to take a rest.
Extract from an article by David Walton - Courting the Kingfisher along the River Ivel
The extract opposite gives a graphic view of why people enjoy walking the KIngfisher Way, if that doesn't convince you to try it then perhaps the picture above will.
Teasel looks after 2 sections of the walk - starting at Baldock Road to its junction with Mill Lane and then through Millennium Green. Look for the markers as shown below and click on the marker if you want to find out more about long distance walks.
The Way follows the course of the River Ivel from the source at Ivel Springs in Baldock at TL248342 to where it meets the River Great Ouse at Tempsford TL160535, passing through the towns and villages of the Ivel Valley. The walk is 21 miles long but can be done in much shorter sections.
The Mill mentioned opposite as burnt down has now been restored click on the following link to get more information.