King's Wood is an ancient broad-leafed woodland situated near to Houghton House between Ampthill and Houghton Conquest. There have been trees here since medieval times. Ash and oak trees make up most of the wood. In Spring, the wood is a carpet of bluebells.
Ampthill Park has a fascinating heritage from Henry VIII to Capability Brown, and a diverse collection of flora and fauna. The Park is most notable for once being the site of Ampthill Castle where Henry VIII stayed and Katherine of Aragon spent a year whilst her marriage to Henry was annulled.
Despite its name this was actually a palace/manor house and not a traditional castle. Katherine’s Cross marks the site now and can be seen on the ridge if you follow the main path from the west car park. The Ampthill Camp Memorial Cross is also on the ridge. The landscape then would have been wood pasture but what you see now is largely down to Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown who strategically planted trees in clumps to create special vistas from the ridge.
Grazing only ceased at the park 10 years ago and it is again being introduced into certain areas to aid scrub management. A section of the Greensand Ridge Walk runs through the park on its way from Leighton Buzzard to Clophill.
Houghton House was built in 1621 by Mary, Countess of Pembroke and sister of the poet Sir Philip Sidney. In 1675, the house provided the inspiration for 'House Beautiful' in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress.
Bunyan's work is loosely based on his own journey between Bedford and Luton, and the steep slope leading into Ampthill was the model for the 'Hill of Difficulty'. Houghton House passed to the Duke of Bedford in 1738 and became a ruin after the removal of the roof in 1794.
Holly Walk is a banked footpath made in the early 1820s for Lord Holland as a short cut to the church from Park House. As it name suggests, it is lined with numerous holly bushes. Thatched cottages were built at either end, the Church end one having been rebuilt following a fire with a tiled roof.
The church of St Andrew ranges in date from Early English to Perpendicular. It contains a monument to Richard Nicolls (1624–1672), an Ampthill native, who, under the patronage of the Duke of York, brother to Charles II, to whom the king had granted the Dutch North American colony of New Netherland, received the submission of its chief town, New Amsterdam, in 1664, and became its first English governor, the town taking the name of New York. Nicolls perished in the action between the English and Dutch fleets at Solebay, and the ball which killed him is preserved on his tomb.
The church also contains a ring of eight bells. There were six until 1981, when the two new bells were installed.
Services Run weekly, with Sung Eucharist at 9.30AM and Evensong at 6.30PM. The church has a regular 4 part choir, which has sung morning and evening services for over 100 years.
Gas House Lane is a well used farm track and public right of way, linking eastern end of Church Street, Ampthill with Houghton House and open countryside. Ampthill’s gas works were built here in 1849, one of the first in the county.
Coopers Hill Nature Reserve is on the Greensand ridge, a geological feature which stretches across Bedfordshire from Leighton Buzzard in the south-west, to Gamlingay in south Cambridgeshire. Historically the site would have been grazed by sheep or cattle and the heather would have been used by locals as fuel, bedding and for thatching roofs.
Local records indicate that Cooper's Hill was once known as Ampthill Warren. Warrens were set up on areas of light soil where landowners dug burrows to encourage rabbits. Later, the seventh Duke of Bedford planted conifers on the heath, but these were felled in 1917 to help the war effort.
The reserve contains large areas of heather growing together with birch, oak, gorse and broom scrub. The north western corner of the reserve supports a small area of acidic mire and ponds, where the water table reaches the surface above the impermeable Ampthill clay. Marsh violet can be found here with willow carr gently shading the water. The open heath provides a home to the common lizard and insects such as solitary bees and wasps.
Woodland towards the north of the site grows over gently undulating ground with beech and lime in addition to the more usual birch and oak. The reserve is owned by Ampthill Town Council and is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Visit the website at http://www.wildlifebcn.org/reserves/coopers-hill