December 2020

Welham Green Circular

Mud! Mud! Glorious mud! Almost immediately after starting today’s walk at Welham Green, we encountered our first water obstacle, where a stream had decided that the bridle way we were following, offered an easier option than its usual channel. However, while we encountered difficult conditions underfoot today, the heavy going was helpfully broken up by occasional stretches along quiet country lanes that allowed us to clear the mud off our boots and make up a bit of lost time after being inevitably slowed down by the ooze! After crossing the A1000 at Bell Bar, we followed squelchy footpaths across arable land to reach the hamlet of Wildhill. Next, a walk up a country lane led to a bridle path through Harefield Wood at the edge of which we joined the Hertfordshire Way, and continued northwards for a short while before turning east. From the turn, we descended to Essendon Brook, before going uphill through Backhouse Wood, to reach Essendon village. Here we arranged ourselves on the benches around the cricket field for a perfectly socially distanced lunch stop. After lunch we continued northwards, although a fine drizzle put paid to some fine views across the Lea Valley. We were now descending once more and just before we reached the River Lea, turned to the west to walk parallel to the river, hidden behind trees to our north. By now with the help of our in-house’ mud seeking missile’ (Top Secret), we were learning to cope with the tricky conditions underfoot and made good progress towards the edge of the Hatfield House Estate. Leaving the river, we turned south to follow farm tracks taking us out of the valley, through the tiny hamlet of West End and onto another gloriously muddy bridle path. This eventually issued onto a minor road which we followed along the edge of Millward’s Park, before re-crossing the A1000 and returning to the station.

October 2020

Watton-at-Stone Circular

Despite heavy overnight rain, with the possibility of more to come, it was a cheerful group of walkers that set off from the Hertfordshire village of Watton at Stone. After crossing the High Street, we followed Mill Lane to cross the River Beane (on its way to join the River Lea at Hertford) before climbing steadily to reach the strangely deserted Watton by-pass. Once safely across the main road. we continued uphill before setting off along farm tracks, through meadows and over a number of stiles to Cutting Hill Farm. From here our route followed a sunken lane through woodland before emerging onto a broad track that undulated across farmland. We soon emerged on the edge of the small village of Green End, where the local cricket pavilion provided the perfect spot for a socially distanced lunch break. Not only did this structure provide benches, but also shelter as we somewhat fortuitously avoided the only heavy shower of the day. After lunch our route took us to Haultwick, a mile or so to the north. From here, we climbed the Old Bourne valley (the river sadly a trickle due to groundwater extraction) to reach today’s high point of 126 metres We now turned south to pass through the twin villages of Hebing End and Burns Green, after which there was a steady descent back into the Beane valley. Crossing the Watton bypass for the second time was a little more fraught due to much increased levels of traffic, but once on the other side, we were rewarded with a visit to a fairy dell installed by children from the local primary school. Whether this magical place was a nod in the direction of Rupert Grint (aka Ron Weasley) who grew up in the village remains uncertain. However it made a good talking point as we re-crossed the Beane to reach the end of the walk.

September 2020

Royston Circular

The return of U3A long walks! After an enforced hiatus (for reasons that we are all well aware of), the Longer Walks Group made its long-awaited comeback in early September! Following rigorous risk assessment and personal safety checklists, our pioneering group of walkers assembled outside Royston station, removed our face-masks and thrilled to the sound of a health and safety briefing. Suitably informed and alert, the walk got underway, with a gentle stroll past the Roisia (or Royston) stone and then a gentle climb along the main street. After a short road climb, we turned south from Royston, to follow the Icknield Way Trail as it climbed gently through an arable landscape. Fortunately the area still retains some of its ancient hedgerows, and autumn fruits such as sloes and haws were abundant. As we reached the top of the chalk, the slope levelled out and we entered the settlement of Therfield, stopping to admire its  attractive village green before continuing on past the parish church. From here a short stretch across fields brought us to the village of Kelshall, where we stopped for a socially distanced lunch around the base of Kelshall Cross and millennium monument. Suitably refreshed, we walked through the village as our route looped around to head north, now following the Hertfordshire Way, back to Therfield. We now began our descent of the chalk, at Thrift Hill, enjoying views over Cambridgeshire as we did so. At Thrift Farm, the route turned to head back to Royston, and after encountering an area set aside as ‘gallops’ for racehorses, reached today’s ‘sting in the tail’. As we reached Royston Golf Club, the Hertfordshire Way, deviated to south and a short but very steep ascent of Church Hill. However we were rewarded with a lovely ridge walk in the Pen Hills, before descending across the golf course and back into town. It’s good to be back!

March 2020

Darent Valley

What a contrast to the previous walk! The weather was bright and sunny, with the promise of Spring waiting just around the corner. So it was in optimistic mood that the group set off from Eynsford station in search of the River Darent. After a short road walk, we followed a farm track to cross the river (unsurprisingly in full spate) as it hurtled north to Dartford. Lullingstone Roman Villa managed by English Heritage was not yet open to the public, but as we followed the Darent upstream we soon encountered the more recently built Lullingstone Castle parts of which date from the 16th century. Continuing along the valley by hop fields and a lavender farm, our next stop was in the lovely village of Shoreham (Kent), home during the early 19th century to the artist Samuel Palmer and full of lovely cottages, a vineyard and the first of two picturesque bridges that cross the Darent. After leaving the village, we traversed the obligatory golf course before descending to go over the Darent once more before tackling our first steep climb of the day. Rewarded by fine views to Otford, Sevnoaks and the North Downs, we will entered Meenfield Woods and had our lunch just above Shoreham Cross (a memorial cut into the chalk in honour of the local victims of WW1). Suitably refreshed, we set off on our second steep climb, crossed our second golf course and emerged onto the top of the Downs. We were now looping back towards Eynsford, and soon began our descent, crossing a fine viaduct on the Sevenoaks to London railway line, before entering the village.Here we met the Darent for one final time, although disappointingly none of the group was prepared to cross the river by the ford, choosing instead to use the Grade2 listed 17th century road bridge, thereby causing local traffic congestion. All agrees this was a varied and fantastic walk, which more than made up for the previous week’s cold and wet!

February 2020

Digswell to Knebworth

Having cancelled the previous week’s attempt at this walk due to sleet and snow, we were promised a fine if dark and cloudy day by at least 3 forecasts, so it was with some surprise that we awoke to a drizzly London. Surely that must be last night’s rain clearing away. Wrong!

We alighted at Welwyn North station into a continuing drizzle, which weather wise proved to be as good as it got.  After descending into the valley of the River Mimram, we headed south east across somewhat muddy fields in the general direction of the village of Tewin and fter and after an hour of walking reached the grounds of Marden Hill House, a Grade 2 listed property dating from Jacobean times. Turing north, we followed the Hertfordshire Chain Walk as far as the village of Bramfield and into Bramfield Woods. At this point the drizzle had metamorphosed into a fairly incessant and unpleasant steady rainfall, which coupled with the Hertfordshire mud made the going difficult. Nevertheless, our group maintained high spirits as we finally made our lunch time pub-stop, The Horns at Bulls Green dates from Tudor times and claims to have a resident ghost. We saw little evidence of phantoms, but were pleased to dry ourselves by the log fire and enjoy some hot food in congenial circumstances. Despite an offer of taxis to the station, we channelled what the landlord called ‘the Dunkirk spirit’, and headed back out into the mud and rain. Continuing north to Datchworth, we turned west and despite nearly losing half of the group to a primary school playground, descended into the village of Woolmer Green. From here it was a mile or so to Knebworth station, where we arrived just in time to miss a London bound train by one minute. However even this setback did nothing to dampen our spirits at the end of what had been a fine walk despite the elements!

January 2020

St Albans to Harpenden

This was one of those winter walks when everything went right … well, almost! We welcomed two walkers new to the Group, the trains ran on time, the walk was expertly led, the pub lunch stop was a model of efficiency, the muddy paths along which we walked were not that slippery (although heavy on the boots by the end) … but if only the weather had been a bit brighter! From St Albans City station we walked to the city centre along a road characterised by some rather dull red brick churches until we reached the Market Place and then along French Row to the Abbey for a photo opportunity, although Romeo refused to co-operate! This is the oldest site of continuous Christian worship in Britain, architecturally a fascinating melange of styles. Leaving the city through Verulamium Park, we walked past the museum and through the churchyard of the Anglo-Saxon St Michael’s Church on to the Hertfordshire Way. The walk took us alongside the River Ver, through the Gorehambury Estate, after a brief stop at the sluice house, passing a couple of splendidly maintained mill buildings … and a indication of a darker side of rural life – notices warning that the area was subject to police patrols to prevent illegal hare-coursing and poaching. At the hamlet of Redbournbury we stopped briefly to admire the fully functional water-mill, before it was time to take off our muddy boots and enjoy our lunch at The Cricketers on the village green at Redbourn. Resuming our walk, we headed off across countryside towards Harpenden, crossing Harpenden Common to arrive at Harpenden Station, and our train back to London.

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