Herts Embraced revisted – Odsey Odyssey

This morning I went out to remap a missing link.  On Day 4 of the original walk, I reported that the A505 route is not to be recommended.  Therefore I went out to look for an alternative.  I actually found two.

The Hertfordshire Border Path from Ashwell heads east then south-west along the Shire Balk, marking the county border, before nipping through the outermost corner of Cambridgeshire at Odsey Hall to emerge on the A505, which marks the border of Hertfordshire with Cambridgeshire for several miles.  I walked along the verge of the A505 for two miles, on the southern, Hertfordshire side, but found it to be not only unpleasant but dangerous:  for the first mile or so it is a narrow verge with thorn bushes in places projecting out to the carriageway of a frequently busy, 70 mph road. After a mile it becomes a broad sward, but we cannot have the Border Walk involving a lethal mile.

Odsey was the centre of my walk this morning.  It is a hamlet in the south-westernmost corner of Cambridgeshire.  There is a grand house here, Odsey Hall, and surrounding estate houses, and a station, Ashwell and Morden, with a pub and adjoining cottages, and little else.  The name is also that of the neighbouring Odsey Hundred of Hertfordshire – whether there was an original village of Odsey south of the road in Hertfordshire I do not know, but the hamlet of today is firmly on the Cambridgeshire side of the road.

I rejoined the route at a point (TL290382) where the south-west path crosses the railway on an unguarded footpath level crossing, and here the two alternatives split.

Along the A505, north side

The A505 at Odsey

I first followed the path south, through a meadow belonging to Odsey Hall emerging at the A505.  This time, instead of crossing, I walked along the north side of the road.  I kicked myself for not having done this before:  the verge is far better for walking.  The first two hundred yards or so are a bit narrow, but quite walkable and with no hazards; it can be uncomfortable when a tractor or a lorry bowls past at speed but you are off the carriageway at all times, which I could not say for the south side verge.  The shrubs do not project over the path, and it looks walked.  Parts are gravelled and soon there is a tarmac path, leading to the mouth of Station Road.

Continuing past station road, the verge is very wide, green and kind underfoot.  This I followed for about a mile and a half.  Eventually I came to the Horse & Groom, a pub which for as long as I remember has been abandoned and boarded up – it is now at the time of writing a ruin, broken open and smashed by vandals and the weather, but now bearing a “Sold” sign, which promises a long overdue demolition.  That is a distraction though: the pub is a landmark but do not go that far as beyond it the verge becomes impassable safely, and I did not try.  Instead, I crossed the road before the pub, at the crossing-gap in the central reservation by Thrift Cottages, and continued east-northeast on the south side of the road to The Thrift; whence the route continues up the drive and over fields, but that did not need resurveying.

(Crossing the A505 takes speed and a good look-out but there are no bridges or tunnels.)

The railway path

Path by the railway

The alternative path is one running immediately north of the railway.  As you might guess, I walked this back to the original point, but I will describe it forwards.

From the point by level crossing, turn left, and take the path east-northeast, parallel to the railway.  This is not apparently a public right of way, but a resident of a house that backs onto it told me that it is used frequently by the public for dog-walking and normal walking.  (He mentioned a sign saying it is not a right of way, but I did not spot it.)  This path is a good, broad path that has been used by vehicles and horses.  It continues past a gate as a driveway access to a number of houses, which in turn emerges on Station Road opposite the station access for Ashwell and Morden Station.  The station access is a public right of way, leading straight through the station car park and turning into a good footpath.

It is a pleasant enough path, if you ignore the scrapyard behind the station and chalk-quarrying, which are a brief interruption.  It runs mainly between a hedge and the railway before emerging into a field edge (the main picture on this page), then turns south on a tarmacked farm track to meet the A505.

At this point, it would be tempting to try to cross the road, but do not: follow the broad grass verge until the wrecked Horse & Groom comes in sight, then look for the crossing-gap in the central reservation by Thrift Cottages: cross here (carefully) and continue east-northeast to The Thrift.

Compromise path

The railway path is the more pleasant path in that it is away from the road, but there is little to choose between them in the walking otherwise.  The A505 route is along the county boundary, one side of it; the railway path is a little away from it, but in sight.  The railway path starts on a frequently used path but not a public right of way, and you do not get to enjoy the brief scoot over the Odsey Hall Estate.

A compromise could be to take the original route, across the level crossing and the meadows to the A505, walk the verge on the north side of the road as far as Station Road, and then go up that road to join the railway path at the station.

Both of these routes, in particular the railway path, are outside our county, and run through Cambridgeshire for a mile and a half or more, which is a long ‘Trespass’.  Nevertheless it is as Brooke explained, ‘Cambridgeshire, of all England a shire for men who understand’, and I am sure they would understand – no one came running at me with spears or mortarboards.

See: Hertfordshire Border Walk

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