Easter Pilgrimage to St Albans

At Easter, our local churches organise a walk to the cathedral. The routes from each village congregate on the great Abbey Church crowning the hill in St Albans. I should gather these together in a map, though routes may vary from year to year, but I will start with the route I know from Croxley Green.

This spring weekend is a bright and glorious one. You can never tell in April, but on a hot day, it is hard with a large group of mixed walking experience. This is not hill country by any means, and the route scouts the edge of the Chilterns, not plunging through the middle. It also follows made paths and roads for the most part: if you have a large group, they should not be squeezing through narrow, nettle-clad paths or deep mud. The way is a lovely one though all the way.

The usual route from Croxley follows up the Green to the green lane at the top of the village and follows it down and through the woods to the Grand Union Canal, and the canal towpath takes us north. There is a mixture of the ancient and the modern in the walk, which is unavoidable in a county such as this, developed yet preserving its rich farmland and woods wherever it can. Part of the canal follows a natural route through the Chilterns followed by the Romans, but we turn off it before reaching into the hills, at Hunton Bridge and into a modern town.

For all that Abbots Langley has become to house the thousands who wish to live here, there are paths to follow in the quieter parts and out again, and out the route emerges at the ‘tin tabernacle’ in Bedmond (one of only two still open for worship in the county; the other being a large corrugated iron church at Cockernhoe (and which can be seen on the Hertfordshire Border Walk).

The road directly from here to St Albans is quiet and largely pavementless, but a direct route to the city. In time there is an escape from the road back onto a path, which leads through an outer suburb and into Verulam Park. From there is follows the line of the wall of Verulamium, still impressive after a millennium and a half of abandonment, and follows the last footsteps of St Alban up the hill to the Cathedral.

There are other villages which make the same journey, and at sometime I will see if I can follow their routes too.

Route map

Greeting the New Year in Ashwell

A New Year’s walk is best when it opens new horizons, and the horizons are very broad around Ashwell. It is a village I have visited before, towards the end of a weary day trekking over the fields from Hitchin walking the Hertfordshire Border Walk, but this was a gentle family walk, a welly walk around the fields and farms surrounding the village.

The village is a very pretty one and stands at the very northernmost reach of Hertfordshire, close by its meeting with Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire – and Ashwell has a lot of the character of the villages of southern Cambridgeshire, even with cottages decorated in the distinctive East Anglian decorative plasterwork, known as pargetting. It is on the plains below the chalk ridge, so the skies are huge and the horizons flat and broad. The claggy fields are strung with streams and ditches – the tiny brook through the village itself is the Rhee, which broadens into a river soon enough and claims to be the true River Cam which beautifies Cambridge.

The day started bright and clear, which was an encouraging introduction to the new year. In the afternoon the rain came on, but nothing too off-putting. If this could be a portent of the character of 2022 as a whole (which is vanity, but a pleasing one) then it will be a better year that the one we have just got rid off, and on which I will not look fondly.

We walked just six miles in a ring to the north and the south of the village. First we took a silent benediction from the towering church we passed, then out into the fields, looping north of the village, passing Bluegates Farm, and glimpses of Bluegates Dairy and Love’s farm – charming names, and all apart from each other – this is all a contrast from the crowded south of the county.

Looping south of the village, our route climbed to the hills, such as they are, (There is an ancient earthwork up there, though I will admit that apart from the protective fence all round it, I could not see anything of note.) Then over the top and down to the village again, and a pleasant, very muddy, walk it was to greet the new year.

There is a lot of road walking on this one, but many were just farm lanes and the actual roads were almost empty (and we were only a mile from the tearing rush of the A505).

Wellies along the Colne: London Colney and Colney Hatch

Just before New Year we headed out for another family welly walk, starting in an unfamiliar place by a familiar river: a six mile walk along the upper course of the River Colne, from London Colney, south-west of St Albans.

London Colney has the heart of a pretty village round a green by the little river, if you ignore the overwhelming grey modern development brought by the motorway junction.  Or destination eastwards was Colney Hatch.

We started for convenience in the main car park in London Colney, threading through alleys to avoid the main road before we needed it, and thence down to the village’s interesting bridge over the River Colne:  a fine, elegant, brick-built bridge with seven arches, and all this for a river little bigger than a brook, though it spreads into a wide pool above the bridge.

The path follows the river upstream, eastward, and very soon comes upon a children’s petting farm (which even in the after-Christmas frost was open with eager, short customers.  Beyond the farm you depart from the riverside to a series of fishing lakes, created from old gravel pits, whose banks are being reclaimed by nature.

Beyond here the path suddenly comes upon and crosses over a quarry conveyer belt, serving Tyttenhanger Quarry.

Approaching Colney Heath, there is a model railway centre created by the North London Society of Model Engineers. Not much to say as it was closed when I passed and nothing could be seen.

Instead of taking the path through the common on the south side of the river, we went to see the village which was after all the interim destination, Colney Hatch.  Through the edge of the village and along the north edge of the common, we had lunch before the return leg.

The river must be crossed, and here there is a ford: wellies were needed in the cold water.

The conveyor belt

This is the return leg. Again, it is possible to follow a path west and south-west to Tyttenhanger Farm, but the route chosen here follows through the common close to the road, and along field-edges until the farm’s entrance track, when the route heads north-east a short way, not to the farm, but the path turns off again, once again to encounter the long conveyor belt.

Here there are little woods and the river again; scrubby riverside land, until it reaches the petting farm again.

Under the A1081, it is soon back to London Colney and to the bridge.

Route map


The Icknield Way Path

The Icknield Way Path carried one of my favourite sections of the Hertfordshire Border Walk, as I could hardly avoid expressing on the first ‘Herts Embraced’ walk (on Day 3).  The path carries a heritage with it that connects you to the walkers of ancient ages, for it follows a road that was ancient even before the Romans came, and which in Anglo-Saxon days was noted as one of the Great Roads of Britain.

Much of the ancient Icknield Way is now tarmacked road, but other parts are remarkably left as footpath and bridleway, as they would have been in ancient days.  It runs roughly along the chalk ridge of the Chilterns, above the scarp, and the Icknield Way Path follows the ancient road, or close by it, from Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire, and thence in an east-north-easterly direction across into Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, for much of its length forming the borders of counties.  (It was in the latter capacity of course that it recommended itself to the Hertfordshire Border Walk.)

That is not quite the end either – Ivinghoe Beacon is the beginning of the Ridgeway long-distance route, and the north-easternmost end at Knettleshall Heath is the start of the Peddar’s Way.

To describe the walk is beyond a single, brief post. I have walk long, lovely stretches, but not the whole thing.  The rest of it is bookmarked for later explorations.  I’ll take a picnic: those chalk grasslands looking out far over the lower land below the escarpment are as if created for picnics.


Route map

Maps and books

The route is long, stretching across several maps.  It might be done with standard Landranger maps, though the additional detail of an Explorer map can be very helpful.

In the Ordnance Survey Explorer, 1:50 000 series:


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The Gerald Colton Way

The Gerald Colton Way looks an oddity, but there is a sharp logic to it. It runs from the South Bank Centre in Central London, out to the Buckinghamshire Chilterns, with loops and eccentricities on the way.
The route is 65 miles long, so do not expect to walk it in one weekend. It was devised in 1994 by Gerald Colton, a founder member and long-time Walks Organiser of the Hampstead Ramblers, to mark the first multi-racial elections in South Africa that year. He named it the ‘Mandela Way’ and it ran from a statue of Nelson Mandela by the Royal Festival Hall, out to the Boer War monument on Combe Hill in Buckinghamshire. It has no other connection with South Africa though and so after Mr Colton’s death the next year, the Hampstead Ramblers renamed his route in honour of its inventor.

The Gerald Colton Way looks an oddity, but there is a sharp logic to it.  It runs from the South Bank Centre in Central London, out to the Buckinghamshire Chilterns, with loops and eccentricities on the way.

The route is 65 miles long, so do not expect to walk it in one weekend.  It was devised in 1994 by Gerald Colton, a founder member and long-time Walks Organiser of the Hampstead Ramblers, to mark the first multi-racial elections in South Africa that year. He named it the ‘Mandela Way’ and it ran from a statue of Nelson Mandela by the Royal Festival Hall, out to the Boer War monument on Combe Hill in Buckinghamshire.  It has no other connection with South Africa though and so after Mr Colton’s death the next year, the Hampstead Ramblers renamed his route in honour of its inventor.

Since the 1990s, the route has become mostly forgotten, which is a pity because it is eminently walkable in sections – the path is devised so as to pass railway stations allowing sections to be walked as day walks, and some of these are very interesting.  It also achieve the feat of finding a largely green route all the way through and out of the metropolitan conurbation.

Hungerford-Bridge, at the route’s begininng

The route on its winding course passes through four counties, beginning on the Surrey bank of the Thames before crossing to Middlesex. It crosses almost due north all through Middlesex, then looping through Hertfordshire and Middlesex again before climbing through the Chess Valley into Buckinghamshire and following the Misbourne Valley through the Chilterns.

The Gerald Colton Way provided, if not a natural waking route, a series of pleasant walks to make into a personal project.

(Thanks to the Hampstead Ramblers for information on the route.)


In the Explorer, 1:50 000 series:

Route map

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The Rickmansworth Canal Festival

I have written of the Grand Union Canal as providing the path for many a good walk, but it is not all about walking:  there is the wet bit in the middle, the canal itself, and the canal is abuzz with life.  Last weekend was the annual Rickmansworth Canal Festival; a celebration of the life of the canal, also with land-based stalls, events, live music stage and funfair.  It is on the canal though that the festival comes into its own, and the narrow water throngs with colourful boats.

This is a celebration of the outdoors, if not a walk, but a life in the fresh air.

You would not know until you see them, or if you are of the fellowship of boaters, how many canal boats there are, and the variety of them.  Some canals are very narrow, as on the Aylesbury Arm just 7 feet wide, and the narrowboats built for it are narrow.  The main line through is a broader water, and by Batchworth they were moored three abreast with still ample room for passage past them, and here they gathered, brightly coloured in the canal-art style, or duller, working boats, and broad-bottomed boats that once hauled coal from Birmingham to London, restored with loving attention.  Some are boats turned into floating stalls selling paintings, artworks, books and more, and others to remind us of the rescue services, including the canal chaplaincy.  There is fellowship here and a unity despite the ill-matched types.  All celebrated, bedecked with bunting.

On day 1 of Herts Embraced I crossed the Wendover and Aylesbury Arms, and saw the Wendover Arm cut off; dry and empty up to a dam, then brimful of water and ready the other – that is a tribute to the work of volunteers that still continues – that dam will be driven back as the work goes on until the Wendover Arm is full and operational.  It is an artificial waterway, so it need maintenance or it decays, bursts and empties.  that is worthy work, but I have not volunteered my arm yet.

The boats are shaped by their owners and maybe the names give a clue to eccentricities:  plenty are named for wives and sweethearts and others, well, I did not see “Fat Bottomed Girl” nor “The Slowness of Cows” but I have seen each ply the canal.  I am a walker not a boater, but I can give a cheer for those who take the tiller in order to enjoy the unhurried flow of the fields past them, and the slowness of cows.

Aldbury and the Bridgewater Monument

It has been a glorious day, and the perfect one for a short Chiltern walk.  As we wait for the joy of Easter, we are in anticipation.  Nature is bursting forth in readiness for the rebirth of summer, in all its variety giving praise to its creator.  We then stepped out to enjoy it, as we wait for Easter.

Aldbury stands below the scarp of the Chilterns, a perfect little village set around a village pond, and buzzing with activity when we arrived – cars had begun to circle like sharks for parking spaces.  Rising above the village is the wooded slope of the hills, which here belong to the National Trust’s Ashridge Estate.

The eagle-eyed may notice that I was here in Aldbury on Day 2 of my Herts Embraced walk.  That day was very different:  it was raining so hard I thought my map would dissolve into papier maché and my camera would fill with water.  I still recognised that this was a pretty village and the woods were lovely even in those conditions, and the coffee in the National Trust café at the top of the hill was very welcome.  Today though was dry, bright and the hottest day of the year so far.

We started down an intriguingly named road, Trooper Road, a name which was explained as we arrived at The Valliant Trooper, one of the village pubs, and at once lost the crowd.  We continued out of the village across a field to a cross-track, the east, across the road, and began climbing the hill (past a lovely arts-and-craft house, worthy of Lutyens) and up through the woods.  As this is woodland held by the National Trust it is left to be more natural than others.  At one point a group of roe deer appeared, close to the path and apparently unbothered by walkers.

While the escarpment is steep, the tracks climb this part across the contours to make it a gentle climb for the family.  Crossing a corner of the road we entered a part of the estate which was suddenly full of other families:  The National Trust in partnership with Cadbury were running an Easter egg hunt.  Whatever you might think about cheapening the Church’s most precious day, it was getting families out and walking, which is a good thing.

The Bridgewater Monument

Before too long we were joined by a path climbing more directly from the village which I had taken on ‘Herts Embraced’, and soon we arrived at the Bridgewater Monument, the centrepiece of the Trust’s estate.  Before the estate was broken up by Lloyd George’s taxes, the monument was part of the scheme of the Duke of Bridgewater’s private estate, standing as it does as a focal point on a two mile vista from Ashridge House, which is not owned by the Trust.   The monument was open, so we climbed it, and the views are wide all around, and clear in the brightness of the day.  (The last time I was here I did not see if the tower was open, but it would have been hard to see anything very far at all in that weather.)

We turned north-west around the Monument and headed back into the woods, then by a cottage lost in the woods turned south-west crabbing down the scarp until at the foot of the slope we emerged into fields by Stocks Farm.  From there, across the fields it is just a step back into the village.

The whole walk is only about three miles – just right with two tired but enthusiastic children to break a busy day



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Cycling and the promise of freedom

He shot off like a comet, the glee showing in every pore – this in a boy of nine just learning to cycle was a reminder of what a bicycle is all about:  it is about the sudden realisation of freedom.  Where once you could go nowhere faster than your little legs would take you, and soon be caught up with, the bicycle gives you wings, and all by your own strength.  Suddenly the horizon is within reach and you can dream of what lies beyond.

I followed on and felt the rush too.  Yes, we only hared around the village and the lanes about it, and explored paths nearly forgotten, but knowing that anything beyond it is just a question of not turning round and going back to finish that homework.  The glimpse of freedom is there, and should never be lost.

With that in mind I will do what I always intended, and add some cycle routes and pages about cycling to WildþingUK, starting today with the Alban Way, a cycle route between St Albans and Hatfield.

I can be more ambitious though, now I can see the horizon.

The Chess Valley Walk

A glorious February day for a walk, and so I walked the Chess Valley Walk with my daughter; eleven miles from Chesham in Buckinghamshire to Rickmansworth in Hertfordshire, all along the River Chess.

The river, the constant companion along the way, grows from what is little more than a muddy puddle in Chesham into a shining waterway – never more than inches deep, nevertheless it has carves a deep, verdant valley.  It is a lovely walk, and as we met many walkers on the way, others appear to agree with this.  At just 11 miles, it is to be enjoyed at leisure.

From Chesham Station we headed first along a straight path wrought beside the railway line before descending to the town, and here I must observe that the signs and Ordnance Survey maps disagree on where the walk goes, so we followed the signs for the pleasanter route – further on we found even two maps disagreeing and that the promoters of the path have moved it, for the better.  Soon after emerging from Chesham there are some short sub-industrial stretches, but that is the reality of a working countryside, before we crossed the river and followed through the grazed fields of the farms which are the greatest stretch of the walk.

First then by the woods towards Latimer House.  It is here that the Chess pulls its greatest trick – becoming a broad river which in the sunshine glinted like a lake, which actually is what it is – in a past age the Estate half-dammed the river with a weir to create an ornamental lake.  The great house has now become a hotel, but the ornament remains.

Past Latimer and we were into Hertfordshire.  First stop:  an intriguing enclosure which was the site of mediaeval Flaunden before it moved up the hill.  Nothing visible remains.  Soon after that, we were on part of the first-day route of my ‘Herts Embraced‘ walk, all past Sarratt Bottom and to a pool of the river below the Chorleywood House Estate (many dogs playing in the pool here, then sniffing for our picnic food).

On the Chess Valley Way

On then across the M25 at Solesbridge Lane and through the back of Loudwater and back to familiar territory, in Rickmansworth.

The station at each end has an information board about the route and things to see (I could not seen any sign of water voles not white-tailed crayfish in the river, but will take that on trust).  In the end though, it is a walk to be enjoyed for itself.

Page on the walk with map


The route might be done with standard Landranger maps, though the additional detail of an Explorer map is very helpful.

In the Explorer, 1:50 000 series:

Herts Embraced 9.3: completed!

3:05 pm:  The finish line in Chorleywood.

After the last ‘excitement’ with the HS2 works, all went smoothly to plan:  straight along Shire Lane, which is variously a road and a broad, woodland path.  As it approaches Chorleywood, the path shows the signs of once having been a crudely metalled road.  Then it begins to turn into a road as farms appear at the top, then cottages where the tarmac begins, then as it descends the village appears around it, and all the way, it marks the border of Hertfordshire to the east from Buckinghamshire to the west, even as the village grows around it.

Shire Lane, above Chorleywood

So I followed the lane along the road, the path and the road again, down into Chorleywood, and as the railway bridge appeared at the bottom of the valley, I knew the end was, literally, in sight, and the last stroll down just seemed so ordinary as people were getting on with their own business as every day.  I however had walked 170 miles to get to where I was, where I started.

I found in my walk parts of Hertfordshire I thought I knew but which were unfamiliar close to, and a county well worth embracing.


See: Hertfordshire Border Walk

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