Herts Embraced 2.3: Open fields to Markyate

5:30 – Markyate.

What a change in the weather:  bright and sunny the whole afternoon.  This was all new territory for me since Ashridge and I had no knowledge of the landscape I was to cross.

This is a more open section, with few wood walks.  From Little Gaddesden the route passes over the fields to the village’s solitary church, alone in the fields.  From there the path dipped down into a valley at the head of the River Gade, a reminder of home.  Then after some road walking it climbs, following the Chiltern Way and Icknield Way Path.  Where the two separate, I followed the Icknield Way route to the edge of Studham.

From Studham, the path delightfully runs exactly on the boundary of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire for some miles, all the way into the centre of Markyate.

Twenty-five miles on Wednesday (Day 1) (plus a mile or two for diversions off the route).  Fifteen miles today (plus two miles for missing a junction and retracing my steps at one point!)

One question I have been asking myself is whether it would be possible to do the route on a bicycle.  One Day 1 the answer was “No” – the first sections are broad and cyclable down to the Chess, and the first bridleways up form it, but then there are too many narrow and overgrown paths and one by Cholesbury has a notice signed off by both councils (it being a boundary path) warning of hefty fines for cycling.  Of today’s sections I would say “yes”, mostly.  The first parts are road and towpaths, with bridleways after that, and more open spaces.  However it is not all cyclable.  The route remains a walking route.

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Herts Embraced 2.2: Aldbury, Ashridge, Gaddesden

1:15 – The Bridgewater Arms, Little Gaddesden. Trompé jusqu’aux os.

From Tring Station (which is a hamlet in itself, not in Tring) a little loop through the fields and down to Aldbury, a pretty village.

For much of this stretch I was shadowing the Chiltern Way.

Out of Aldbury it climbs steeply up the scarp of the Chilterns through the National Trust’s Ashridge Estate to the Bridgewater Monument.  The rain by this time was very heavy, but the National Trust café by the monument had some shelter as I tucked into a scone (although I was shocked that they had jam on top of the cream, and jam in the proper position beneath it, which is I suppose a compromise between the two opinions on the matter, ie the correct one and the wrong one.

They take law and order seriously in Aldbury

The path then follows the long vista shadowing the county boundary from the Monument almost to the bounds of Ashridge College. The county border, incidentally, runs through the college’s dining room.  (Ashridge used to be a training school for Conservative leaders, but no longer.  Presumably someone ruled that educational charities may not be political, or something.  That would be a surprise to most other colleges these days.)

At this point the county borders are complicated by geography.  Herts and Bucks here are like two vast fish hooks curled around each other, so following the boundary is not practical.  Instead the route takes a quick cut through of less than a mile on Buckinghamshire territory and emerges at Little Gaddesden, a long strangled, pretty village in Hertfordshire.  The Bridgewater Arms is to be recommended, by the way.

Next I am looking west, along the county’s border with Bedfordshire.  The rain  has stopped for a bit.

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Herts Embraced 2.1: Canal walk to Tring Station

11:20 – Tring Station

Starting where I left off in Long Marston, the path begins along the roads to the Grand Union Canal Aylesbury Arm.  Thereafter it sticks to the towpath all the way to the main canal and on to the station.

I have to remind myself that this is a boundary walk. The main Grand Union Canal lies along the county border (as here it is essentially a canalised part of the River Bulbourne)  to Bulbourne itself.

Currently raining hard (which was not forecast yet).  Next step, east into the Ashridge Estate.

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Grand Union Canal near Bulbourne

Herts Embraced 1.5: Canals and reservoirs to Long Marston

8:00 pm, in the Queen’s Head, Long Marston.  (Typed after I returned home.)

The path down from the county top descended swiftly and soon I was off the Chilterns.  Skirting along the northern edge of Tring and turning north, I entered a very different part of Hertfordshire, one which owes its geography more to the Vale of Aylesbury.

The path ran down to an abandoned arm of the Grand Union Canal – the Wendover Arm.  That said, it is not entirely abandoned: west of the bridge the canal was ‘in water’, while east of it, behind an earthen dam, the canal was dry and overgrown, but a “Restoration” banner attached to the bridge pointed to the dry section.  Beyond the canal, the Wilstone Reservoir was visible, and this was the next destination.  North of the reservoir I met the Aylesbury Arm of the Grand Union, which was in water and operative.

However, I had been noticing for several miles that my pace was slowing significantly and my feet were in revolt.  I did not feel tired as such, I rarely do when walking, but a slowed pace and occasional blurred vision were telling what my brain refuses to accept.

From the Aylesbury Arm I took the road to Puttenham, which is not on the route I had originally mapped but s a worthy addition to the route.  It is Hertfordshire’s westernmost village, and Puttenham is also Hertfordshire’s only Thankful Village – a village to which all who had served in the Great War returned alive.

The light was fading by this time.  I sought the route across the fields to the neighbouring village, Long Marston – the farthermost of the Tring Salient nd more importantly a place with a pub.  Somehow I missed the intended path (they are very poorly signposted and the descending night did not help) but came to Long Marston in the end, and was soon downing a pint of lemonade.

Earlier in the day I had considered heading from Long Marston south-east to the main canal and following it to Tring Station but I was clearly not up to another six miles or so by that time so Long Marston, point furthest north in the Tring Salient, concludes the first day.

Day two should begin where I left off, heading down to Tring Station and then across the Ashridge Woods.  That will not be tomorrow (domestic and civic duties to be done) but will follow shortly.

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Herts Embraced 1.4: to the County Top

5:10 – I have now reached the highest point in Hertfordshire, at Pavis Wood on the county’s border with Buckinghamshire.  This is about as far as I thought I would get today, but the path sloping gently down from here is very tempting.  I just have to ignore the point that my left leg is aching and my right foot throbbing.

This stretch has been a mixture of wooded paths and scrub track, suddenly bursting into broad wheatfields at their ripest and even the parkland of a great house with noble oaks.  Around Cholesbury the woods get dense and thorny as if to bar the way from Buckinghamshire – it is a betwixt-and-between stretch of country, as I suppose a borderland is meant to be.

Now, that path leading north …

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Herts Embraced 1.3: Bovingdon to Hockeridge Bottom

1:30, eating lunch at a pub.  I am well into the Chilterns now.

Crossing Bovingdon Churchyard still following the Hertfordshire Way, the route soon led out across the vast expanse of the Little Heath Golf Course. It needs care, but the route can be followed. Then the A41 is crossed for the first time, to Bourne End.  From here the path turns west, and into the hills.

After crossing back over the A41, the route drops down to the county border at Bottom Farm. Then it climbs again.  I began to realise that I added wide loops to the route just for the sake of keeping on or as close as possible to the county border. It makes for an interesting walk most of the time, but in the hills it adds ups and downs. Picturesque ones though.

The dogs at Harriotts End Farm so vocal in their criticism of my passing, did have a point:  the farm track west of the farm is not a public right of way, so the route should be diverted. I descended to Hockeridge Bottom, which valley bottom marks the county border, but found no linking path, so as it was past 1, I crossed into Buckinghamshire to find a pub (The Golden Eagle in Ashley Green – to be recommended). When I have finished filling my belly I will wobble back down to the Bottom and follow the border path along and out to the next objective.

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Herts Embraced 1.2 – Chorleywood to Bovingdon

10:30: Bovingdon.

A very pleasant morning’s walk so far, and very little road walking. Across the Common and through the Chorleywood House Estate down to the Chess, drowsing in the sun.  (Not too hot yet either.)  For most of this stretch, the Chess marks the county border.  Some of the paths are familiar, but there are whole new stretches.

Climbing from the Chess is a series of bridleways to Flaunden, then narrow cut-through paths until just outside Bovingdon I met the Hertfordshire Way for the first time on this journey, leading to the village.

The village pond is dried up – no wonder after this summer.  I am currently resting a moment in the four and a half acres of the churchyard of St Lawrence’s Church, before setting off for Bourne End.

The Chess
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Herts Embraced 1.1 – Chorleywood start

Chorleywood Station, 7:30 start.  An array of commuters wondering why an otherwise outwardly respectable character amongst them is dressed roughly for as if for hillwalking with compass and Explorer map and walking boots.

Down to Shire Lane, the county border, and the first step on the Hertfordshire Border Walk.

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Herts Embraced: a walk around Hertfordshire

The Herts Embraced walk begins in the morning.  The adventure is to walk the whole border of Hertfordshire clockwise, on the principles I have outlined before. It is daunting in the heat we have been having, but I am hopeful of cooler days.  I am counting on nothing though, and I am aware of being drained by the last week, when I was away in Germany, roasted under a hotter sun.  The last walk I did to re-open a multi-day route was in October, when the cooler weather was kinder, but the daylight was shorter.  This will be a new one, at a different scale and with longer days.

As before I am inviting donations to the Stroke Association (see below).

The walk starts early by Chorleywood Station, where Shire Lane marks the county border.  From there, I head north, up and across the Common, to the Chess and north through Bovingdon to Bourne End, following close to or on the county border.  From Bourne End the route (with the county border) heads west into the Chilterns and the Tring Salient, and I aim for Hastoe and the county top, which is at the county border a couple of hundred yards west of the village.

From there the mapped route runs north along the boundary, past Tring to Long Marston, but how far it will take me on the first day, I cannot tell – it depends on unexplored terrain and how much I still have left in me.  The next day, Friday, there will be more to be done (although I have been reminded of certain civic duties to be performed that might curtail my walk.)

This is not a route to be cleared in a few days but over a series of sequential expeditions which I want to complete this summer.  The idea is to test the route, verify that it can be done and record and circumvent problem stretches. Ultimately it will provide a challenge route for others – the Hertfordshire Border Walk – and a series of day-walks around our county.

Finally – the route is around the real county, the Hertfordshire, not the local government area which borrows its name.  I may be a councillor, trying to ensure sound local government, but I am not beholden to local government and I recognise that home is a place, not a bureaucracy.  I am doing this to embrace a county, not to find the edge of bureaucratic interference.

The Stroke Association

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The draft route

(See also the Hertfordshire Border Walk project page.)


The route spreads over a wide are and a series of maps is needed to complete it.  It might be done with standard Landranger maps, though the additional detail of an Explorer map can be very helpful.

In the Explorer, 1:50 000 series:

In the Landranger, 1:25 000 series:



See the country – while the country lasts

Is there anything more depressing than sitting in a planning meeting, as I am now, thinking about a planned country walk, then seeing the schematics displayed for concreting over it?  Well, yes – doing the walk and watching the diggers doing their work. Yet it is coming, inevitably, and here I sit, helpless.

There are wild places aplenty still – go and see them, and quickly.

In Lancashire, one brave and hardy soul is preparing to walk around the whole county, seeing both the heavily industrialised lands, swallowed forever by the works of man, but also the wild fells where a man may stand and look for mile upon mile on anywhen moorland forgetting which century he is in.

Old Shire Lane, south of Chorleywood
Old Shire Lane, south of Chorleywood

I am preparing a new walk, ambitious in its way, to see the edges of Hertfordshire, familiar and unfamiliar. I will get out there to convince myself that this is still a pretty county, with its woods, its meadows and rivers and its broad fields, peeping through in places behind cruel concrete, alas.  Still, I have walked the suburban wild before, and there must be more that remains green than the urbanised creep, still?

I have just looked up to see a familiar path on my route dotted along the southern boundary of a development site. I sigh inwardly, powerless.

I must hurry, and see the county, while the county lasts.