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.

Links

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:

Books

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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.)

Maps:

In the Explorer, 1:50 000 series:

Route map

Please donate to the Stroke Association: click here.

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

Route

Maps

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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

Maps

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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Herts Embraced 9.2: A quick crossing, and a Low Speed One

1:40: Old Shire Lane

I should have finished long since, but for unwanted engineering.  I started as planned where I left off and completed the Boundary Path to Batchworth Heath, then entered Bishop’s Wood where, despite a minute or two of doubt, I managed to follow the planned path through the wood, and across Woodcock Hill.  After Fieldways Farm the route nips across the north-westernmost corner of Middlesex down to the Colne and the Grand Union Canal, across which I re-entered Hertfordshire.

In this stretch I came across a sponsored walk in aid of the Michael Sobell Hospice; a popular walk by the numbers I greeted.

Farmland on the edge

After Coppermill Lock I left the charity walkers.  I walked south beside the canal and then crossed between the lakes and to the southernmost point of Hertfordshire.  So far, so good.

Old Shire Lane begins at the Uxbridge Road, at the Buckinghamshire border. I followed this wooded path west and north, on the county border, and intended to follow it all the way to Chorleywood, but north of the path the whole landscape is filled with the works for the HS2 line  Then when I got to a cross-track I found that the Department of Cussedness has closed Old Shire Lane, rot them.

I therefore took a long diversion out to Chalfont St Peter, and a path back – which itself was blocked when I got to the end.  (Never mind how I got to the lane again.)  The roads have been messed around so much that I missed the footpath part of Old Shire Lane and so had a diversion-from-the-diversion-from-the diversion.  Hence being very far behind time (that and sitting down to blog it).

It should now be a straight run in from here; well, let’s see.

See: Hertfordshire Border Walk

Please donate to the Stroke Association: click here.

 

Herts Embraced 9.1: Closing the embrace

Last day today.  I am starting where I finished yesterday, where the boundary path crosses the railway line (between Moor Park and Northwood stations; I will walk there from Northwood). Then the plan is to carry on westward to the end of the path, and work my way through Bishop’s Wood Country Park and Woodcock Hill to West Hyde’s Coppermill Lock.  To the south is the county’s southernmost point, where Hertfordshire, Middlesex and Buckinghamshire meet, and a footpath that runs along the county border all the way to the top of Shire Lane in Chorleywood, which lane then runs along the county border to the station, which is where I started on Day 1.  Nine days to get back to where I started.

Well, let’s go.

See: Hertfordshire Border Walk

Please donate to the Stroke Association: click here.

Herts Embraced 8.4: Rus in urbe, urbs in rure

6:15 pm:  between Moor Park and Northwood

The rain eased off a little after my late lunch.  Behind Bushey Heath a path runs out across the open space called Merry Hill, with far views over the valley southwards with barely a house to be seen.  Whatever your ideas of this congested part of our county, there is its natural state still to be found.

Eventually though it drops down to Carpenders Park, where the habitations of man begin, then it is along the road some more, compassing round Carpenders Park and South Oxhey, where the route heads south to the path along the county border, watched and occasionally followed by curious horses. Then through Nascot Wood and Oxhey Wood, where I followed an unsystematic westward path, to hit the exactly right spot.

At the end of the wood begins the path known locally as just ‘the Boundary Path’, which runs for two miles along the border of Hertfordshire with Middlesex, cutting between houses, even across roads, turning from a narrow, muddy path to a broad, clear one almost randomly, with great oaks or their stumps all along the way, suggesting it was once an estate boundary path.  Here then I came to the railway line and called it a day, just over ten miles from the finish where I began.  That is for tomorrow.

See: Hertfordshire Border Walk

Please donate to the Stroke Association: click here.