Event route planned and designed by Peter O in 2013.
Weather: initial light shower followed by clearing skies, sun throughout walk. Wind W 15mph.
Attendance: 21 men
Time: start 11:11, end 16:12. Lunch 39 minutes.
Terrain: hardstanding, pavement, grass, woodland track, cultivated field
Elevation: start 83m, high 150m, low 77m.
Number of sewage works on the route: 0
This was a circular route of 11.2mi from Manor Wood near Willian, NE to Letchworth Garden City, NNE to Baldock, SE to the Weston Hills, SE to Weston, SW to Graveley and N to Willian.
Meeting in a relatively small car park near Willian village, popular with dog walkers due to the surrounding countryside, we managed to take up almost every available parking space. A little rain came as we waited, but it was to be the only rain for the whole day.
The 21 of us set off, starting along part of the Letchworth Garden City Greenway, which is also used for National Cycle Route 12. We then reached Letchworth, walking on the outskirts of the Jackmans Estate, towards Baldock. Before reaching Baldock, we walked alongside the A1(M), and under it via a heavily-graffitied underpass. The edge of Baldock included a couple of horses and several piles of dog poo.
We then reached the Weston Hills Local Nature Reserve, and members were warned that it has been used as a cruising site in the past. We had lunch here, on Gibbet Hill. Normally set aside in summer for grazing sheep, the field was available to us to side on the eastern side, soaking up the sun’s rays. Halfway through a lunch, a golden labrador found us, its nearby family not realising we were there. The dog’s first thought was its own stomach, and it checked out everybody’s lunch for anything it could get!
After lunch, we left the reserve and ascended to a crossing over the A505 embankment, with a view of the Weston Hills tunnel, part of the Baldock bypass. The tunnel is so short, we could see through to the other side. Some countryside followed, including a field with a herd of young castrated male cattle (Americans call them steers, no idea what the English call them). They grouped themselves by the entry gate to the field, and as we entered, their innate curiosity conflicted with their equally innate fear of anything strange. After a small stampede, they eventually corralled us into two distinct groups, and we found ourselves walking in convoy with them along the entire path through the field. Those of us ahead of the herd became involuntary leaders, with one of us taking a video of the steers’ relentless push. Those behind the steers discovered just what fear meant: very wet cowpats littered the ground, with each individual steer indelicately spraying a combination of pat and urine with every other step (thankfully, no video of this!).
The exit from the field brought us to Weston village, a jewel in North Hertfordshire. We walked down Fore Street, where many cottages, farmhouses and barns are designated listed buildings. The first listed building we came across was a roadside well, and although most of the buildings were undoubtedly pretty, especially in the afternoon sun, we couldn’t help but wonder what the historical merit was, especially for a hole in the ground with a small wall around it!
Our descent from Weston to Graveley presented us with a view of Lister Hospital in Stevenage. Although Stevenage sits mostly within a valley, the location of the hospital is such that it is highly visible from the countryside north of Stevenage. Even so, the views on the descent were very pleasant, with rolling countryside and patchwork fields offset by a brilliant blue sky.
Graveley, like Weston, comprises a large number of listed buildings, including its two pubs. We walked between them and stopped at the village pond, which provided a short break in a beautiful village setting. We then saw our final listed building of the walk - a cast iron Victorian hand-cranked water pump.
The return to Willian took us back on the National Cycle Network, past an old convent, Roxley Court, now converted into flats. After returning to the car park, most of us went to The Fox pub at Willian for a quick drink sat next to Willian’s All Saints Church.
Word and pictures by Peter O'Connor and Martin Thornhill.