Event route planned and designed by Bernard E in 2014.
Weather: Warm, sunny intervals, humid, no rain, wind ~15mph W.
Attendance: 19 men
Distance: 12.6 miles
Time: start 11:11, end 16:44. Lunch 35 minutes
Terrain: Grass, cultivated field, hardstanding, woodland track.
Elevation: start 103m, high 167m, low 83m
Number of sewage works on the route: 1
Number of golf courses on the route: 2
This was a circular route of 12.6mi from Redbourn, S and E to Redbournbury, S and SE to Roman Verulamium, N to Childwick Green, NNW to Harpenden, around Harpenden West Common and N to Hatching Green, WNW to Rothamsted, and WNW and SSE to Redbourn.
The group met at the car park on Redbourn Common, and headed south, briefly crossing the River Ver and the Nickey Line, as a quick preview of what would come later. After some countryside, including fields of broad bean crop, we joined the River Ver Trail, one of a family of routes promoted by the Ver Valley Society. At Redbournbury Watermill and Bakery, some of us treated ourselves to some of the bread on sale. The grain for the bread is grown, milled and baked all within two miles of the mill. A mill was recorded on the site in the Domesday Book.
We passed the Redbournbury Farm Meadows, which the River Ver traverses. The Ver is an example of a chalk stream, a rare and threatened, yet ecologically important habitat. The meadows are farmed traditionally, with light grazing, late cutting of hay and no fertilisers or pesticides in use, and are designated a County Heritage Site. The river was navigable in the Roman era, but is now regularly dry upstream in summers.
We followed the river from Redbournbury to Shafford Farm, where there is another mill, this time disused, and continued on the River Ver Trail all the way to the Roman Theatre at Verulamium, the Roman town to the west of present-day St Albans. This section included rich meadows alongside the Ver and Lord Gorhambury’s driveway, part of the old roman road from Durovernum (Canterbury in Kent) to Viroconium (Wroxeter in Shropshire). The Saxons named this Watling Street (they called St Albans “Watlingchester”, hence the name). The driveway sits in the privately-owned Gorhambury Estate and houses the Earl of Verulam in a relatively modern manor house built in 1777-84. This house replaces a nearby ruin.
Walking down this road, we had views of St Albans Abbey, and some of the city’s other interesting buildings. On reaching the Roman Theatre, we realised there was nothing to see without buying a ticket, so moved on to the Batchwood Golf Course. This was part of the Batchwood Estate, purchased out of the latter in 1874 by Edmund Beckett Denison, later Sir Edmund Beckett, later, in 1886, the first Baron Grimthorpe. The Batchwood house itself now hosts a nightclub.
After a few good countryside views and some lunch next to a broad bean field, we reached Childwickbury (pron “Chiddickbree”), a manor house built in 1666, housing the Lomax family until 1854. In our time, it was the home of film director Stanley Kubrick and his widow still lives there. We did get a quick group shot by its entry gates and were able to sneak a peak at the impressive mansion through the gates. The estate hosts an arts centre, and an annual arts festival.
We passed through Childwick Green, featuring some listed buildings, and into Harpenden. The houses in this part of the town all seem to date from between 1960s and the present day. It felt like a simple housing estate, with extraordinarily big - and expensive-to-maintain - houses. One example was so big that it occupied two plots. In many cases, it was quite obvious that older 1950s/1960s houses had been replaced by modern near-like-for-like equivalents. One property had the builder in, digging a basement. This felt like Hertfordshire’s answer to Bishops Avenue, Hampstead (“Billionaire’s Row”).
At Hatching Green, a hamlet attached to Harpenden, we came to Rothamsted Research, the work of which focusses on horticulture. We saw several of their projects, including tracking insects with harmonic radar; the Broadbalk Experiment, in continuous operation since 1843, which studies the effect of wheat grown continuously and in rotation; and the National Willow Collection, started in the 1920s, forming the basis of a willow breeding and genetics programme. Recent developments suggest that willows could be a key contributor to carbon capture programmes.
The final part of the walk was on the Nickey Line, a disused railway that is now a public right-of-way. Intended to connect Harpenden to Hemel Hempstead, it didn’t quite connect to the mainline (London North West Railway) at Boxmoor Station, terminating instead some distance away. The Nickey Line opened in 1877, closed in 1963 and its tracks were lifted in 1981-82. St Albans and Dacorum Councils opened this part of the Nickey Line in 1985 as a public footpath, and it is part of the National Cycle Network. We then returned to Redbourn for a pint or two at The Cricketers.
Words and pictures by Peter O'Connor and Martin Thornhill.