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09 November 2019: The Winterbourne Walk

Event led by Tom M
Attendance: 11 men
Distance: main route 8.2 miles (13.2 km).
Time: start 11:04, end 15:10, lunch 30 minutes
Terrain: field edge, woodland track, pavement as footpaths, bridleways, highways.
Elevation: start 160m, high 179m, low 138m
Weather: overcast, 5°C, persistent showers from 1.20pm, cold wind, felt like 1°C
Number of sewage works: 0
Number of churches: 3.
Number of golf courses: 1

This was a circular walk of 8.2 miles (13.2 km) from Redbourn Common, NW to Flamstead, E then SE around Redbourn, back to the start point.  The walk is based upon the Winterbourne Walk published by the Ver Valley Society.

We started our walk from Redbourn Common and Cricket Club, where legend has it (i.e. no documents confirm that) cricket was first played in 1666.  The same year as the Great Fire of London, which is presumably a co-incidence. But it still feels like a remarkable co-incidence.  It’s all too easy to believe that the “cause” of the fire was a headline grabbing cover of a traditional batting collapse earlier in the then cricket season.  Anyway, moving on…

A short distance away, we passed St Mary’s Church at Redbourn.  This happened to be open, so a few of us popped inside and nearly cooked.  There was some activity going on in the church, so somebody had turned the heating on.  It was a surprise; most churches we visit are very cold affairs. The interior of the church was bright, clean and relatively colourful.

We walked north-west on the Hertfordshire Way, ending up at St Leonards Church at Flamstead.  This church was busy with a service, so we chose not to enter this church.  Outside the church, alongside one of its walls, was a landscaped winter garden, with the last of its autumn flowers open.  At the door next to the garden, we took our group shot.

Continuing our march towards lunch, we encountered a number of fields still laden heavy with pumpkins, two types of fungus (one was Sulphur Tuft, the other we haven’t identified), two horses who were more keen on our lunch than we were, and a field of the cutest sheep imaginable (with cows to keep them company).

Lunch was in the corner of a field.  On this occasion, our primary objective was to keep relatively warm, so we found ourselves on the side of a hill, out of the wind, regaled by the unremitting roar of the M1.  Timing was on our side: by the time we had finished lunch, it started raining. It continued to rain to beyond the end of the walk.

After lunch, we soaked our way over the M1.  This was our second crossing of the M1 on the walk, and our umpteenth crossing over the years, so we had a brief stop to summarise the history of the M1.  It turns out that Lord Montagu of Beaulieu first coined the word “motorway” in 1923, giving us the opportunity to lament the English habit to mis-pronounce “Beaulieu” (“byoo-lee”, apparently, go figure, in spite of some arguing that mis-pronunication is “technically correct”).  We also acknowledged that the start point of the M1 was junction 5 (Watford), proof - if ever needed - that the English aristocratic attitude of nimbyism was alive and kicking.  And that junction 3 doesn’t  exist because a toilet stop (London Gateway services) was considered more useful than a spur to the A1 (at Stirling Corner).

We crossed the rather dry River Ver.  We said to ourselves at the time that the dryness was caused by over-abstraction, but this might be an urban myth.  According to the leaflet from the Ver Valley Society, “It is not directly affected by groundwater abstraction so is able, generally, to retain a modest flow.”  Irrespective of the root cause, there is no doubt that the river is drier than a teetotalers’ party. The River is - was? - a chalk stream, a relatively rare habitat.

We passed the Herts County Showground, the home of the annual Herts Show.  The show takes place in May each year, showcasing prize livestock, agricultural matters, local food and drink.

We used the Nickey Line (wiki) for a brief stretch of our route, a former railway between Harpenden and Hemel Hempstead.  Passenger services ended in 1963 (“Beeching’s Axe”).  The tracks arose in 1982 for conversion of the route into a public footpath.

The walk ended at the Cricketers, Redbourn Common.  A lovely, small free house with small restaurant, serving a good range of ales, a couple of ciders and a small gin library.  The food menu also looked good, and keenly priced.

All in all, a very pleasant walk whose features sustained a bleak, dark and wet day.

More pictures are at

Words by Martin Thornhill. Pictures by Peter O’Connor.

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