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10 April 2021: Woolmer Green, Shephall and Old Knebworth

Event led by Peter O
Attendance: 15 men
Distance: 11.8 miles (19 km)
Time: start 11:08, end 16:03, lunch 28 minutes
Terrain: woodland, field edge, pavement, road edge, grass, field.
Elevation: start 118m, high 145m, low 71m
Weather: overcast, 7°C, cold wind, felt like 5°C
Number of sewage works: 0
Number of churches: 7, poss 8
Number of golf courses: 1

A well-attended walk after months of lockdown. We were delighted to see each other again after months of effective house-arrest.

This was a circular walk of 11.8 miles (19 km) from Mardley Heath at Woolmer Green, NE to Datchworth, N to Stevenage, SW to Knebworth House then SE back to the start point.

The first and last thirds of the walk were metropolitan countryside. The second third of the walk was urban, transgressing into Stevenage, taking a circuitous route through modern housing estates of various decades to the old village green of Shephall.

The route from Datchworth to Stevenage took in wide views across a shallow valley, leading to views of the southern side of Stevenage. The view reminded us that Stevenage was indeed originally built in a hole, but which had since spread beyond its hilly borders. Tower blocks and big factories peppered the top of the hillscape.

After a few hundred metres of housing estate, we entered Stevenage Brook Marsh, a flood plain (“water meadow”) designed to delay large volumes of water from overpowering the natural drainage system and worsening floods in Stevenage and downstream.

The old village green of Shephall was our lunch point. The green was preserved during the urban sprawl that Stevenage became in the 1960s. The green offered a pocket of parkland in the midst of dense hardcore urban housing of the route either side of lunch.

The seven churches were:

St Mary’s of Shephall hosts the grave of Thomas Hampson, who was an Olympic gold medallist of 1932. The Church holds the oldest bell in Hertfordshire, dating back to the Norman era 12th century. The bell is still in use today.

The route also offered us a tantalising glimpse of the roof of the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, Shephalbury Manor. We’ll count this as a bonus church, so eight churches in total. The place is festooned with churches.

On the way out of Stevenage, through Broadwater, we walked past a sort-of church of a more industrial and topical variety: GlaxoSmithKline. The building’s design shares features with its peer in the Priority, Ware, the features being bold enough to count as a brand all by themselves. As the route took us behind the building, we saw some of the bits that wouldn’t really suit front-of-house. These bits included some bins, which happened to be bright yellow, the standard colour for medical waste.

After passing our last church, we entered Knebworth Park. The park and its house is part of the Lytton dynasty, whose name appears in places, street names and pub names in the area. The park hosts a herd of deer.

Knebworth House flew its emblem flag at half-mast, which we assumed was to mark the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, aged 99, on Friday 09Apr2021.

Mardley Heath is a former quarry that is now a local nature reserve, owned and run by Welwyn Hatfield Council.

No visit to the pub was permitted at the end of this walk, in line with lockdown restrictions.

The event was planned in line with GOC’s covid-secure policy. On this occasion, only one particular mitigation is worth mentioning in this report. For the urban part of the walk, the mitigation was to split the group into pairs and have each pair walk between 4 to 5 metres behind the pair in front, resulting in a long chain of walkers snaking its way through an urban warren. This walking pattern would enable each pair to walk single-file in narrow passing places where other members of the public might have been passing in the other direction, without causing bunching on footpath and thereby encroaching on the 2m rule.

More pictures are at https://photos.app.goo.gl/aovCaLw7D3VzLysdA

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

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