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10 December 2016: Hatfield: Town and country

Route designed and event led by Peter O
Attendance: 15 men and 1 dog
Distance: 7 miles
Time: start 11:09, end 14:37, lunch 36 minutes
Terrain: Pavement, footpath, bridleway, grass field, woodland path
Elevation: start 81m, high 107m, low 74m
Weather: Overcast, mostly dry with some drizzle, 11°C, winds light
Number of actual churches on the walk: 4
Number of former churches on the walk: 1
Number of blocks of flats built on sites of demolished churches on the walk: 1

This was a circular route of 7 miles from Hatfield, SW to Nast Hyde, SW to Sleapshyde, EE to Bullen’s Green, WNW to South Hatfield, N to Oxlease, and NNW to Old Hatfield

We started this walk on an old part of the Great North Road, now a cul-de-sac.  In 1883, the Great North Road ran alongside the railway south of Hatfield Station, northbound to cross the railway using a dog-leg bridge.  By 2016, the whole of Hatfield - including the Great North Road - had long since been bypassed by the A1(M).  The dog-leg bridge was converted to a footbridge, providing a small stub of the old Great North Road as access to a few offices, a small housing estate and somewhere for us to park.

After crossing the mainline railway via this footbridge, we joined the disused railway that went from Hatfield to St Albans and is now known as the Alban Way as part of the National Cycle Network route 61.  This route would take us from Hatfield’s eastern edge all the way to its western edge, passing through the backs of the new town’s housing estates including The Ryde, Birchwood and Roe Green.  Along the route there appears to be the remnants of an old station platform that would have been at Lemsford Road Halt railway station.  The route took us in front of Hatfield’s shopping centre – the Galleria – and over the top of Hatfield Tunnel, which has allowed the A1(M) motorway to pass underneath the town since 1986.  The noise at this point was loud, with high speed traffic roaring its way into the tunnel.

At the edge of Hatfield, we reached the site of Nast Hyde Halt railway station, where the platforms have been lovingly turned into a picturesque garden.  A hedgerow sits along the old platform; various parts of the station carry decorations, such as a signal post, a clock, some wind chimes, bird feeders and topiary.  We continued down the Alban Way, through Deadmans Crossing, until we crossed a field and then entered the hamlet of Sleapshyde, with a sign letting us know that it is actually pronounced (and was once called) “Sleap’s Hyde”.  This was the location of our first church, though the old chapel here was now converted into a dwelling called Chapel House.

We then crossed the busy A414 – a dual carriageway with good visibility in both directions – and entered an area of land that appears to be a former quarry that has been infilled and is now quite pleasant.  The noise of traffic continued to follow us, a chorus of the A1(M), the A414 and quite possibly the M25.  We passed through the land of Roehyde Farm and some of us spotted a Muntjac deer crossing the path, which made a nice change to all the grey squirrels from earlier on in the walk.  We then crossed underneath the A1(M) and into a recreation ground where some sheltered seating provided us with a cosy lunch spot.

After lunch, we wormed our way through the residential area of South Hatfield.  This area has no specific attractions, and all roads bypass it, so it is an area which only its residents would ordinarily know about.  Yet, it contributes significantly to Hertfordshire’s evolving architectural history.  Many of the dwellings date from 1950s–1960s, build under permissions derived from the New Towns Act 1946, with strong design similarities (in some cases congruences) with Harlow and Hemel Hempstead.  Notably, none of the dwellings of this era resemble equivalents in Stevenage, reminding us just how different Stevenage then wanted to be.  Occasionally, a blast of modernity would appear, most typically a small block of flats built in the late 2000s.  The rather bland brick walls and straight lines of the austere 1950s compare oddly to the multi-coloured fascias of the 2000s.

Within South Hatfield we came across three churches.  The first, St John’s, was built in the 1950s and is described as a “unique A-frame building”.  It is basically a giant warped Grade II listed Toblerone.  More precisely, it is an isosceles triangle at one end which blends itself into an irregular pentagon at the other.  There are few straight lines anywhere on the building.  Even the walls look distended.  The second church we know nothing about as it no longer exists: the OS map shows a place of worship, Google Street View (as at Sep 2014) shows a construction site, and today there is an apartment block there.  The third is a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall, with signs in English and Chinese, no windows whatsoever and a large padlock locking a very heavy duty security gate.

Heading north, back along the eastern edge of Hatfield, we walked parallel to the railway line in a water meadow and came to a Local Nature Reserve, Oxleys Wood, which was pretty bare but a nice change from houses.  At the northern end is a small, communal pond, covered in duckweed with the odd protrusion from an empty drink bottle

Leaving a further piece of residential estate, we crossed the railway for the second time and walk alongside the A1000, the former Great North Road.  We visited the memorial to the Hatfield rail crash in 2000, which killed four people when a train derailed.  Further along the Great North Road, we visited Hatfield Park’s war cemetery, which has a large war memorial and 21 war graves.  Here also gave us our only view of Hatfield House, and served as the location of our group shot.

Finally, we headed into Old Hatfield, rich with old stuff.  Our final two churches were here.  The circular building of Marychurch Roman Catholic Church was our first church of Old Hatfield.  Built in the 1970s to merge both modern and traditional architectural themes, the church was Grade II listed in 2013.  The second church is the Anglican parish church of St Etheldreda, which is Grade I listed and dates back to the 13th and 15th centuries.  We also saw the remains of Hatfield Palace, which was home to all of Henry VIII’s children at some point, the long history of which can be read on Wikipedia.  It was given to Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, by James I in 1607 in exchange for Theobalds Palace in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire.  The Earl then built Hatfield House in 1611.  We then walked down the hill of Fore Street, where there are many 17th, 18th and early 19th century houses and shops, before ending our walk at the Horse and Groom pub, a very cosy and popular pub.

Pictures by Peter O'Connor.  All taken on 10 December 2016, except for #14 which was taken on 03 December 2016.

Words by Peter O'Connor and Martin Thornhill.

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