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10 January 2015: Berkhamsted and Cow Roast

Event route planned and designed by Martin T in 2014.
Weather: overcast, clearing to clear skies, strong wind W ~23mph.
Attendance: 20 men.
Time: start 11:16, end 15:13.
Terrain: canal towpath, road, woodland (mud), pavement.
Elevation: low 104m, high 172m, start 107m.
Distance: 12km.
Number of sewage works on the route: 0


This was a circular walk of 7.45 miles, from Berkhamsted Railway Station, WNW along the Grand Union Canal through Northchurch and Dudswell to Cow Roast, NE to Norcott Hill, SE through Northchurch Common, SW to Northchurch, ESE along the road to Berkhamsted, N to station.

This was our first walk of 2015.  We met at Berkhamsted Railway Station, where it was a just a short walk to the Grand Union Canal.  The towpath is on the southern side of the canal.   The route on the towpath was from Berkhamsted Station to Cow Roast, a part of the towpath that we’ve never walked.  In previous years, we had walked on the towpath either side of this part.  One objective of this walk was to fill this gap.

On the towpath, the town has installed interpretation boards.  As one interpretation board said, “The charm of our canal system is that it has changed little in two centuries…”. That looked quite true.  The development around the canal is evident, and some of it quite recent (including the occasion block of bijou flats looking ready to topple into the canal).  The towpath itself turns out not to be of much interest at all, although it offered a superb variety of views from Berko to Cow Roast, including urban chic, industrial history, modern railways, nice gardens and lots of nature.  It served as a good backdrop to what should be a nice bleak vision of an English winter day.

Cow Roast, previously visited on 14 June 2014, remains not much to look at (see our event report).  Because the towpath had been a fairly long stretch to do in one go, we stopped at the Cow Roast Inn for 30 minutes.  This was our first toilet break on the walk and gave us the chance to get a hot chocolate, coffee, tea, some sort of hot drink.  Only it didn’t work out like that.  On reaching the bar, the barman told us that the pub had no milk and the coffee machine was new and nobody knew how to use it.

On leaving the Inn, we deviated from the canal, ascending the steep Norcott Hill, up to the edge of the National Trust’s Ashridge Estate.  The whole woodland is a Site of Special Scientific Interest within the Chilterns (and so also an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, just right for a nice new railway to plough through it!).  The area is cited for the SSSI for its bird population caused by a wide range of woodland types.

Traipsing through the mud of the Ashridge Wood led us onto Northchurch Common, part of the Ashridge Estate, and presumably land used for hunting.  We lunched on the Common, in a woodland clearing.

The walk continued along the woodland edge, occasionally opening up to see long views of Dudswell and Northchurch in the Bulbourne Valley, the river and railway clearly visible at the bottom of the valley.

Joining the road to Northchurch High Street, we passed St Mary’s Church (famed for hosting the grave of a local wild boy) and several local shops (many of which were closed).  We continued to Berko High Street, at which point we lost 7 people to the thrall of shopping.  They missed the sight of Berko Church, market stalls, posh little boutique shops, elegant buildings, and the timeless Castle Street, featuring beautiful, rustic, ‘organic’ architecture, including the impressive Berkhamsted School.

Finally, we headed towards the railway station, except for a last minute diversion to a pub, the Crystal Palace.  This is a locals’ pub sat on the canal, more of a town pub than a country pub, serving good beer, and staffed by a landlord who was expecting a fairly quiet afternoon.  And then we turned up en masse.  We arrived while he was in the cellar, changing a barrel; he had something of a surprise to find his small pub full!


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