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10 September 2016: Royston

Event led by Jeremy C
Attendance: 8 men
Distance: 9.6 miles
Time: start 11.12am, end 3.57pm, lunch 23 minutes
Terrain: Grass, woodland track, hardstanding, crop field, tilled field, farm track
Elevation: start 70m, high 117m, low 31m
Weather: Light rain and drizzle with dry spells.
Number of golf courses on the walk: 1
Number of solar farms on the walk: 3
Number of royal palaces on the walk: 1

This was a circular route of 9.6 miles from Therfield Heath at Royston, NW to Litlington, ENE to near Melbourn and SW to Royston.

This walk started off with an option to shorten the walk, due to the weather, by cutting out Therfield Heath and optionally including it at the end, but as it is a hilly area, we decided to get the hills out of the way first. This was what was advertised as the “first half” of the walk. Therfield Heath, also known as Royston Heath, is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Local Nature Reserve covering an area of 143.3 hectares. From here, we had good views despite poor visibility of Royston town and the flat countryside beyond. As we left the Heath, a McDonald's failed to tempt us and we crossed the county border into Cambridgeshire, and onto the “second half” of the walk, and also the longest half!

We were given a second option to shorten the route, but it wasn’t raining so we decided to take the full route. It then started raining. As expected, from the moment we left Hertfordshire and entered Cambridgeshire, the land became completely flat. The leader informed us that we may be surprised, and on looking at the OS map, we noticed Limlow Hill was coming up. The map informed us its elevation was 61m, and we were currently at 65m!

We reached the corner of the village of Litlington but only had a slight glimpse as we then headed on Ashwell Street, a very straight track that connects Ashwell to Melbourn, and is believed to follow the route of a prehistoric trackway. We headed in the direction of Melbourn and had lunch in a small woodland called Keith Wood, which is owned and managed by the Woodland Trust.  Continuing along Ashwell Street after lunch, we came across a chicken farm, which housed more free-range chickens than we had ever seen before. The air hung heavy with a whiff of ammonia.

Before we could reach Melbourn, a walk along the railway brought us back into Royston, which was the “third half” of the walk. We were greeted by lots of picturesque streets and buildings, most notably, number 23 Kneesworth Street, which was originally part of the Royal Palace inhabited by James I and Charles I.  James stopped in Royston on 29 April 1603 on his way to be crowned King and was attracted by the area’s suitability for hunting so hired a house there for a year. He then decided to build a hunting lodge, and demolished two inns to do so. The lodge was completed in 1607 but fell into disrepair after Charles’s death, and eventually the Crown sold off all its interests in the town in 1866. It last changed hands on 1 February 2016 for £1.2m.  Today, it was covered in scaffolding.

Finally we returned to Therfield Heath for a quick drink at The Heath Sports Centre, where one person realised that although the walk had been cloudy and raining throughout, he sunburnt his head.

Words & pictures by Peter O'Connor.

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