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12 June 2021: Radlett and Aldenham

Event led by Martin T
Attendance: 18 men
Distance: 10.7 miles (17.2 km)
Time: start 11:24, end 16:22, lunch 39 minutes
Terrain: pavement, footpath (track), field, grass.
Elevation: start 136m, high 157m, low 100m
Weather: sunny, nearly clear sky, 23°C, slight breeze.
Number of sewage works: 0
Number of churches: 3, plus 1 synagogue (bonus!)
Number of golf courses: 1
Number of wrong turns: 1

 

This was a circular walk of 10.7 miles (17.2 km) from Radlett railway station, S to the Elstree Aerodrome, NW and N to the River Colne, then SE to Radlett railway station.

Radlett is a bling suburb within the wider London Metroland. It is a wealthy area inhabited by “new” money. To sit in a pub beer patio, you’d hear mainly near-Estuary accents – more Borehamwood, Stanmore and Edgware than the plummy, slightly-conspitated vowel constructions typically associated with “old” money and associated “establishment” schooling – talking about common interests, interspered with how one could make money out of said interests, with only the occasional eruption of surgically-enhanced lips covered in an excess of war paint. But the most obvious facet of Radlett that we witnessed today was conspicuous investment. Oh yes. We’re talking about property, dear. And property here is very dear indeed.

Properties in this town include an affulent set of nearly every type of property built since the 1910s, when Radlett’s development started in earnest. The town centres around its High Street, part of the old A5, Watling Street (now the A5183, and still a nightmare on which to drive). “Executive homes”, resembling small neo-Georgian baronic mansions, sit on the outer edges of the town, looking dreamingly onto undulating countryside. One layer of development towards the town centre shows off the “organic” housing estate designs of the 1970s-1980s, with larger houses clearly of the 1980s style, now beginning to look normal, within their properly-grown – and well-maintained – gardens. A thick layer of 1920s-1930s metroland clings to the steep slopes next to the High Street, the roads clogged with cars.

One particular road (whose name we shall delicately censor) on our route provided a whole new definition to the phrase “social climbing”. As we ascended uphill, we observed increasingly, ostentatiously unique designs of the old Arts & Crafts movement, each property clambering up the hill as if the hill represents a social status, each property trying to out-do, out-posh, out-bling its lower – lower! – neighbour. Did we hear the properties at the bottom of the hill frostily muttering, “I know my place”?

At the top of the hill, it was clear that Arts & Crafts could no longer compete with itself. From here on, modern Grand Designs took over, continuing the competition in a thrash of modern retrospective and respectful Victorian classic villas, ended by one relatively new, but apparently also worn-out, specimen of cubism, scrutinising our passage afore its driveway with tangible and suspicious distain.

Of course, there is a limit to how much one can spend on over-blinging a property. So it makes sense to diversify the blingness. Specifically, diversity from homes to transportation. As it turns out, there were few Rolls and Bentleys adorning the driveways of the houses. Perhaps they had ferried their owners to their family airmobile, parked at Elstree Aerodrome. What better way to out-bling the whole neighbourhood than to sex-up a property and then abandon it for a few weeks by flying to a second home somewhere? Our route took us alongside the northern perimeter of the aerodrome. In spite of lockdown, we witnessed a volume of traffic landing, taking-off, hovering and refining helicopter piloting skills filled the sky like a swarm of unco-ordinated mosquitoes. We were slightly perturbed by the pilot of the sub-military helicopter performing hairpin maneouvres, as if rehersing to gun us down as we crossed a field. No wonder France has limited incoming travel to “absolutely essential purposes”: French air traffic control is probably scared witless of the prospect of a mass-squadron of light aircraft aheading towards gîtes.

After a brief jaunt past a Dalek factory (otherwise known as an electricity transforming station), we took lunch around a village pond. This was at Letchmore Heath, a small, chocolate-box of a village, with cottages in good maintenance, brighty painted and with voluptiously flowering gardens. The village also hosts a Hare Krishna temple, invisible from the public road.

The second half of the route encountered Aldenham, notable to us only for its church and extensive graveyard. As the route progressed past a golf course, we encounted the peculiar Wall Hall, a grade II listed building with accompanying grade II park & garden. The house appears to have been developed by traders, a middle-class affair. J P Morgan Jr had owned it until his death, after which Hertfordshire County Council owned it. It served briefly as the residence of the ambassador to the UK of the United States during the Second World War. It was once called Wars Hall, having been re-named to Wall Hall sometime before 1812. The former name was prophetic: it was used as a military hospital in the both 20th century World Wars, with a unit of psychologists and propagandists (namely, the Special Operations Executive) installed in the latter war. The golf course that we had just passed on the way to the Hall is part of the western side of the Wall Hall park. The property today is luxury flats.

The third phase of the walk was a prolonged march in open and exposed countryside, including the northern part of Wall Hall Park, a landscaped park with similar features to Panghanger Park (Herts GOC 08May2021). The commonality between Panghanger and Wall Hall Parks? Landscape designer Humphrey Repton. Beyond the park, the open countryside gave clues about its metroland nature, with a preponderance of stables and horsey stuff.

We crossed the River Colne and took the opportunity to divert from our path to see the confluence of the Rivers Colne and Ver. For much of the past few years, the River Ver has been dry in much of its upper courses, but today the volume of water in both rivers was high. So much so, a large group of children had decided to use the best vantage point of the confluence as a diving platform to swim in the river. Rather them then us!

After a brief stretch of slightly scrubbier countryside – including a water stop on a by-way to the nearest sewage works (0.25 miles away, so cannot officially be counted in Herts GOC standard metrics) – we knew that we must have approached an urban area. Thus commenced our final steep descent into Radlett.

The optional pub stop at the end of the walk was at the Red Lion Hotel patio garden, at which 12 members participated. Remembering that this is Radlett, it’s noteworthy that a bling neighbourhood has pubs with bling prices. Presumably, so that the owners of said pub could buy an airmobile...

The event was planned in line with GOC’s covid-secure policy. This walk required no particular mitigations.

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

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