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13 February 2016: Buntingford and Great Hormead

Event led by Martin T; route planned in 2014.
Weather: mostly drizzle, some light showers, with occasional dry patches.
Attendance: 17 men including one new to the Herts group
Distance: 8 miles
Time: start 11:13, end 15:21, lunch 30 minutes
Terrain: muddy bridleways, muddy cultivated fields, muddy grass, muddy roads and pavements
Elevation: start 98m, high 132m, low 88m
Number of sewage courses on the route: 0 🙁
Number of golf works on the route: 0 🙁


This was a circular route of 8 miles from Buntingford, NE to Wyddial, SE to Great Hormead, W to Hare Street and W to Buntingford.

Buntingford is Hertfordshire’s smallest town.  It sits on a strategic location on the old Ermine Street, just west of the Prime Meridian, and became rich on the coaching and hostelry trade.  Today, its buildings retain a lot of their medieval character, adapted to life in the modern shopping age, resulting in the town centre exuding a slightly nostalgic feel.  The Buntingford coffee shop is quite divine, and a good start to the walk for those arriving early.

The route was planned as a winter walk: a short route that took in good views of the (relative) highlands NE of Buntingford, making even the bleakest of winters look attractive, and typifying the colours and style of the countryside in winter.  Today, the walk achieved this planned ambition, precisely in spite of the grey drizzle.

Wyddial, Great Hormead and Hare Street are all rather picturesque villages with some pretty cottages and other buildings.  Wyddial’s St Giles’ Church was the location for a coffee break within the first hour.  Great Hormead provided us with the location for our group shot at the war memorial.  We ate lunch at (and, to shelter from the drizzle, in) St Nicholas’ Church.

The quantity of mud in the walk surprised us, in spite of numerous test walks.  The mud was also slippery, yet firm: the top few millimetres slid like oil, yet the mud withstood the weight of us as we walked over it, the clay of the area being that dense.  Most of us appear to have taken chunks of Buntingford mud back home with us.

A particularly pleasant sight was the house and gardens of Alswick Hall.  This large country house is a grade 2 listed building, timber framed and dating to the 16th and 17th centuries, but largely rebuilt after a fire in the 1950s.  The bridleway here crosses a small field which has been converted to a secondary garden.  Two lines of narcissi illustrate the path of the bridleway.  Fairy rings appear in the grass either side of the bridleway.  At the western end of the garden, the land owners have created a some landscaped flower beds, this time of year showing off hellebores and snowdrops (amongst others).   In the grass, early crocuses had just started to flower, joining more snowdrops.  Slightly further on, the farm’s sheep field hosts an elegant double-line of well-established and well-managed lime trees, with a very dense branch structure resulting in an even, cylindrical shape from top to bottom.

On returning to Buntingford, we passed through Hare Street Road Wildlife Area, a general set-aside area run by Buntingford Town Council.  The Roman Catholic Church of St Richard of Chichester, built of flint in 1915, sits right next to an Anglican Church.  Church competition!  The Anglican Church of St Peter, a red-brick church of c.1615, is said to be the oldest church in England made entirely of brick.[citation needed]

At the end of the walk, Jez & Munir invited us all to tea and cakes.  15 of us eagerly accepted and arrived to find one large table and one occasional table absolutely heaving with cakes.  The menu included pumpkin pie, lemon cheesecake, gingerbread, bakewell tarts, cupcakes, cardamon cake, Victoria sponge and chocolate sponge.  In addition to free-flowing tea and freshly-ground coffee (nobody had a chance to demand it; it just kept on flowing), there were also two soups on offer: chestnut & mushroom and spiced vegetable, accompanied by bread & butter.  By all accounts, there were probably enough calories on the table to launch a rocket into space.  The menu included gluten-free cakes and lactose-free cakes.  It turns out that Jez & Munir had spent more than 12 hours the previous day preparing this veritable feast, with Jez taking the morning shift (9am to lunchtime), and Munir doing the late shift (5pm to midnight, co-opting Jez to top the cakes).  Our thanks to Jez & Munir for their extraordinary generosity to the group.

Pictures by Peter O'Connor.  Words by Peter O'Connor and Martin Thornhill.

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