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13 September 2014: London Colney/Willows Farm

Event route planned and designed by Martin T in 2008.

Weather: warm, overcast with sunny intervals, easterly wind 10mph, 20°C.

Attendance: 15 heads, all male.

Time: Start 11:20, end 16:30. Lunch 13:00 to 13:34. Pub (en route) 15:33 to 16:10.

Terrain: footpath, pavement, lakeside, riverside, ploughed fields, meadow & heath, grass, playing fields.

Elevation: Start/end 74m; highest point 127m; lowest point 67m

Number of golf courses on the route: 0

Number of sewage works on the route: 0

Number of working quarries on the route: 1

Number of landfill sites on the route: 1

Number of football matches on the route: 3

 

This walk was a circular route of 9 miles from Willows Farm Village near London Colney, NNE to Colney Heath, S to Rabley Park, W and NW to London Colney and NE back to Willows Farm Village. It was a repeat of the walk of 16 August 2009. This action-packed walk taught us how other people spend their Saturdays, and came with many warnings such as “bull in field”, “deep water”, “guard dog in compound”, “fragile roof”, “warning barbed wire”, “no glass beyond this point”, and the favourite “dead slow live horses”.

After some confusion of which of the four car parks at the Farm Village was the correct car park, we all managed to find each other and get moving. Overlooked by Tyttenhanger House, a large Grade I listed former country house built for Sir Henry Blount in 17th century, we made our way along the edge of the Farm Village - essentially a theme park with animals - where we saw chickens, goats, pigs and alpacas. On leaving the farm, we crossed the River Colne and walked alongside Willows Lakes, where people were fishing and several waterbirds were swimming.

Crossing the river again brought us to a working Lafarge Aggregates quarry, where a conveyor belt was carrying quarried aggregate to be cleaned before it can be used to build roads. We came to the North London Society of Model Engineers' miniature railway, where a sign warned us to “beware of trains”, and then moved on to Colney Heath Common, one of the last remaining acid heathlands in Hertfordshire. We enjoyed a quick break before moving on to Coursers Farm Stables, where horses poked their heads out of the stables to watch us go by.

We climbed a hill to our lunch point.  Sheltered from the sun by an old oak tree, we had panoramic views of the surrounding land, which included the M25, the Agrivert Recycling Centre (a composting facility), the quarry, St Albans Cathedral just below the horizon, St Peter’s Church in St Albans on the horizon, Hatfield’s business park and Galleria shopping centre, Napsbury Park (once Middlesex County Asylum, now a posh housing estate and allegedly the home of a few Arsenal footballers) and a Roman Catholic All Saints Pastoral Centre, which was sold in February 2013 to Cromer Homes for development as residential properties and a conference centre. There was a field of horses behind us, a ploughed field in front of us, and model aircraft flying around. We could even see where we parked our cars!

After leaving lunch, we continued our southbound journey, walking through Redwell Wood Farm.  Bizarrely, this farm had a stockyard stuffed full of sculptures of all sorts of artistic persuasion.  It was in stark contrast to our experience within the next 200 metres, as we found ourselves at eye level to the M25. As we walked downhill, the sight, sound, smell and feeling - vibrations - of fast moving traffic less than 20 metres from our heads made us feel just a tad vulnerable.  But we weren’t scared enough.  So we continued, crossing underneath the M25 and therefore into the world known as “inside-the-M25”: technically Hertfordshire, but actually a type of London, a very scary place for us simple country folk.

We walked through the RSPCA Southridge Animal Centre, a hospital for pets, on towards Rabley Park, a sizeable house of no particular description, except for a monument in its back garden, on the public right of way.  The monument marks the spot where 16th Earl of Warwick Richard Neville died in 1471 following the Battle of Barnet (presumably the town in Herts, and not a fight about a hairdo).

Halfway on the northbound walk was a small woodland, at the northern end of which was a substantial view of St Albans and London Colney.  And an airstrip.  Yes, out of nowhere, we found an airstrip.  A windsock gave us a clue; a sign said to “Beware of aircraft”.  There was a microlight above us, sufficiently high enough for us to cross the airfield.  As we moved into the next field, the microlight landed on the airstrip.

The next field introduced us to the concept of sport.  Rugby goalposts decorated the first field. As we moved on, we found ourselves in a corridor of greenery, with the sound of football matches very audible on one side.  Well, of course, one has to peek.  It seems to be have been a series of local league matches taking place.  For some reason, the group stopped three times to watch some football, even though none of us follow the sport...

At the end of the corridor, we encountered a sign that announced the location of Arsenal FC’s training ground.  We had expected to hear some degree of mutiny from any Spurs supporter, but the incident went marked with only the gravest of reckless apathy and indifference.

We crossed over the M25, a high bridge taking us safely over the fast-moving traffic and back into proper Hertfordshire, away from the strange, mixed-up world of in-Herts-and-also-inside-the-M25.  The walk continued into Broad Colney Lakes nature reserve, a habitat of standing water and some woodland.  Our route through the reserve was quite short, taking us directly the pub.

Our pub stop on this walk was mid-walk, rather than at the end.  The pub was the Green Dragon, a simple village pub with some suburban influences.  The pub overlooks the village green, which straddles the River Colne.  The village’s High Street crosses the river over a rather handsome bridge, Telfords Bridge, a grade 2 listed building.  The High Street was the old A6, being downgraded to an urban road upon the opening of the London Colney A1081 by-pass in 1959.

Upon leaving the pub, the route back to the start point was entirely alongside the River Colne, underneath Telfords Bridge and then through what appeared to be a typical, London, suburban parkland.  It was surprisingly pleasant in this area, most unexpected for being right next to an industrial estate.  The route re-entered Willows Farm Village, which gave us the chance to see carp waiting underneath a bridge (clearly, the fish have learnt that humans feed them).

As we took our boots off at the car park, we heard the sounds of bagpipes from Tyttenhanger House.  It was a subtle and poignant reminder that Scotland was about to vote on its independence.

 

Words by Peter O’Connor and Martin Thornhill.

 

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