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14 January 2017: Watton-at-Stone to Stapleford: bah humbug anti-Xmas walk and lunch

Route designed and event led by Martin T
Attendance: walk 18; meal 15; total 19
Distance: 4.7mi
Time: start 11:10, end 13:06
Terrain: Pavement, road, gravel track, muddy farm field, grass
Elevation: start 67m, high 84m, low 49m
Weather: overcast with few weak sunny spells, dry, strong winds (~10mph), cold (2°C, felt like -2°C).
Number of churches on the walk: 2
Number of disused landfill sites on the walk: 1

This was a circular route of 4.7 miles from Watton-at-Stone, SSW to Stapleford, N to Woodhall Park, and NW to Watton-at-Stone.

Starting from the George & Dragon pub, we walked to the parish’s church of St Andrew and St Mary, a grade 2* listed building, then onto fields.  Heading southbound, the overcast lighting and clear, cold air illuminated the bleak beauty of this countryside: naked trees raking the skyline, early crops already having started to grow and waiting for warmer weather to continue growing, long views over the Beane Valley of the Heath Mount School (a grade 1 listed building).

We continued to Stapleford, a village that straddles the River Beane and the relatively-busy A119.  After a brief break at St Mary's Church (a grade 2* listed building), we entered the Woodhall Estate.

The Woodhall Estate is a key landowner in of this part of Hertfordshire.  We’ve visited the core of the estate here numerous times over the years; on this visit, we felt that its management consistently preserves the key geography and ecology of the estate.  In the past, the Estate widened the River Beane.  Immediately upon entering the estate - Woodhall Park - over a former landfill site, a flock of sheep greeted us with a series of sheepish stares.  These sheep were quite unnerved by a pack of humans wandering through their field.

Taking in the well-maintained sights of the Park, we crossed the by-now-familiar bridge with water only on one side, and a dry river bed on the other.  This bridge crosses the Cuts, or the Dane End Tributary to the Beane.  We took our group shot at a second bridge, over the River Beane, alongside a grade 2* listed sluice gate.

Woodhall Park also plays host to a nature reserve, of sorts.  There were many red kites soaring above us, alongside pigeons, goldfinches and crows, as well as herons, ducks and geese on the river.

Our journey from Woodhall Park back to Watton was relatively short, crossing fields, with better views of the Heath Mount School, now basking in the winter sunlight.  The fields were quite muddy, thus hard work to walk on, burning a few more calories in readiness for the indulgence that awaited us.

We arrived into Watton at the Church of St Andrew and St Mary and diverted eastbound through the graveyard towards the village’s war memorial, then northbound alongside the High Street.  The High Street is a typical example of an old Hertfordshire village High Street, a confusion of architectural styles reflecting the usual chaotic approach to construction over the centuries.  And, of course, a tonne of it is listed.

Upon return to the George & Dragon, we ate.  Because the venue requested neither pre-order nor deposit, the pub had merely set aside some tables for us.  Each member of the group placed their own order at the bar.  The food was very good.  Beyond the standard Greene King “burger & chips” menu, the specials board and the vegetarian menu were extensive and rich.  The specials board reflected the local game - pheasant being a popular choice - and, amongst the main courses, included one dish of each common meat and one fish & seafood dish.  The vegetarian menu was as long as the specials board, with a diverse range of combinations, textures and flavours.  The desserts were simple and well-presented.  On the bar, the beers included the usual Greene King IPA, but also a couple of beers from Abbots and one guest beer from America.  At 7% abv, this beer trumped the lot (so to speak).

Overall, a good day out and a successful first bah-humbug anti-Xmas walk & lunch.  We shall be doing this again!

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

See event report 09Apr2016 for pictures of:

  • Church of St Andrew and St Mary

  • George & Dragon

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