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14 November 2015: Bayford to Hertford ft. County Hall and Hertford Castle

Event led by Martin T / route planned by Peter O
Weather: Overcast first half, light rain second half
Attendance: 6 (5 GOC members and 1 guest), all men.
Distance: 8.3 miles
Time: start 1056, end 1500. Lunch 18 minutes
Terrain: footpath, hardstanding, urban pavement, bridleway, field edge, country road.
Elevation: start 94m, high 96m, low 40m
Number of sewage works on the route: 0
Number of golf courses on the route: 0

This was a circular route of 8.28mi from Bayford, NNE to Hertford, SW to Water Hall Farm and SE to Bayford.

Despite apocalyptic weather forecasts from the BBC - Scotland apparently to be blown a few miles closer to Norway as a result of Storm Abigail and Hurricane Kate - the walk went ahead as planned with six walkers - Andrew, Lee, Martin, Peter, Tom and guest - braving the elements.  As it turned out, the majority of the forecasts were wrong, with being spot on.  A lesson for the future?

We decided to start the walk a little early and to get our group shop out of the way quickly, in case it was raining in Hertford, so we took it at the Bayford village sign, and then headed out of the village, following the Hertfordshire Way long-distance path, alongside the railway line and into Hertford, crossing Bayford Brook, a minor tributary of the River Lea, on the way.

As we entered Hertford, we encountered a small estate of 1940s semi-detached and terraced houses (London overspill).  Opposite them, a small estate of 1970s terraces in the 'neo-Georgian' style.  Further on, we encountered a clutch of Victorian terraces, which included two 'middle class' houses (with basements) and the remainder 'working class' cottages.  Still further on, a road of elaborate, but modest, middle-class homes of the Edwardian era - arts and craft on steroids, complete with balconies and roof tile ornamentation.  The last phase of the housing estates was a well-appointed 1950s estate with ordinary properties, many of which enhanced, extended and poshed up.  A theme for most dwellings in Hertford appears to be their relative smallness, or at least their appearance of being small.  It made this part of the town feel homely, warm, comfortable.  As we entered the town centre, antique terraces - pre-Victorian - appeared so small that we felt we'd just entered a model village.

Hertford is the home of County Hall, a listed building.  For the first time in GOC Herts' history, we actually found a route that went past the building.  Built between 1935 and 1939, the building combines the styles of classic Romano-Greek pillars with the big, bland boxeyness of the Soviet era (only in brick, not concrete).  British Listed Buildings refers to the style as partly "Swedish Romantic".  An area of its ground floor comprises a series of arches, invoking a theme of a labyrinth.  At its main entrance, statues of two harts stand: on the left, one hart stands tall, proud, alert, ready for action, "Saturday night"; on the right, the other hart stands legs askew, its head on the ground, "morning after".

We passed two churches in Hertford: All Saints, and St Andrew’s.  All Saints is the more interesting of the two, dating to 1893-95, and built in the Northern Gothic Revival perpendicular style from pink Runcorn sandstone.  It replaced the original church that was destroyed by fire in 1891.  The churchyard is vast and contains an interesting memorial to the Pearson family.  St Andrew’s dates to 1869-70, but incorporates the doorway of a previous C15 church.

We meandered around the town centre, where pretty much everything is a listed building and most picturesque.  Possibly the most interesting of these was the former stables to the Green Dragon Hotel, now converted to shops and offices, but still features raised lettering on its exterior advertising its former role.  We reached the grounds of Hertford Castle, whose sole remains are a bit of the castle's gatehouse and surrounding wall.  It sits at the centre of the town, noosed by the A414 along two edges and hemmed in by the town elsewhere.  Today, the gatehouse serves as a venue for events - weddings and such like - in well-maintained grounds.  Somewhere near here was the venue for the first General Synod of the English Church in 673 AD.

We ate lunch in the grounds, next to the River Lea, where Canada Geese attempted to assault us for a bite of our sandwiches.  We had walked so quickly that we were 30 minutes ahead of schedule at this point, meaning our crisps didn’t get all soggy, as it started raining just at the end of lunch.  Sadly, the rain prevented the taking of any more photographs.  This was probably our quickest ever lunch break.  We feared that if we stayed still for any longer, we’d have become listed buildings too!

The last part of the walk was mostly in countryside, and included the Cole Green Way, a cycling and walking route along the former route of the railway that ran from Hertford to Welwyn Garden City, and we saw the old platform at what was Hertingfordbury Station.  There was also a view of Bayfordbury Mansion, now owned by the University of Hertfordshire.  The observatory here has been the location for the BBC’s Stargazing Live.  Gravel and sand pits dominated part of the walk, and woodland returned us to Bayford, via its St Mary’s church, and onto the pub, The Baker Arms, where three of us stayed for a drink.


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

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