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18 September 2021: Wheathampstead, Upper Lea Valley and Ayot Greenway

Event led by Khris R.
Attendance: 11 men, of whom 1 was a returning member.
Distance: 10.5 miles (16.9 km).
Time: start 10:51, end 16:07, lunch 58 minutes.
Speed: brisk with pauses, i.e. GPS reported ave speed at 2 miles per hour (3.2 km per hour), typical pace was 2.2mph (3.5kmph), arithmetic mean (time over distance excluding lunch) was 2.44 mph (3.92 kmph).
Terrain: pavement, disused railway platform, disused railway bed, road, track, field edge, grass, meadow on footpath, bridleway, byway, highway.
Elevation: start 81m, high 130m, low 74m.
Weather: dry, overcast, sunny spells, cooling breeze, 22°C.
Number of sewage works: 0
Number of churches: 1 working church, 1 ruined church.
Number of golf courses: 1.

 

This was a circular walk of 10.5 miles (16.9 km) from Wheathampstead, N to Ayot St Lawrence, SE to Ayot Green, then W to Wheathampstead, via a southern point in the middle of a golf course.

Wheathampstead was likely a pre-Roman capital of at least one major tribe, the Catuvellauni, and possibly also a trading centre between other tribes of the era. It served as a border crossing between Anglo-Saxon law and Danelaw. Today, Wheathampstead has become its own industry, with a lifestyle so well organised that it has its own magazine, a community group with a strong identity and its own heritage society. Today’s walk featured extracts from the six heritage trails.

The key features of today walk included:

  • the gloriously restored Wheathampstead disused railway station, part of the disused Welwyn to Harpenden railway line (strategic history), now known as the Ayot Greenway;
  • a box of stuff that somebody wanted to give away, including old CDs. Two members returned to the box after the walk and found that a lawnmower had also appeared for gifting to the general public;
  • superb views southbound over the Lea Valley in this, its middle course;
  • plush countryside, in particular on the route approaching and departing Ayot St Lawrence. This included a field of recently-harvested wheat, with bales of straw piled up high, resembling some weird abstract modern-art approach to agriculture;
  • an art exhibition inside New St Lawrence Church (grade 1 listed). The church itself has a particularly bizarre history, being primarily a frolic (perhaps a folly?) of Sir Lionel Lyde to indulge in some Greek Revival architecture, smashed together with the then whims of the Lawrence family. It is quite unlike any typical Norman-with-Victorian-”improvements” church one would ever see;
  • the ruins of the Old St Lawrence Church (grade 2* listed);
  • Shaw’s Corner, Ayot St Lawrence (National Trust, fee payable to enter);
  • Brocket Hall Estate (grade 2 listed) and golf course (which is two golf courses, but we couldn’t distinguish them on the day);
  • the pleasant surroundings immediately next to the River Lea on the final approach to return to Wheathampstead. The water was very clear and full of fish.

The optional pub stop at the end of the walk was at the Reading Rooms, Wheathampstead (grade 2 listed). Nine members attended the pub. The pub is a micro-pub owned and run by Farr Brew and sells itself as an adult pub for actual adults – “no loud TV or music so conversation is always encouraged.” GOC does not endorse vendors but, nevertheless, this GOC group strongly approves. The pub supports Ask for Clive. The pub is very compact, split over two floors, with two tables outside next to the church. The interior comprises lots of lounge furniture – including singlet leather-bound chairs and one sofa – and is decorated with a wide variety of miscellany, including an old American pay phone, a religious meme, a moose’s head (“I don’t want to snag any more cardies on it”) and a bookshelf (with titles to accommodate tastes from the over-powered intellectual to readers of the Beano annual). The bar advertises the full range of brewed products from the Farr Brewery, from other local brewers and Farr’s partners in the distillery trade. The Farr Brewery itself is within two miles of the micro-pub. Farr appears to have a fairly twisted sense of humour – which, again, we approve without official endorsement etc – determined by the history of the Reading Rooms: the property was indeed reading rooms, run by the Temperance Society, whose objectives were to keep people off the evils of drink. Oh well.

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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