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8 November 2014: Sandridge mud-walk, Heartwood update

Event route planned and designed by Martin T in 2011 and 2014.

Weather: overcast, a rain shower, mild 12°C, wind S 17mph.

Attendance: 15 men.

Time: start 11:10, end 15:07.

Terrain: MUD! Grasslands, pavement.

Elevation: low 77m, high 94m, start 85m.

Number of golf courses on the route: 0 (this is a poor part of Hertfordshire...).

Number of sewage works on the route: 0 (... but we do have standards).

Number of quarries on the route: 1.

 

This was a circular walk of 8.8 miles from Sandridge village, NW into Heartwood Forest, SE back to Sandridge then a resumption of the route of 2012, SSE to Ellenbrook Fields, Smallford, W to Oaklands, N to Jersey Farm, NE to Sandridge.

Since our prior walk in Sandridge in 2012, Heartwood Forest has grown sufficiently to have become a tourist attraction in its own right.  The Forest aims to be the largest new native forest in England.  The Woodland Trust plans to plant up to 600,000 trees in the years from 2009.  The Forest has now become a tourist attraction in its own right, earning a ‘brown’ roadside sign into the car park, for which the Woodland Trust has contributed to the branding of the entire village, including the village’s three excellent pubs and village shop.

We started from Sandridge village hall car park, immediately embarking upon our hike through mud, uphill to Sandridgebury.  Sandridgebury comprises one stable and a butcher’s shop.  Presumably, there is no direct connection between the stable and the butcher, but the butcher is very good.  Just don’t ask for horse, and if you do, make it a very quiet request…

Our onward journey through mud continued, with the mud worsening with every step.  Those at the front of the group enjoyed hard wading; those at the back of the group enjoyed easy surfing.  We all enjoyed relief from mud as we entered the newest part of the Heartwood Forest, a small clearing to the west of the ancient Langley Wood.  The Woodland Trust has chosen to landscape this former agricultural field as a grass plain with a few shapely spinneys dotted around the place.

Heartwood Forest absorbs the ancient woods of Well Wood and Pudler’s Wood.  Our route took us into both woods.  As we moved from new forest to old forest, we quickly sensed the difference between the arboreal equivalents of Stevenage and St Albans.  Our exit from Pudler’s Wood encountered an area set-aside for ‘natural propagation’.  The land is to the east of Pudler’s Wood, meaning that the prevailing winds carry seed from Pudler’s Wood onto the natural battleground.  Young ash dominate the area, with a smattering of oaks and willows.  There is a sign buried deep in the area, planted there in ~2010, now almost invisible because of trees.  It’s chaos.

On the return journey to the village, halfway through the first loop of the walk, we stopped for coffee and admired the view. The break point was at the top of a hill, looking down towards the Forest’s car park, Sandridge village, the River Kin Valley, the Woodcock Hill research centre (shhh, top secret, don’t tell anybody) and the transmitting station at Brookmans Park.

Our route continued back into Sandridge village, through the churchyard and graveyard of St Leonard’s Church.  Shortly after leaving Sandridge village, we encountered lots more mud and, unexpectedly, a hinny.

The thing about a mud-walk is that it’s muddy.  And, so far, this walk met its objective.  Suddenly, the mud-walk surpassed itself.  We found a patch of quick-sand.  On the approach to Ellenbrook Fields, we needed to cross a conveyor belt from a local sand quarry. Clearly, the quarry has had a few accidents, with wet sand spilling over from the belt onto a part of the footpath with no drainage.

Ellenbrook Fields is a patch of land that separates Hatfield from St Albans.  It’s hard to be sure which town most prefers the land to separate it from the other; it’s probably an equal contest.  Once farmland, the owner of de Havilland Aircraft Company bought the land in 1930 and converted it to an airfield.  The airfield closed in 1993.  After Steven Spielberg used it to film Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, property developer Goodman bought it and, from 2009, restored it to a grassland with some features to recognise the land’s aviatic history.

On leaving Ellenbrook Fields, we walked past a garden centre.  This is normally quite a scary event for the group.  On this occasion, we were lucky: we suffered no mass mutiny and no triffids accompanied our onward journey.  From this point onwards, we had left most of the mud behind us.

The next phase of the walk was Oaklands College.  The College campus at St Albans has a number of key subject areas, one of which is agriculture.  This is the most visible subject area, given the number of sheep wearing mortarboards.  The College has recently built a sports centre, presumably giving the sheep an opportunity to play football.

The next phase of the walk was Jersey Farm housing estate.  Originally a farm, the land was acquired for a large housing estate in the 1970s.  Each decade thereafter has added to it, with development slowly creeping north towards Sandridge village.  Most of Jersey Farm is part of Sandridge Parish Council, so keeping the green bit in between Jersey Farm and Sandridge village is well within the council’s influence.

The green bit is the Jersey Farm Woodland Park.  Sandridge Parish Council leases the land from St Albans District Council and maintains it as green space, to a sufficiently high standard to win Green Flag Awards in 2013 and 2014.  Our route took us through the Park to return to Sandridge.

The walk ended at the Green Man pub.  Of the three pubs in Sandridge, the Green Man is the most walker-friendly, with carpets tough enough to tolerate mud (although we politely chose to change boots before wading in).  The Green Man is a CAMRA pub, serving its beers straight from the barrel on a rack (the pub has no cellar, so no pumps).  The pub also serves a range of perries and ciders.  For the record, the other pubs in Sandridge include the Rose & Crown, which also does real beer and most-excellent pub food, and the Queen’s Head, situated right next to the Church.

 

Words by Martin Thornhill.

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