Event route planned and designed by John T in 2013 & 2014.
Weather: sunny, dry, from 19°C to 21°C, with cooling breeze ~14mph.
Attendance: 20 humans: 19 male, 1 female. 4 new people. 2 canines. 2 leavers (plus 1 canine) mid-route taking up the half-route option.
Time: Start 11:10, end 16:38, lunch ~14:00-14:37.
Terrain: pavement, clay footpath, disused railway, field, 2 fords. Mud soft underfoot, given heavy rain previous night.
Elevation: Start/end 84m; highest point 132m; lowest point 79m
Number of golf courses on the route: 3
Number of sewage works on the route: 1
This walk was a circular route of 10.8 miles from the car park on East Lane in Wheathampstead, W to Batford, NE to Mackerye End, ESE to Wheathampstead, N to loop around Lamer Park, and S and W to Wheathampstead.
We started by visiting St Helen’s Church in Wheathampstead, with its central tower dating to 1290. This large church contains several monuments including one to the polar explorer Apsley Cherry-Garrard, and some impressive stained glass. Heading east out of the village, we passed through harvested wheat fields, and had our first views into the Lea Valley. On reaching Leasey Bridge, we joined the dismantled railway that ran from Leighton Buzzard to Welwyn Garden City. The railway closed in 1965 and was subsequently removed. Along this route we passed our first golf course and the obligatory sewage works.
On reaching Batford, we turned into a lovely meadow through which the River Lea runs. Unfortunately, our way out was flooded following heavy rains the day before, so we had to turn back and take a different route. A ford over the Lea was a good location for a quick break.
We left Batford and headed down a footpath in the trees, towards Mackerye End House, a Grade I listed 16th century manor house, whose front gate amusingly contained a phallic design.
More wheat fields took us back towards Wheathampstead, and onto a second golf course. We headed towards Wheathampstead and had panoramic views of the village, but then headed north away from the village and had lunch under some beech trees.
After lunch, we looped around the Lamer Park estate, and ancient manor that was once held by Cherry-Garrard upon inheritance in 1907. The estate contains some lovely woodlands and fields with ancient trees. We were surprised to come across a field of adorable ponies and their foals. They were very friendly, and we thought they might like to join us in a group shot. Another golf course and paths lined with beech trees took us away from the estate.
As we approached Wheathampstead once again, we reached another section of the disused railway. This section is known as the Ayot Greenway, linking Wheathampstead with Ayot St Peter. This also follows part of the routes known as the Wheathampstead Heritage Trail and the Lea Valley Walk, and is part of the National Cycle Network. An interpretation board stood on this part of the route, playing back recorded recollections of locals about the old railway
Finally back at Wheathampstead, we crossed another ford – an opportunity to wash the soles of our boots – and headed past an allotment with tall sunflowers and through a recreation ground that allowed us to walk alongside the Lea for a short while before returning to the car park.
Much needed and much deserved drinks were enjoyed at The Bull in Wheathampstead. Many thanks to John for organising and leading such a fantastic walk.
Words and pictures by Peter O’Connor.