The group returned to the village of Roydon, previously visited in 2019. The railway station here is somewhat unusual in that the up platform lies in the county of Hertfordshire while the down line is in Essex, meaning we had to cross the county line to start the walk. The excitement this caused, resulted in a number of walkers failing to notice the barriers of the level crossing were closing while they were still on the tracks! Fortunately, everyone reached the Essex side before the Stansted Express hurtled by but it certainly made for a thrilling start to the walk.All was calm however as we joined the towing path of the Stort Navigation.
The towpath was well made, level and dry, and the group made good time as we headed east along three different waymarked routes (Harcamlow Way, Stort Valley Way, Three Forests Way), passing the occasional lock and meeting the occasional narrow boat travelling in the opposite direction. After just over an hour, we reached Parndon Mill. The current building was completed in 1900, although there has been a mill on this site since at least the time of Domesday Book. However, Parndon Mill’s long history of flour production is now over. These days, the building provides studios and workshops for artists and others working in the creative industries.
We were now walking along the edge of Harlow New Town, which judging by the cranes that dominated the skyline, seemed to be undergoing something of a construction boom.
As we crossed the busy A1184, we left Harlow behind and after continuing along the towpath for a short way, peeled off to follow the Three Forests Way into Pishiobury Park, our lunch spot for the day. Now managed as a ‘country park’ by the local council, Pishiobury was once a large estate attached to the house of the same name, and its beautifully landscaped grounds are thought to be at least in part the work of the renowned Capability Brown.
Refreshed, we returned to the Stort, and our route took us north past the town of Sawbridgeworth and back out into countryside. We were now following the east bank of the navigation, which with is meanders and water meadows looked more like a natural watercourse than a canalized section of the river. A very pleasant stretch to walk in the weak afternoon sun. In fact, this tranquil landscape accompanied us for the final hour of the walk, until suddenly as the towpath crossed beneath a railway line, we exchanged rural for urban, as we entered the town of Bishops Stortford.
Inclement weather threatened to ruin members of the Longer Walk Group‘s enjoyment of an undulating “figure of eight” walk starting and ending at High Wycombe Station, exploring the area around Hughenden Manor and the West Wycombe estate. Leaving the town behind we quickly got into our stride along Benjamin’s Footpath which skirts the vast High Wycombe Cemetery. We then followed a series of wooded paths in the direction of Hughenden Manor,
passing the Grade II Listed Brands House, in the hamlet of Four Ashes. Our next landmark was the Church of St Michael and All Angels at the northern end of Hughenden Park. Then the lure of a National Trust coffee proved to much to resist at the stable block : an exploration of the adjacent walled garden found offers of vegetables and apples (unwashed) in return for a contribution to the Trust. Here the weather took a turn for the worse, and after a short
perambulation around Disraeli’s Victorian Hughenden Manor to admire the parterre and statuary (but no time unfortunately to browse in the second hand bookshop), we took to the shelter of the woods and made our way to Dashwood country at West Wycombe. On the climb to the mid-18th century Dashwood Mauseoleum, we passed the (very Gothick) entrance to Hellfire Caves.
At the top of the hill (with a fine view over the Chilterns countryside and West Wycombe Park (the seat of the Dashwood baronetcy) we stopped for a lunch break observed
by an interested bird of prey, and watched as a rain shower approached from the valley below. Luckily the heaviest rain fell when we were walking through some quite dense woodland
on the return journey to High Wycombe, via Hughenden Park, where an impressive array of weeping willows line the Hughenden Stream. A perfect walk, despite the weather!
Thursday 12 August 2021. Although Woldingham Station is only one stop from zone 6, as we emerged from the platform, the landscape immediately suggested the Downs rather than London. This feeling was confirmed as we reached Woldingham Golf Club and headed
north east along a dry chalk valley to join the Vanguard Way, a 66 mile route from Croydon to the Sussex Coast at Newhaven. We were now heading south and tackling our first climb, following a broad bridle track that ended at the wireless station atop the North Downs at 260 metres above sea level. We didn’t stay at this height for long though, as at Flint House we dropped steeply down the south facing chalk escarpment to reach our old friend the North Downs Way just north of Oxted. We now turned to face west and followed the NDW along the base of the chalk, with the sound of the M25 our constant companion. Our respite was brief, as it was soon time to return to the crest of the Downs taking advantage of a flight of 109 wooden steps to reach the crest of the Downs again. Our route now continued along the edge of chalk brridge, where we were treated to superb views of the
Greensand Ridge and the Weald, which were away to our south. Our route now crossed Gangers Hill before descending Tandridge Hill only to climb once more to our lunch stop above Flinthall Farm.
After lunch we continued to head west passing a large area of grape vines laid out along the south facing slope of the Downs, before reaching Winders Hill and climbing another flight of steps (67 this time) to emerge at the somewhat scarily named Devil’s Hole. We now walked across farmland heading for Tillingsdown Farm where we found a gated community of modern houses had sprung up seemingly in the middle of nowhere. After crossing another dry valley, and a steep descent to Marden Park Farm, the group refused to countenance the proffered short cut back to the station, opting instead for one final climb as we headed south towards Woldingham School and then east into Great Church Wood. A gentle descent through the trees led to a broad track which took us back to the station.
As one of the group said ‘definitely challenging, but so enjoyable’.
We started the walk at Petts Wood in the suburbs of south east London, from where we were able to follow footpaths that took advantage of local woodlands and open space to join the London Loop. Heading for Farnborough, we crossed Farnborough churchyard to continue on into High Elms Country Park, passing through ornamental gardens and alongside a golf course before emerging into farmland. At this point we had our first encounter with narrow, muddy footpaths, the mud in particular being a feature of the day! At a junction of paths, we headed south along a track which emerged on the road just outside the village of Downe. With its historic core of flint cottages, two pubs and a 13th-century church, it was hard to believe Downe is located well within the boundary of Greater London, and we were grateful for the benches on the village green and the warm welcome in the George and Dragon as we paused for lunch.
Shortly after leaving Downe, we walked past the home of its most celebrated resident. I am not of course referring to the former leader of the UKIP party, but the naturalist Charles Darwin, who wrote On the Origin of the Species while living in Down House on the edge of the village.
From Downe we headed south-east across farmland and through woodlands towards the village of Cudham, where we experienced the first of our afternoon climbs. From the delightful mediaeval church at Cudham we continued through a similar landscape to reach Foxberry Wood, where we turned to head generally east, descending the steep Stubbs Hill only to climb up the other side of the valley to Rushmore Hill. We were now on our final section, as we continued across not one, but two abandoned golf courses to reach Knockholt station.
While we waited for our train at the end of our 12 mile walk, it was hard to believe that after passing through such picturesque villages and some wonderful countryside we had never left zone 6 or the London Borough of Bromley.
We started the walk close to the ruins of Berkhamsted Castle but soon left it behind as we climbed north along a dry chalk valley to reach Berkhamsted Common. This was the site of a local disagreement now known as the Battle of Berkhamsted Common, brought about when the local landowner tried to enclose the Common and provoked the wrath of the locals. Today it is a very peaceful and soothing area of deciduous woodland disturbed mainly by riders, hikers and cyclists.
Our route took us north-west along the edge of the Chilterns until we reached Tom’s Hill. From here there were beautiful views over the Vale of Aylesbury as we descended into the village of Aldbury. Resisting the temptation to call into the Valiant Trooper, a hostelry with which some of our members are very familiar, we passed Aldbury village green with its mediaeval stocks and duck pond, before completing a steep climb up to Aldbury Common and the grounds of the Ashridge Estate.
We stopped for lunch close to the Bridgewater monument, (a granite obelisk some 33 metres in height built as a memorial to the third Duke of that name), before following the perfectly straight track known as Prince’s Riding for over a mile before arriving at Ashridge House, once the country seat of the Bridgewater family. Passing the house to the north, we entered the delightfully named Golden Valley, where the fields were carpeted with buttercups, before climbing back up to Berkhamsted Common.
As we made our way back towards the town, we encountered rather an unexpected sight. A WW1 trench appeared to have been excavated on the common, and it had! This area was used as a military training ground during the Great War, with some 12000 troops passing through the area during the course of the conflict. As we rounded Berkhamsted Hill and descended back to the castle, it was interesting to reflect on the amount of English history represented on a simple 10 mile walk.
This walk was the fiftieth outing of the Longer Walks Group, a half century delayed somewhat by recent events. However, it was perhaps fitting that this meant we returned to the location of one of our earliest walks, Richmond.A grey, showery morning heralded the beginning of our walk, as the group assembled outside Richmond station for our customary start of walk photo. Suitably recorded for posterity, we set off (hoods up), crossing Richmond Green before reaching the south bank of the Thames. We now turned to face upstream, following the Thames Path under Richmond Bridge and across the meadows at Petersham. The riverside path was unusually quiet as we continued past the Ham House ferry, then Eel Pie Island, turning through 180 degrees as we walked around the huge meander that ends at Teddington Lock. At this point, we left the river bank, following a route through the streets of Ham, making towards our lunch stop on Ham Common. Continuing across the common, our next port of call was the Ham Gate entrance to Richmond Park, from where a short climb brought us to the highlight of today’s walk, the Isabella Plantation.
First planted in the 1830’s, this area is best known for its large collection of evergreen azaleas, which in early May were in full bloom, a sight greatly enjoyed by the group as we completed a circuit of the plantation’s streams and ponds. Returning to our route, we crossed the deer park ( complete with deer) to Pen Ponds, and then on past the Grade 2 listed White Lodge (better known as the home of the Royal Ballet School), heading north towards the East Sheen gate. As we approached East Sheen, we turned to faced west, following the path that ran close to the perimeter of Richmond Park until we arrived at the Richmond Gate, exiting the park close to the Royal Star and Garter Home. By now we were on the terraces of Richmond Hill, which at 40 metres above the Thames, provided some final fleeting glimpses of the river, resplendent in the late afternoon sunshine. A fitting way to bring up the group’s half century!
The Longer Walks Group programme for 2021 got underway with yet another ‘return from lockdown’ walk. This time it was a 10-mile circular walk from Welham Green station following the North Mymms Way and completed in beautiful spring sun-shine.
After a mercifully brief walk through the Welham Green trading estate, we followed bridle paths which headed westwards towards the A1(M). Crossing the motorway by a relatively un-used bridge, we entered an area of arable land that led eventually to North Mymms Park.
Described in advertising as “Hertfordshire’s hidden gem”, North Mymms Park is a Grade 1 listed Elizabethan Mansion in a parkland setting. The parkland at this time of year being densely populated by flocks of ewes and their recent offspring. After crossing St Mary’s Churchyard, the group headed south, walking through Hawkshead Wood and Mymmshall Wood to cross the A1(M) once again.
We were now entering land owned and managed by the Royal Veterinary College, the path skirting the college boundaries to reach the main rail line at Brookmans Park. From here we continued our walk along Hawkshead Lane and across fields to enter Gobions Wood, which with its spring carpet of wood anemones, was resplendent in the sunshine. Not so the following brief road section through a very affluent part of Brookmans Park, where a number of crimes against architecture had been recently committed. However, we soon left this terrible scene behind us before we returned to woodland and pasture for the final section back to Welham Green.