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.