Today I chose to walk The Alban Way with the following thought in mind “Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it” (G Anderson)
Joining the Alban Way
Trying to get some fresh air and keep fitness levels up at this time of year is always difficult for me and the Alban Way is always a good bet for decent terrain. I am sure that I am not the only one who doesn’t like trudging through energy sapping mud and it was great to find a flat walk today with firm footings to get the legs moving, heart pumping and clear my head. I started my walk at St Albans City Station, walked past the old prison building (featured on the vintage TV show “Porridge”), now the Registry Office(!) and crossed down Grimston Road and Breakspear Avenue to access the walk down a side alleyway. This does miss the first very pretty part of the walk from Leyland Avenue across the River Ver, but I returned to this at the end. Whilst in Breakspear Avenue and surrounding area I noticed how many of the houses still have ornate glass in their windows. This was thought to have been put in by the firm E E Hooker, St Albans when the houses were built. This old St Albans family firm (going until the late 1970s) located in nearby Albion Road, erected leaded and stained glass in churches and memorial chapels throughout the world and today’s residents must be delighted to have a part of history in their own homes.
From the station the walk was an easy flat five miles or so to Hatfield. It was pleasant walking; quite quiet on a Friday morning, and gratifying to see the trees beginning to bud, the squirrels running around and to hear birdsong. However, much I sometimes do not want to step outside the front door as soon as I find myself in the midst of trees and wildlife my mood improves. Oftentimes I walk alone, but on this occasion with an old school friend, also on her own individual journey and it is always both healing and uplifting to chat along the way. I often find that the focus of the action on walking enables me to talk more freely and honestly to my companion.
The Smallford Station Project, The Alban Way
One particular interest of the walk (along the old St Albans/ Hatfield railway line) is the superb efforts by the Smallford Station Project to bring the history of the old railway line and the Smallford community to life. We passed what was the south platform of Hill End Station, which was used during WW2 to drop off wounded soldiers on their way to the old Hill End Hospital. Further along on the north side we came across an old railway building, which is what now remains of Smallford Station itself. A thought crossed my mind of how lovely it would be to re-open it as a waiting room style café, and I have to say romantic thoughts of “Brief Encounter” entered my head. Several items of railway memorabilia are in evidence along the route.
A booklet produced by the Smallford team, The Alban Way Guided Walk Brochure as part of the celebrations held in October 2015 to mark the 150th anniverasry of the opening of the line is available at the link above.
One of the team’s plans is to renovate and restore Smallford Station and make it available to their local community: when that might begin to happen remains open to speculation. Currently, St Albans District Council have their ‘GAP’ Plan, a project managed by Countryside Management Service to improve the Alban Way – they spent £30,000 last year mainly on felling overgrown trees and clearing undergrowth and are currently doing further similar work. The team will be working with them – to renovate the platforms on the St Albans stretch and provide a range of Interpretation Panels at various points, together with ‘resting places’ (eg benches) – and hope that Oaklands College students and staff will be involved.
Below is a photo taken at Nast Hyde Halt – all of this improvement work (not restoration) has apparently been undertaken and financed by one person – he happens to live in Hatfield and works as a postman in St Albans so has cycled along the Alban Way for many years. I do so love to know about the people I meet and hear about on my walks. There is obviously “joy in doing the activity” referred to in the quote above here! I am told that the Smallford team are happy to give presentations to other groups about their project.
Once past the post marking the boundary between St Albans and Welwyn Hatfield it was only a short walk on to the reality of the busy A1011 and the commercial world of the Galleria Shopping Centre. Here I was reminded of my “thought for the walk” – the purpose for me was not to visit an Outlet Shopping Centre but to keep up my fitness, get outside and connect with a friend and on all three counts the walk was a success. Frequent buses depart from the Shopping Centre back to St Albans (301 and 724), if ones legs are tired, however, we decided to retrace our steps and complete the return walk back to the beginning of the Alban Way.
Returning to the first part of The Alban Way
The part of the walk between Breakspear Avenue and Leyland Avenue is particularly pretty and to be recommended. After passing the Old London Road Station over on the right are the old watercress beds, now a wildlife sanctuary, maintained by volunteers. I was reminded once again how grateful I am for all the people who give of their own free time to maintain and enhance the environment which we live in. I have a fascination when passing allotments (just further on from the nature reserve) to see how others’ vegetables are comparing to mine and as always was inspired to see that even at this time of year how productive some people’s plots are.
For anyone with time to spare it is only a short stroll (uphill!) to the Abbey or to take in the other historical sites of the fine City (some of which are detailed in my further walks here) or to grab a coffee. I love interesting independent coffee shops and if anyone knows of any in the vicinity of the Galleria please let me know as I would like to check it out.
All in all an interesting and easy walk, a good option for when ground conditions are poor, with good public transport links. St Albans District Council produce an excellent sheet giving further details of the route of the walk. Bus timetables can be found at Arriva time tables. The Alban Way Length – 6.5 miles each way.
For further walks in the St Albans area, please see:
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