I chose one of the hottest days of the year to walk the Hitchin Outer Orbital Path (HOOP), partly as further training for walking the Pilgrims’ Way and also to discover a walk near Hitchin – but there were a couple of refreshment stops along the way, some shade through the woods and the cafes in Hitchin to recuperate and recover from the heat at the finish. This walk was an unexpected delight and I would thoroughly recommend it as an enjoyable way to spend a day.
The Route of the HOOP
A link to this route around the outskirts of the Hertfordshire market town of Hitchin is given on this useful leaflet here. There is plenty of parking in the town centre and from there the route heads westwards in the direction of Pirton. It takes in Oughtonhead Common, crosses Westmill Lane and the A600 and works its way towards the village of Ickleford. From here it heads in an easterly direction to the outskirts of Letchworth and follows the route of the Letchworth Greenway for a while. The HOOP route eventually heads southwards and runs around the easterly outskirts of Hitchin until passing Purwell Nine Springs Nature Reserve, the hamlet of Charlton and returning to the town centre.
Walking Distance and Terrain of the HOOP
The whole circular path is 12 miles but can be broken down if required into convenient sections of 4.5 miles; 3 miles; 2.5 miles and 2 miles as explained in the leaflet. The terrain makes for easy walking – pavements and countryside paths. There are a couple of small hills but nothing too demanding.
Places of Interest
Shortly after leaving the town and emerging into the countryside The Garden Gate Tearoom is passed. This looked very inviting and although closed on the day I walked is open on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
After passing Oughtonhead Common the route takes a very pretty way alongside the river. I had not visited this area before and it is somewhere I will definitely be returning. The area felt secluded and the shade under the trees was very welcome. The river was remarkably clear reflecting the high summer greenery from the trees above.
After passing through the nature reserve the woods and river are left behind and I reached Westmill and eventually turned right. I found the signposting on the HOOP very good apart from here. The Icknield Way and other footpaths are signposted but at the junction of paths shown below the HOOP signposting disappears. It is necessary to turn right here, to walk towards and cross the A166 and walk along the back of houses and into Ickleford.
The village of Ickleford itself is very pretty and if one wanted one could take a slight detour and visit the lavender fields at Cadwell Farm. There are also a couple of pubs in Ickleford for refreshment and a village shop.
After crossing the road through Ickleford, the river and the mainline railway it was a long slow climb between hedgerows in full leaf up to Wilbury Hills. The heat was getting pretty intense by now and this was a good place to find some shade and drink some water. There is a car park and picnic place at Wilbury Hills but little can be seen of the old Iron Age hillfort.
After crossing the Stotfold Road the route joins the Letchworth Greenway and runs through a housing estate. I had to stop to take a picture of the immaculately kept pre-fab houses at this stage. Many of them had tremendous views over the open Hertfordshire Countryside and I couldn’t help but think of the television programme I had recently watched when residents described their absolute joy at leaving bombed out London and moving to a modern pre-fab house in the Hertfordshire countryside. I wonder how many of us would be content with such a dwelling now, but in fact they had all necessities and all we really require for shelter.
The heat started to become uncomfortable as the sun reflected off the Letchworth pavements and I returned to the countryside. A welcome haven of shade beckoned through some woods slightly to the left of the actual path and I took this alternative route whilst I could.
After emerging from the wood and eventually crossing Cambridge Road, I choose to take a short diversion down to the Wyevale Garden Centre to pick up an ice cream. The café is in the old Harkness Roses bulding which I can remember as a child. After crossing the busy road the Letchworth Greenway continued until Purwell Nine springs Nature Reserve and I walked alongside the river. My search for the elusive sight of a kingfisher continued. I have walked so many, many miles alongside riverbanks, including the whole of the River Lea from source to Thames, the River Frome in Dorset and the Thames when walking the Ridgeway Trail but try as I might I have never managed to catch sight of the electric blue colouring which I am told will alert me to the presence of the bird. The search will go on.
The Hitchin Outer Orbital Path continues to follow the river along the back of some houses until crossing the Stevenage Road and passing through Charlton before returning to the town centre.
There are plenty of places for refreshments in Hitchin. Particularly to be recommended is the Chia Café near the Church where I always feel I can treat myself, but still indulge healthily.
The Hitchin Outer Orbital Path is a route that can be thoroughly recommended. Save from the comments above the signposting is good, there are places of interest on route, a varied landscape and easily traversable terrain.
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