A Walk around the Ayot St Lawrence Area
Most of my walking is done alone or with one partner, so today walking and talking with the Beane Valley Walkers around the Ayot St Lawrence area was a new and charming experience and further training for my walk along the Pilgrims’ Way.
A group of us met just outside the Brocket Arms pub under promising clear skies and set off promptly at ten am at a good pace on an 5 mile trek along footpaths and quiet lanes. This area of Hertfordshire is not one that I am particularly well acquainted with and the well-chosen walk was full of unusual delights along the way.
We first passed the fascinating old ruined church of St Lawrence. The story is that in the eighteenth century the Lord of the Manor, Sir Lionel Lyde wished to rebuild the church but when his workmen had partly demolished it the Bishop of Lincoln (whose diocese it was in and whose permission had not been sought) ordered the work to be stopped. No effort was made to put the church to rights and hence it now stands like a romantic folly in its semi derelict state.
Taking a nearby footpath we soon passed the replacement church commissioned by Lyde; although known as the Palladium Church it is actually in the Greek Revival Style. Its history can be read here. An interesting replacement! Apparently Sir Lionel was unhappily married and he arranged that upon his death he should lie at one end of the new church and his deceased wife at the other far end!
Later in the walk we passed the Victorian built Ayot St Peter’s Parish Church. I loved the clock at the top of this Church. A fellow walker pointed out the shutters at the top of the bell tower which would be used to regulate the sound of the bells. A further church which mostly burnt down in 1874 had also existed in the area. Just its chancel survived and it serves as a mortuary chapel now.
So many churches in what seems to us now such a small place. But of course, this would have been a thriving community of farmers, labourers and traders 150 years ago.
The Terrain and Paths
The weather was fine and the terrain was dry and good. There was a small amount of lane walking but most was along firm footpaths across newly harvested fields and through the welcome shade of woodland.
A mile or so of the walk was along the old Hatters Line Railway. This line had connected Luton, westerly with Leighton Buzzard and to the east through Harpenden, Wheathampstead, Ayot and Welwyn Garden City. It was finally closed in 1967 following the Beeching Cuts. As in my posting on The Alban Way: “A Good Walk for Muddy Days“, although saddened that these small railway lines disappeared, I am always grateful for the ones which have been re-opened as walking routes making good use of the clearings through woods and the connections between places.
The Area around Ayot St Lawrence
The area around which we walked was surprisingly quiet considering the closeness of the A1. It was typical of beautiful English countryside on a perfect summer’s day. There was hardly a cloud in the sky. I heard no traffic and we passed some delightful cottages along the way. I had to take a photograph to show to the lovely T of a residence somewhat larger than a “cottage” which came into view at one stage. The owner of this beautiful home appeared to have his own putting green within the property’s grounds!
The famous Shaw’s Corner (details here) is just a few hundred yards from the start point of this walk and would combine well to make an excellent day out. Check opening times though – it was shut on the day we visited (Tuesday). An unexpected delight was the Brocket Arms Freehouse. A Fifteenth century building with Eighteenth Century alterations, beamed and with inglenook fireplaces it was full of charm. The welcome was warm and the service excellent. The garden was host to an aviary and a rabbit run, along with traditional wooden climbing apparatus for children. There was a good choice of sandwiches, snacks and more substantial food at a reasonable price. This is certainly a pub I would frequent again when I make a return visit to see Shaw’s Corner.
Walking with Others
I usually love the solitude of walking alone. It gives me time to clear my head and the rhythm of walking forms a kind of meditation for me. I enjoy my own company, peace and quiet and the challenge of finding my own way around. So walking with fifteen or so other people today was a new experience for me. The walk was so well-organised and run and the walking group so friendly and made me so welcome that I thoroughly enjoyed myself. It was great getting to know new people and hear about places they had visited and other walks they had done. As always I find that when walking with another person talking somehow becomes easier and flows more naturally. One of the added benefits which I had not thought about was the knowledge and experience of others about places we passed along the way and general historical and geographical knowledge. It was great to learn some new things and a privilege to walk with the group. Churches and chatter! Fitness and fun! Sunshine and Stories! What a blessing.
Distance 5 miles. Minimum Time 2 hours. Route link click here.
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