This section of the Hertfordshire Way from Kings Langley to Shenley proved to be a day of contrasts: sunshine and rain; motorways and hidden corners of serenity; littered scrubland and panoramic vistas of unspoilt English countryside.
Unprompted A and I both automatically burst into a rendition of “We are the Ovaltinees, little girls and boys” as we passed the old factory shortly after beginning our walk from Kings Langley Station. I was not sure whether the new updated “Hertfordshire Guidebook” had yet been published, so we were still using the 2012 copy. This gives two alternative routes once leaving Station Road and says that the permissive path from Eggs Farm Lane may not be viable – hence we continued along Station Road and began the long climb up Toms Lane. This was one of several areas on this section of the walk where we had to be careful dodging traffic.
Shortly, however, we left the traffic behind and were soon in fields showing the glory of the height of the English Summer. We wandered beneath blue skies, fluffy white innocent looking clouds and heard the distant hum of the M25.
It didn’t take us long to reach Bedmond. The guidebook explained that in the parish church here was a memorial tablet to Nicholas Breakspear, the only English pope. After walking through the village for a short while we turned left past the Bell pub and soon found ourselves again amongst farmland. As always the conversation ranged over all manner of joyous and sad subjects and we were so engrossed in catching-up that we did not notice that we had crossed a bridge over the top of the M25.
The footpaths eventually led us down to Chequers Lane. Here again the traffic started to become a little frightening and we had to keep all our wits about us with no pavement or verge beneath the hedgerow to dive into. Eventually, however, we passed Waterdale House and climbed up a narrow footpath to reach a field where I managed to take my obligatory photo.
After crossing several fields and a playing area, the busy A405 by a subway and the M1 by bridge, we began what was the most rewarding section of the walk.
We followed the bridleway through the large wooded common of Bricket Wood, where the River Ver meets the Colne. Passing only one other person we wandered enjoying the peacefulness of this hidden haven which felt so distant from the busy motorways nearby.
The sun was still shining as we left the Common and entered Munden estate – a large expanse of parkland attached to the 19th century Gothic mansion. We became slightly lost here for a while and the first few light raindrops started to fall as our maps were consulted. Back on track we found the footbridge over the River Colne as directed by the guidebook.
Another half a mile on we entered the grounds of Wall Hall, now a housing complex. The original Wall Hall house was another gothic revival mansion and we met an elderly gentleman out for his daily constitutional who shared with us the history of the estate.
Leaving the well-manicured lawns of the development we aimed for the church spire at Aldenham. This is another example of a Hertfordshire spire (another of which we had seen at Flamstead on our first leg of this pilgrimage). The needle like structure rises from the centre of the square tower roof, within the parapet of the church. We shall look out for more on further sections.
Just as we reached Aldenham the light raindrops which had been making our guidebook a little difficult to read became much heavier and we were fortunate to be able to take cover in the porch of the church and eat our lunches on a bench there. No chocolate fingers today – Mini Cheddars instead!
Aldenham was followed hard on by the picturesque village of Letchmore Heath. The Hertfordshire Way route takes in a section of the village and we enjoyed the 16th and 17th century timber framed cottages, village green and duck pond.
As well as the memorial on the green this village honoured its dead of WW1 by putting plaques up on the buildings of those who had lost their lives in the conflict. This personal memorial to those young men who had died somehow bought home to us much more deeply the reality of the men lost sent to fight for King and Country and the homes to which they never returned.
The rain became heavier as we left the village and we relied on the Hertfordshire Way signposts as the maps and guidebook were kept dry. At some stage our concentration was lost. Amidst our chat and the ease of walking on the straight gravel track on which we found ourselves I believe we missed a right hand turn. We spotted a house which looked just as if it had come out of the TV programme “Grand Designs” and so engrossed were we in discussing its architectural merits and faults (!) that we lost our way.
Eventually we did reach Watling Street, which we knew we had to cross on our way to Shenley but we did not know which section of Watling Street we were on, whether we should turn left or right and where the designated route was. This resulted in probably an additional three miles walking as we made our way almost into Radlett and back again until our perseverance paid off and we gratefully found the sign we had been looking for.
The feeling of squelching in our boots and tiredness in our limbs probably affected our perception of the next section of the walk. A couple of times our way was almost blocked by a fallen tree and brambles.
We walked past fly-tipped rubbish, through a graffiti covered, damp railway arch and watched a four-wheel driver, who for some reason had decided to drive along the footpaths and bridleways reverse backwards and forwards slipping and sliding in the mud trying to reverse after realising he was not able to cross a deep ford. (We had a footbridge!)
Wet scrubland does not make for comfortable walking and I think we both breathed a strong sigh of relief as we entered Woodhill Spinney on the last section of the walk. We were too late to make the tearooms in Shenley and delighted to see yet again the Red Hyundai driver seemingly appear out of nowhere as we reached the village. A, expressed how sometimes, with walking, there is a certain delight in “stopping”.
This walk will be remembered for the early sunshine, time spent looking around the fascinating church in Aldenham, the charming gentleman at Wall Hall, the beautiful village of Letchmore Green and the humbling we felt there and as always the love and respect which a long-standing friendship brings.
Walk length 12.8 miles (but we did nearer 16)
Maps: Exp 182,173.