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Stage 8 - St.Albans  to  Hertford East Station  (15.15 miles)

Start: Grid Reference TL1450206455  Post Code AL1 2PS  StreetMap

If you just want to print out the "Route" instructions of stage 8 of this walk, without all the blurb on the website, you can download this as a Word Docx by clicking on the link.

ROUTE DESCRIPTION

Starts on Holywell Hill, just north of St Albans Abbey Station. We join a footpath next to the River Ver and follow for 0.65 miles. Climb to join the Alban Way to and thru' Hatfield. Past the old mill at Mill Green, go thru' Commons Woods Nature Reserve, then join the Cole Green Way to Hertford and finish at Hertford East Station. The longest, but a direct route. There's a lot to see and we make use of two disused railway lines, now converted to footpaths / cycle tracks.

For a history of St Albans see the end of the write up for stage 7. For a shorter version see the entry at Wikipedia.

Start opposite the entrance to Westminster Lodge Leisure Centre across Holywell Hill. Go north along Holywell Hill. After 100 yards and just before the bridge over the river, turn right between two brick pillars onto the River Ver Path (signed River Ver Trail). Follow the path east along the river. After another 150 yards follow the path left across the river using a footbridge and continue right along the north bank.

Westminster Lodge Leisure Centre sits in the pleasant surroundings of Verulamium Park, below the Abbey Cathedral and overlooking a large open grassy area which runs down to the River Ver. As well as a leisure centre here, there is also the Abbey Theatre. Holywell Hill takes its name from an old "holy well" situated to the east of the street and north of the River Ver. It leads up along the southeastern side of the Abbey Grounds to the centre of the city. It has a lot of history associated with it and in medieval times the east side of the street was made up completely of inns.

Where we join the River Ver Trail A 17 mile (27km) linear walking route starting from the source of the River Ver at Kensworth Lynch, Bedfordshire and ending at the confluence with the River Colne in Bricket Wood, Hertfordshire. You can follow the signs until we climb up to join the Alban Way.

At 0.4 miles the path comes out next to the St Albans Sub Aqua Club at Cottonmill Lane. Then turn right along the pavement over the river and for an extra few yards. Here turn left to cross over the road using the traffic island and rejoin the river path on the opposite side, now with the river to your LHS. Continue along the path for a further 0.3 miles to just before a high bridge over the river.

St Albans Sub Aqua Club is based at an open-air pool hidden behind high brick walls. The outdoor pool was opened in 1905 on the site of the old cotton mill. Before this people used to bathe in this area of the river. Bathing was only really popular during warmer months as the pool wasn't heated. In 1971 a new indoor pool opened on the site of what is now Westminster Lodge Leisure and the pool here became less popular. However, the pool was saved and is now home to the sub aqua club. To read a longer history of the old pool see Sopwell Memories.

To the right of the path, 150 yards after Cottonmill Lane, just across a green space and through the trees, are some old ruins. This is where Sopwell Priory once stood (also known as Sopwell Nunnery). It was founded around 1140 by Geoffrey de Gorham, Benedictine Abbot of St. Albans Abbey. Juliana Berners was a prioress during the 15th Century and is believed to be author of the "Boke of Saint Albans". The book was first published in 1486 and displayed her love for hawking, hunting and fishing. It was the first book in England to use colour printing and is the earliest British sporting book. The book contains a large list of special collective nouns for animals, such as "a gaggle of geese", "a pride of lions", "a school of fish" and many humorous ones such as "a melody of harpers" and "a blast of hunters".  

Whilst researching a later part of this walk around London, at Fryerning in Essex, I came across a lengthy book of 1913, entitled "Ingatestone and the Essex Great Road with Fryerning". This gives much more background on Juliana Berners and her family. One excerpt on page 56 states:

"The Berners were a very ancient Essex family. They held Berners Rooting since the Conquest. Possibly a founder of the family was a "berner" to the king - a "berner" was one in charge of running hounds. A Sir James Berners was executed in 1388 for high treason; on the same day his wife gave birth to a daughter. This daughter, Juliana, was one of the first English authoresses. She wrote on hunting, fishing and heraldry, she was also head of the nunnery of Sopewell, Hertfordshire. A Ralph Berners was one of the twelve knights appointed in Henry III's reign to make a perambulation of the royal forest of Essex..."  

The ruins seen today are the remains of Sir Richard Lee's house (see video). The priory was dissolved in 1537 by Henry VIII and shortly afterward he granted the site to Lee, one of his military architects. Lee demolished some of the old building and remodeled the rest between 1540 and 1575 to make it more fashionable and added gardens so creating a magnificent Tudor Mansion. However, he died in 1575 and the house was never completed.

Just before the overhead bridge, turn right to climb some steps (we leave the River Ver Trail at this point). At the top turn left over the bridge and along what was once a railway line and is now a cycle track / footpath.

Look down from the bridge to the left, and just north of the river to see the Watercress Wildlife Association nature reserve. This small area is maintained by conservation volunteers. It is on the site of former watercress beds and is now an urban haven for wildlife and plants. To the right below the bridge is a fishing lake and beyond this is the Verulam Golf Club. "Ryder and Son" had a seed merchants in St Albans. Sam Ryder (1858 - 1936) is better known today as the founder of the golfing competition, the Ryder Cup. His own club, the Verulam Golf Club, to the south of the city and which we pass on leaving St Albans via the Alban Way, is the original home of the Ryder Cup and is where he developed the competition.

For the next 5.7 miles the route follows The Alban Way to Hatfield, the old St Albans to Hatfield railway line.

This branch line of the Great Northern Railway opened in 1865 and was closed in 1969 as a consequence of the report of 1963 by Richard Beeching and known as the "Beeching Axe". It was re-opened for walkers and cyclists by the St Albans & Welwyn Hatfield district councils in 1985.

Smallford.org has a very informative leaflet on The Alban Way (also see Wikipedia). There is also a short video on YouTube entitled "Rediscovering the Hatfield and St Albans Railway" - it goes in the opposite direction to our walk. Another, an informative cycle video, does go the same way as we do.

The railway brought prosperity to the area and many industries grew up along it. These industries attracted workers and homes had to be built to house them and their families. This meant St Albans and Hatfield started to grow towards each other and by the time this branch line was closed in 1969 both places had practically joined up along the area adjacent to the railway. Today many industries still survive along this corridor, with roads now replacing rail as the preferred means of transport. Older industries have been superseded by more modern ones, out of town supermarkets and garden centres have appeared, roads have been widened and dual carriageways, bypasses and linking motorways constructed.

On travelling along the Alban Way much of the above is evident. There are not many green fields or views off into the distance. However, as the path follows an old railway line there is a sense of being closed off from the surroundings. From here to Hatfield the path is flat and continuous. There are some entrances from the local areas, but there are not many roads to cross as most of these are all passed over on bridges or under through tunnels. The Alban Way Project is (or has been) supported by the Millennium Commission, National Cycle Network, Sustrans, Countryside Agency, St Albans City and District Council, Welwyn Hatfield Council, Herts County Council, Countryside Management Service, Watling Chase Community Forest, and the University of Hertfordshire. They have all invested much money along this route to make it an enjoyable and peaceful experience. They have preserved many old remnants from the rail age, added some modern designs which blend in with the surroundings and made the path a recreational area for all to enjoy. 

After 250 yards follow the Alban Way straight on through a small modern housing development named Orient Close. Immediately past Orient Close is one mile into the stage, and for the next 4 miles, to the Galleria at Hatfield, the route is very easy to follow along the Alban Way, with no diversions.

On the left, nestled amongst the houses at Orient Close is the Old London Road Station. The station building was cleaned up and redeveloped as The Old Station Business Centre, and later a children's nursery. However, still maintains its original facade and part of its platform. Further along the Alban Way you can also see the remains of what were the platforms of Hill End, Smallford and Ellenbrook Lane stations.

On leaving Orient Close follow the cycle track / path under two bridges. The first is the A1081, London Road Bridge; the second carries the main rail traffic north from London Kings Cross Station.

After another 0.45 miles we cross a footbridge over Camp Road. It was built in 2003 to make the cycle track / path continuous to Hatfield. Before this, users would have to descend to and cross the road, then climb back up on the other side. The paths down off the track and the one back up still remain as access points to the Alban Way.

About 250 yards further the old wooden platform on the left of the track is all that remains of Saunders Sidings. It was built in 1890 and was used to transport orchids from the nearby Saunders Nursery. In later years it was known as "Salvation Army Halt". Their nearby Campfield Works produced brass instruments and periodicals which left from the station to be transported all over the world. The sidings closed in 1964 and the Campfield Works in 1972.

The Alban Way continues through a built-up area on both sides, although not much can be seen from the track. To the left is St Alban's Cemetery and just past this is Fleetwood School. To the right is the Sphere Industrial Estate followed by some semi-detached mid 20th Century housing backing onto the Way. Soon to the left is a Morrison's Superstore. Immediately after the store the track crosses Sutton Road. The store is a good place to pick up provisions or stop for a meal in its restaurant. 

400 yards later the Alban Way passes through a subway under Ashley Road (at 2 miles) - access is provided by a path to the right just before it. Immediately after the subway and to the right is yet another industrial estate (Brick Knoll Park). To the left are more semi-detached residences followed by Longacres Playing Fields. 500 yards later on the right of the track is the old platform of Hill End Station. It was opened in 1899 to serve the Hertfordshire County Mental Hospital (aka Hill End Asylum) which lay immediately south of it. The asylum closed in 1997 and a residential area now occupies the site. Soon the "Way" crosses Hill End Lane and 280 yards later passer under Colney Heath Lane. On the right between both is the Nicholas Breakspear Catholic School, named after the local man who became Pope Adrian IV (also see school website).

The track continues with private housing developments on both sides for a short distance. After these, on the left is an industrial area with some of the units now out of town superstores. To the right is a reclaimed land named Smallford Pit (at 3 miles). It was formally a landfill site with a gravel pit on the eastern side. The landfill area is now open fields with paths across it (instructions tell walkers to "please keep to the paths in this area"), and the gravel pit, adjacent to the Alban Way (after another 0.6 miles), is now a lake and a popular fishing venue. Just south of Smallford Fisheries is another industrial park at Sleapshyde. Opposite the fishing lake and to the left of the Alban Way are Smallford Nurseries. This is a large market garden area with many acres covered with greenhouses. Just next to the track, on the left, is the old platform of the former Smallford Station.

The Alban Way then passes under an old road bridge with Station Road to the left and Smallford Lane to the right. The next few hundred yards of the trail go through some pleasant countryside with fields on both sides. However, building developments (or progress as it is sometimes called) is never far away.

350 yards after passing under the old road bridge the trail passes under a metal sculpture named Blackberry Arch. The arch (at 4 miles) was created by local sculptor Diane Maclean in 1998. If you are wondering why the sculptor chose this spot to erect the arch, you can get an answer at Smallford.org. In many cultures blackberries were thought to have magical powers and at one time passing children through a blackberry arch was thought to cure them of rickets - I'm not sure if there's a connection.

200 yards after the arch, on the right, is a cast iron mile post. This is the decorative, fish-tail "Boundary Mile Post" which marks the boundary between St. Albans and Welwyn Hatfield.

The trail continues between open fields for another half a mile passing the old platform of the former Nast Hyde Halt Station and crosses Ellenbrook Lane. As you can see from these extra photos at Disused Stations, there has been a lot of work done here to improve the old station and its surroundings. The work was undertaken be a team led by local postman and charity fundraiser Mike Izzard. I'm sure he has lots of stories to tell from his work here over the years, but one certainly worth a mention is from November 2018. "A St Albans postie made a "one in a million" find of a stolen handbag and has returned it to its rightful owner in Hatfield - nearly 40 years after she was mugged.".  You can read the rest of the story at Welwyn Hatfield Times.

From here the trail passes through a residential area and after another 300 yards passes under a high bridge carrying the A1001 (Comet Way). It then gradually climbs through trees to run parallel to the A1(M), immediately to the right, and with Comet Way a short distance to the left. 300 yards later the path comes to an abrupt stop at Cavendish Way (at 5 miles). To the left, just south of the roundabout is the former art deco Comet Pub, now The Comet Hotel. In front of it is a small monument to the de Havilland Comet Aeroplane. On the opposite side of the hotel is the site of the former de Havilland and old Hatfield Aerodrome. It is now University of Hertfordshire - de Havilland Campus, a business park and residential development.

The Comet came about when in 1933 Sir Macpherson Robertson put up the 10,000 prize money for the Victorian Centenary Race from England to Melbourne. At this time there was no competition for existing American aircraft. However, through sheer patriotic determination the de Havilland Company offered to build a winner. Three were ordered in advance and completed shortly before the race. The first was flown at Hatfield on 8th September 1934, just six weeks before the race. At dawn on 20th October 1934 the race started from Mildenhall in Suffolk. The first two Comets made Baghdad non-stop, and things remained close till after Singapore. However, with a Douglas DC2 in hot pursuit, it was the G-ACSS, Grosvenor House Comet, piloted by Charles W Scott and Tom Campbell Black which arrived first in Melbourne to win the prize in 70 hours and 54 minutes. Owen Cathcart Jones and Ken Waller finished fourth in the G-ACSR Comet, only stopping to collect photos and newsreel of the winners before immediately setting off back to England. They arrived home 13 days after leaving Mildenhall to set an out and home record. You can watch a short video about the air race on YouTube.

The comet on the memorial outside the hotel appears to be the model of the winning Grosvenor House aircraft as it was the only one of the three painted red, the other two were painted black and gold, and green.

The first ever jet passenger airplane, the DH Comet 1 was built at the de Havilland works at Hatfield. It first flew on 27th July 1949, but after a few disastrous crashes, caused by metal fatigue on its square windows, it was taken out of production in the 1950s. Today's jet liners have round windows, a lesson taken from the Comet's crashes. Other well known aircraft built here included the Mosquito and the Trident.

The aircraft factory started here by Geoffrey de Havilland in 1934 merged with Hawker-Siddeley in 1959, then in 1977 became a part of British Aerospace. Production stopped in 1993 and the site has been redeveloped to provide commercial and leisure facilities as well as home to the aptly named new de Havilland campus of the University of Hertfordshire.

It was at Hatfield Studios (at Hatfield Aerodrome) in 1998 where Steven Spielberg filmed most of Saving Private Ryan, spending $15m on sets. He later came back, with Tom Hanks, to film the TV series Band of Brothers at a cost of $125 million.

On reaching Cavendish Way (at 5 miles) turn right along the pavement to cross over the A1(M) as it disappears underground into the Hatfield Tunnel.

The Hatfield Tunnel is 1150 metres long and was opened in 1986 by the Duke of Kent, a plaque on the wall as we cross over records the event. It was built to replace this section of the Great North Road. At the time it was heralded as an amazing piece of engineering. You can watch a documentary on the building of the tunnel at YouTube. You can also take a journey through the tunnel on YouTube.

Across the road to the left is the Galleria, a shopping centre and leisure complex, which is built over the roof of the tunnel. This also has a replica of the G-ACSS, Grosvenor House Comet which won the Race from England to Melbourne.

Immediately over the motorway turn right onto a footpath downhill to a pedestrian subway under Cavendish Way. Go through the subway and after exiting it go straight on along a path / cycle track, still the Alban Way.

The route is now back on the course of the old railway line on its way through residential areas of the new town of Hatfield. This newer part of the town came about after May 1948 when Hatfield was designated one of the 24 New Towns selected to re-house the post war population. The railway continued to run through here when the houses were being built and as a consequence the course of the line was preserved. This meant that many years later when the Alban Way was laid out it could follow the majority of the route straight through. Today many houses back onto the trail and much of it is also tree lined. 

After 500 yards the path comes out onto St Albans Road West. Turn right along the pavement for 20 yards, then turn left to cross over the road and go straight on along the path away from the road, still the Alban Way.

280 yards later cross straight over Lemsford Road and back onto the Alban Way.

On crossing over Lemsford Road, look right and you can see the remnants of the old railway bridge over the road. Shortly after Lemsford Road are the remnants of the old platform of Lemsford Road Halt. This was a private stop and late addition to the line. It was opened in 1942 for the use of the workers at de Havilland and closed in 1951.

After another 420 yards The Alban Way crosses over Wellfield Road by way of a footbridge.

Then after another 600 yards cross straight over the road (Homestead Road / Ground Lane) and continue along the Alban Way. The trail is tree lined and gradually veers right. Then after 400 yards turns left and then right to a road. Cross straight over the road (Great North Road) and cross a footbridge over the main railway line.

On this last section of The Alban Way look out for a decorative mile-post and then a piece of modern artwork.

The footbridge is named Wrestlers Bridge and is on the site of an older road bridge. The older bridge carried the A1 (Great North Road) over the Great Northern Railway for 116 years, until it collapsed in the 1966. The name comes from the local Wrestlers Pub, which is just north of here along Great North Road and has some photos of the collapsed bridge. To read a news story of the event visit OurHatfield. It was at this point the branch line from St Albans turned right and joined the main railway. In history this was where two of England's great communications routes met, today it marks the end the Alban Way. Although, on some websites The Alban Way does follow our route for another quarter of a mile.

A short distance south of here is Hatfield Railway Station (see map) and just east of the station is Old Hatfield. The town dates from Saxon times when it was called "Hetfelle", meaning "field of heather". The old town which exists today grew up around the gateway to the Old Tudor Palace of the Bishop of Ely. The Palace dates from 1497 and its remains can still be seen in the grounds of Hatfield House. It was taken over by Henry VIII who used it as a home for his children, Mary, Elizabeth and Edward. Princess Elizabeth Tudor was later confined here for three years when her older half sister Mary ruled as Queen. It is said she received the news of her accession to the throne, while sitting under an oak tree in the park, following the death of Mary, in 1558. Elizabeth I held her first cabinet meeting in the Great Hall of the Palace. She made William Cecil (1520 - 1598), later the 1st Lord Burghley, her Chief Minister. He lived close by at Theobalds and had become a trusted friend during her childhood. William served the Queen well until his death and was instrumental persuading Elizabeth to sign the death warrant of Mary, Queen of Scots, something Elizabeth later regretted.

William's son Robert Cecil (1563 - 1612) also became a trusted friend of Queen Elizabeth and shortly after his father death became Elizabeth's Chief Minister. He was not of great stature and Elizabeth often referred to him as "Her Elf". Elizabeth had not married and as a consequence had not produced an heir. For years this worried Parliament but she brushed it aside by stating she was married to her country and her crown. She became known as the Virgin Queen and is still referred to by this today. Robert Cecil was instrumental in ensuring that Elizabeth would name her successor as King James VI (Stuart) of Scotland, son of Mary Queen of Scots. Elizabeth's death also marked the end of the Tudor reign. James VI of Scotland was crowned King James I of England, Ireland & Scotland on 24th March 1603. He raised Robert Cecil to a peer on 20th August 1603 as Baron Essendon, and in 1604 gave him the title of the 1st Lord Salisbury. Cecil's other posts included Chancellor of Trinity College Dublin and Cambridge University. He served as a protector and chief minister to the king and as you can see below, managed to foil the Gunpowder Plot. James I preferred Cecil's family home at Theobalds to Hatfield Palace and offered Cecil a swap. Cecil agreed and in 1607 he acquired the Old Palace.

Henry VIII was the last and most foremost king to enjoy making a collection of palaces. His favourite was Hampton Court, but he enjoyed having them all over the country, especially the south of England. Elizabeth and then James found they could not afford the upkeep of all the palaces Henry had acquired, so some fell into ruin and some were given away or swapped for smaller houses.

Cecil did not have much respect for the history of the Palace at Hatfield and tore most of it down. He used the materials to build his own splendid Jacobean House. This was originally designed by Robert Lyminge with modifications by many others including a young Inigo Jones. The rooms within the house were built to entertain and accommodate royalty. Only the Great Hall of the Palace was left standing and this was used as stables. Robert Cecil did not live long enough to enjoy his new house, dying just before it was completed in 1612. He is buried at Hatfield. However, his descendants continued to make it their family home and have now lived there for almost 400 years. Today, Hatfield House is home to Robert Michael James Gascoyne-Cecil, 7th Marquess of Salisbury. It is deemed to be one of the best examples of a Jacobean house in England. The house is surrounded by over 1,000 acres of formal gardens and parkland, much dating back to the 17th Century, and is now one of the largest enclosed private parks in the country.

James I was a Protestant and although married to a Catholic, under his rule Catholics in England were not allowed to practice their religion. Priests had to hide in "Priest Holes" and anyone not seen to follow the Protestant church were punished. It was because of these rules that the Gunpowder Plot was born. The plotters were Sir Robert Catesby, Thomas Wintour, Robert Wintour, John Grant, Thomas Percy, John Wright, Christopher Wright, Robert Keyes, Ambrose Rookwood, Francis Tresham, Thomas Bates, Sir Everard Digby and Guy Fawkes (1570 - 1606). Fawkes, although a late addition to the conspirators, had experience of using gunpowder after serving abroad in the Spanish army. The members of the group were all well educated and privileged young men. They planned to blow up the king, his family, his nobles and bishops at the state opening of parliament.

An outbreak of the plague delayed the opening of Parliament until 5th November, 1605 and in the meantime a cellar/undercroft below the Parliament buildings became available to rent. Although this seemed like good fortune to the plotters, it may be that Robert Cecil 1st Earl of Salisbury, who had a very efficient spy network, was aware of the plot and this was a ploy to enable him to know exactly where the conspirators were operating.

There are many conspiracy theories connected to the plot, mainly because Cecil was very anti-Catholic and wanted to rid England of the religion. The story below is the official line as it was given at the time. You can also visit the BBC version which still follows the official line but reads more like a story, or the History Learning Site which casts doubts on the official version.

Restrictions had been relaxed on the availability of gunpowder after the cessation of the war with Spain. Thirty six barrels of gunpowder, approximately 1 metric tonne (18 cwt) were placed in the cellar. It was agreed that Guy Fawkes, because of his experience with gunpowder, would light the slow fuse which would allow him to escape before the explosion. Guy Fawkes hid in the cellar on the 4th November to await the morning.

In the early hours of November 5th, on the instructions of Lord Salisbury, Sir Thomas Knevett J. P. for Westminster led a group of Yeomen of the Guard to search the cellars of the palace of Westminster and found "a very tall and desperate fellow" hiding with the gunpowder. Guy Fawkes was taken to the Tower of London with the gunpowder. He was tortured, enduring excruciating agony on the rack, and eventually named some of his fellow conspirators. Catesby and the rest of the plotters met at Holbeche House, Staffordshire. Some died resisting arrest, the others, including Guy Fawkes, were hung, drawn and quartered. On the BBC History website you can play a game by testing your knowledge on the Gunpowder Plot. After the plot James and Parliament wanted people to remember the failed plot and hence now bonfire night is celebrated every year since on the 5th November by fires burning "the Guy" and fireworks. There are many traditional rhymes associated with the occasion; probably the most famous one is below.

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,

The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,

I can think of no reason

Why the Gunpowder Treason

Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent

To blow up the King and Parli'ment.

Three-score barrels of powder below

To prove old England's overthrow;

By God's providence he was catch'd

Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.

With a dark lantern and burning match.

Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!

The Old Palace was rebuilt and Great Hall returned to its previous glory, after 300 years of being used as stables, by James Edward Hubert Gascoyne-Cecil, 4th Marquess of Salisbury (1861 - 1947).

Through the 400 years since the building of Hatfield House many of the members of the family played senior parts in the British Government as Leaders of the House of Lords, Ministers, MPs and Robert Cecil, 3rd Marquess even served three terms as Prime Minister. The house has hosted many Monarchs and celebrities and its interior and grounds have been improved greatly through the years. Hatfield House remains the family home of the Cecil Family and both it and the Home Park are open to the public in the summer months.

Cinema goers will recognise the inside of Hatfield House as that of Bruce Wayne's house in the Batman films (1989 & 1992). Other films made here include the Lara Croft movies with Angelina Jolie, Orlando (1993) with Tilda Swinton & Billy Zane, "The Golden Age" (2007) with Cate Blanchett, "Shakespeare in Love" (1998) with Gwyneth Paltrow & Judi Dench who both won Oscars, "Cromwell" (1970) with Alex Guinness, "The New World" (2005) with Colin Farrell, "The Avengers" (1998) with Sean Connery, and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (2005) starring Johnny Depp. To see a more up to date list visit IMDb.

Old Hatfield is a beautiful town with many old houses and pubs, including The Eight Bells, dating from 1630 and which Dickens knew and featured in Oliver Twist.  It was to The Eight Bells where Bill Sykes was said to have fled with his dog after his brutal murder of Nancy.

"It was nine o'clock at night, when the man, quite tired out, and the dog, limping and lame from the unaccustomed exercise, turned down the hill by the church of the quiet village, and plodding along the little street, crept into a small public house, whose scanty light had guided them to the spot. There was a fire in the tap-room and some country-labourers were drinking before it"

It is from one of the upper windows of the pub that highwayman, Dick Turpin is said to have leapt onto his horse Black Bess and galloped away, as the Bow Street Runners entered the place. Also, see entry at Geograph, with more information and links about the pub.

In the days of horse drawn coaches, Hatfield was a staging point on the Great North Road linking London to the North. From 1839 a coach called "The Sovereign" left The Eight Bells for London at 7am every day.

Immediately over the Wrestler's Footbridge turn left onto path. Then out onto Bull Stag Green. Go straight on and after just 25 yards, and as the road turns left, cross straight onto an enclosed footpath.

The path leads to a residential road named The Ryde. Turn right for 175 yards and just before reaching the main road (A1000) turn left into Park View. At the other end of Park View, go straight on along a cycle track which leads downhill between trees and eventually along the side of A1000.

After another 300 yards cross straight over Lodge Drive. After another 160 yards turn right to cross the A1000 at the traffic island (at 7 miles).

Once across, turn left along the pavement along the A1000 and over the dual carriageway (A414 (T)). 

Immediately after crossing over the A414 (T), turn right, at a gap in the barrier and onto a path.

To the left, 150 yards further along the A1000, is the Bush Hall Hotel (now closed, but some reports say it may re-open soon). The 25 bedroom hotel was originally a Tudor Manor House dating back to 1574. It was once the home of Sir Robert Chester (died 1848), Master of Ceremonies to three English Kings. Some sources claim he haunts the house. Beatrix Potter (1866 - 1943) as a child often visited the area with her parents, as her grandparents lived at the nearby Camfield Place in Essendon. She spent time at Bush Hall and paintings of the hall by her can be seen in the Linder Collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum. To read more follow the link to Our Hatfield.

The path leads downhill to join Bush Hall Lane. Go straight on along the lane, soon passing Mill Green Mill to your LHS - now a museum.

Mill Green Watermill dates from the 18th Century, it is thought to be on the site of one of three mills in this area listed in the Domesday Book, and was in use up until 1911, when competition from larger mills forced its closure. It was fully restored by volunteers between 1979 and 1986 and is now one of the few remaining water-powered corn mills still producing flour. The flour is supplied to a local bakery which uses it to produce their Mill Green Loaf. The mill's wheel is powered by the waters of the River Lea. The Lea (or Lee in some maps and books) rises at Leagrave, near Luton, and flows for 58 miles to enter the Thames at Bow in East London. This is our first encounter with the River Lea on the route but will certainly not be our last.

The Mill has a "Miller's Tea Room" which provides light lunches and afternoon teas during school holidays and open from 12 noon to 4 pm (Note: This can change so check their website for updates).

Next door to the mill is the Miller's House which dates from 16th Century and was home to millers for hundreds of years. It now contains the local history museum of the Welwyn Hatfield District.

Across the lane from the entrance to the mill & museum is an old stone horse trough which for many years sat next to the Great North Road, but was moved here in 1983 to preserve it.

Just past the mill the lane passes over the River Lee and comes out onto another lane (Mill Green Lane).

To the left is an old red telephone box and beyond that is the Green Man Pub, now closed, but there are plans to re-open as of news from April 2018. This is such a peaceful backwater and even though the busy A414 is just a few yards away.

Turn left past the old red telephone box and along Mill Green Lane. Cross the road asap and continue along the lane and past the Green Man pub.

Immediately past The Green Man Pub turn right onto a path down the side of the pub. Be aware, as since the pub closed, the hedgerow sometimes overgrows part of the path. Follow the path onto and across Mill Green Golf Club.

Mill Green Golf Club opened in 1994. It was designed by Peter Alliss and Peter Clark. It is built on the site of an old World War II camp named RAF Mill Green. According to the link:

"RAF Mill Green closed in April 1948 when the depot moved to RAF Church Lawford near Rugby. The Mill Green site was passed to the Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield Development Corporation and was used to house construction workmen building the two towns. When the site was no longer required, the site was used as workshops. Mill Green golf course is now situated where the main site was situated. The accommodation area of the Camp is now the caravan site off Ascots Lane."

The two new towns talked about above were Hatfield New Town and Welwyn Garden City.

At The Green Man Pub we join another walk, Centenary Walk, a 12.6 mile walk around Welwyn Garden City. It was developed to celebrate the centenary of the founding of the town. This walk was opened in 2020, it is marked and we follow it for the next 2.6 miles (also see Centenary Walk Guide and an interactive map at MapMyWalk).

Follow the path as it heads northeast across the golf course, soon adjacent to a sewage works, then northeast across three fairways and eventually out onto Gypsy Lane (8 miles).

Where you exit the golf course onto Gypsy Lane you may notice two direction markers attached to the roundabout sign. These are for the Lea Valley Walk, a 50 mile long-distance path from the source of the River Lea at Leagrave to the River Thames in East London. We will rejoin it later on in this stage and follow it for 20 miles to Enfield Lock. 

On some maps you may find the route of the Lea Valley Walk a bit confusing, as originally it mainly followed the course of the river in this area. However, due to safety reasons the walk, from Mill Green, was rerouted along the northern side of the A414, then north along Gypsy Lane to this point. However, on our route I chose not to follow the marked route as I did not like the section next to the busy A414, so I decided to use the public footpath across the golf course.

Turn right along Gypsy Lane for 170 yards to just before two red-brick columns with “Mill Green Golf Club” on them. Turn left past a metal gate and onto the track between the golf course and the cricket pitch, and towards a wood. 

The Commons Local Nature Reserve covers thirty-five acres of waste ground sandwiched between Welwyn and Hatfield which has been lovingly restored to fenland, woodland and pasture over the last two decades by a dedicated group of local people. It is managed by the Commonswood Nature Watch, a voluntary group headed by Peter Oakenfull, a local who went to the adjacent Commonswood School and who has been very supportive of our Green Belt project. The volunteers have made the nature reserve accessible to the public by opening paths, building bridges, elevated walkways over wetlands and hedges using ancient techniques. There are rare breeds of animals, insects and plants. Noticeboards have also been erected provide us with information about the reserve.

When I first found The Commons and a route through it, I was in a way pleased we could not follow the old River Lea Walk along the A414. The woods are a very lonely and peaceful place, they bring us back to nature and a natural habitat for it to thrive in, and what a way to cut out the long trek through the houses of Welwyn which the Lea Walk currently follows.

The Commons are constantly under threat because of proposals to build thousands of houses on farmland next to it. See YouTube for a video about this. Also, see latest news on this at "Green Corridor for central Herts: Where should it be and how wide? Herts Civic Society 18 March 2020."

On entering the woods, on the left through the trees, is the Commons Woods Caravan Club Site and behind this is the New Queen Elizabeth II Hospital. Some of the locals still refer to the woods as "Hospital Woods". The area was once part of the Hatfield House Estate, but was given to the local council by Lord Salisbury in 1997. This was probably shortly after the building of the A414 which certainly cut the common off from the rest of his estate - possibly a smart bit of planning by the architect of the road.

There are many miles of paths within the woods, I have found this out through getting lost many times and losing a sense of direction caused by the density of the trees blocking out the sun. However, the route through is relatively direct, gives you a real feel for the place and takes in most of its points of interest. For insect, bird, fungi and plant lovers, also try a few of the other paths.

On entering the woods turn right along a wide path. After 100 yards turn left and follow the path into the woods, then eventually come out next to a golf tee. Stay left of the tee and along a track for a short distance. As the main track turns right, stay straight on onto a narrow path into the trees. The path soon widens to a large track. Go straight on, soon passing a metal gate across the middle of the track. The gate seems to play very little purpose as the track is open on both sides.

The track eventually leads to a newly built bridge over a stream. Once over, turn right along a path going gradually downhill. This leads to a small open area (at 9 miles) with an information board. Soon we cross over a second footbridge. 

At this point the Centenary Walk turns left, you may choose to go that way as the result will be the same. However, our route will divert here for a short distance, before rejoining the Centenary Walk in another 350 yards.

Once over the footbridge, go straight on uphill with a field to the left. At the top turn left along the top edge of the field.

The reason for this minor diversion is, on occasions I have found the lower, more direct path sometimes floods and can be unpleasant. The path along the top of the field is only slightly elevated and there are good views and a sense of openness. There is usually a rare breed of black sheep in the field to the left and on the right is a tree with a wooden plaque below it as a memorial of Jack Lonergan, a former Chairman of the Local Council - see photo, taken in 2005.

On reaching the far end of the field, turn left to follow the path downhill, with the field still to the left. The path soon veers right. At the bottom, turn right onto a path through the trees. We also rejoin the Centenary Walk here.

After 100 yards, where there is an opportunity to turn left and over a footbridge, stay right along a narrow path which soon becomes an elevated wooden walkway above the marshy ground. Follow this mixture of path and elevated footways staying to the main path and avoiding others off to the right. After a few hundred yards the path passes a small pond to the right and eventually comes out through a wooden kissing gate and onto an open common. It is here the route exits the nature reserve.

Immediately through the kissing gate turn right along the RHS of the common. This leads to some houses. Turn right towards the houses and go straight on along a signed footpath between houses. Follow the path straight through this housing estate crossing straight over a road, past some garages, over a second road and eventually coming out next to garages. Immediately after this turn left onto Holwell Hyde Lane.

Holwell Hyde Lane is practically traffic free as it only leads to Holwell Hyde Farm which is just 100 yards to the right. The farm was part of a manor which dates back to Saxon times (A 'hyde' or "hide" is a Saxon land measurement, usually 120 acres).

On reaching the lane, directly in front, and on the other side through the trees, is the north edge of a small fishing lake stocked with carp which is controlled by Welwyn Garden City Angling Club. Their car park is about 200 yards away at the south tip of the lake.

On the right of the lane, just north of the lake, is a large fenced off area of elevated ground with strange hatted cones growing out of it at uniform intervals. This was once a huge gravel pit which was filled with waste from London during the 1930s and has now been returned to what looks like a field. The cones are vents to allow gases to escape from the buried waste and not let them build up under the ground. 

In October 2008, French aggregates company Lafarge put forward proposals to build over 4,000 houses on green belt land in this area. Holwell Hyde Lane would be enlarged as an access road for many of the properties. There is currently a campaign to stop this from happening because it is green belt land and concern that the biodiversity of The Commons Local Nature Reserve will be affected. You can read about the proposal at Welwyn Hatfield.

To the right after 350 yards is a double metal gate and a wooden fence. At the far end of the fence there is access. It is here where we leave the Centenary Walk.

Turn right to use the access and follow the track, along the edge of wood (to your LHS) for 170 yards. It then meets a cycle path / footpath (Cole Green Way). Turn right along the cycle path.

This is a slight change from previously as you can see below. This short track is marked as a "traffic-free cycle route" on OS maps, but over the years it has been used as a dumping ground. The local council could do some work here to make it more attractive. It would make a good picnic area or something a bit more useful than now. However, I do worry it may get completely blocked off, and for this reason I've left the old instructions below in brackets and slightly smaller writing.

(After 400 yards Holwell Hyde Lane meets Cole Green Lane at a T-junction. Turn right along the wide grass verge and after 160 yards turn right again through a kissing gate and onto The Cole Green Way.)

The Cole Green Way (see leaflet) is a disused railway line and now is a cycle track / footpath. The closure of the railway in the 1960s was a consequence of the "Beeching Axe".

Underfoot, the Cole Green Way is a gravel path built by the local council and remains flat for a short distance before descending gently downhill. To the right is the opposite side of the ex-gravel pit come ex-landfill site seen earlier along Holwell Hyde Lane. It looks like pleasant pastures, yet the metal cones protruding from it do make it look somewhat sinister. It's obvious this reclaimed land has still lots of toxic fumes seeping up through the metal cones. This is why I assume there are no animals grazing and it's still fenced off as it may prove hazardous to the public. Maybe a sight to make people and councils put more effort into recycling as it would mean less places like this in the middle of such beautiful countryside.

After 0.9 miles the path leads to a subway under the A414 and within a few yards crosses straight over a lane (at 11 miles).

From here, by looking at maps, is where the Cole Green Way joins what was the route of the railway from Welwyn to Hertford. It is also just a short distance after here where the original route of the Lee Valley Walk joined the Cole Green Way. However, part of that was along a permissive footpath which now seems to have been closed off.

Within half a mile the trail crosses a high bridge over Station Road and after another few yards reaches what remains of the old platform of the previous Cole Green Station.

The area around the site of this old station is peaceful and pleasant. There is a small car park, a wood with carved people & creatures, a picnic area, and a short gentle walk with a pond to enjoy. Just northeast on OS maps is marked the site of an ancient settlement.

The ancient settlement is classified as a Scheduled Monument. Yet, there is very little information on it. If you paste in the grid ref. (TL 28826 11197) for centre of the settlement at Grid Ref Finder and enlarge thru' aerial view you can see what appears to be the outline of many buildings on the site. On first coming across this I found it very interesting, so I researched what was here. I found nothing apart from similar to above. Maybe, there is more, and if not already, hopefully, someday there will be. For any who want to investigate, I have drawn a map of the border of this ancient settlement at MapMyWalk. Let's see if anything happens. Maybe, this is a project for the Time Team.

At the bottom of the lane which leads up to the station is the Cowper Arms, a friendly country pub with home cooked food, a selection of real ales and a pleasant beer garden. This was originally The Railway Hotel, opened c1858 to serve the new railway. With the closure of the railway in the 1960s the name was changed to the Cowper Arms and is derived from the Cowper family. They were Lords of the Manor and lived at Panshanger Park just north of Cole Green, and at Hertingfordbury Park a mile east of here. William Cowper, 1st Earl Cowper (1664 - 1723) was MP for Hertford, Lord Chancellor and made Earl Cowper for his services to Queen Anne in unifying England and Scotland in 1706.

Immediately south of Cole Green Station is the village of Letty Green. As children, Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret would often come here, to Woolmer's Park - a large house on the banks of the River Lea, to stay with their grandparents Lord and Lady Strathmore. During these visits they would attend Sunday service at St John the Baptist's Church in the centre of the village. The church has been recently converted to residential use.

We continue to follow the leafy tree lined Cole Green Way east from Cole Green Station for just over two miles to the outskirts of Hertford.

After 120 yards the Hertfordshire Chain Walk joins us from the right. Originally, I found it a bit strange as it seems to appear many times and sometimes crosses itself. However, it is actually 15 interlinked circular walks of between 4.25 and 9 miles, making a total distance of 87 miles. So, I suppose the reason Chain Walk. These are all marked on OS Maps and it would be less confusing if they were labelled Chain Walks. For further information visit Pete's Walks, this even has link to a rough map showing how the 15 walks link up.

The trail is mainly flat or gently downhill using old Victorian bridges to cross over roads. The first bridge, after 650 yards, passes over Birch Green next to its junction with Chapel Lane and Pipers Lane. After another 650 yards the path comes up to cross Staines Green. The trail continues for 0.75 miles, then crosses over St Mary’s Lane via another bridge (at 13.1 miles) and immediately past this is the old platform of Hertingfordbury Park Station.

Just north, along the St Mary's Lane, is the village of Hertingfordbury. The manor here dates from at least Saxon Times and is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. The village has some lovely old buildings and the 15th Century St Mary's Church contains many memorials to the Cowper Family. In the churchyard is the grave of Sir Benjamin Truman (1700 - 1780) owner of the Truman Brewery in East London. Also buried here is Dorothy Paget (1905 - 1960), champion racehorse owner and winner of the Derby, the Champion Hurdle four times and the Cheltenham Gold Cup seven times (five were with one horse - Golden Miller 1932 - 36). She was the daughter of Almeric Paget, 1st Baron Queenborough and Pauline Payne Whitney (1874 - 1916), an American Heiress who is also buried here.

Spencer Gore, post-impressionist painter, often came to stay and work here at his mother's home, Garth House. He died at the young age of 36 in 1914 and is buried in St Mary's churchyard. His funeral was attended by fellow artists Jacob Epstein, Stanley Spencer and Paul Nash. Many of Gore's works are in the Tate Collection.

Under the tower of the church is an effigy of Lady Calvert (1678 - 1721) (aka Charlotte Lee). She was also Lady Baltimore and the granddaughter of Charles II and his mistress Barbara Villiers. Her family founded Maryland in 1634, and the City of Baltimore in 1729. Later descendants and family included Robert E. Lee, Sir Anthony Eden and George Washington.

Other buildings of interest in the village include Epcombs - a Georgian brick house often visited by novelist Jane Austen. The Old Rectory was home to the Addis Family, the first mass producers of toothbrushes. Their factory was based at Hertford from 1920 to 1933. The White Horse Inn is over 400 years old, but has Georgian frontage and was a staging post for coaches.

Hertingfordbury Park borders onto the north edge of the trail, just east of the village, and is home to the Independent Preparatory St Joseph's in the Park School. The park at Hertingfordbury is first mentioned in 1285, when was much larger and for centuries was used as a royal hunting ground. There is also an old footbridge over the Cole Green Way next to the school. 

0.55 miles after St Mary's Lane, in front is a large overhead railway viaduct. Before reaching the viaduct turn right to follow the Cole Green Way signs for a short distance to a lane. Then turn left, signed Cycleway 61, and follow this under the viaduct.

Along here you can look back over your shoulder for a good view if the railway viaduct.

After 220 yards, go straight on through the car park Hertford Town Football Club, then across a bridge over the River Lea onto a lane which leads uphill to a T-junction.

At the junction turn right, then after just 25 yards turn left to cross road and up steps signed Public Footpath (at 14 miles). The enclosed path is named Wallfield Alley and climbs uphill then levels out on a ridge between gardens. After 300 yards it turns left and falls back down to West Street, next to The Black Horse Pub. Turn right along the pavement staying on the RHS of the street.

There is a huge amount of history associated with Hertford, a lot which through the years gives a running history of the country. Some of it I have documented below. I hope I don't dwell too much on certain aspects and you enjoy the pieces I have chosen.

West Street is one of the oldest in Hertford. It has lots of interesting buildings and many hundreds of years ago the area around the street was important enough to be classified as a settlement in its own right. On the left at the end of West Street, on a building called "The Maltings" is a plaque to Richard & William Westall, both painters. Richard was the most acclaimed of the two half-brothers, sons of Benjamin Westall of Norwich. He was born here on 2nd January 1765. His paintings included portraits of Queen Victoria and Lord Byron. Some of the finest British engravings from the late 18th and early 19th Centuries were designed by Richard Westall. During the 1790's he was commissioned by the famous publisher John Boydell to work on his large engravings for the Shakespeare Gallery and The Poetical Works of John Milton. These now famous works of art established Westall as a major designer of individual engravings and engravings for illustrated books. Richard Westall was elected an Associate of the prestigious Royal Academy in 1792 and a full Academician in 1794. In 1827 he was appointed as the drawing master to then Princess Victoria and remained in the post till his death in 1836. His younger half-brother William (1781-1850) also born at Hertford was a much-travelled landscape painter. He was taught to paint by his older brother Richard, who secured him a place at the Royal Academy in 1799. Constable and Turner joined the Academy at this time. His work was noticed by Sir James Banks, the botanist who accompanied Captain James Cook on his expeditions, and a consequence of this, in 1801 he sailed in the Investigator under the command of Matthew Flinders on the famous voyage of discovery to Australia. He was the first professional artist to draw the landscape and outline of Australia and the first European to accurately record Aboriginal cave art. His work helped Great Britain to claim sovereignty over Australia. His sketches and paintings from the journey are still acclaimed to be some of the best of Australian landscape.

On reading about William Westall, he was young; he seemed to have had his own agenda and took his time to return with his work. He got shipwrecked on the Porpoise and many of his drawings were lost or damaged. He enjoyed some extra sightseeing in China and Ceylon delaying his return home with his eagerly awaited drawings. This as you can imagine frustrated the British Government as they were in a race with France and other countries to claim Australia as their own.

Stay on the pavement on the RHS of West Street approaching the opposite end as a continuous metal railing blocks the pavement from the road. At the T-junction turn right along the pavement and parallel to a dual carriageway, Gascoyne Way (A414), and past a car dealership. After another 90 yards turn right, then left down steps to a well-positioned subway which leads under the dual carriageway.

At the other end, climb the steps and go straight on to come out onto Castle Street.

A Castle Street Party was held each year in August for charity, the last record I can find is 2007. Just to the left along the street is The White Horse pub, dating back to the 16th Century. In 2008 the pub won a "Good Pub Guide" national award as you can see from the press cutting below.

"BARGAIN PUB OF THE YEAR - White Horse, Hertford, Hertfordshire

Impressive range of real ales and very reasonably priced food at this unpretentious homely town-centre pub. They also have around 20 country wines. Parts of the building date from the 14th c, and you can still see Tudor brickwork in the three quietly cosy upstairs rooms." 

Go straight across Castle Street and descend into the gardens on the opposite side. The route has just entered the grounds of Hertford Castle.

The path through these well laid out gardens descends into an area which once formed part of the moat around the castle. On the left is the "Ice House", built by the Marquis of Downshire around 1800, and in front is the old flint perimeter wall of the castle. Ice would be collected in winter and stored here throughout the year. The ice house is connected to the castle by an underground passage.

Follow the path across the middle of the gardens, then veer left and up past an arched gateway in an old turreted wall. At the top turn right through an opening to enter the inner grounds of the castle.

To the left of the gateway is an old tower. Together with the turreted wall they are all made from flint and rubble and date back to the 14th Century.

To the left as you enter the inner grounds is Hertford Castle. This is in fact the gatehouse to what was a Royal Palace for over 300 years. It was one of a number of castles built over the years on the site.

Hertford owes its origins to four rivers which flow through it. The rivers Beane, Mimram and Rib all flow into the River Lea within the town boundaries. The town's name is Saxon and is derived from the "ford" here, where deer (or "harts") would cross the river. A hart standing in water can be seen on the town's coat of arms.

The earliest known record of Hertford is to be found in the writings of Venerable Bede, who recorded the first meeting of the Synod of the English Church. This took place here in 673 AD, where the Bishops of East Anglia, Kent, Mercia, Northumbria and Wessex met to resolve their differences. The agreement the reached resulted in the union of the church in England under the See of Canterbury. This laid the foundations for the later political union of England. The event is remembered by a stone memorial at the entrance to the gatehouse. During the Synod they all united to confirm the date for Easter. The quote below is taken from what was recorded at the synod.

Chapter I. "That we all unite in observing the holy day of Easter on the Sunday after the fourteenth day of the moon of the first month.". . .

It is not known when the first castle was built here. However, records suggest two fortified places (burghs) were established by Edward the Elder around 911. After the Norman Invasion in 1066 a motte and bailey surrounded by a moat was built here. The motte is still visible as a grassy mound next to the River Lea and behind the theatre.

After the Battle of Hastings (1066) William the Conqueror granted the castle to Peter de Valoignes, one of his followers and the Sheriff of Hertfordshire and Essex. At this time the Norman occupiers fortified the castle to protect themselves from the people as many resented their new Norman rulers. After Peter died the castle was passed on to his son Roger de Valoignes by Henry I. When Henry died in 1135, Stephen de Bois, grandson of William the Conqueror, was crowned King Stephen I, even though the throne had been promised to Henry's daughter Matilda. Roger supported Matilda during the 18 year civil war with King Stephen. Stephen died in 1154 and Matilda's son, Henry Plantagenet became King Henry II. To reassert his authority of the Crown over disloyal barons he constructed many castles, and because of Hertford's support for his mother, he much improved the castle by adding flint walls, drawbridges and gatehouses. Roger de Valoignes died in 1184 leaving no male heirs and the castle passed back into the hands of the Crown.

Henry II died in 1189 and was succeeded by his eldest son Richard the Lionheart. Richard spent most of his time overseas fighting in the crusades and defending his French provinces. William Longchamps, the King's Regent strengthened the castle's defenses in his absence. Richard died in 1199 and his disloyal brother John became king. He ruled to 1216 and left a divided country. He is probably remembered most for being forced by the barons to seal Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215. After John's death Henry III was crowned king. With the country divided some stayed faithful to the new king whilst others supported the French Prince Louis. The French had already arrived in London by the time of John's death. They made their way north, and after a month-long siege captured both Hertford town and the castle. However, within a year the support for Henry grew and the French were forced to leave. Henry reigned for 56 years until his death in 1272. He was succeeded by Edward I (Longshanks) who brought stability to the country. With its military role now secondary, the castle became a royal residence and in 1299 Edward gave it to his second wife Marguerite of France (1282 - 1317).

Edward I died at Burgh on Sands on 7th July 1307 on route to do battle with Robert the Bruce. He was succeeded by his son Edward II. The following year Edward II married Isabella of France (daughter of King Philip IV of France). Edward II was not a confident king like his father and there were many questions about his sexuality. He suffered a huge defeat to the Scottish under Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn on 24th June 1314. As a consequence, he became more dependent on his distrusted barons and thus never regained full control of his realm. Although Edward was not a good husband, Isabella bore the king two sons and two daughters. Isabella is sometimes referred to as the "She-Wolf of France" because of her violent temperament. She eventually got fed up with his neglect for her and on refusing to return from France in 1325 took on a lover, the exiled Baron Roger Mortimer of Wigmore. Together they plotted against her husband eventually deposing him and putting her 14 year old son on the throne. Edward was captured and imprisoned at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire where it was rumoured he meet a very horrible death. This was elaborated much later in history by Sir Thomas More (1478 - 1535),

"On the night of October 11 (1327 AD) while lying on a bed (the king) was suddenly seized and, while a great mattress... weighed him down, a plumber's iron, heated intensely hot, was introduced through a tube into his secret parts (up his anus) so that it burnt the inner portions beyond the intestines".

If the above is true, he was murdered in such a way so no external damage could be seen and it could be reported that the king died of natural causes.

The film Braveheart (1995) is based around this time and features Edward I (Longshanks), his gay son Edward II, and a love affair between Isabella and William Wallace. However, by looking at history you'll find the timing of events makes the affair almost impossible. In the film Isabella whispers in Longshanks ear, on his deathbed, she pregnant to Wallace with Edward III. In reality Isabella was 9 or 10 years old when Wallace was executed in 1305, Longshanks died in 1307 and Edward III was born in 1312.

The young Edward III's rule was greatly influenced by his mother and Mortimer in his early years as king. However, on coming of age in 1331 he took control and realising the treachery of them both, had his mother imprisoned and Mortimer tried and hung. Isabella was eventually freed and spent most of her remaining years at Hertford Castle until her death here on 23rd August 1358. Whilst at Hertford she was often visited by her son. 

In 1337 war broke out with France - The Hundred Years War - and Hertford Castle was used to detain prisoners of royal and noble rank. They included King David II of Scotland, whose country was backing France, and King John II of France. The nobles were usually treated well by their captors and often used as bargaining tools. 

In 1360 the castle was granted to Edwards III's son John of Gaunt. He used it as his main country home and repaired and strengthened the defenses.

Edward III died in 1377 and his 10 year old grandson was crowned Richard II. John of Gaunt had a huge influence over his young nephew. However, he was a supporter of the religious reformer John Wyclif, and this put him at odds with the church. His unwise decisions on taxation resulted in the Peasant's Revolt of 1381, led by Wat Tyler. There is no evidence of disturbances in Hertford, but in St. Albans there was rioting and eighteen peasants from the town were imprisoned in the castle dungeons.

On coming of age Richard distrusted his uncle and confiscated the castle. John was dispatched to Spain as an ambassador, but was recalled and returned the castle when Richard's misrule almost led to a civil war.

John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster died in 1399 and his Lancastrian estates including Hertford Castle were seized by Richard. The previous year John's son, Henry Bolingbroke, had been exiled to France. Henry returned to England shortly after his father's death. At the time Richard was on a military campaign in Ireland. By now Richard was not a popular king and this allowed Henry to gain enough power and support to have himself declared king. He was crowned on 13th October 1399 as Henry IV. Richard was captured at Flint Castle in Wales and died in mysterious circumstances on 14th February 1400 while imprisoned at Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire.

Henry IV granted Hertford Castle to his second wife, Joan of Navarre (1370 - 1437). He died in 1413, and his son Henry V was crowned. Henry V was envious of his stepmother's estates and had her wrongly accused of witchcraft and she was imprisoned at Pevensey Castle from 1419 - 1422. He repented on his deathbed and she was released and her dower returned. Joan died in 1437 and was buried next to her husband in Canterbury Cathedral.

The castle remained a royal residence through the reigns of Henry VI (r 1422-61), Edward VI (r 1461-83), Richard III (r 1483-5), Henry VII (r 1485-1509) and Henry VIII (r 1509-47). Henry VIII spent much money on the castle, which included work on the gatehouse, originally built in 1465 by Edward IV and which still stands today.

Henry Tudor died on 28th January 1547. Prince Edward, then only nine years old and his successor, was at Hertford Castle when he was informed two days later of his father's death. Edward VI, although very intelligent and well-educated, was not a well child and died age fifteen on 6th July 1553. His half-sister Mary I (r 1553-8) succeeded him. She became known as "Bloody Mary" because of her persecution of Protestants and attempts to re-establish the power of Rome over the Church in England. At this time the castle was used to imprison Protestant martyrs.

Mary died on 17th November 1558 and having failed to bear an heir, her half-sister Elizabeth I (r 1558 - 1603) became queen. She re-established the monarchy as head of the Church.

Elizabeth spent much of her childhood at Hertford Castle in governess care and had many fond memories of the town. In the British Museum there is a book of prayers written by Princess Elizabeth at the age of nine and dated "Hertford 1535".

The country prospered during Elizabeth's reign. She granted charters to the town and was a regular visitor. After the outbreak of the Plague in London in 1563 it is thought that the Law Courts and Parliament were relocated to Hertford for a short period of time. Parliament Square, when built was named so to commemorate the event.

Elizabeth was the fifth and last Tudor monarch. After her death on 24th March 1603 she was succeeded by Charles James Stuart. great grandson of Henry VIII's sister Margaret Tudor, James VI of Scotland became James I (r 1603-25) and the first Stuart King of England. He had very little knowledge of English tradition and Hertford Castle ceased to be a royal residence and fell into decay. His successor Charles I (r 1625-49) gave the castle to William Cecil, 2nd Earl of Salisbury. The Cecil's main home was at Hatfield and for years the castle was leased out to many different people. These included William Cowper, 1st Earl Cowper, Lord Chancellor of England (1665-1723) and some of his successors.

In the 18th Century the castle was home to The Tower School and from 1806 to 1809 was the site of Haileybury College until it moved to its current site at Hertford Heath. 

In the late 20th Century the castle was given as a gift to the town by Lord Salisbury. Today the grounds are now a public pleasure garden and the gatehouse is home to Hertford Town Council. However, there is still much on view as a memory to the history which has gone before. The only known map to show Hertford Castle still standing is John Speed's map of Hertfordshire (c1610). The castle section of the map can be viewed by following the link to the "Discover Hertford" website. Another site worth visiting is Hertford Castle.

After entering the walls go straight on along a footpath, then after just 20 yards, turn left along the path in front of the castle.

Once past the castle, turn right, then almost immediately veer left onto a path along the river.

After another 50 yards, turn left to cross over a footbridge over the River Lea.

To the right, before the footbridge over the River Lea, is a large grassy mound. This was the motte of the old Norman motte and bailey castle.

Once over the river, follow the path to a car park. Turn right, through the car park and over second footbridge, then over a third footbridge.

The second footbridge is longer and has two parts. To your right as you pass over is Hertford Castle Weir - this marks where the upper River Lea connects to the start of the River Lee Navigation. This photo (looking back) shows the footbridge, the weir and a small part of Castle Hall sticking out over the river.

Immediately over the third, turn left around a small green area and up to the road (Mill Bridge) next to a bridge and a bus-stop.

Turn right along the pavement and past the statue of Samuel Stone (to your RHS). The road becomes The Wash and to the right is Castle Hall.

To the right as you come out onto the road is Mill Bridge. for nearly 900 years until 1967 a mill stood here. This was one of four Hertford mills which are recorded in the Domesday Book of 1087 AD. In 1944 the last mill buildings were damaged by a V2 flying bomb and in 1967 were demolished. On the other side of Mill Bridge is the Woolpack public house. From 1832 to 1891 this was the site of McMullen's Brewery. They started brewing in 1827 in Railway Street before moving here, and then eventually moved to their present location, just over Mill Bridge and around the corner, at Old Cross. Of the original five breweries in Hertford, McMullen's is the only one remaining.

The Millennium Statue of Samuel Stone sits on the small public gardens, overlooking The Wash and backing onto the River Lee.  Samuel Stone was born in Hertford on 18th July 1602 and lived with his parents in Fore Street. He left Hertford at 18 years old to study at Emmanuel College Cambridge, was ordained at Peterborough in 1626 and a year later became curate at Sisted, Essex.

Stone was a 17th Century Puritan minister. The Puritans were Protestants who wanted to purify the Church of England of its ceremony and any other aspects which they thought were Catholic. Eventually they came into conflict with The Crown and were suppressed. In 1633 Stone and his friend Thomas Hooker fled across the Atlantic Ocean in The Griffin. They landed in Boston and Stone became a Teacher of Church and then a Freeman of the city. In 1636 Stone and Hooker led their congregation from New Towne (Cambridge, Massachusetts) to House of Hope and formed a colony there. They befriended the local Red Indians and renamed the town Hartford after his home town in England, changing the "e" to an "a" for the benefit of the native locals for pronunciation.

The Wash (so called because of its tendency to flood) and the modern building to the right is Castle Hall. It is the home of Hertford Theatre. A short distance to the right is the entrance to Parliament Square and running east off it is Fore Street one of the town's oldest thoroughfares.

At the junction of Fore Street and Parliament Square is The War Memorial. This is a large Hart (male deer) high on a plinth signifying where the name of this small county town originates from. The standard of the town has the hart crossing a ford of the river - hence Hertford. 

Immediately past Hertford Theatre and before a large old gate, turn left to cross "The Wash" via the pelican crossing and go straight on into Maidenhead Street, staying on the LHS.

A long distance path me met earlier - the Hertfordshire Way - is crossed as we cross over The Wash. It comes along the road from the south and goes north over Mill Bridge and along Cowbridge.

Maidenhead Street is pedestrian and one of Hertford's oldest streets. It takes its name from the old Maidenhead Inn. The inn closed in 1933 and up to recently Woolworths occupied the site. On Saturdays the street hosts a weekly market.

At the other end of Maidenhead Street turn left into Bull Plain. 

On the corner of Maidenhead Street and Bull Plain is Hinds Jewellery Store, but this was once the site of Hertford's first cinema, the People's Electric Theatre which opened in 1910. Bull Plain gets its name from the Old Bull Inn which is now Hertford Cameras. On the right side of the street is Hertford Museum which has recently celebrated its centenary. In 1915 the street suffered extensive damage after a German Zeppelin raid.

At the end of Bull Plain cross Folly Bridge and turn right.

On the right, immediately before Folly Bridge, is Lombard House. This is Grade II* listed by English Heritage and, it is thought, was originally a 15th century hall house, extended in the early 17th century and re-fronted in the 18th century. Since 1897 it has been occupied by The Hertford Club, and according to the club website:

"Perhaps Lombard House's most famous resident was Henry Chauncy who became bailiff of Hertford and the town`s first Recorder under the Charter of 1681, subsequently writing "The Historical Antiquities of Hertfordshire" in 1700. A wall-mounted plaque commemorates his occupation."

From the Hertford Heritage Trail:

"Lombard House: This ancient building has also housed the assize judges, the visiting Duke of Cumberland and a C19 ladies boarding school before becoming a club. The 1915 Zeppelin raid killed several members as they left the premises."

According to a short video, this was the worst raid Hertfordshire saw during the whole of the First World War, with 8 people killed and 15 wounded.

To the left, just over the bridge, is a peaceful green area overlooking the river where it forms a calm pool as the river splits into two - one flowing under the bridge and the other going off to the right. It is here where boats coming up from the River Thames can navigate the Lee and have been doing for hundreds of years along the same stretch of waterway. This area is at the south west tip of Folly Island which is surrounded by the two branches of the river. Folly Bridge is the only road access to the island.

Stay right along the road for just a few yards and on approaching the Old Barge Pub go straight on along the footpath, to the right of the pub, and next to the canal.

Folly Island has its own Crayfish Festival each year at the end of August. This takes place at the Old Barge Pub. The pub is listed in the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) Good Beer Guide and has featured in the TV drama "Inspector Morse". A famous former landlord, Harry Curtis Garner, at one time held all the national walking records between 1 and 30 miles. In New York in 1891 he also set a world record for 1/4 mile (1 min 23 secs).

It is here where we join the River Lee Navigation. For the next 15 miles the route follows this well-defined canal path to Enfield Lock. There is much to see on the way.

The River Lee Navigation flows from Hertford Castle Weir to the River Thames at Bow Creek. Whereas most canals are wholly manmade, the Lee Navigation is a canalised river, incorporating the River Lee (or Lea). It follows the course of the River Lee along its valley, sometimes joining and using the river's natural course as the navigable stream. However, for most of the route, as the River Lee meanders along the valley, the Lee Navigation takes a more direct route. Firstly, it goes due east from Hertford to past Ware, then gradually turns south and continues almost directly south to the Thames. The route south follows close to and sometimes crosses the Prime Meridian Line.

There is also a Ware and Hertford Waterbus. This goes up and down the River Lee Navigation between the two towns. You can see a video of this at YouTube.

Before leaving Hertford there are a few other things I would like to mention about the town. I could go on for pages and if you want to read more you can visit "Discover Hertford" website which has been really useful in helping with my research and has a mountain of information to read. The website has many old writings, maps, photos and links. It is well worth a visit to discover more about this historical town. Also, see the Hertford Heritage Trail. This cover 41 points of historical interest where blue plaques have been erected.

Jane Wenham of Church Lane, Walkern, Hertfordshire was the last convicted witch in England. Her trial took place in Hertford in 1712 and to the disbelief of the judge; she was found guilty and had no choice but sentence her to death. However, she later received a Royal Pardon and was given shelter by the Earl & Countess Cowper at Hertingfordbury, near Hertford, where she died in 1730 and was buried in St Mary's Churchyard in an unmarked grave.

The Shire Hall in Fore Street was built between 1769 and 1779 and is home to the Magistrate's Court. The ballroom on the top floor is thought to have been the inspiration for Jane Austen's Assembly Room at Meryton, in her novel Pride and Prejudice.

The Friends Meeting House in Railway Street was built in 1670 is the oldest Quaker Meeting House in the world still in use.

Sele Mill on the River Beane, near Hertford North Station was opened by John Tate in the late 15th Century and was England's first paper mill. The original mill was destroyed by fire in 1890 and was replaced by a newer mill. The building has now been converted to residences.

William Earl Johns the author of the "Biggles" novels was born in Bengeo on 5th February 1893. He lived at 41 Cowbridge, Hertford between the ages of 7 and 19 and was a pupil at Hertford Grammar School (now Richard Hale School).

Christ's Hospital School moved to Hertford in 1666 after the Great Fire of London. Between 1902 and 1906 the boys moved to their current site near Horsham. The girls finally moved there too in 1985. Some of the school buildings still remain today and have been converted to flats. There is still much evidence of the famous "Bluecoats" school's time in the town.

In October 2004, as reported by the Hertfordshire Mercury, the Knights Templar seemed to have come out of hiding after almost 700 years. There are stories of secret tunnels under the town where they still meet and they have requested an apology from the Vatican. It comes in the form of a letter, signed by the Secretary of the Council of Chaplains on behalf of the Grand Master of the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Jesus Christ and the Temple of Solomon Grand Preceptory. It has a PO box address in Hertford and formally requests an apology "for the torture and murder of our leadership", instigated by Pope Clement V.

The order was founded in 1118 by French knights Hughes de Payns & Geoffroy de Saint-Omer as the "Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon". Their main goal was to protect pilgrims on their journey into Jerusalem after the 1st Crusade. Originally, they only numbered nine. However, over the years their numbers increased and the Vatican made them exempt from taxes. They soon became a very powerful and wealthy organisation. They became bankers to many kings and nobles throughout Europe and it was their great power which proved to be their downfall.

In England their main base was in Hertfordshire. They founded the town of Baldock between 1138 and 1148 and it became their headquarters. At Temple Dinsley (now the Princess Helena College at Preston, Herts.) they built a Preceptory where some Templars lived and where they often held meetings. Also, see British History Online.

In France on Friday, 13th October 1307 (possibly the origins of this unlucky date) King Philip IV of France (Philip the Fair) had all the Templars in France arrested and accused of many wrongdoings. With these actions Philip could forget the large loans he had borrowed from the Order and was able to steal their lands and treasures. Philip also persuaded Pope Clement V (who attained his high position mainly thanks to the king) to side with him against the Order.

Knights Templar from all over Europe fled to England and especially Hertfordshire, where they had many properties and lands and enjoyed great respect from the locals. Eventually, with pressure from France and the Vatican, King Edward II arrested six Templars at Temple Dinsley and had four imprisoned in the dungeons at Hertford Castle and two in the Tower of London. However, because of their influence and popularity in the area, the king's action caused a lot of local unrest. 

The Order was officially disbanded by Pope Clement V in 1312. The 24th and last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay and his fellow knight, Geoffroy de Charnay, were burnt at the stake on the Ile de la Cite in Paris on 18th March 1314. Just before the flames took their lives Jacque de Molay is reported to have spoken his last words:

"Clement, iniquitous, judge and cruel torturer, I assign you to appear in forty days, in front of God's Court! And you too, King Phillip!"

Both men died that same year, Pope Clement on 20th April and King Philip on 29th November. 

What was one of the most powerful bodies in the world disappeared completely. A lot of its possessions were given to the Knights Hospitaller and the rest were confiscated by the Kings and the Vatican. Some people believe the Order never disappeared but went underground. Tradition had it they still met in private in secret caves, tunnels and basements. The Templars at Hertfordshire were believed to be in possession of great treasures (including "The Holy Grail"), but even with extensive searching, nothing was ever found. 

At Royston in Hertfordshire in 1742 some workmen accidentally discovered the entrance to a cave hidden under a heavy millstone covered with soil. Royston Cave lies below the crossroads of two ancient roads, Ermine Street and Icknield Way. Inside the cave there are carvings and drawings to suggest it has Templar connections. Whether this provides proof that the Order continued to function in secret is still debatable.

13th October 2007 was the 700th anniversary of their suppression by the Vatican and King Philip. Hertford may seem a strange place from which a request for an official apology is now asked, but as you can see from above it does have many connections to the Templars. I can't find a link to the original Mercury article, but the links below do tell the story. 

The Insider "16th September 2004" - Secret Tunnels under Hertford

The Insider "13th September 2004" - Royston Cave

The Insider "30th April 2005" - Pope investigates Knights Templar before his election 

In October 2007, by coincidence a librarian at the Vatican found the files from 700 years ago on what actually happened and on the trials of the Templar, they had been misfiled for a long time - so the news article says. These are to be published soon. Is this really a way of the Vatican taking ownership of their actions and saying sorry for an injustice to the Knights Templar from 700 years ago? Let's see what the documents eventually say.

On joining the Lee Navigation at The Folly, the path is easy to follow. The old cottages on the left face onto the Lee. Across the canal, just where the cottages finish, was the site of Hertford Priory. It was established as a house of Benedictine monks shortly after the Norman invasion, by Ralph de Limesi, a strong supporter of William the Conqueror. The Priory was built on the banks of the Lee and dedicated to St. Mary. It was dissolved in 1536 and nothing remains apart from the name of Priory Street which now occupies the site.

John Barber was Hertford Town Centre Manager for 7 years before stepping down on 31st March 2008. His own personal website has lots of information on the town which he collected over the years. According to John Barber, there is also a suggestion to claim the recent Templar's news as a hoax. His information about the tunnels of Hertford and the towns connection to the Knights Templar is well researched. You can read it at this link.

After 400 yards the towpath leads to a footbridge over Hertford Weir and brings us off Folly Island. Here the river and the canal meet but soon part company again for about a mile. Once over the footbridge turn right along the road and cross over the canal. It is just over the canal on Mill Road where we finish the stage.

There has been much redevelopment here in what was once the area between Bluecoats School and the river. The water is wide at this point with lots of long boats in the basin. New blocks of flats look down on the river from the right. To the left is Hartham Recreation Grounds, within which are playing fields, the town's swimming pool and bowling greens. Since the 12th Century Hartham Common was used by locals. For hundreds of years they grazed their animals here for a small fee. Today locals pay a slightly larger fee to use the facilities. The River Beane borders the northern edge of the fields and there it is joined by the River Rib. You can see both their waters join the Lee from the left after another 0.65 miles.

Hertford East Station is just 170 yards south along Mill Road. Hertford Bus Station is just a short walk, see map.

If you do finish your walk here and go to Hertford East Station, it is a special building. It is over 130 years old and a Grade II* listed building and is one of the 41 historical buildings on the Hertford Heritage Trail.

If you intend continuing along the route at Mill Road, turn left to rejoin the towpath on the opposite bank. Follow the Lee Towpath for the next 2.25 miles to Ware.

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