Churches, pubs and farms: a stroll in Hertfordshire

by Fifties traveller

Read my guide to discover an interesting but easy walk for all of the family through the beautiful countryside in Hertfordshire

Walking in England conjures up images of the Lakes, the Peaks or the coastal hills and valleys of Cornwall, but there are some very interesting and easy rural walks in more accessible places. In fact tiny places can be full of delight and this is the case with St Paul’s Walden and Ayot Saint Lawrence in Hertfordshire.

In St. Paul's Walden is All Saints, the ancient parish church of the Bowes Lyon family. The late Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) was baptised here and a memorial in her honour can be found in the churchyard. The interior of the church is serene and simple and contains helpful pamphlets describing its history. The oldest part of the church dates back to the 14th century. The post box cemented into the boundary wall was a more recent addition in the reign of Victoria yet is still in use despite being a hundred years old.

Less than 100 yards from the church is another significant village resource, the Strathmore Arms, (01438 871654) where real ales are available for adults and a great climbing tree dominates the garden, for the enjoyment of those younger at heart.

The unmade lane opposite the church will take you past St Paul’s Walden Bury, Grade 1 listed,  and on to the village of Whitwell. The Bury was the childhood home of the Queen Mother and has a formal woodland garden, covering about 60 acres, laid out in 1720. From the house long rides lined with clipped beech hedges lead to temples, statues, lake and ponds, and to an outdoor theatre. The gardens are occasionally open to the public and concerts are held by the lake, phone 01438 871218 for information. When the leaves fall in the autumn, it is possible to view parts of the garden from the lane near the church.

The walk to Whitwell is pleasant, crossing open fields and passing grazing animals - at an easy amble, it takes about 20 minutes, during which you can see across rolling hills to the surrounding villages with occasional birds of prey soaring above them. On reaching the drive of the Bury, turn right up a slight incline. In front of you is a kissing gate with two paths, the left hand path crosses an unmade road and the River Mimram, a mere stream at this point, and onto Whitwell High Street. The right hand path goes to Waterhall Farm and Emily' Tea Shop, more about that later.

On reaching the High Street, prepare to be accosted by a wonderful smell of lavender wafting in the air from the cottage gardens. Turning right you will pass two pubs: The Bull Inn and The Maidens Head, (01438 871392 ) both of which provide lunch. It is worth the short walk to the northern end of the High Street where Cressman’s Corner, (01438 871371 ) a little greengrocer/florist, sells watercress, freshly picked from the cress beds on the river Mimram, exquisite! On the opposite side of the High Street are more footpaths that lead to the village of Kimpton, less than two miles away or there is a bus stop for the rural service that links Brookman’s Park and Hitchin via St. Albans.

Just before the cress shop is a road on the right, The Valley, which becomes an unmade track and returns to St Paul’s Walden. A short distance along The Valley is Emily’s Tea Shop (01438871928) ; another marvellous place for adults and children alike. The Tea Shop, housed in a renovated barn sells the most delicious homemade cakes and savoury snacks, it is open every day in summer but in the winter closes on Monday. The Tea Shop is part of  Watehall Farm, which allows visitors to get up close and friendly with the animals and it is free to walk around. Continuing along The Valley there is a choice of route, left can be muddy through the woods or to the right is an easier walk across the fields.

A good place to stay and explore the area is pretty Rose Farm, at the southern end of the High Street. A family run b&b, it has two tastefully furnished family apartments with magnificent views of the countryside and takes dogs.

By car is it easy to visit the stately homes of Knebworth House, ( and Hatfield House ( from here. Knebworth House is a  fascinating building that has featured in several movies. The garden has a maze, a walled kitchen garden,a Gertrude Jekyll Herb Garden and a Dinosaur Trail. It  is also a major venue for rock concerts; heavy metal fans will know it plays host again to Sonisphere

The National Trust property, Shaw’s Corner,(01438 829221 ) the former home of the writer George Bernard Shaw, is not too far away either in Ayot St Lawrence, there in the garden one can see the revolving shed in which he wrote his plays.

There is an easy and interesting circular walk here too; it is strange to think that you may be walking in the footsteps of  famous visitors to this little village.Park by the ruins of the old church and take a footpath to the left of two pretty cottages. The route takes about 30 minutes and goes clockwise across a field towards the newer Paladin style church then through a field of sheep, then the side of an arable field where there is an amazing view.

On reaching a track turn right to pass the ornate Ayot Manor. This track meets the main road, turn right here and on your left you will see the delightful 14th century inn, The Brocket Arms.  Here you can enjoy a well earned rest after your stroll sitting at the inglenook fireplace just as GBS and his friends did or even stay in one of their olde worlde rooms.

How to get there

Both villages are accessible from the A1M. Leave at junction 6 and follow the signs to Codicote, take the road opposite the Bell Inn and you will see further signs for Kimpton, Whitwell and Ayot St Lawrence.