Five Hertfordshire Boxing Day walks
13:20 16 October 2015
The traditional Boxing Day walk is one of the highlights of the Christmas season. Author Phoebe Taplin is your guide to five intriguing routes (with great pubs, history and views) along the little known Harcamlow Way
Rolling, wooded Hertfordshire, with its thatched cottages and ancient churches, is a great county for walkers. And whether it’s a monumental bronze sculpture, a field of furry alpacas or a frosted riverside path leading to a cosy pub with open fire, you never know what’s round the next corner.
The county is blessed with a criss-cross of long-distance footpaths, from the London Loop along its southern edge to the prehistoric Icknield Way. One of the less well-known routes however, crosses Herts’ scenic north-eastern corner – the Harcamlow Way, a 140-mile, figure-of-eight-shaped walk, running (as the name implies) from Harlow to Cambridge and back again.
Here are five highlights along the route that make perfect post-Christmas walks. Book ahead for a pub lunch, bring wellies if it’s wet, take this guide and an OS map 194 will be handy.
The picturesque village of Standon is a Hertfordshire gem, nestled in the Rib Valley with dozens of listed buildings. St Mary’s church has the characteristic thin spire on top of its tower, known as a Hertfordshire Spike. Peek inside to see the Norman font and 16th century marble tomb of Sir Ralph Sadler who served Thomas Cromwell and four Tudor monarchs. He appears in Hilary Mantel’s Booker winning novel Wolf Hall (currently being made into a six part BBC drama). Nearby, the Standon pudding stone is a lump of pebbly, glacial rock that may have marked a prehistoric meeting place. For an hour’s gentle hilly stroll with the bells of St Mary’s ringing out behind you, turn left into Hadham Road past the half-timbered, brick building and the village hall and turn right on to the footpath just after Rose Cottages. Follow the path left after a small wood and then right around the edge of a huge field with views over the river valley.
At the field corner you could turn left for a longer walk via Latchford or simply head right down the track and right again through a metal gate back to Standon. In the trees beyond the river is a lovely, Tudor mansion called The Lordship where Elizabeth I once stayed; it is the venue for the Standon Calling festival every August.
When the path emerges near a pond on Paper Mill Lane, turn right towards the village. The unpretentious Star inn (star-standon.co.uk) will be open on Boxing Day – at least for drinks and snacks – with an old-fashioned village welcome.
2. Patmore Heath
Another walk with great views starts from the Catherine Wheel pub (thecatherinewheelalbury.co.uk) at Albury, six miles north west of Bishop’s Stortford. Turn left out of the pub and stroll down the road, turning right at the first footpath.
Walk downhill to the River Ash. Cross over, then turn immediately left and keep following the way-marked paths through woods and fields, towards the village of Little Hadham, forking left again at the end. The village produces a great pantomime every January, a tradition they’ve kept up for nearly half a century (lhpanto.co.uk).
Cross the Albury Road and carry straight on up the path towards the flint-covered church of St Cecelia with its Victorian stained glass, medieval brasses and three-tier pulpit. From the far side of the churchyard, turn left along the road, then right on the footpath and left through picturesque Hadham Hall.
Take the hidden path behind the pond from the far right corner of the grounds and follow the broad track north along the Hertfordshire Way through Upwick Green. Turn left along the pebbly lane just in front of thatched Bogs Cottage to reach Patmore Heath, a small but lovely area of grassy heathland. With an unusual marsh-sand combination, the heath is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Here you kind find grasses with evocative names like ‘wavy hair’ and ‘sweet vernal’ among the dried bracken and rushes. Cross the heath and turn left to return to the Catherine Wheel, whose Christmas Party menu includes pan-fried pheasant or goat’s cheese tart, followed by apple and cinnamon crumble. Before you leave, check out the cuddly alpacas on the neighbouring farm, just uphill from the pub.
3. Henry Moore Foundation
Not strictly on the Harcamlow Way, but always worth a detour, the charming village of Perry Green is home to dozens of Henry Moore’s extraordinary bronze sculptures. The foundation’s gardens and studio barns are closed in winter, but this walk gives you a chance to explore the landscape nearby and see a few of these masterpieces without paying a penny.
Start from the lovely, Good Food Guide-listed Hoops Inn (hoops-inn.co.uk). Cross the road and follow the public path to the right of Hoglands house, running along the edge of a small wood. Through the trees to your right, you can see the first sculptures near a pond.
The Large Figure in a Shelter gleams coppery-gold from the next clearing. At the end of the trees, head right through a gate near a farm. Turn right along the next footpath, following the Hertfordshire Way, then left towards woods. Follow the path into the woods and turn left along the riverside path.
Just as you reach a road, turn sharply left back up through a band of trees and over some hilly fields, heading for the Large Reclining Figure silhouetted on the horizon. Shortly before you reach this monumental structure, rising nine meters off its manmade hill, turn right at a signpost and left between fenced clumps of trees.
Go through the gate, across a track and head right towards the Large Upright Form, standing by a pond. Keeping the pond on your right, walk through a gate and over a bridge on to a little lane. Turn immediately left along the edge of a stream and follow this path back to the Hoops Inn, looking out for further works by Henry Moore through the bare trees.
4. Cold Christmas
The blustery hills north of Ware are great for bracing, winter walks and the spooky, ruined church near the little village of Cold Christmas is riddled with historic tales. From the Feathers Inn in Wadesmill (oldenglishinns.co.uk), head right up Youngsbury Lane. Follow this track under the main road, and through rolling parkland past 17th century Youngsbury House, with its Capability Brown-landscaped gardens.
Just beyond the house, turn right and then left along a stony track towards a small wood. Follow the little GMT markers belonging to the Greenwich Meridian Trail (a 270-mile walk that follows the line of the Prime Meridian, from the south coast to east Yorkshire), finally swinging left along the valley to Barwick Ford.
Cross the ford and leave the GMT, turning right off the road through woods and finally right across fields to a road. Turn right along the road into Cold Christmas and right again, when the road swings left, to head back through fields to the River Rib. Turn left along the river, and follow the Hertfordshire Way straight on past the ruined, moated 15th century church tower. Eventually, turn right along a track that leads back under the main road to Wadesmill, and right again to reach the pub. The Feathers is open on Boxing Day with a festive menu featuring slow-cooked beef or honey-glazed salmon.
A wintry stroll along the River Stort, with its frosty willows reflected in the water, could start and end at Hallinbgury Mill, where the Boxing Day lunch offers local turkey with honey-glazed parsnips or red snapper with samphire. To walk it off, take the path beyond the mill to the lock and turn right along the winding towpath, past the steep banks of Wallbury Iron Age hill fort.
When you emerge on Pig Lane, turn very briefly right and take the first footpath right again off the lane. Cross a paddock on this path, which runs through a lovely garden past a thatched cottage and straight up the hill beyond. Cross a lane and go on along the track beyond, eventually bearing left onto a road. Turn right and, when the road swings right, carry on along a path through two fields and round the left hand edge of a third, eventually passing Gaston House and emerging onto a country lane. Turn right down the lane back to the mill, passing hedges of seasonal holly and ivy.
Phoebe Taplin’s Harcamlow Way 1: Scenic Walks in Hertfordshire and Essex is available from Bishop’s Stortford Tourist Info or from amazon.co.uk