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10 reasons to love Therfield Heath

PUBLISHED: 11:54 12 June 2017 | UPDATED: 11:54 12 June 2017

Royston Golf Club

Royston Golf Club

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The large stretch of hilly common to the west of Royston is perhaps the best-used open space in the county, offering sports, walks, festivals, rare plants and animals or just flopping at the café

Chalkhill blue (photo: wimverhagen, Getty Images/iStockphoto) Chalkhill blue (photo: wimverhagen, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

1. Sport of kings

Horse racing on the heath goes back to the Stuart period and while races no longer take place, horses are still run out here. John Jenkins took over the stables at Kings Ride in 1987, and now has around 60 horses. The nearby heath’s fenced gallops (right) is the perfect place to train. It was used to train Oxo, Royston’s winner of the 1959 Grand National. John oversees all the training, and believes in a strong bond between rider and horse: ‘As a family-run business, we feel that the personal touch can make a difference to a horse’s performance.’

Archery is practised on the heath (photo: Mutlu, Getty Images/iStockphoto) Archery is practised on the heath (photo: Mutlu, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

2. Walks

For an easy to moderate ramble of 6.5 miles, the Therfield Heath circular walk takes in the panoramic views of the heath, particularly towards Cambridgeshire. The walk includes the ancient Icknield Way path and a section of the county’s longest footpath, The Hertfordshire Way, offering unspoilt rural views to Therfield. Walk 1599-Therfield. See walkingbritain.co.uk

Horses being galloped on Therfield Heath (photo: Harriet Jones) Horses being galloped on Therfield Heath (photo: Harriet Jones)

3. Let’s go fly a kite

The elevated position makes the heath an ideal place for kite flying and in August the skies above the heath are filled with colourful and unsusual kites for Royston Rotary Club’s annual Kite Festival. Buy one of the easy to assemble kites or bring your own. There are kite making workshops, multi-kite aerial displays set to music and children’s entertainment.

Colorful kites fill the air over the heath at the kite festival (photo: viafilms, Getty Images/iStockphoto) Colorful kites fill the air over the heath at the kite festival (photo: viafilms, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

4. String to your bow

Always keen to introduce new people to archery, Royston Archery Club runs beginner’s classes for ages 10 upwards. The amateur club practices target archery with a range of different bows including recurve, longbow and barebow. Members can be seen regularly practising on the heath. There are five qualified coaches and many experienced archers to help members progress. Look out for open days where you can try out this ancient sport. The next beginner’s course is scheduled for September.

Common pasque flower (photo: Tuned_In, Getty Images/iStockphoto) Common pasque flower (photo: Tuned_In, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

5. Stop for lunch

A great place to take a break during a walk is the Heath Café Bar. You can start your day with fresh free-range poached eggs with cherry tomatoes, mushrooms and pesto served on Bill’s homemade bread (yummy) or enjoy a salad or sandwich for lunch. Everything is freshly prepared in this family-run café that is popular with the locals. On a summer’s day sit outside and enjoy the views of Lancaster Hill.

6. Running

With more than 200 members, Royston Runners welcomes people of all abilities from gentle runner up to elite. The club, based at Heath Sports Centre next to the heath, meets three times a week in all weathers and holds a cross-country competition on the heath. ‘Being able to run on the heath is just fantastic,’ says member Isabel Marriage. ‘There are so many trails and different routes you can do, we really all look forward to getting up on the heath during the summer months.’

7. Rare flowers

Therfield Heath is known among botanists for its colony of very rare pasqueflower, which can be found in its thousands on Church Hill in spring. The beautiful lilac and yellow flower attracts visitors from far afield. Many species of orchid also grow on the heath, includig the bee orchid and pyramidal orchid. Wild candytuft can be seen in profusion and looks like fallen snow.

8. Birds & butterflies

The heath and surrounding areas is one of the best areas in the Home Counties for watching wintering owls and raptors such as red kites. Little owls, tawny owls and barn owls breed in the area. Grey partridge, which are rare nationally, are seen here and the heath is popular with breeding skylarks and meadow pipits. Twenty-six species of butterfly have been recorded, including the rare chalkhill blue (right). Last year there were so many butterflies it was described by David Smith of the Conservators of Therfield Heath as ‘like walking through a cloud on a summer’s day’.

9. Sport for all

Royston Rugby Club is based on the heath and has a thriving youth section. There are six hard tennis courts with Royston Tennis Club committed to all ages (it promotes the mini tennis system for juniors) and abilities. Fighting Fit has a large, well equipped gym, with state-of-the-art cardio and resistance equipment and a crossfit studio. And if it all gets too much, there are treatment rooms offering massage and physiotherapy.

10. Historic golf club

On a clear day, views from the golf course on the heath stretch over three counties. The course (below), which has a links-feel, largely follows the 18 holes created in 1869 by two Cambridge undergraduates and established as a permanent club 23 years later. Today, Royston Golf Club caters for men, ladies and juniors and this year celebrates its 125th anniversary. Club captain Ray Boddy says, ‘It has amazing views over the surrounding countryside which change dramatically with the seasons.’

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