CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Hertfordshire Life today CLICK HERE

Last walk through the villages of Eastwick, Gilston and Hunsdon?

PUBLISHED: 12:52 21 May 2018 | UPDATED: 12:52 21 May 2018

View towards Eastwick with Harlow beyond (photo: Liz Hamilton)

View towards Eastwick with Harlow beyond (photo: Liz Hamilton)

liz hamilton

Garden town or Green Belt? The countryside around three villages could change forever if plans for a new ‘garden town’ are approved

In bright February sunshine I explored countryside to the north of Harlow around the villages of Eastwick, Gilston and Hunsdon in East Herts. I set out from tiny Eastwick, where a church has stood above the floodplain of the river Stort since at least the 13th century. I climbed steadily on to higher ground to the north, while skylarks sang overhead. Soon the towers and chimneys of the house at Gilston Park came into view. Built in the 1850s to replace an Elizabethan building, the house has been converted into apartments.

When architect Sir Frederick Gibberd designed Harlow New Town, he envisaged the river Stort as the northern boundary to the built-up area, with a rural backdrop of the ‘Hertfordshire Hills’ beyond. The hills where I was walking felt increasingly remote as I headed north towards St Mary’s church at Gilston. The oldest parts of the church are 13th century, and it is renowned for its exceptionally well-preserved medieval screen. In the 19th century old houses around the church were demolished and much of the village’s population migrated south to Pye Corner.

Enjoying the sunshine from a seat in the church porch, I was conscious that the view ahead may soon alter radically if plans go ahead for a new ‘garden town’ on 2,700 acres of the surrounding area, eventually comprising 10,000 houses. Much of the area is Green Belt. The villages of Eastwick and Gilston (combined population around 400) would be swamped and grade 2 and 3a agricultural land, which is supposed to be protected under national planning policy, would be destroyed.

Continuing northwards, the land to either side of me would be included in the new town. Turning west, I walked alongside woodland of hazel coppice with taller trees of oak and hornbeam, typical of woods in the county which were managed in this way for centuries to provide timber for many uses. Ahead of me was

Village pump in Hunsdon (photo: Liz Hamilton)Village pump in Hunsdon (photo: Liz Hamilton)

Hunsdon airfield, now a quiet place used by a few light aircraft, but during the Second World War it was an RAF station from which a large number of operations were flown. At one time 2,500 RAF and WAAF personnel were based here, as well as those operating ground to air defences and searchlights. A ring of pillboxes surrounded the airfield of which eight survive – I caught glimpses of two as I walked.

Beyond the airfield I reached the centre of Hunsdon village, with houses in a variety of architectural styles and a former village pump. Near The Crown pub the village sign depicts a Second World War aircraft and a Tudor rose – a reminder that Hunsdon House was a favourite residence of Henry VIII and his children. Now much altered, the house lies a little way to the south of the village, beside the parish church of St Dunstan’s with its noted Jacobean screen.

Beyond Hunsdon I crossed the airfield once more, before threading my way through woods and fields until I was again overlooking Essex and Harlow, spread out to the south. I sat on a bench beside the path to enjoy the surprisingly warm sunshine, and while a buzzard mewed overhead I wondered whether Sir Frederick Gibberd’s original vision for the rural backdrop to his new town would be preserved for future generations to enjoy.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England believes that the housing we so desperately need should not be built in the Green Belt or in other open countryside. This land is needed for food production and to provide vital green space for people to enjoy. Instead, previously-used or brownfield land should be used for housing first. Recent CPRE research has identified space for more than a million homes on brownfield land in England. Furthermore, nearly 425,000 homes in England and Wales already have planning permission but have not yet been built, a figure which has increased by 16 per cent in a year.

St Mary's in Gilston, renowned for its medieval screen (photo: Liz Hamilton)St Mary's in Gilston, renowned for its medieval screen (photo: Liz Hamilton)

As recently as last November both the prime minister and the chancellor repeated the government’s pledge to protect the Green Belt, yet despite this more than 40,000 homes in the Green Belt in Hertfordshire alone are currently proposed by local authorities.

Now another threat has emerged which could blight Green Belt countryside to the west of the area where I had been walking – a vast quarry proposed to the east of Stanstead Abbotts, covering more than a square mile, could be worked for over 20 years to remove 11 million tonnes of aggregates. The area is adjacent to the ‘garden town’ site and would bring heavy lorries and machinery, noise and dust pollution to this quiet rural area.

Eastwick is seven miles east of Hertford, just to the north of the A414, and under a mile by footpath from Harlow Town station.

OS Explorer maps 174 and 194 both cover the area described.

Visit cpreherts.org.uk to download the route of a walk in this area and to discover how CPRE is campaigning to protect Hertfordshire’s countryside.

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Hertfordshire visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Hertfordshire staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Hertfordshire account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & About

10:28

It’s a great tradition, but where to go? Countryside Management Service projects officer Emily Clowry picks five of the best Boxing Day rambles in Herts

Read more
Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Hertfordshire’s churches are storehouses of history, yet they also attract legends. Mia Jankowicz follows the mysterious trail

Read more
December 2018
Monday, December 3, 2018

Clear your head during the colder months with a walk around the beautiful and varied Hertfordshire countryside. We have gathered eight spots that make stunning walks in the winter

Read more
Tuesday, November 20, 2018

From Aldbury to Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire has a plethora of pretty villages. We have picked just 10 that you should visit

Read more
Friday, November 16, 2018

Christmas isn’t complete without a trip to a festive fair. From German-style food stalls to vintage fetes, Hertfordshire’s Christmas markets have it all

Read more
Wednesday, October 31, 2018

We quiz author Kevin Exley about his new book that takes the reader on the trail of fascinating stories, new and old, around Berkhamsted

Read more
October 2018
Monday, October 29, 2018

Hertfordshire is a county with a vast, fascinating and sometimes dark and bloody history that has reportedly lead to more than a few angry ghosts sticking around to wreak havoc and take revenge on the living. We have gathered 10 of the most haunted places in the county

Read more
Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Make the most out of autumn with these eight walking routes that take in a variety of Hertfordshire’s terrains and - most importantly – have a cosy pub along the way

Read more
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

We've selected a variety of spooky activities in the county that are sure to delight the kids

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust’s Charlotte Hussey explores the fascinating world of bats and new projects in the county to help conserve these remarkable creatures

Read more
October 2018

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy



Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Local Business Directory

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search