Pretty circular countryside walk from Aldenham
PUBLISHED: 09:53 06 August 2019 | UPDATED: 09:54 06 August 2019
From tiny Aldenham, Liz Hamilton of Herts Campaign to Protect Rural England, takes a looping walk exploring riverbank, countryside and history
On a cloudless May morning I explored the surprisingly peaceful countryside around Aldenham in the south of the county. Sandwiched between the M1 and Watford to the west and Radlett to the east, this area within 15 miles of central London has remained undeveloped thanks to the Green Belt.
From Aldenham, a tiny village with an interesting church, I headed north-west to reach the banks of the river Colne. Along the route there were white flowers of horse chestnut, cow parsley and hawthorn (also known as 'may'), with here and there upright flowers of red campion. I heard my first cuckoo of the year and chiffchaffs called from the tree tops.
My first sight of the Colne was from a high bank looking over the river towards reedbeds beyond. I crossed a footbridge and enjoyed a delightful walk through the riverside meadows. A now-familiar sight of a buzzard soared overhead and there was an insistent call of a sedge warbler from the reeds.
The Colne is one of Hertfordshire's principal rivers. Its main source is in North Mymms Park south of Hatfield and many places along its course include 'Colney' in their names. There are other headwaters rising in Hatfield and also to the south. Its first tributary, the Ver, meets the Colne near Bricket Wood. Flowing on through Watford, where it sometimes caused flooding, the Colne is joined by the Gade and the Chess, before leaving the county south of Rickmansworth to meet the Thames at Staines.
I recrossed the river and soon the mansion at Wall Hall came into view. The original house on this spot was enlarged and later given 'gothick' embellishments in the early 19th century by George Woodford Thelluson, who renamed the house Aldenham Abbey. Later owned by the county council, it was the home of the US Ambassador Joseph Kennedy during the Second World War, then became a teacher training college and later part of the University of Hertfordshire. The mansion and its immediate surroundings are now private homes.
Heading south-east I reached the hamlet of Round Bush, with its eponymous pub, then crossed the fields to Battlers Green. Here an attractive house fronts the road. Behind its early 18th century facade is a Tudor structure. I crossed more fields to Letchmore Heath, where in the centre by the green is a pond and The Three Horseshoes pub, as well as a war memorial and some attractive cottages. A number of houses in this delightful hamlet have plaques commemorating residents who left the village for the battlefields of the First World War and never returned, such as Harry Walton Keen who 'Left this house April 25, 1917 to fight for his king and country and fell in action April 18, 1918 aged 19 years'. These memorials are possibly unique.
My figure-of-eight route took me back to Round Bush before returning to Aldenham via the churchyard. The church of St John the Baptist dates from the 13th century, although there is a Norman window (perhaps moved from its original position). There were substantial changes to the structure and layout of the church in later centuries. No less than three restorations took place in the 19th century, followed by repairs to wartime damage completed in 1951.
Inside the church, the Crowmer Monument dates from about 1400 while another monument depicts Sir John Coghill and his wife who both died in 1714. The figures look very lifelike and animated and seem to be talking to each other, quite unlike the stiff recumbent forms often found in church monuments. A massive chest, hollowed out and carved from a single oak trunk, is 10 feet long with 17 hinges on two separate lids. Thought to be 14th century, it is perhaps one of the oldest chests in England.
There are pieces of Hertfordshire puddingstone set into the exterior walls of the church. This stone, found almost exclusively in the county and thought to protect against evil and witchcraft, is often built into the walls of the county's churches. The little spire on top of the tower is known as a Hertfordshire spike; an ecclesiastical feature also largely confined to the county and common on local churches. Here it is roofed in wooden shingles.
A German bomb destroyed the original spire in 1940. Remarkably, the bells were unscathed.
Buried in the churchyard is Thomas Carlyle Parkinson, born in Australia in 1884, who died in 1909 from the plague, while working on a cure for it in the nearby Lister Institute. There had been recent outbreaks of the disease, including one in India in 1903 which killed half a million people. Scientists from around the globe worked on this deadly disease at the Lister.
As I left this peaceful spot I reflected on how lucky we are to be able to enjoy our fantastic network of public paths in quiet countryside close to our major towns. There are now 40 circular walks featured on the Campaign to Protect Rural England Hertfordshire branch website, cpreherts.org.uk, located all over the county. Do take a look and find one near you.