The Hertfordshire Way: Bourne End to Chipperfield
PUBLISHED: 14:34 18 September 2017 | UPDATED: 14:34 18 September 2017
Liz Hamilton takes a journey from Bourne End to Chipperfield and explores the history of the Hertfordshire Way
I first discovered Chipperfield and its surrounding area when I walked the complete circuit of the Hertfordshire Way in 2012. The King’s England volume for Hertfordshire, edited by Arthur Mee and published just before the Second World War, describes the countryside around Chipperfield as ‘a wide and lovely stretch of Hertfordshire’ and ‘one of the best bits of country within easy reach of London’. Close to the western edge of Hertfordshire, between the valleys of the rivers Gade and Chess, much of this area is more than 400 feet above sea level. The soils here are poor and until the last century it was sparsely populated with extensive tracts of woodland and grazed common land. In the first half of the 20th century, as more people owned cars, and electricity was supplied to rural areas for the first time, housing began to spread into this area. The sprawl was brought under control after the Second World War by planning legislation, including the Green Belt. Although the M25 now slices through its eastern end, this tract of countryside remains largely rural – a landscape of woods and fields, crossed by narrow lanes, where walking is a pleasure.
One of the delights of walking the whole of the Hertfordshire Way was that I discovered parts of the county I had never been to before. When I tackled the longest leg of the route, covering 15 miles from Tring Station to Kings Langley Station, I was familiar with the first half, which crosses the Ashridge Estate and Berkhamsted Common. The second half, from Bourne End through Bovingdon and Chipperfield to King’s Langley, was largely new to me.
From Bourne End the Way climbs out of the Bulbourne valley across the golf course at Little Hay where there are far-reaching views towards Berkhamsted. In another mile or so it reaches St Lawrence Church in Bovingdon, where upright Irish yews line the route through the largest open churchyard in the county. Beyond Bovingdon the Hertfordshire Way runs across fields, along a quiet lane and through shady woodland, where it is often muddy underfoot. Then there’s a short climb to reach the large and wooded Chipperfield Common. From here you can make a short detour for lunch in one of the pubs and cafés in the village.
Beyond Chipperfield peaceful pastures, bordered by dense hedges full of blackberries in autumn, give the area a truly rural feel, despite the M25 being within two miles at this point. Beyond the A41 the Way runs downhill all the way into Kings Langley.
The Hertfordshire Way grew out of a celebration by The Ramblers in 1995 of 60 years of campaigning to protect the nation’s public rights of way. Originally 166 miles in 14 legs and opened in 1998, two more stretches were added in 2005. With some recent revisions to the route, the total length of the walk is now 195 miles. It explores a large part of the county and skilfully threads around built-up areas so that most of it retains a distinctly rural atmosphere. Waymarked in both directions with green and white roundels, the anticlockwise direction is also signposted by fingerposts where the Way leaves or crosses public roads. Most of it follows public rights of way, with a few sections unavoidably routed along roads, and in places landowners have given permission for it to cross otherwise private land.
The third edition of the guidebook, published earlier this summer, has been completely updated and revised by volunteers from the Friends of the Hertfordshire Way – the independent voluntary organisation which looks after the route. The guidebook describes the route in the anticlockwise direction, starting and finishing at Royston. Numerous photographs, watercolours by Celia Sanders, and comprehensive maps are coupled with detailed route descriptions for each leg. There are also notes about places and features of interest along the way. The shortest leg is just under 11 miles.
The whole of the Hertfordshire Way is marked on Ordnance Survey maps, which helps walkers to explore shorter sections or devise a circular path. On the 1:25,000 Explorer series, the recommended scale for walking, the route is clearly marked in green, while on 1:50,000 Landranger maps it is in red. OS Explorer Map 182 covers the area around Chipperfield.
The guidebook (RRP £10) is available from bookshops, online and from the Friends of the Hertfordshire Way (visit fhw.org.uk).
I regularly talk about walking the Hertfordshire Way to groups around the county, and donate my fee to CPRE Hertfordshire, supporting its work to protect the county’s countryside. Visit cpreherts.org.uk for more details.