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Day 20 13/01/06 Little Berkhamsted to Stapleford (8.0 miles each way)

Parked in side street in Little Berkhamsted.

I’ve obviously lost a lot of fitness during my enforced lay-off, as my legs were still slightly stiff from my walk two days ago when I started off this morning. Again, the weather forecasters got their predictions right – the sky was a very dark grey all day, but it never rained at all. I didn’t expect this to be too good a walk, as I knew that there was a lengthy section of town walking through Hertford in the middle, but it turned out to be a very enjoyable walk. The section through Hertford wasn’t too bad, and the sections either side were very pleasant indeed.

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[1] Stratton's Observatory

From Little Berkhamsted, the Hertfordshire Way took a footpath to the side of the churchyard, which followed a hedge row through two grassy fields to a road – the path was obviously well-used, and this turned out to be the case for all the paths I would follow today. From here I could see Stratton's Observatory [1], a folly built in 1789 in the form of a five-storey tower. Across the road, another path led between hedges and then fences, across three stiles and then across two more grassy fields to a wood (I noticed that a couple of wooden signposts hereabouts misspelled Little Berkhamsted by adding an ‘a’ before the ‘d’). A broad path led uphill through the wood (mainly silver birch and some young beech trees), crossed a track and then reached a stile that gave access to another grassy field. The path followed the left hand hedge to a corner, where a track led to the right to reach a road on the edge of the village of Bayford. I followed the road to the left for about half a mile to reach the village centre, where there was a green and a pond [2] opposite a pub.

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[2] Pond in Bayford

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[3] Path through woodland beside the railway line

From here, the Hertfordshire Way took a lane which became a track when it reached the end of the houses after about quarter of a mile. After about 100 yards of the track, a footpath on the right led along the hedge of another grassy field, across a stile to a paddock with a single horse in it, then turned left in a small group of trees and bushes. The path then followed the right hand hedge of a huge field, planted with some cereal crop, for about three quarters of a mile, with a railway embankment to the right. The path then went through some trees and continued in the same direction through a wood for about a mile [3], with the railway (now in a shallow cutting) still to the right. Eventually, I crossed a footbridge over the railway and then a plank bridge over a stream. The path then followed a left hand hedge through two more grassy fields to reach a road on the edge of Hertford.

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[4] Brewery in Hertford

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[5] Grand house on edge of Hertford being converted into apartments

The section through Hertford wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. It went through a residential area, along a hedged alley between a school and some playing fields, through a further residential area, and then through a churchyard to a subway (under a dual carriageway) that led to the town centre. I was again quite impressed with the centre of Hertford, and intend to come back here to visit the museum and generally have a look round. At Parliament Square I reached the point where the alternative route of the Hertfordshire Way (legs 10A and 10B in the guide book) rejoined the original route. From here, the route went northwards along a series of roads [4] that gradually grew narrower, until I was on a narrow lane that led to Molewood Mill. A path beside Goldings canal (the former millstream converted in 1870 to a pumping station for the town’s water supply) then led to the main road between Hertford and Stevenage. I followed the footpath beside this busy road north [5] for about quarter of a mile, and then turned left on to a footpath.

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[6] River Beane, Waterford marsh

This next section was very pleasant indeed, as it followed the bank of the river Beane [6] through Waterford marsh, a flat area of grass where traditionally all parishioners were entitled to graze their livestock. I soon disturbed a heron that had been fishing in the river [7], and shortly afterwards saw the brilliant blue of a kingfisher! Two or three times as I approached along the river bank it flew 50 or so yards to another perch, before it finally disappeared from view. Then I saw a wagtail, but without my binoculars I couldn’t see if it was a grey wagtail or, more likely, a yellow wagtail.

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[7] View across river Beane to Waterford

The Hertfordshire Way then crossed a road in Waterford, and at the end of a cul-de-sac a kissing gate led to another path across a grassy field. Over a stile, a path led through trees, passing under a railway bridge to reach a road. Almost opposite, a track led past a small group of houses and a large farm building, before a path went left to rejoin the bank of the river Beane [8]. This was a well-made gravel path, which followed the river for another three quarters of a mile to the churchyard at Stapleford [9]. At the road on the other side of the church, I paused for a quick look round and then turned round and started to retrace my steps back to Little Berkhamsted.

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[8] Path alongside the river Beane

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[9] Stapleford church

I stopped for lunch on one of the three river-side benches in Waterford marsh, which left me a walk of just under two hours in the afternoon. I enjoyed the walk back, although I could tell that I wasn’t as fit as I’d been – I felt far more tired than usual when I got back to my car. Despite the grey overcast skies, and the dull middle section through Hertford, I really enjoyed today’s walk. The highlight was definitely the bird-life along the river Beane, and I look forward to following the river a short while further on my next walk.

Over 300 miles walked on the Hertfordshire Way now!

Total Distance: 151.7 miles each way