A walk on the ridges south of the Lea between Little Berkhamsted and Essendon villages.
Distance 4 miles (6.4km)
Minimum time 2hrs
Ascent/gradient 195ft (59m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Bridleways, field paths and golf course, 7 stiles
Landscape Ridges and valleys, pine trees around golf course
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 182 St Albans & Hatfield
Start/finish TL 291077
Dog friendliness Beware flying golf balls, hidden golf balls (fun to find, easy to swallow) and pony paddocks
Parking Lay-by opposite Five Horseshoes pub, beside recreation ground, Church Road, Little Berkhamsted
Public toilets None on route
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1 From Church Road go through the recreation ground. At a gate turn right into a paddock. Go out through a gate and turn left, the lane descending to a bridleway sign.
2 Turn right through some gates, past a white-painted estate lodge. Beyond Danes Farm the tarmac track becomes a green-lane bridleway. Later it descends into oak and hornbeam woodlands, bearing right and emerging past another lodge.
3 Curve left to some gates and go straight on along a metalled track, past the golf club estate's yard. Now, amid the golf course, continue towards the club house, a large, barn-like complex. On reaching it turn right, then left and straight on, the path now a narrow green lane. Merging with an access drive, turn left at School Lane.
4 Now in Essendon, turn right at the main road and head to the left of the war memorial to the churchyard, entering through the 1919 war memorial lychgate. Leave the churchyard near the 15th-century tower, turning left on to a lane to descend to a footpath signed 'Lower Hertford Road'. Go right, over the stile, alongside the garden of the former Wheatsheaf pub. Next, head across the paddock towards the left-hand house.
5 Go over a stile, cross the road to a footpath sign. Go through a kissing gate to follow the field path parallel to the left fence. Through a gap in the hedge, re-emerge on the golf course. Cross a fairway and go straight on. Cross another fairway and descend, the metalled path becoming a grass path.
6 Cross the stream on a footbridge, turning left on to an access road. After about 100 paces turn right to a stile behind a horse field-shelter. Ascend the paddock, heading for a large oak tree. Over a stile turn left on to a lane, which curves right past Howe Green Hall.
7 Turn sharp right immediately past East Lodge. Over another stile, walk alongside the hedge, then cross a footbridge. Carry straight on across a pasture, aiming for a thick hedge. Cross the stile and go on to a bridleway to the left of Ashfield Farm. Cross a stream on a footbridge and head diagonally left up a long pasture field. At the top go through a gate on to a lane into Little Berkhamsted. To the left are views of Stratton's Folly tower.
8 At the road cross to the churchyard path, to the right of the Old Rectory. Pass the church and go through the 1909 lychgate, back into Church Road.
The two small villages at each end of this walk, Essendon and Little Berkhamsted, are on ridges deeply divided by northward flowing streams heading into the Lea Valley. Beatrix Potter is known to have loved this area - she used to stay with her grandmother at Camfield Place, south of Essendon. Between the two villages you cross and re-cross a golf course, the Hatfield London Country Club. This is the former parkland to Bedwell Park, whose original emparking of 800 acres (324ha) was licenced in 1406 to John Norbury. A house was built around 1470 in brick for Sir John Say. It was visited in 1522 by Princess Mary Tudor, who was to become the last overtly Roman Catholic English monarch. Little of this house remains, it having been refronted and altered many times since, and particularly heavily in the 1860s when it also acquired a west tower. The park was extended and given an 18th-century flavour before, in the 20th century, it succumbed to the leisure industry and became a golf club. The streams have been made good use of for ornamenting and enhancing the different courses, being dammed in places to form ponds.
The most interesting houses in Little Berkhamsted lie to the east of the church, along the road towards the Bucks Alley junction. You emerge from Breach Lane beside the mid 18th-century, brick-fronted Little Berkhamsted House. This five-bay, three-storey structure has its roof concealed behind a parapet. Opposite is the Old Rectory, from earlier in the 18th-century, of two storeys, with five bays of box sash windows and a central, Tuscan pedimented doorcase. Looking left you see Stratton's Folly Tower, which was built to enable Admiral Stratton to see shipping on the Thames. The tower comprises several storeys and a battlemented top with a grander, arcaded storey half-way up. Returning to the church, it dates mainly from 1857 and 1894, although the south door looks like a reused Jacobean one. In addition, some of the east and west walls apparently remain from the church, which was rebuilt in 1647. Inside, some monuments from the older church were reset. The lychgate of 1904 leads back into the main village street, Church Road, and the part-Tudor Five Horseshoes pub (beside pleasant, weatherboarded cottages, opposite the church).
Essendon's church is, in fact, much more interesting, although this also dates mostly from 1883, when it was rebuilt by the architect William White in an Arts and Crafts style. The west tower, though, is 15th century and has a poignant stone plaque on a buttress: 'A young man who suffered at Hertford for theft in 1785 begged a grave in this churchyard and prayed to God that his suffering might be a warning to others'. The 'suffering' referred to was, of course, being hanged.
The Old Rectory, immediately east of St Andrew's parish church in Little Berkhamsted, is a mellow, brick, Georgian house. Here, in 1912, Brian Johnston - or 'Johnners', the well-loved cricket commentator and broadcaster, always full of gentle fun and jokes - was born. He was one of four children of Charles Johnston, who drowned tragically when Brian was only ten. Brian Johnston died in 1994.
Some 3 miles (4.8km) west of Essendon is Hatfield House, which is open to the public. (Unfortunately there are no public footpaths through its grounds.) In 1607 James I compelled Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, to exchange Hatfield House for Theobalds. Cecil built the present mansion between then and about 1612, keeping a wing of the Old Palace, built about 1480 for the Bishop of Ely, and converting it into stables.
In Little Berkhamsted the Five Horseshoes serves food. Partly Tudor, it was refronted and altered around 1780. It was also once known as the Three Horseshoes! Also in Little Berkhamsted, for snacks such as biscuits, chocolate, pies and soft drinks, there is Emmie Murphy's Village Stores in Church Road. At Essendon there is the Rose and Crown.