Visit the old parish church in the fields, Wyddial village and return past a series of manor houses.
Distance 8 miles (12.9km)
Minimum time 3hrs
Ascent/gradient 120ft (37m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Tracks, lanes, field paths, village roads, 2 stiles
Landscape Rolling arable countryside and Buntingford's townscape
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 194 Hertford & Bishop's Stortford
Start/finish TL 360295
Dog friendliness On lead in horse paddocks and on pavements
Parking Buntingford High Street car park
Public toilets At car park
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1 From the High Street car park cross the road and turn into Church Street. Descend past the Fox and Duck pub. Go left into Wyddial Road, then right across the River Rib ford into The Causeway. The lane leaves the town and becomes a winding rural lane. At a public bridleway sign turn left to visit what remains of St Bartholomew's Church.
2 From the churchyard continue along the green lane downhill to the road. Turn right and follow the road uphill. At a bend go left at the bridleway sign, the path being a grassy baulk between arable fields. On reaching a road go straight on and wind through Wyddial to the parish church.
3 From the churchyard (from where you can see Wyddial Hall) continue along the road to a bend. Turn right, by a footpath sign, to walk along the right side of a hedge. Turn left at the end of the field, over a footbridge. Continue east, first on the right-hand side of the hedge, then on the left, to a farm access road. Turn right along this and walk to Beauchamps.
4 The route passes to the left of Beauchamps, initially alongside a neat hedge, then bears left off the concrete track on to a grassy track, with poplars on the right. Continue to a track at the brow of the hill and turn right. Past Beauchamp's Wood the track gradually descends to the valley floor before turning left and gently ascending to the next crest. Turn right beside a concrete hardstanding. Descending gradually, follow the metalled track to the left.
5 At a road cross on to the drive to Alswick Hall. Passing a pond and farm buildings, then the hall itself, the route follows a green lane to Owles Hall.
6 Beyond Owles Hall turn right on to a lane. Descend westwards, to cross the valley of the Haley Hill Ditch. Next, ascend towards Buntingford, with the large warehouse buildings of Sainsbury's supermarket distribution centre to the left. At the end of Owles Lane turn right to walk along the course of Roman Ermine Street.
7 Turn left past the Railway pub into Aspenden Road, then go right into Luynes Rise. At a footpath sign go right, the tarmac path winding along beside the River Rib, with modern housing on the left. Beyond some cottages the path emerges into the High Street. Turn left, passing St Peter's Church and the Seth Ward Almshouses, to the start.
Buntingford grew up where Ermine Street crosses the River Rib, which is little more than a large stream here. It is also where the Baldock to Newport and Saffron Walden road crossed Ermine Street. Earlier attempts to establish a market town further north along Ermine Street foundered, first at Chipping in 1252 ('cheping' means 'market') and then at Buckland in 1258. There was a hamlet at Buntingford by 1158 and it obviously prospered at the crossroads. In 1360 Elizabeth de Burgh, the then lady of the manor of Pope's Hall, saw that Chipping could not compete and bowed to the inevitable, transferring her chartered market to Buntingford. The parish church remained at Layston, ½ mile (800m) to the east, but everything else leached to the market town. Buntingford market place was laid out in a stretch of the widened High Street. The Hare Street road junction was moved to the south, which meant that all through traffic had to cross the market place, and so pay market tolls.
The character of Buntingford is very much that of a prosperous, mainly Georgian, market town with some fine brick fronts. However, behind many of these are earlier, timber-framed 16th- and 17th-century buildings. At the south end is St Peter's Church, an unusual brick one with a Greek Cross plan built around 1615 as a chapel of ease to Layston's parish church. To its left is Bishop Ward's Hospital, a superb set of almshouses for four men and four women. Built of brick with stone dressings and a pedimented centre bay, they were founded in 1684 by Seth Ward. He was a local boy made good - an astronomer and mathematician as well as Bishop of Exeter and later Bishop of Salisbury. St Bartholomew's Church, the sole survivor of the deserted medieval village of Layston, is no longer functional and its nave is roofless. Wyddial church, on the other hand, is still in use and has several important features, including a brick north aisle and north chancel chapel, built in 1532 at the expense of George Canon. It also retains some fine Jacobean screens separating the chapel from the rest of the church.
Further on you pass other mansions, including Beauchamps, which was the moated manor house of a village now long vanished. The Beauchamp family owned it from the 13th to the 15th century but the house was rebuilt in the 1650s in timber-framing with large brick stacks. It was refronted in brick in the 1860s. In Buntingford, past the Railway pub, are former station buildings. These were at the terminus of a branch line which ran from St Margaret's, south of Ware, and which opened in 1863.
The only pubs are in Buntingford: the Black Bull and the Chequers in High Street, the Crown on Market Hill to the south and, in Church Road, the Fox and Duck. At the Aspenden Road junction is the Railway. Built in 1865, it is a reminder of the former railway line.
Wyddial Hall was built in brick in about 1516, but what you see today is mostly from 1733 and the early 19th century - stucco fronted with timber, sliding-sash windows - a bad fire precipitated these alterations. Wyddial Hall is separated from St Giles' churchyard by a brick boundary wall. It was probably built in 1532 when the north aisle and north chapel were built for George Canon (although the gateway was built later).