From the centre of ground-breaking Welwyn Garden City to Brocket Park, Sherrardspark Wood and the Hatters Line railway path.
Distance 4 miles (6.4km)
Minimum time 2hrs
Ascent/gradient 120ft (37m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Town roads, parkland paths and woodland tracks, 3 stiles
Landscape Garden City, 18th-century parkland (and golf course) and mixed woodland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 182 St Albans & Hatfield
Start/finish TL 235133
Dog friendliness On leads on town roads and golf course
Parking Campus West Long Term car park (free on Sundays) off B195 in Welwyn Garden City
Public toilets East of John Lewis in Wigmores, Welwyn Garden City
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1. Cross The Campus, a semi-circular, leafy open space, and pass to the right of a large department store, along Parkway. At the second traffic lights cross right, into Church Road. At its end turn left into Guessens Road, which curves right. Cross Handside Lane into Youngs Rise and then turn left into Elm Gardens. At the end turn right into Applecroft Road.
2. Turn left into The Links. Leaving Welwyn Garden City, go under the A1(M) bridge and straight on into Lemsford village, with the River Lea to your left.
3. At Lemsford Mill turn right to cross the river on a stylish modern bridge. Follow the footpath and bear right at a junction, now on the Lea Valley Walk. You are soon in Brocket Park, this part a golf course. Carry straight on where the right-hand fence ends. Cross a tarmac path to a footpath post a thatched tennis pavilion is behind the fence here.
4. Turn right but follow the drive for only about 20 paces, then carry straight on across the golf course, guided by waymarker posts. The footpath climbs right, out of a dry valley and, passing a cottage, you head out of Brocket Park. Go through a kissing gate and turn left into Brickwall Close, with the Waggoners pub on the right. At Ayot Green turn right and cross over the A1(M).
5. At the T-junction turn left and almost immediately right, down to a stile leading into some woods. Go diagonally left, not sharp right. When you reach a bridleway junction bear right, the path descending to cross the course of an old railway line. At Six Ways (which has carved totem poles) turn sharp left on to a bridleway. Pass through a car park to a lane. Turn right, with the parkland to Digswell Place on your left.
6. At Digswell Place Mews turn right by a waymarker post, to return to the woods. At a bridleway post bear right uphill the path carries on straight through the woods. Ignore all turns to the left and right until you come to a waymarked bridleway running off right. If you miss it, you soon come to houses and a school. Follow the bridleway as it bends left to houses and gardens. Pass alongside their fences, eventually bearing left to merge with a track and leave the woods. Go straight over Reddings into Roundwood Drive and on to a tarmac path between gardens.
7. Turn left on to the old railway trackbed (the Hatters Line). Turn right up a fenced ramp, out of the cutting and back into the Campus West car park.
Hertfordshire has a key place in the history of the Garden City Movement. Within the county are Letchworth, started in 1903, and Welwyn Garden City, the theme of this walk, started in 1920. The movement was the inspiration of the utopian socialist Ebenezer Howard, who published the cumbersomely titled Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform in 1898. It inspired the foundation of the Garden City Association in 1899 and the book was rewritten in 1902 with the somewhat snappier title, Garden Cities of Tomorrow.
Letchworth was started by Howard in nearly 4,000 acres (1,620ha) of land to the west of Baldock. After the First World War he began his next venture, refining his ideas after the lessons of Letchworth. Howard bought 1,688 acres (684ha) south east of Welwyn at auction from the Cowper estate in May 1919, adding a further 694 acres (281ha) in October of that year. In April 1920 he formed Welwyn Garden City Limited and the first houses were occupied by Christmas. The aim of both Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City was to create a complete town with industry and commerce giving a viable economic base. The railway that cuts through the middle of the city, running north to south, had a profound influence on its layout, which was master-minded by a young, idealistic architect called Louis de Soissons. The principal boulevard is Parkway, which has parallel avenues of trees. Parkway and the semi-circular Campus at its north end have the same axis as the railway, which also served to separate the city into two. On the east side were working class housing and factories. West of Parkway is middle class housing, much of it occupied by commuters to London. Our route crosses The Campus, goes down Parkway and then west to wind through the middle class housing with its trees and hedges, many retained from the previous farmland. The style of buildings here is 'cottage Georgian', which works well at this scale. However, to the east of Parkway the larger-scale 1930s buildings, also by de Soissons, are in an over-blown Neo-Georgian style, complete with pedimented porticos or temple fronts.
Welwyn is a remarkable achievement. Its shredded wheat factory, designed by de Soissons in 1925, is now a listed building. Other notable early factories included Norton Abrasives and Roche, whose laboratories and offices, opened in 1938. After the Second World War a third generation of planned towns arrived and Hertfordshire received its fair share - Stevenage, Hemel Hempstead and Hatfield.
At the start of the walk, in Parkway, there is a memorial to Sir Theodore Chambers who, from 1920 to 1950, was 'Chairman of Welwyn Garden City Ltd, the company which planned and established this town'. On The Campus is a memorial wall to Louis de Soissons (1890-1962), the architect 'who designed this town'. This memorial was unveiled by the late Queen Mother in 1976.
In a steel-roofed structure beneath the A1(M) near Junction 6 is a remarkable Roman site, Welwyn Roman Baths. Near to Welwyn village, the site was excavated just as the motorway route was confirmed. The bath house was built in the 3rd century ad, and belonged to a prosperous Roman villa. It is complete with hypocaust (under-floor heating) and is now open to the public.
There are pubs, restaurants and cafés aplenty in Welwyn Garden City. Some are in the modern Howard Centre shopping mall east of Parkway. In Lemsford, the Sun Inn, an inn since at least 1716, serves food, as does the Waggoners at Ayot Green, an 18th-century, painted brick building and a pub since 1851.