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Fair on the Dewy Downs Near Therfield

A walk between Therfield and Kelshall along winding green lanes.

Distance 3.5 miles (5.7km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 120ft (36m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Green lanes, tracks, field paths, village lanes, 1 stile

Landscape Gently rolling arable country on chalk plateau

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 194 Hertford & Bishop's Stortford

Start/finish TL 335370

Dog friendliness Mostly off leads but horse paddocks near Kelshall

Parking Around Therfield village green

Public toilets None on route

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1 From Therfield village green walk down Church Lane and into the parish churchyard. Go through a gap in the railings to the south of the south porch on to a green lane, with the vicarage garden on the left and a field on the right. At a footpath post keep straight on along a grassy margin at the left of a field, then go across a field to a kissing gate. Cross pasture to a stile and over this turn right into a green lane, Duck's Green. Ignoring footpaths to right and left, the track bears left, now following the parish boundary. Where the path meets a track, turn right into a green lane.

2 Follow this green lane, which soon turns right, climbing gently between ancient hedges. At a track junction go left and continue climbing, passing a footpath junction before reaching the crest of the hill. Ignore a track turning left - carry straight on along a loosely metalled track.

3 At the crest turn right on to the bridleway, with a fence and paddocks to the left, arable land to your right. This becomes a track through arable land. At a bridleway post, where the hedge reappears, turn right into a green lane, soon hedged only on the left. At a post-and-railed sheep enclosure go left. Then, through a gate, turn left to another gate into a lane and cross to the church lychgate.

4 Visit the Church of St Faith, entering through its original, heavy, 15th-century door. Leave the churchyard from behind the chancel on to a path between a fence and walls, signposted 'Hertfordshire Way'. At the lane turn left. At the road junction jink right then left to walk past the telephone box and the village hall, dated 1895.

5 Continue past Fox Hall farm and a pond. Turn right at a footpath sign, just before a thatched cottage, on to a track initially between hedges, then alongside a patchy hedge. At the end of the field go through the hedge and over a footbridge. Turn sharp left to walk round two sides of a small field. At the track go left to walk past the tall water tower. At the road turn right and follow it past Tuthill Farm and some Victorian estate cottages. Turn right past Bell House into Pedlars Lane, which winds back to Therfield village green.

In the chalk hills of north east Hertfordshire you are walking in the 'champion' country - that is how it was described by contemporaries such as the early Hertfordshire historian Sir Henry Chauncey, writing in the late 17th century. The word, a corruption of the French 'champagne' or country (not the sparkling wine), describes classic, Midland, open-field farming country. Here fields were farmed in common, with holdings divided up into strips within great open fields, usually two, three or four surrounding a village. Every farmer, from the peasant to the yeoman farmer and up to the great landowner, had a share of the best and worst land. In addition there were areas of common grazing, wood and hay meadows.

This system had immense benefits for the small farmer, but none for the more progressive and larger farmers who, over the centuries, tried to enclose the open fields for more efficient, centralised farming. This area of Hertfordshire held out longest. Kelshall's open fields were enclosed, following a private Act of Parliament, in 1795; Therfield's became enclosed as late as 1849. You can see the effects of efficiency now - vast arable fields with very, very few hedges descend northwards from the villages on the ridge to the ancient Icknield Way at the foot of the chalk downs, often their parish boundary. The area of this walk, though, is in the more intimate fields south of the villages, where the countryside is criss-crossed by ancient and attractively hedged, pre-enclosure, green lanes such as Kelshall Lane and Duck's Green, winding amid the smaller, arable fields.

Therfield has a fine triangular village green with the Fox and Duck pub on its eastern side. The church was entirely rebuilt in 1878 due to subsidence. The rebuilding re-used many items from the previous, medieval church. These include piscinae, the stone basins which were usually close to the altar in a pre-Reformation church, some roof bosses and monuments, the best being that to Francis Turner, who died in 1677. The Old Rectory, south east of the church, is also of great interest. It has a rendered, 15th-century wing and a circular stair turret. The rest of the building is a red brick, Georgian rebuild from 1767. To the west of the church are the earthworks of a motte and bailey castle. This was started by the Abbot of Ramsey during the civil wars of Stephen's reign, but was probably never completed, the motte (an artificial mound) being only 5ft (1.5m) high. Kelshall, the smaller village, retains its mainly 15th-century church, although it was extensively restored in 1870. Entry is through the original, medieval oak door and there are fragments of medieval glass. The lower part of the chancel screen also survives.

Where to eat and drink

Therfield is now down to a single pub, but it is a good one. The Fox and Duck on the east side of the village green does food and doesn't seem to mind walkers. There is also a shop near by. Kelshall has neither pub nor shop.

While you're there

Royston, about 4 miles (6.4km) from Therfield, was laid out around 1189 by Royston Priory at the Ermine Street and Icknield Way crossroads. Five parishes meet at this point, three of them in Cambridgeshire. Royston has a classic long market place, now heavily encroached upon, leaving only narrow streets on each side - High Street and King Street.

What to look for

Inside St Faith's Church, Kelshall, at the north west angle of the north aisle, is a tall, narrow recess about 12ft (3.7m) high by 20ins (80cm) wide with a concave back and evidence that it once had a door. This unusual feature is a banner cupboard, for storing the staves for the parish guild banners that where used in processions and on high days and holidays, and perhaps also parish processional crosses.

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