A walk from Harpenden and its common, through Rothamsted Park.
Distance 5.5 miles (8.8km)
Minimum time 2hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 110ft (34m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Field tracks, former railway line, pavements, 4 stiles
Landscape Parkland, arable fields, common and valley
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 182 St Albans & Hatfield
Start/finish TL 132140
Dog friendliness Lots of other dogs in Rothamsted Park; care on golf course
Parking Amenbury Lane car park, Harpenden
Public toilets Harpenden Leisure Centre and St Albans Road at B652
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1 From the Amenbury Lane car park, go right, into Hay Lane. Past the Harpenden Leisure Centre enter the park and follow the path to a lime avenue. Turn right and continue along this lime avenue to a T-junction.
2 Turn right here into another lime avenue. After four trees go right, through a gate at a bridleway sign, and head diagonally right to a gate in the far corner.
3 Look left for views of Rothamsted Park's clusters of chimneys and gables before turning right to join a lane. When the road turns right towards Rothamsted Experimental Farm go left on a tarmac track and then right at a bridleway sign, the path now a grassy margin. Continue across a lane on to a path between arable fields and follow it as it curves left down to Knott Wood. Walk alongside it and, out of the field, turn left on to the Nicky Line path.
4 The path follows the course of this former railway line to the Harpenden Road. Cross the road, skirt to the left of the roundabout and go up the right-hand side of the A5183 - there is a Nicky Line sign. The path regains the trackbed. Just past the gates to a gypsy site go left over a stile to cross the A5183.
5 Over the main road climb some steps to a stile. Continue across an arable field, with electricity poles to your left. Go through a hedge gap and straight on, then bear right. The path goes into an overgrown green lane, shortly with a golf course to your left. Pass behind the 8th tee and turn left along the golf course side of the hedge. Past the ninth tee turn right, the path winding through scrub. Beyond this cross a stile and some pasture, bypassing Hammonds End Farm.
6 Turn left along the lane then right on to Redbourn Lane. At the White Horse pub go left by Flowton Green, then turn right on to a footpath to the left of Flowton Grove. Beyond a thatched cottage you reach the road along the west side of Harpenden Common.
7 Institute of Arable Crop Research
Harpenden grew out of Westminster Abbey's gradual clearing of woodland for farming and settlement within its Wheathampstead manor, granted by Edward the Confessor in 1060. The first reference to a parish church is in 1221 and the town probably grew up around then. It has a striking plan, standing at the tip of a vast, triangular common over a mile (1.6km) long, and given more definition by 20th-century development along both edges. The common narrows down to a tree-lined grassy bank south of the church. There are some fine, Georgian houses spreading southwards from the town alongside the north part. The arrival of the railway and the sale of farms for residential development after 1880 radically changed Harpenden's surroundings and around 30,000 people live in Harpenden today. Nevertheless, the town's core remains intact and, within a few minutes, you can be out in countryside in Rothamsted Park or on the common.
The parish church of St Nicholas is prominent in the townscape. The church's Purbeck marble font is from about 1200 and the west tower is 15th century. Further south, the former Bull Inn, now No 27 Leyton Road, is a 15th-century, timber-framed hall house. It had been an inn since before 1586. The George pub at No 4 High Street has been on the site since at least 1507.
Close to Harpenden is Rothamsted Park. It is now part of the renowned Institute of Arable Crop Research, formerly Rothamsted Experimental Station. In front of its main building, which faces the common, is a stone, erected in 1893, commemorating 50 years of experiments by Sir John Bennet Lawes and Joseph Henry Gilbert. Lawes inherited the Rothamsted estate in 1834. Eight years later he patented a phosphate fertiliser, the sales of which enriched him immensely. With the proceeds he started the experimental station, building laboratories in the 1850s. He set up the Rothamsted Trust in 1889. The architectural centrepiece of the estate is Rothamsted Manor which, unfortunately, is only glimpsed from the walk. In 1623 the Wittewronge family, originally from Flanders, bought the estate, having leased it since 1611. By 1659 Sir John Wittewronge had built extensions and made many alterations to the medieval core, among which - we should not be surprised - was the addition of Dutch gables! For once the windows were not later replaced by sliding sashes and the house appears much as it must have done to Sir John in 1659.
Why not visit Luton Hoo just over the Bedfordshire border and 3½ mile (5.7km) north west of Harpenden? Famous for its Russian Imperial art, jewellery and porcelain collections, it was remodelled for the diamond magnate, Sir Julius Wernher.
The Nicky Line is the nickname of the Hemel Hempstead to Harpenden railway. It was started in 1866 and finally opened in 1877, hauling Redbourn out of the doldrums caused by the loss of its coaching trade. It closed to passengers in 1947, but survived for freight until 1979 when the trackbed was bought by the county council. The origins of the nickname are obscure, but it may be after St Nicholas' Church in Harpenden.