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Roman Verulamium

A walk through Roman Verulamium and the medieval town of St Albans.

Distance 3.7 miles (6km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 115ft (35m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Urban streets then parkland, no stiles

Landscape Gentle hills, parkland, a Roman site and historic streets

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 182 St Albans & Hatfield

Start/finish TL 141065

Dog friendliness On leads in St Albans but can roam free in parkland

Parking Car park between Abbey Theatre/Westminster Lodge Leisure Centre and Athletics Track Arena, off Holywell Hill

Public toilets Fishpool Street and Town Hall

1 From the car park follow the tarmac path past the Athletics Track Arena and at the signpost turn left, signed 'Roman Gate and Walls'.

2 At the road turn right. After less than 40 paces go right on a path down into the south west section of the Roman ditch. Emerging from the trees and scrub, head across grass towards a red, dog-waste bin and pass between two sycamores. Turn right here on to a path to the left of a residual hedge. Descend, towards the tower of St Michael's Church. Join a track to the right of the hedge. The site of the Roman city's forum or central square is on your left. The church was built on the site of the basilica or town hall. Ahead is the Verulamium Museum.

3 Turn left at Ladies Gate to the church. The church contains reused Roman tiles and is mainly Anglo-Saxon with Norman aisles. Leave the churchyard through the gate and turn left past the school. Cross the main road to the Roman theatre site. Retrace your steps to continue along St Michael's Street, heading for the River Ver, which has fine, timber-framed houses on each side. Over the river, past the Kingsbury Water Mill Museum, go right into Fishpool Street, which winds uphill in the lee of the Anglo-Saxon burh, Kingsbury. Fishpool Street - one of the best streets in St Albans - was named after the fishponds on the River Ver. The buildings are mainly two storey and a mixture of timber-framed and jettied houses and Georgian and later brick fronts. Pass Romeland, the former market place at the gates of the medieval abbey. Continue into George Street.

4 Cross into High Street and then turn left into French Row. Pass the Clock Tower, a rare medieval curfew belfry built around 1410, and, on the left, the fleur-de-lys. In a house on this site (the present inn dates from the 1420s) King Jean of France was held prisoner after the Battle of Poitiers in 1356.

5 Continue along French Row to the market place, passing the former Corn Exchange and the imposing Town Hall of 1831 with its Ionic columned portico. The best buildings in the long market place are the Georgian fronts on the eastern side, towards the Hatfield Road roundabout. Beyond is St Peter's Church, which dominates views in this direction.

6 Retrace your steps, passing to the left of the Town Hall, then cross the High Street junction. Go downhill and turn right, opposite the timber-framed White Hart Hotel, into Sumpter Yard. Here you can visit the former Abbey church with its great Norman crossing tower and the reconstructed shrine to St Alban, Britannia's first Christian martyr who died in ad 304. Continue alongside the nave to the gatehouse from the 1360s. This is the only substantial remnant of one of medieval England's wealthiest and most powerful abbeys.

7 Now turn left down Abbey Mill Lane and descend to the mill gates, turning right on to a path past Ye Olde Fighting Cocks. Turn left over the bridge. On the left is Abbey Mills, a medieval mill converted to a silk mill in the 18th century. Walk past the lakes, enlarged from the Abbey's medieval fish ponds or 'stews' into ornamental lakes in the 1920s. Beyond is a stretch of Roman wall. Turn left at the footpath sign to walk back, past the athletics track, to the car park.

The walk starts in the Roman city of Verulamium, built on the west bank of the River Ver, and covers the half south of Bluehouse Hill (the A4147, which still follows the course of the Roman street from the west gate to the east). The early part of the walk shows the scale of the Roman town and its defences, passing first the site of the south gate, or Watling Street gate, its outlines set out in the grass. From here you walkk alongside the longest surviving stretch of the town's great walls, built between ad 252 and 270. These rubble walls with bands of thin Roman bricks survive from 6ft (2m) to 9ft (3m) high, but when built they rose to 23ft (7m). There is also a spectacular stretch of Roman ditch, albeit now filled with trees and scrub, up to 95ft (29m) across the 20ft (6.1m) deep.

St Albans takes its name from St Alban, Britannia's first Christian martyr, who died in ad 304.

Where to eat and drink

St Albans boasts a choice of watering holes. St Michaels Street has two timber-framed pubs, the Six Bells and the Rose and Crown. In the town centre try the Tudor Tavern in George Street, the White Hart on Holywell Hill, and, down by the lake, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks.

While you're there

At Chiswell Green south west of St Albans off the B4630, are the Gardens of the Rose. They contain over 30,000 roses in all shapes, sizes, types and colours. There are also hundreds of varieties of clematis and smaller-scale gardens, such as the Iris Garden. Owned by the Royal National Rose Society, the gardens are open June to September.

What to look for

St Albans Abbey's west front looks medieval but dates from 1879 when Lord Grimthorpe spent over £250,000 on the church. As the town's parish church, after the abbey was dissolved in 1539, it was an impossible financial burden. Without Grimthorpe the Norman abbey church would undoubtedly have fallen down.


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