A walk in and around Knebworth Park with its Gothic mansion.
Distance 5 miles (8km)
Minimum time 2hrs 20min
Ascent/gradient 90ft (27m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Paths and tracks, 4 ladder stiles, 7 stiles
Landscape Parkland in gentle rolling hills cut by dry valleys
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 193 Luton & Stevenage
Start/finish TL 218213
Dog friendliness Herds of deer and high ladder stiles distinctly dog-unfriendly, also sheep in fields around Burleigh Farm
Parking Lay-by on B656 between Codicote and Langley, ½ mile (800m) south of Langley
Public toilets None on route
1 From the lay-by on the B656 walk south to the footpath sign. Turn left on to the hedged farm access road to Burleigh Farm, a rambling 16th-century timber-framed house with massive chimneystacks. Before its yard go left over a stile into sheep pasture and continue past a copse to a stile. A grass path crosses arable land to a hornbeam and oak wood. Turn left to follow the wood to the road, reached via steps. Cross the road and descend to cross a stile, then head towards a gate, skirting the edge of a copse. At the gate go left, around a pond. Head to a stile to cross pasture (hornbeam woods to your left). Now go over a stile to walk alongside some arable land to a lane by the 18th-century Rusling End Cottage. Turn left along the lane to a wood. Go left at the footpath sign to follow the track into the woods. On reaching a footpath post go right to leave the track. Occasional footpath posts guide you through the woods, eventually joining a track that leads out, over a footbridge, to the B656.
2 Cross the road to a tall ladder stile and into Knebworth Park. Over a stream go straight on uphill alongside a deer fence. Cross the drive and, to the right, you have a view of Tower Lodges, formed in 1816 from demolished parts of the Tudor mansion. Go over another ladder stile. Head diagonally left to pass to the right of the Cenotaph column, erected in memory of Elizabeth Bulwer Lytton who died in 1842. A lime avenue frames views of the mansion.
3 Continue downhill to another ladder stile. Follow the path to a road. Cross into Slip Lane. Past Slip Cottage turn left at a footpath sign. Trek across cultivated land, heading for two oak trees to the right of a close of modern vernacular-style houses. Continue alongside their rear boundary, then go over a stile and proceed straight on, through an orchard garden, then left along a narrow path to the road.
At the small, triangular green turn right into Park Lane. Just before some housing go left, passing a children's playground, then through a kissing gate into horse paddocks. Leave through a kissing gate and turn left, still with woodland to your left. Cross a dry valley (with arable ground to your right) to a road. Once over this go through a high kissing gate, beside a pretty lodge, back into Knebworth Park.
4 The route heads for the parish church and gives good views of the north east front of Knebworth House.
From the churchyard head towards the Barns Banqueting Centre. Turn right at a crossroads into a lime avenue to descend to the valley floor. At the T-junction go straight on to some woods, then turn left along their edge. At a footpath post go right, still alongside the deer fence. Cross a dam and go out over another ladder stile. Bear right with footpath posts guiding you out of the woods, then go straight on, along a grassy path between arable fields. At a stile go left around two sides of a paddock on a permissive path, bypassing Burleigh Farm. When you reach the farm access road turn left to walk back to the main road and the lay-by.
Knebworth is as well-known nowadays for its open air rock concerts as for its extraordinary country house. This walk takes in the house, together with the parkland, roamed by herds of red and sika deer.
The house, decked out in the 19th century with a profuse Gothic and Tudor style re-working, was originally built as a courtyard house, probably around 1500, by William Lytton, who was Sheriff of Hertfordshire and Essex in 1511. The buildings around three sides of this courtyard were demolished in 1811 and 1813. The remodelling was partly for Elizabeth Bulwer Lytton and partly for Edward Bulwer Lytton, the novelist, playwright and MP. He inherited the property in 1844 and made further alterations. As you will see the result is extraordinary and complex. A confusion of turrets and battlements, all in Tudor style, decidedly un-academic but tremendous fun.
The very worthwhile and interesting parish church is basically Norman with a west tower built in 1420 for Sir John Hotoft, of Knebworth Park. Inside, its chief glories are the monuments in the Lytton Chapel, including two by the great sculptor Edward Stanton commemorating William Lytton (1705) and Sir George Strode (1710).
Visit the Stevenage Museum in the undercroft of St George's Church in Stevenage new town. It tells the story of the town from the most distant past up to the present.
In Knebworth the Lytton Arms (rebuilt in 1887) serves food. In Langley village, ¾ mile (1.2km) north of the lay-by from which the walk starts, is the Farmer's Boy. Also, Knebworth Barns and Tea Rooms are open when Knebworth House is open, broadly, between April and the end of September each year.