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Walking the Beane Valley

To Walkern and its castle, then back to Benington.

Distance 6 miles (9.7km)

Minimum time 2hrs 45min

Ascent/gradient 165ft (50m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Field paths, bridleways, village roads, 10 stiles

Landscape Rolling chalkland scenery, descending to deeply cut valley

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorers 193 Luton & Stevenage; 194 Hertford & Bishop's Stortford

Start/finish TL 297235 (on Explorer 193)

Dog friendliness Mostly arable land but some cattle pasture; horse paddocks round many farms; on leads in Walkern village

Parking On roadside near Benington's parish church

Public toilets None on route

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1 Walk past the entrance to Lordship Gardens. At the green turn left, passing Old School Green. Before a bend go right on to Bridleway 78. Go left of the gates to Walkern Hall. Passing horse paddocks to your left and the stucco hall to the right, reach a lane and turn right.

2 Immediately past Walkern Hall Farm turn left to leave the lane for a bridleway signed 'Bassus Green'. Continue past some farm buildings on a track to a stream. Ascend, with woods to your right, curving right to a lane. At the lane go left to Bassus Green and straight on at the crossroads, on to a farm access lane.

3 At Walkern Bury Farm turn left. At a public bridleway sign go right on to a green lane to descend into the valley bottom. Here you turn left on to a green lane. Follow this muddy green lane into Walkern village.

4 From the church cross the River Beane on a footbridge, then turn left through a kissing gate into pasture. Beyond some farm buildings head diagonally to a kissing gate and thence to the road. Turn left into Walkern High Street to walk through the village, passing the school, a former brewery and flour mills.

5 Once out of the village, where the road bears left, go over a stile and immediately go left to a gate along a track. Through a kissing gate this is the start of a 1 mile (1.6km) walk along the Beane Valley, the river winding on your left. At a footpath junction, where the river swings right, cross it on a modern footbridge.

6 Now head between arable fields towards woodlands on the ridge ahead. Cross the road (to a footpath signposted 'Benington 1') and climb to the woods. After these you pass through Lordship Farm - follow the waymarker arrows painted on the buildings - on to an often very muddy track. Continue into cattle-grazed pasture. Across a footbridge the path bears right in more pasture to bypass Benington Bury, a large Victorian house, to a stile in the far corner. The path skirts Lordship Gardens on your right and sheep pasture on your left to Walkern Road. Turn right, back to the green and St Peter's Church.

The River Beane flows south from the chalk ridge that runs north east from Baldock to Royston. This very pretty walk follows the Beane south from Walkern, where it is little more than a meandering stream. The walk's two parishes have a very different relationship to the river. Benington has the river as its western boundary, the village on the chalk plateau to the east, while Walkern extends well to the west with the village on the river, to utilise the water to power its mills.

Walkern's medieval castle stands to the east of the village, at Walkern Bury, on the plateau north of Benington. Both villages' castles were the centre of baronies created by Henry I after 1100 but they were otherwise very different. Hamo de St Clare's Walkern Castle was never more than a motte and bailey type and it's now in paddocks behind Walkern Bury Farm. In contrast, Roger de Valoignes's Benington Castle acquired a stone keep upon its motte mound. Benington Castle had a chequered history, reflecting turbulent times. After the Civil Wars of Stephen's reign (1135-54) it was declared unlicenced by Henry II and demolished in 1177. It was rebuilt by Robert de Valognes, Roger's son and held against Prince John in 1193 for the crusader King, Richard the Lion Heart, who was awaiting a 'King's ransom' in the Duke of Austria's gaol. Resentful Prince John remembered this and in 1213, when he was King, had the castle demolished. Remnants survive, including the keep up to a height of about 9ft (3m) in places. A house called The Lordship, dating from about 1740, can be seen from the churchyard. It occupies much of the bailey of the old castle.

Benington village was once a thriving market town. In 1305 John de Benstede acquired a weekly market and annual fair. The market has since lapsed but the fair still continues. Mostly early 14th century, with a 15th-century tower, St Peter's Church stands to the west of the pretty triangular green, which was formerly the market place. In Walken you'll find more interesting old buildings. Its three pubs span four centuries: the White Lion (partly 16th); the Yew Tree (mid-18th); and the Robin Hood (early 19th). Beyond Stevenage Road, Rooks Nest Farm is an early 17th-century brick farmhouse with a massive central stack and a two-storey porch. There was also a brewery here and maltings, both of which have been converted into housing. At the south end of the village the former Walkers Mill is also now houses, but 'C D Pearman Flour Mills 1881' is still prominently painted on the gable.

While you're there

En route you pass the gates to Benington's Lordship Gardens. The gardens are usually open between April and September on Wednesday, Sunday and Bank Holiday afternoons. They are well worth visiting, either for the splendid gardens themselves or for the castle remains and the Georgian house. Do not be fooled by the apparently medieval castle gatehouse in flint and stone with 'crumbled' battlements - it is a Picturesque neo-Norman confection of 1832 created for the then owner, George Proctor.

What to look for

In the south aisle of St Mary's Church in Walkern look for the mid 13th-century Purbeck marble effigy of a medieval knight. Possibly William de Lanvelei, he lies cross-legged, his hand on his sword and with his long kite-shaped shield, ready to fight for Christ. This is the classic 'Crusader' vigorous pose of medieval effigies. He wears the distinctively styled late 12th-century barrel-shaped helmet that engulfed the whole head.

Where to eat and drink

The Bell in Benington has historical interest: an inn by 1693, it has a 16th-century core and an 18th-century hunting scene painted on the chimney breast. Walkern is well provided for with three pubs, the White Lion, the Yew Tree and the Robin Hood, as well as a general store and post office.

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