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Ware and Hertford Towns

From the maltings town of Ware to the county town of Hertford.

Distance 6 miles (9.7km)

Minimum time 2hrs 45min

Ascent/gradient 100ft (30m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Town streets, field and riverside paths, 1 stile

Landscape Two townscapes, water-meadows, woods and river cliffs

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

Start/finish TL 360142

Dog friendliness On leads in towns; should find company in water-meadows

Parking Kibes Lane car park, off High Street, Ware

Public toilets By car park, Ware; by Castle, Hertford

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1 From the car park walk down East Street, past the entrance to Bluecoat Yard, to merge with High Street. Past the Town Hall and church, the road curves right into Baldock Street. At the roundabout turn left into Watton Road, then straight on along Park Road past GSK. Go straight on at a fork.

2 Cross the A10 bridge to a lane. At a gap by a waymarker go left, parallel to the lane in lime avenue remnants. Across pasture carry straight on, into woodland, shortly bearing left to descend to the valley.

3 At a lane go left across a bridge and bear right along a lane, the river to your left. Once across the river bridge go immediately left over a stile, heading for the River Lea bridge. Climb from the valley towards a house in Benego.

4 After visiting Bengeo's Norman church, continue westwards, downhill, past a cottage called The Vineyard. Keep on this path to ornamental gates, then turn left on to Port Hill, now in Hertford.

5 Go downhill, then bear left into Cowbridge. Cross the river, pass McMullen's Brewery, and turn right into St Andrew Street. Past the church go left on a footpath. Cross a footbridge then turn left through a gate by a playground, into Hertford Castle's grounds.

6 Cross a stream and turn left to walk past the gatehouse and go out between gate-piers. Turn right to Parliament Square. Turn left into Fore Street, then left again into Market Street. Next, turn right past the Duncombe Arms. Go straight on across Bircherley Green towards a store through Bluecoat Yard. Turn left to pass the station forecourt.

7 Carry on into Dicker Mill. Go right before the bridge to the tow path. Follow this to Hertford Lock 1 .

8 Go through the gate and head left towards a bridge. Cross it and go left to the New Gauge building. Through the gate turn right to follow the Lee Navigation under the A10 and on into Ware.

9 Passing the gazebos, ascend to the modern road bridge and turn left back into town.

The strategic, if not economic, importance of Hertford can be seen in the remains of its Royal castle. However the town has Anglo-Saxon origins, well before this feudal castle arrived in 1067. During the re-conquest of the Danelaw by King Edward the Elder (ruled ad 899-924), the son of Alfred the Great, this settlement at a ford across the River Lea emerged into written history. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records of ad 913: 'In this year, after Martinmas (11 November), King Edward had the more northerly fortress at Hertford built, between the Mimram and the Beane and the Lea. Another part of his forces built the fortress at Hertford meanwhile on the southern bank of the Lea.' The latter is now Hertingfordbury, 'bury' being from the Anglo-Saxon 'burh' or defended town.

However the northern burh, Hertford, actually on the river, prospered while Hertingfordbury remains a small village. By 1011 the burh had become the centre of an administrative area, the county or shire of Hertfordshire. It also had two market places, a mint for coinage and its own town 'reeve', a high official seen as a forerunner to the mayor. When the Normans conquered England Hertford received its castle, initially a motte (earth mound) and bailey type. These were the best days economically as soon nearby Ware on Ermine Street rapidly overtook Hertford. Indeed bitter rivalry between the two towns often spilt over into violence. Although Hertford kept its county town status, by 1338 its taxable value was half that of Ware.

Of Hertford's castle the motte survives to a height of 22ft (6.7m). There is also some 12th-century curtain walling, but the most impressive surviving structure is the three-storey, brick gatehouse built for Edward IV in the 1460s. The castle's most famous military event was its capture after a 25-day siege in 1216 by Prince Louis, the Dauphin of France.

Our route visits several of Hertford's other sights: Parliament Square, laid out only in 1821; James Adam's former Shire Hall of 1769; the Salisbury Arms (formerly the Bell) of 1570; and the blue-coat Christ's Hospital School, which was founded in London by Edward VI for poor children - the juniors moved here in 1683. At Bengeo (before you reach Hertford) the parish church is a rare, virtually intact Norman one with nave, chancel and semi-circular east apse. It has an attractive 18th-century brick porch, evidence of an anchorite or hermit's cell, and some 13th-century wall paintings.

What to look for

The former Christ's Hospital School for Girls moved in 1985 to join the boys near Horsham, but the complex of buildings remains. The earlier ones are linked by an avenue flanked by dormitory blocks, now flats. The oldest structure is the Stewards House and School Hall, built in 1695.

Where to eat and drink

Ware and Hertford have a wide range of pubs, restaurants and cafés. If you want historic buildings to accompany your refreshment try the Salisbury Arms Hotel, opposite Shire Hall in Hertford or the 16th-century Bull's Head in Baldock Street, Ware.

While you're there

Although only open occasionally, Scott's Grotto, within Ware College, is a fascinating and romantic 'artificial cave'. It has passages linking small chambers, their walls are lined with flints, shells and glass fragments. It was built for John Scott of Amwell House.

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