Discover pretty walks in Ash Valley
- Credit: Ray Murdoch
A new publication, Albury Walks: Discovering the Ash Valley, by the Countryside Management Service takes in the rich wildlife and history of the area. Isabel Crozier is our guide to the routes
The Countryside Management Service has teamed up with Albury Parish Council to create three new circular walk routes through the attractive rural landscape of the area near Bishop’s Stortford. The project is part of the legacy of the service’s Year of Walking; working with five parishes to produce leafleted walks to encourage residents and visitors to get out in the glorious Hertfordshire countryside and experience new areas. With an attractive and diverse landscape of farmland, woods, heath and chalk river, Albury is divided into six hamlets linked by a network of ancient footpaths and bridleways: Albury End, Church End, Clapgate, Gravesend, Patmore Heath and Upwick Green. The area has a long and fascinating history dating back to the Domesday Book of 1086 when it was recorded as belonging to the Bishop of London. The River Ash, a chalk river, bisects the parish before joining the river Lea near Stanstead Abbotts. Chalk rivers are rare and important habitats that support a rich diversity of wildlife.
Patmore Heath is the best remaining example of acid grass heathland in Hertfordshire and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest managed as a nature reserve by Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust. Scarce plants such as heath bedstraw, harebells and tormentil thrive here on the dry heathland. In wetter areas, galingale, water avens, devil’s bit scabious, ivy-leaved crowfoot and southern marsh orchid all occur. The reintroduction of sheep grazing has helped maintain the heath and prevent it turning into woodland.
More than 60 species of birds have been recorded in the parish in recent years. Here are a few to look out for:
• Red Kites. With their distinctive forked tails and gliding over fields in search of carrion, they have become quite common in recent years and can be seen most days.
• Buzzards. A common sight. Often it is their distinctive ‘mewing’ call which first attracts your attention.
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• Cuckoo. An annual visitor which can often be heard calling near Patmore Heath in the spring and summer.
• Green and great-spotted woodpeckers are both resident on Patmore Heath.
• Yellowhammers. Look to telephone wires for a bright splash of gold. They are common in the area.
Albury Church, dedicated to St Mary and dating to the 13th century, has a fine tower topped with a needle spire visible from almost every corner of the parish.
Albury Hall dominated the village from the late 1700s. A manor house stood on the site for many centuries but the most recent hall was built around 1780 by John Calvert, MP for Hertford. Early in the 20th century the property was purchased by Maurice Glyn, a partner in a banking firm, and pleasure gardens and a swimming pool were added. The family were generous local benefactors, providing piped water for the village. When war broke out in 1939, the hall was requisitioned by the army and occupied by military staff. An arm of the Special Operations Executive was based here, planning espionage and sabotage missions behind enemy lines in France. Winston Churchill was closely involved and visited Albury Hall on a number of occasions. The building was destroyed by fire in 1950 and the site has remained untouched for over 60 years, its fascinating history now hidden under a cover of trees.
The Glyn family had a penchant for naming their woodlands after major events. A field which had reverted to woodland was named Ypres following the battle in 1914. When the threat of war again loomed in the late 30s another woodland was planted to the east of the hall and named Munich to commemorate a visit by the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, following his fateful meeting with Hitler in Germany. A third woodland, created close to the walled vegetable garden around 1956, was named Suez in response to the crisis in Egypt when the key trading canal was blockaded.
Albury is four miles north-west of Bishop’s Stortford. All walks start and finish at Albury Village Hall, Clapgate SG11 2JD, where there’s free parking. Map reference: TL442248. A limited bus service visits Clapgate from Bishop’s Stortford. For public transport details visit intalink.org.uk or contact Traveline on 0300 1234050.
Walk one: Patmore Heath is three miles, walk two: Hadham Hall is four-and-a-half miles, and walk tree: Albury Hall is five-and-a-half miles. They are part of a series of Walking in Hertfordshire circular routes. Download these and others from hertfordshire.gov.uk/cms
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