Surprisingly Great Ashby
- Credit: Archant
With a community park, ancient woodlands and open countryside, Great Ashby on the edge of Stevenage holds many surprises. Countryside Management Service projects officer Heidi Hutton gives a guide to walks in the area
Woodlands and wildlife may not be the first things that spring to mind when thinking about Great Ashby, a recent residential development to the north east of Stevenage. However, along its edge and among the houses are pockets of ancient woodland and open spaces, each with its own character.
The creation of Great Ashby District Park formed a wildlife connection between the ancient woods and other important woodlands nearby, by providing meadows and trees where once the land was arable. Views of the rolling Hertfordshire countryside add to the rural feel of the park.
The Countryside Management Service has been working to improve public information for the whole area in partnership with owner North Hertfordshire District Council. Visitors can use this to find out about the many interesting features in the park, the woodlands and the beautiful open countryside beyond.
The car park provides a perfect starting point to explore the park. From here you can see the children’s play facilities, adult fitness equipment and a large, close-mown open space with lots of room for games, kite flying and picnicking. This is encircled by half a mile of surfaced path, used by dog walkers and young families and ideal for the wetter months.
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Beyond this formal area, the grassland is left to flower before being cut and removed from site, in the same way hay meadows are managed. Meadows like this have become scarce in Hertfordshire but provide a rich food source for our native insects. In turn, these insects provide food for the birds and mammals living in the neighbouring woodlands. New interpretation boards installed by CMS volunteers explain to visitors the importance of meadows for native plants and wildlife such as the bee orchid and butterflies like the marbled white.
Woodland walk. The now well-established woodland walk encourages people to explore the woodlands. The walk is 2.8 km and takes in five woodlands. The route is outlined in a Great Ashby Woodland Walk leaflet, and, thanks to CMS volunteers, is well way-marked, with benches and name boards for the woodlands.
There are three information panels around the trail. Each board describes the woodland you are standing in, why it looks the way it does and what plants and animals you might find here. There is also a panel on the outside of Great Ashby Community Centre, showing the whole route and all the woodlands around the estate.
The woods are very different from each other. Brooches Wood, while being an ancient woodland, has seen a lot of change, while, to recall the days before Dutch elm disease ravaged the British countryside, take a stroll in Serpentine Wood, where some larger trees survived the destruction.
On the far eastern edge of the park, a spiral path leads to the top of a small mound. Here, you can soak up the views of open farmland, small woodlands and hedgerows. The Beane Valley can be seen looking south-east, beyond Boxbury Farm.
A new panel describes the view and the places that can be walked or cycled to that are just over the horizon. Routes can be planned using Ordnance Survey Map Explorer 193, which shows all the public rights of way. There are paths leading to villages to the north, such as Weston, one-time home of the legendary giant Jack O’Legs, and the pretty hamlet of Halls Green.
To the east is Walkern, a village steeped in history. From here, a footpath follows the course of the River Beane to Cromer, home to Hertfordshire’s only surviving windmill. Ardeley can also be reached via Walkern with its attractive village green and church. It is also home to the family friendly free-range Church Farm, which is open to the pubic all year round. And for that all-important refreshment, most of the villages have pubs or cafes.