Christmas in Hertfordshire: Top winter walks for the festive season
- Credit: Brocket Hall Estate
It's official - walks in the crisp country air are great for us. Here are eight favourites across Hertfordshire to try over Christmas and the festive period...
The health and wellbeing benefits of getting outside in green spaces are now well-known, but did you know that exercise in colder weather is thought to be especially beneficial?
We think more clearly after exposure to the cold and our bodies burn more calories keeping us warm. Cold is also useful for managing diabetic conditions and enhancing immunity.
Recent research suggests about two hours a week (in one go or several outings) spent outside in a natural environment is enough to boost energy levels and put us in a better mood.
Exercise in green surroundings has also been found to reduce blood pressure and muscular tension.
Here are eight circular walks in Herts' countryside to try over the festive period.
1. Ayot Greenway and Lea Valley
The route runs through the landscaped Brocket Hall estate, then heads upstream along a secluded section of the Lea Valley Walk before joining the Ayot Greenway (a disused railway line), from where there are lovely views.
Distance: Nearly five miles. Starts in the Ayot Greenway car park in Ayot Green, just west of the A1 and west of Welwyn Garden City. Mostly level, with one short steep descent (with a handrail).
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Look out for: The Palladian Bridge over the Broadwater lake by Brocket Hall - one time home of British Prime Ministers and favourite of Queen Victoria.
Public transport: The 366 bus links the centre of Welwyn GC (bus and rail stations) to Lemsford – access the route one third of a mile from Lemsford. Also connects to Harpenden and Luton.
Food and drink: Pubs in Lemsford and Ayot Green.
2. Wallington and Clothall
The novelist George Orwell lived for a while in Wallington and is thought to have based his book Animal Farm on Manor Farm in the village (its Great Barn can still be seen).
The route follows the Hertfordshire Way to Clothall, then returns via the Icknield Way trail along a high ridge with far-reaching views. Best completed on a clear bright day.
Distance: Just under five miles (or a shorter option), Starts in Wallington, three miles east of Baldock. Mainly flat, with a short climb beyond Clothall.
Look out for: Historic buildings in the villages, 15th century pews in Wallington church, and rare 14th and 15th century stained glass in Clothall church depicting leaves and birds.
Public transport: A new dial-up minibus service operates in the local area: intalink.org.uk/hertslynx
Food and drink: Take your own as there are no pubs near the route.
3. Bencroft and Wormley Woods
Wormley Wood is part of Herts' only National Nature Reserve. The main tree species are oak and hornbeam. There are several ponds and the wood is a stronghold for great spotted woodpeckers and hawfinch.
Distance: Four-and-a-half miles. Starts in Bencroft Wood West car park in White Stubbs Lane, four miles south of Hertford. Mainly flat. Wormley Wood can get muddy underfoot.
Look out for: woodland birds, ancient hornbeam pollards and woodland banks.
Public transport: Bayford station (on the line to Hertford North), is one-and-a-half miles from the edge of Wormley Wood. Bus route 251 links stations in the Lea Valley to Hammond Street, close to the southern part of the walk.
Food and drink: The Farmer's Boy at Brickendon.
4. Shenley and Radlett
This route follows sections of the Watling Chase Timberland Trail and the Hertfordshire Way.
Mainly in open countryside, the walk goes through several woods and also skirts the edges of Radlett and Shenley.
Recommended on a fine day to enjoy the amazing views – among the best in southern Hertfordshire.
Distance: Nearly five miles. Starts in Shenley Park car park off Radlett Lane. Slight hills.
Look out for: The apple orchard and walled garden in Shenley Park. Two Second World War pill boxes near the start of the route were part of the Outer London Defence Ring built in 1940.
Public transport: Bus number 602 links to railway stations in Hatfield, St Albans, Bushey and Watford and stops at Shenley Park.
Food and drink: The Café in the Orchard in Shenley Park. Several options in Shenley and Radlett.
5. Whippendell and Harrocks Woods, the Grand Union Canal and Cassiobury Park
Another route inside the M25, which is arranged in two shorter loops if the whole route is too long. Both woods are valuable wildlife sites and mostly ancient woodland. Cassiobury Park was formerly owned by the Earls of Essex and landscaped in the early 19th century by Humphry Repton.
Distance: A five mile figure-of-eight route starts in the Whippendell Woods car park in Grove Mill Lane, west of Watford. Mainly flat with a few gentle hills.
Look out for: Woodland birds including all three native woodpecker species (you will be lucky if you see the rare lesser spotted woodpecker), as well as tawny owls and sparrowhawks. The route passes the site of a former watermill by a weir on the river Gade, one of the county's chalk streams.
Public transport: From the Metropolitan Underground station at Watford walk across Cassiobury Park to join the route. The 500 bus from Watford to Aylesbury runs along Hempstead Road in Watford – ask for the Grove Mill Lane stop. Join the walk via the canal towpath (this adds a mile).
Food and drink: Various cafés in Cassiobury Park, including one on a moored canal boat.
6. Tring Park and Hastoe
Tring Park is a designed landscape with grassed areas and woodland. A climb brings you to the high level route above the park with fine views.
Reaching the highest point in the county at just over 800 feet, the walk then descends the wooded Chilterns scarp. Some sections here can get muddy.
Towards the end of the walk there is a fine view towards Ivinghoe Beacon. The whole route is within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Distance: Just over four miles. Starts in the car park close to the Natural History Museum at Tring. Some climbs and descents.
Look out for: The Natural History Museum at Tring holds the collection assembled by Walter Rothschild; the park's landscape including a summer house and obelisk; hollow ways - routes eroded into the underlying chalk by centuries of local villagers herding their livestock to and from hilltop pastures.
Public transport: Tring is on the 500 bus route from Watford and Aylesbury. There is also a bus route connecting the town centre to Tring railway station.
Food and drink: Numerous options in Tring and at the museum. Greyhound or The Old Crown in Wigginton (adds a mile to the route).
An appealing walk through fields and woodland with pleasant views. The route runs through the Woodland Trust's Heartwood Forest, the largest continuous new native forest in England. The area witnessed skirmishes in the Second Battle of St Albans during the Wars of the Roses in 1461.
Distance: Four-and-a-half miles. Start in Sandridge Village on the B651 north of St Albans. Park next to the village hall or in the Heartwood Forest. Gentle inclines.
Look out for: The more than 600,000 trees planted since the Woodland Trust acquired the 858 acres of Heartwood Forest in 2008. There is a community orchard, and an arboretum planted with all 60 of the UK's native tree species. There are also remnants of ancient woodland and open grassland. There has been a church in Sandridge since around 750AD. The present building dates from the 12th century.
Public transport: Buses 304 and 357 stop in the village and connect with Hitchin, St Albans, Harpenden and Borehamwood (all have rail connections).
Food and drink: Three pubs and a village store in Sandridge.
8. Aston and Hook's Cross
From the walk there are fine views across the river Beane valley. Sadly in the vicinity of Stevenage this chalk stream has been heavily impacted by abstractions for the public water supply, and at times may be dry. There is an optional detour into Astonbury Wood, which after a successful appeal is being acquired by the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust.
Distance: Four-and-a-half miles. Start in Aston just to the east of Stevenage. Park with care in the village. Mostly flat with gentle hills.
Look out for: Ancient oaks in Astonbury Woods (also the richest site for fungi in Herts).
Public transport: Buses 383 and 390 run along the A602 through Hook's Cross with a very infrequent service to Aston. They connect to Stevenage, Ware and Hertford railway stations.
Food and drink: Pubs in Aston and Hook's Cross.
For more walks in the county over the festive season, or at any time, head to cpreherts.org.uk. There are nearly 40 routes, mostly circular, with maps, route descriptions and photographs to aid navigation.