Earlier this week, we walked from Watford to St Albans along the Abbey Line trail. Read part I for more background.
We pick up the tail on Drop Lane, near Bricket Wood. From this point we follow the River Ver most of the way to the finish, with only minor detours away from its’ banks. Heading east along the lane you soon come across the Riverside Way on your right. This ¾ mile path is owned and maintained by Hertfordshire County Council for horse riders as well as walkers. It’s a pleasant easy stroll along the bank of the chalk river, although the channel is man-made, with wooden sculptures spread out along it’s length – although, I wish someone could tell me what some of them are supposed to be. At then end of the pathway, it crosses the river and heads for a car park along a track bounded by a fence on the left and a large hedge on the right. Pass the car park and follow it’s access road to just before its’ junction with Smug Oak Lane. Cross the neighbouring access track to access Smug Oak Lane via the footpath at the bridge. Carefully cross the river and head down the road leading to Moor Mill, an 18th Century water mill that is now a Beefeater Restaurant. It was indeed lunchtime when we reached this point, but we elected to carry on and eat our sandwiches further up the path. The sign on the road for the mill boasts 5 markers for trails of various lengths, with the Abbey Line Trail by far the newest one right at the top.
Continue past the mill and carpark to the back of the building, the path is obscured by the bin store area so keep walking up to the M25 embankment and you’ll soon spot it, once again on the bank of the Ver. I’d love to say how scenic this section is but after the path goes under London’s orbital motorway, it bears right around industrial buildings then left at the road to pass onto an old landfill site; now being reclaimed by nature. Keep walking north through the grassy wasteland as the noise of the M25 slowly fades away. Where the path splits, take the narrower left hand fork through the bushes which leads you out onto Hyde Lane. Be careful not step straight out as it is quite a blind corner where vehicles do move swiftly along. Turn right and follow the lane to the Car Park for Frogmore pits, a fishery in the landscaped remains of old gravel workings that provides habitat for many rare species of flora and fauna.
Take the wooden entrance bride on your right into the fishery and continue along the path in a north westerly direction between the lakes. If you want to leave the route here, there is a short walk to How Wood station away to your left at this point. After a bench the path bears right and eventually splits by an area that dogs seem to love to bathe in – as we found out when we decided to make this our picnic spot. Take the right hand fork onto the river bank once more with mobile homes on the opposite bank – see if you can spot the old London Transport bus stop roundel here! The path is a little muddy here, but you soon come out into somebody’s driveway to reach Frogmore (the road) and Park Street (the village) – those two really sound like they are the wrong way around although Frogmore is also the neighbouring village and to be even more confusing the road is alternatively called Park Street. The road itself is actually a realignment of Watling Street that it runs into at either end, the great Roman road that runs from our old University city of Canterbury to St Albans and then beyond. Standing here it seems strange to think that we used to catch a bus or do a food shop in the Tesco at the other end down in Kent.
Turn left along Frogmore/Park Street/Radlett Road/Watling Street/A5183 (yes there are even more names for this road) into the village. Along the way you will pass several listed structures, what is perhaps by favourite named pub – The Overdraught – and, most importantly for this railway themed walk, the rains of the bridge that carried a spur off the Abbey Line north of How Wood station to the Midland Line during it’s construction to facilitate transport of building materials. This branch was short lived and never used for passenger service although British Railways did apparently look into reopening it as a diversion of the Abbey Line into St Albans City Station. Keep on the road until the pelican crossing outside the Chinese restaurant where you will find a newsagent and recycling bins for toping up of energy providing treats after crossing. Should you wish to leave the walk here, Park Street station is further along the road. Head down Burydell Lane between Park Mill and the newsagent past houses, over the Ver again and past allotments until the path sneaks off to your left at the cottages. Following the fence of the allotments on your left, keep through the wooded area until a gateway into a large open meadow. Walk along the ditch down the middle, following around a bend until it reaches the main fence line. You may need to dodge the sheep here, but now the path crosses a boggy bit where they dare not tread. The route is makers by posts but you may need to venture off it slightly to avoid the worse of the mud here. It eventually leaves the marsh to continue beside the Ver once more briefly until a bridge over it on your left just before the embankment for the North Orbital Road/A414. Cross the bridge and turn right to walk on the opposite bank of the river under the road after which the path soon goes back across the river via a bridge that is starting to become an island as the river flows around the concrete steps. Continue north along the river bank until you pass the car park for Sopwell House Hotel and emerge out onto Cottonmill Lane. This is another dangerous corner for the path to come out on so be careful.
Now for an urban stretch again. Turn left and walk with caution along the road, remembering to keep to the right to face the oncoming traffic. The road bears let then right to bridge the Ver then left again to a Junction. Turn right to continue along Cottonmill Lane that now thankfully gains a footpath. You stay on this street for nearly a kilometre climbing gently uphill until a narrow roadway heads off to your right back down to the river. The path has changes slightly to how the Ordnance Survey print it, at the barrier bear left then right around the playground and keep parallel to the road to cross into an area that seems to be having work done to it with trees felled. Turning left to head north, the path rejoins the river and crosses under another old railway bridge. You’re getting close to the end now, this is the St Albans and Hatfield Railway that used to run from, you guessed it, St Albans Abbey to Hatfield. It lasted 99 years (although passenger services had already ceased by the end) and is now a cycle route and footpath called the Alban Way. It was also another potential candidate in the late 20th Century BR bid to divert the Abbey Line to the City station. Many of the stations and platforms along the route have survived as has the platform at St Albans Abbey which is now used as an access road, take a look at the end of your walk. Another trail I’d like to walk someday I think.
Continue on the bank of the Ver past more allotments as it curves around to the west and passes the ruins of a Tudor mansion built on the site of Sopwell Nunnery after Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. Cross your old favourite, Cottonmill Lane, once more and take the path on the opposite bank of the Ver where it is very clear that modern buildings have once again forced the straightening and realignment of its’ channel. After cutting a corner the path bridges the river and emerges onto Holywell Hill. Welcome to St Albans. The cathedral is up the hill to your right; as is the whole city, the station is certainly not central providing the main reason for many closure and realignment plans of the line. To finish the trail, turn left and walk on until you reach the entrance to the station where the original entrance pillars have been lovingly restored. Unfortunately that is all that remains of any building, nowadays the station is a single platform with a couple of metal and glass shelters and a ticket machine. Don’t forget to look at the tile art by local school children on the fence up the access road.
You have now completed the trail, it wasn’t long was it? But there is more. I mentioned earlier the Abbey Flyer walks. There are four of these short circular walks from the northern stations on the line that duplicate some of the main trail too. Actually, three are circular, one is just the last stage of the Abbey Line trail, so you’ve already done that without realising it, well done! Leaflets for all five walks are on the Abbey Line website.
Next week, we’ll get back to the LOOP.
For this day of walking you need the following maps; OS Explorer 173 London North and OS Explorer 182 St Albans & Hatfield. I would also recommend printing the leaflet for rough directions as the trail is not marked on the map.
There are nineteen Geocaches on or near the route. I do not maintain this bookmark list so do your own research for any new ones.
Soph and I often walk on Wednesdays, this week was no exception. Unfortunately though, I had other commitments in the early evening so we were unable to continue our walk on the LOOP. What could we do? Let’s do a local walk, somewhere we can get home from easily. We looked at the Ebury Way and the Croxley Green circular walks, but I’d done most of them before. Then inspiration struck, we could walk the Abbey Line to St Albans.
The trail was opened just over a year ago with a leaflet produced and markers along the route, but we discovered that these were far form clear and comprehensive. What follows, then, is both our review of the walk embedded inside a walking guide should you wish to try it yourself. As always, I recommend taking an OS map with you – you’ll need Explorer maps 173 (London North) and 182 (St Albans and Hatfield).
The walk starts at Watford Junction, a fifteen minute walk from our house got us there for around half nine. The station itself is nowadays a rather boring 1980’s office block, the third iteration of the station and the second on this site. There is no trail signage here, but turn right as you leave the station and follow Woodford road past the bus station and short stay car park. Keep on until you reach the traffic light controlled junction with Orphanage Road at The Wellington Arms pub, where, if you look closely, you will find the first indication of the trail with a sticker on a lamppost. Ignore this, though, and cross the road before turning right down Orphanage Road as there is no footpath on the left hand side under the bridge. On the far side, at the roundabout, cross the road into the industrial estate and then cross Orphanage Road to reach the left hand footpath. Continue along the road, passing the old London Orphan Asylum on your left. What later became the London Orphan School and more recently Reed’s School moved to Watford from East London in 1871 after a Typhoid epidemic and provided lodgings and education for London’s Orphans. The pupils were evacuated during the Second World War and the building used as an army hospital. After the war, the government kept the building as office for the Ministry of Labour so the school relocated, the building has since become residential accommodation.
Carrying on down Orphanage Road, passing a bus stop and under a bridge you will reach another roundabout. Another sticker points left but, again, ignore this and cross over before walking north up Radeltt road for a few hundred meters before turning right onto Link Road. Cross over to be on the north side of the bridge and here you get a choice – there is a path on both sides of the river, we took the one on the right which is slightly more scenic but the left hand path takes you to the same spot past some allotments. Follow this path beside the river until you reach another bridge. If you took the right hand path you will need to climb up and walk along the bridge to rejoin the path on the opposite bank. Walk under the bridge and continue to follow the path along the river bank. The path is a bit more unkept here, but perfectly passable. After a while you will pop out into an area with a little wooden jetty. Head up the slope or steps to have a look at the wooden carved signs about the Knutsford Playing Fields. Looking towards Radeltt Road, keep right along the top of the bank to a small gate in the fence. Alternatively, you can go through the gate you see straight ahead of you and turn right to meet the other gate 50 meters further down.
Head north east along Radeltt Road until the Junction with Bushey Mill Lane. If you wish to stop here, head left up the road to Watford North station, otherwise cross over onto the wide paved path. This is part of National Cycle Networks Routes 6 and 61, a section called the Abbey Way. It also goes to St Albans but follows a slightly different route. Walk along this route until you reach the A41 dual carriageway. If it is safe to do so, cross using the break in the crash barriers, otherwise, head to the pedestrian crossing on your left but if you do this, do not get fooled by the cycle signs taking you further up the A41, you need to return to directly opposite the path you just came off of.
You should now be standing by a grand set of gates across a long tree line driveway and it is along this that we shall walk for a while. There is a gate to the right through which you can gain access. As you leave the A41 behind you will probably be hearing another roar of traffic ahead and the drive soon raises to cross the M1 on a bridge from where you can see Junction 5-though it’s nothing special. The driveway bears sharply left then right as it depends from the bridge then continues along for quite someway eventually descending into a little wooded area with a cattle grid on the far side. You can leave the walk here to head to Garston station by taking the path to the left. You’ve been on this road a long time, but keep going, you’re not far from the country house it leads to now while entering a grassy meadow which was rather pleasing with the spectacular weather we had on the day. You should hopefully have also been admiring all the wildlife sounds as you’ve walked along the Colne Valley; Peewits, Herons and Little Egrets all make their homes here. After another cattle grid, keep going past the sign that states it is not a footpath. Don’t worry, the owner has granted this a permissive footpath, so while not a public right of way, you can keep going along their drive. When the house finally comes into view take the sandy left fork to skirt to the north of the complex. Past another cattle grid, at the cottage there is a junction of paths and it is likely that you will see cyclists and walkers crossing your way.
Munden House is an 18th Century building with the grounds you are walking through laid out in the following century, however the estate itself dates back much further with evidence to suggest there was a village on the site in Roman times. The house is now a commercially owned property used for filming and functions.
Keep heading in a northerly direction along a track through a field, eventually deciding slightly to pass through a farm yard. Walk along the left hand side of the big barn and continue on the roadway out the other end of the farm. Here the path has been moved slightly from what is listed on the OS map. A new fenced path has been placed to the left of the access gate, go through the slalom and there will be a kissing gate into the field to your right. Cross the field and pass through another gate to climb into the woodland on the far side. Walking in may ensured this woodland was filled with bluebells as far as the eye could see. Once the climbing has ceased, the path will run along the top of the ridge, shortly coming out into a field where you keep to the side with the wooded slope down the the river on your right. Halfway across, the woodland drops away and you walk across a corner of the field towards the house that should now be visible to you, a white marker post will guide you across. Follow the fence line again for 50m until you come to a kissing gate on your right before the boundary curves up.
At this point I need to issue a warning; there is no signage here to tell you, but there is currently works by Affinity Water blocking the footpath we want to follow so until these are finished you should continue in the same field to the lane at the end and turn left to walk down that (very carefully!) until you reach the corner where the path should have brought you out. If the works are finished, read the next paragraph; else skip ahead one. I attempted to find the notice on the Hertfordshire website so that you can determine if it has reopened, but I was unsuccessful. I did however find a PDF notice included in a “Please Note” section of the Countryside Management Service’s walking guide to the Wall Hall estate.
Pass through the gate onto a grassy track down hill between the house and a paddock. The final decent is steep onto the floodplain. Through another gate, you will walk across the end of a field to a track next to the river on the far side. This is were the River Ver merges into the River Colne on it’s long and windy course to meet the Thames at Staines. Turn left, walking east along the bank of the Ver to meet Drop Lane where it turns 90°. To achieve this, we had to squeeze around three temporary fences and be glared at by digger operators, however there was no closure signage on the direction we approached from and only found the notice when we reached Drop Lane.
This is approximately halfway along the walk so I shall stop here and pick up again in my second post. Walking northwest up Drop Lane will take you to Bricket Wood station where an Abbey Flyer walk also starts—more about these next time.