49 – Gorhambury Estate and Verulamium Park, St Albans 6.1 miles – 25th January

In short: an atmospherically foggy walk with fascinating glimpses of ancient history even if the lovely views were missing due to the weather. Lovely family friendly cafe in the park with smart clean toilets and super pub to finish. 2hrs 15 mins walking + 50 mins total pitstops.

The walk today owes much to the ifootpath website – there is only a small difference at the start and end – this walk can also be found on the website of the pub which features as the start and end point, the Prae Wood Arms.

It’s particularly foggy today in the countryside outside St Albans, which is where our walk starts. However the drive here is straightforward – via the M1 it only takes about 40 minutes from Muswell Hill. We park in the large free car park of the Prae Wood Arms – it is our intention to return here for lunch but to be honest it is sufficiently large that it’s probably OK to park here anyway – and indeed we can’t see any signs saying for patrons only. The postcode here is AL3 6JZ.

Rather than start by returning down the lane we have just driven up we realise it’s possible to cut through from the car park to the main road, the A5183 Redbourn Road, where we turn left onto the pavement. This isn’t the most pleasant start to a walk as the road is pretty busy and it’s not easy to walk two abreast. However after about 10 minutes we come to the two bus stops – one on either side of the road – and enter the Gorhambury estate via a gate on our left. There is a sign on the gate stating that this is a permissive path and there is no access on certain days – particularly in January – but I have checked in advance and know that today is a good day! (To be honest – without access to this permissive path the walk would be pretty miserable with a longish walk beside this busy road in the other direction).

After the gate we immediately find ourselves on the Ver river path walking back parallel to the road. Even though it has been very frosty and the ground is mostly hard, here it is a bit mushy in places. The path meanders through woodland alongside the narrow river – quite probably with lovely views across farmland to our right, not that we can see them – until we arrive at a small building, a brick sluice house.

Here we turn right onto a paved lane, cross the river and find a beautiful icy water meadow over to our left. We continue along this path to a T-junction where we turn left. We had hoped for views over to the manor house of this estate which looks intriguing – and even to the ruins of the former house – but they are probably too far away anyway and in this weather there is absolutely no chance!

Nevertheless the fog has a certain charm – and we enjoy the eerie stillness it creates. We walk along this lane for about a mile with farmland – specifically sheep in the nearest fields – on both sides.

This path finishes at the entrance to the Roman theatre – we however pass through the gate, past the ticket office and out to the main road, Bluenose Hill. Here we turn right to cross at the pedestrian crossing and then immediately left and right again into Saint Michael’s Street. We turn right at the primary school and pass the Verulamium museum on our left to enter the car park. Here we carry straight on into the park, past the Wildlife Trust building to the Cafe in the Park which is just ahead of us. Time for a pitstop –  we make use of the smart clean toilets and enjoy a perfect toasted teacake and a lovely hot chocolate.

After thawing out here we continue on our route around the perimeter of Verulamium park. Leaving the cafe we go straight ahead (this would have been a left turn coming from the car park) towards the water play park and ultimately the lake. This lake appears to be absolutely huge – albeit we can’t really appreciate it’s full extent today – but it’s certainly impressive, completely iced over and somehow romantic in the fog.

We follow the path to the left of the lake and then right at the T-junction to walk for quite a while with the lake to our right and the river Ver once again on our left.

At the far end of the lake we turn left and after taking a look at the stepped weir ahead of us and the heron in the river to our left, we cross the river once again.

We immediately veer around to our right passing ‘Ye Olde Fighting Cocks’ pub on our left and Abbey Mills on our right to bear left and re-enter parkland on a path  which heads slightly uphill. This path leads to the back of the cathedral – a fact we only really appreciate when we are almost on it – and on reaching it we immediately turn sharp right and head back downhill on a path running alongside a wall.

At the foot of this wall we turn left beside a primary school along a path which emerges onto Grove Road where we turn right. On arriving at the main road we turn right and pass an entrance into the park at a bridge to cross the access road to the Leisure centre just in front of us. Here we turn right and walk in front of the impressive glass-fronted Westminster Lodge leisure centre. After crossing at the various entrances to the car park we walk past the athletics track where we bear left on a path to come to a crossroads in the centre of the park.

Here we turn left and come to the footings of the London Gate – one of the Roman entrance gates to the city.

The path passes remains of the Roman wall to our right and views over a small ravine on our left – a really lovely stretch of public parkland.

At the top of the slope we turn right onto a dirt bank – just before a bridge and an exit from the park. This dirt bank path is a little tricky in places as we negotiate tree roots and a couple of slippery bits but having dog-legged left through the trees we soon emerge onto a wider grassy path. Now we are struggling a little as we are supposed to head towards a line of trees but this is absolutely impossible as we literally can’t see any trees at all. However a glance at the map shows us we need to head broadly parallel to the road on our left to arrive back at the museum and this is what we do – crossing a football pitch and walking alongside the car park. Unfortunately at this point we are missing all the lovely views back across to the cathedral and the city skyline.

Leaving the park at the museum we retrace our steps to St Michael’s Street, cross the main road to the Roman theatre and along the path through the Gorhambury estate.

Turning right at the lane brings us back past the water meadow to the sluice house and here we decide to turn right – missing out the river Ver footpath to cut off a section of road walking. This path brings us out past a private house to a gate just before the road, where we turn right to retrace our final steps back to the Prae Wood Arms.

Here a warm welcome awaits us – which together with delicious fish finger sandwiches and extremely smart, country house hotel standard toilets – make for a really terrific end to our walk. We must return on a clear day for the views – and maybe explore the Gorhambury estate a little further – a lovely hidden treasure further along the main lane.

 

 

 

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