56 – Berkhamsted Waterways 8.5 miles – 22nd March

In short: no doubt this is a delightful walk on a half decent day – unfortunately we only had brief breaks in the rain all morning so could only appreciate it’s lovely vistas in snippets peering from under our cap and waterproofs! It’s a good leg stretcher though and combines towpaths, a hill and rural views plus the backstreets of a pleasant Hertfordshire town. Very very wet underfoot so proper waterproof boots required. Toilets are available in the Waitrose near the start; fab food and a warm welcome at a lovely canalside pub at the end. 3hrs 20 mins walking + 40 mins pitstop.

The forecast for today is poor so we decide to combine curiosity to try a new walk in a different location with a fair amount of towpath walking to keep waterlogging to a minimum. It didn’t work…these towpaths are seriously puddly!

We are trying Loop 3 of the Berkhamsted Waterways Walks – a Chilterns Country walk which I downloaded from the internet. We aim for a long stay car park which I have found by searching online – the given postcode is HP4 1BP but this doesn’t bring us to the right spot – however on reaching ‘our destination’ we turn right off the High Street into Stag Lane and, miraculously, find an unrestricted parking place on Sheldon Way, postcode HP4 1FG.

We start by walking back to Stag Lane where we turn left as we can see that the road ends at the canal towpath. We walk up to the towpath where we turn right, keeping the canal on our left. Immediately we are confronted with familiar Grand Union views.

We continue along the towpath attempting to find the start point of our printed walk and cross at the first footbridge to pick up the towpath on the far side – walking beside a playground and behind a car park – then alongside the canal for just a short distance till we have to cross at a road bridge. (During this section we pass the Waitrose supermarket on the far side of the canal which we later discover has customer toilets).

This curved section of the towpath is apparently in the centre of town, opposite the station, and we are thrilled to spot a kingfisher darting ahead of us, skimming the water at this really quite busy spot.

We have to cross again at another road bridge and now find ourselves with the canal on our right. Shortly after this (just past another bridge) we pass The Boat pub facing out onto the canal and we resolve to return here for lunch later!

At bridge 143 we have to cross the canal again so that the water is now on our left and we continue along this path for quite a stretch – to bridge 146 in fact. This is clearly a lovely path – with the loveliness of the canal and locks aplenty backed by terrific country views on both sides but we are quite preoccupied by watching our step and so aren’t able to enjoy it as much as we should.

At bridge 146 we turn right and follow a lane, Sharpes Lane, away from the canal and up to London Road. This is a busy road and we turn right along the pavement before crossing just after the bend to turn left into Sugar Lane.

This lane climbs and just after the last house becomes a track which winds its way across a ridge high above the (fairly noisy) A41 down on our left. Views are again lovely and we have a brief respite from the rain to enjoy them.

After a while we descend to meet the A41 and here we turn sharp left on a path which takes us down to an underpass beneath the road. We then head away from the road downhill following a path to the bottom of the field. Strangely the noise immediately diminishes on this side and it is lovely and peaceful here – and a whole 5 minutes before the rain recommences – in torrents!

We turn right at the foot of the hill to walk inside the hedge line towards the farmhouse ahead where we join a track and turn right to head uphill. At a sign for Sandpit Green we turn left onto a bridleway which is ridiculously boggy – only to discover that there is a perfectly good path a few yards further up which we could have taken and do in fact join. We turn left onto this path and walk through a wood before reaching the A41 again.

At a junction of paths we turn right to take the underpass under the main road emerging onto a side road where we turn left. We cross the main road ahead with a roundabout to our left and continue straight ahead with some playing fields on our right till we get to a kissing gate where we turn right and walk through the middle of the playing fields. At the end of these we enter a path between the backs of houses before emerging at another – municipal – playing field ahead. Here we turn left on a path alongside some trees to reach the road, Kings Road, where we turn right to head towards the town centre.

At the bottom of this road we cross the High Street and continue along Lower Kings Road – passing some smart cafes which we are definitely much too muddy to enter! – and the entrance to Waitrose (and the various car parks…!) before reaching the Grand Union Canal towpath. Here we turn right and retrace our steps of a couple of hours earlier to The Boat pub. We are welcomed warmly by the barman – despite being extremely muddy and dripping wet – and spotting the fish finger sandwiches on the menu we know what we are eating! Delicious – and extremely smart toilets to boot!

After this fab pitstop we retrace our steps to Waitrose – pick up a couple of essentials and follow the towpath back to the car on Sheldon Way.

Irritatingly the sun is beaming at this point – hinting at what might have been…

Needless to say it’s raining again before we have even got out boots off and we drive home in relentless drizzle!

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