We have walked in the quite high country between Broxbourne Woods and Hertford a number of times, at different times of year, and would recommend exploring its quiet and gentle mixture of wooded and open landscape. Brickendon, with its large village green, lined with weather-boarded houses, is a good starting point for a variety of routes. This one goes into Hertford, and is about seven miles. It takes in several nature conservation areas and reserves, and a variety of contrasting landscapes: woods, meadows and rolling open fields.
Get there by train, from Alexandra Palace: to Bayford, 25 minutes, every 20 minutes weekdays, 30 minutes weekends. Return from Hertford North.
(The map on the right can be enlarged by clicking on it - or download this pdf map)
Coming out of Bayford station, Brickendon is up the hill to left. Across the road from the station exit is the start of a roadside path, recently installed by the parish council—a welcome improvement as the road was not at all friendly to pedestrians. At the top of the hill is the village green with a playground on the far side, by a crossroads, where there are also seats and picnic tables. Here too is The Farmer's Boy pub, whose fish lunches and beer have never disappointed us. Past the pub, follow the major road round to the left (heading north-eastish). On your left you pass a chapel in large grounds with chestnuts and cedars. It was built in the 1930s using Brickendon timber and Brickendon labour (the donor may have been motivated by the unemployment problems of the period). It's worth a look just for the pleasant, peaceful feel of the place.
A few minutes further along the road, after some brightly coloured houses, there is a turning to the right, at the side of a wooded triangular green, with a pool. Take this turning to the apex of the green then cross the road which it meets to a footpath leading into the fields beyond, signed to Monks Green. The path through the fields is part of the Broxbourne Wood nature trail and passes through wild flower meadows bordered by trees and areas of conserved butterfly habitat.
At Monks Green bear to the right through the hamlet. The old farm buildings here are from the sixteenth century (much changed) onwards. Parts of the farmyard and surrounding land have been developed as a collection of small modern residential and commercial units. After the new buildings, where the road turns sharp left, go straight ahead through a field towards woods. This continues the Broxbourne Wood nature trail. There’s a duckboard path through the wood to a field beyond, where large colourful dragonflies flit about under the surrounding trees.
The path follows the edge of the the neighbouring woods, heading for Highfield Farm, then round the farmyard into more fields. Shortly after the farm, before the start of a thick hawthorn hedge, step through the hedgerow into the wood, where you can see a well-trodden path, still following the edge of the wood but on the other side. ( If you continue on the path through the fields, you will end up on the road, which is not nice for walking.) Continue along the edge of the wood to the end of the fields. Here is the beginning of Broxbourne Wood Nature Reserve, and a path at right angles across our way, marked by the intertwined trunks of an old hedgerow.
Turn left: this is part of Ermine Street, the Roman road from London to York. The path crosses a road (Mangrove Lane—odd name for this part of the world) and continues due north. At this point there is a notice announcing that this is Ermine Street. Ordnance Survey maps show that in the 1890s an infants school had been started fairly recently in one of the buildings at this junction, suggesting there was a larger population of woodlanders than now, or at least a more organised community. By the 1920s it had disappeared again. More recently, the pub just up the road towards Hoddesdon seems also to have closed. Follow Ermine Street as far as the large communications mast which stands to the right of the track. Here there is a footpath off to the left, between neatly trimmed hedges, leading into Balls Wood, a nature reserve kept by the Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust.
The name Balls Wood presumably has some connection with the estate of Balls Park, a stately home just this side of Hertford. It is the home of hazel dormice (a rare spot in this region where they still live) and white admiral butterflies. The dormice are unlikely to be seen, as they stay in the trees or bushes, and are probably asleep anyway, but it's nice to know they are there. Turn right from the path into the wood. There are many ways through it, but it is a good idea to head gradually towards the centre and then walk to the right (north) along one of the broad avenues of very fine hornbeams. At the end of the avenues carry straight on where the wood closes in again, until you reach the end of it. Cross the open field and pick up the footpath which leads left along the edge of the wood opposite, through a high hedge. The path goes down through a broad swathe of unhedged fields, a strong contrast to the earlier part of the walk, to Swallow Grove Farm, where you’ll be greeted by the dog (fenced in).
The footpath passes the farm between a high fence and hedge onto the road. Go round the corner to the right (cautiously), cross over and take the footpath diagonally over the fields on the other side, into tree-lined Morgan's Walk which leads to the outskirts of Hertford. This was the approach to Brickendonbury, at its south end—a Georgian house turned into a late Victorian and Edwardian extravaganza. During the Second World War it was a special operations training base, and now serves the Malaysian rubber industry. Morgan’s Walk comes out at a school, where you should turn right and follow Queens Road to the junction with Highfield Road, shortly after which is a footpath off to the right, steeply down a hill to a stream. Don't cross the stream; turn left and come out in Valley Close, which you follow round to the left to a main road. Cross the road and go through the churchyard. At the gate by the church there is an underpass under what should be a bypass, but has, presumably in despair, gone through roughly the middle of the town. After the underpass a street leads directly into the nice old town centre.
Any of the turnings to the left leads to The Wash/Mill Bridge and the Hertfordshire Theatre. From here you can get a bus to Hertford North station, but there is also a pleasant and interesting way to walk there. Carry on across Mill Bridge, and then go right into Old Cross, which leads to Cowbridge. On the way there are a number of interesting buildings: including, in Cowbridge, on the left, a Victorian double-fronted building, with an arched front containing stairs and balconies. These are four flats for skilled working-class families, designed at the request of Prince Albert as an example to be shown at the Great Exhibition in 1851. This version was built in 1864. After the bridge, turn along Port Vale to the left, past Beane River View (a modern development of care home, sheltered and retirement housing) to the car park just before Millmead School. Go left through the car park, from where a path leads round the school grounds to green space following the river, and ends at Beane Road, near the station. Turn left to the main road and the station entrance.