The Hertfordshire and North Middlesex Area of the Ramblers organised an Area Day on Saturday 24 September. This was the brainwave of their former chairman, David Smith, who wanted to bring all the groups in the Area together, for walks and chat and swapping experiences. I think it is a brilliant idea and wish more Ramblers’ Areas did this.
I was invited to the day, which this year was in the attractive village of Wheathampstead near Harpenden. The Area hired the village hall, which had ample parking—just as well as they welcomed 108 people (nine more than last year) on the seven walks which were different distances starting at different times of the day. So whenever you turned up, there would be a walk for you. I arrived at 1pm, and joined Jenny Mason’s North Hertfordshire group walk which welcomed dogs. There were 16 walkers and five dogs.
We crossed the River Lea and walked through meadows and fields in amazingly unspoilt countryside.
We followed the old railway between Welwyn Garden City and Harpenden, which is now the Ayot Green Way.
Everyone gathered back at the village hall for tea at 4 o’clock. Walkers had been asked to bring tea to share and there was ample. Sarah Lea, the Area chairman spoke to the group, and made a plea for volunteers. I was then invited to speak.
Besides congratulating them on a splendid event, I explained the role of Ramblers’ Areas (organised roughly on a county basis), which make us into a effective campaigning body. When people become members they are not just joining a friendly walking group, they are supporting all our work, normally organised by Area with support from staff, to get paths open, to protect them from diversion and development, win new access, lobbying local authorities and government and much more. At least two people who had come after seeing the walks advertised in the local press joined the Ramblers that day.
It was a timely opportunity to remember Norman Jones, former Area Secretary, who had died suddenly only a few weeks before. Norman was the heart and soul of the Ramblers; he was thoroughly dependable and ever willing, and consequently had held just about every post in the Area and many in his Dacorum Group.
He was involved locally in Hertfordshire but would often pop up further afield. I last saw him at a regional meeting to discuss green infrastructure: he had been invited because he was knowledgeable and his views were respected. He knew Hertfordshire intimately and his walks were always full of interest. He cared deeply about the Ramblers’ campaigning work and if he suspected we were going soft in any way he’d be on the phone to seek reassurance and put us on the right path again. He is greatly missed.
The Area needs another secretary and I echoed Sarah’s plea for volunteers, as well as urging people to take on the role of parish path checker, which I had recently done myself and found most enjoyable (see blog).
My walk had returned early giving me time to visit the village. Wheathampstead Parish Council has published an attractive leaflet of the main features: you can join the trail at any point.
The cover features the bridge over the River Lea and the old mill.
This is close to the Tudor archway into Wheathampstead Place: the lower bricks are sixteenth century and the arch is made of Reigate stone.
St Helen’s church is grade 1 listed, originally Saxon.
It has a number of interesting memorials including one to Antarctic explorer, Apsley Cherry-Garrard.
There is an interesting old schoolhouse, built in 1862 with flint walls and zigzag bands of yellow brick. Local children were paid to collect flints from the fields for the construction.
The crickle-crankle walls surround the former garden of the Old Rectory, they are built in a wavy line. There were several reasons for the construction: the shape made it possible to build them higher as the curves gave strength to the structure, allowing the walls to stand without buttresses and to expand without cracking in the sun. The alcoves were used for ripening fruit.
I shall encourage other Ramblers’ Areas to hold similar events – for recruitment and an opportunity to swap information and to see a different part of their territory.