Stage 6 - Chipperfield to St. Albans (8.5 miles)
At 8.5 miles, this is one of the shorter stages, but is no less interesting than many of the others. The route passes through Kings Langley, birth and resting place of Edward de Langley, 1st Duke of York. Here we join the Grand Union Canal for a short distance before continuing east across fields and along narrow country lanes through Bedmond and Potters Crouch. The final mile takes us into St Albans through Verulamium Park and the grounds of the Abbey Cathedral to the finish just south of the River Ver.
The start is at the War Memorial on Chipperfield Green. Cross over the road (The Common) and turn left for a few yards. Turn right into Kings Lane and follow it for 300 yards staying on the RHS. As the road turns sharp left turn right into a cul-du-sac with houses to the right and hedgerow to the left. Go straight on to a gate with a stile to the right. Climb over the stile and follow the path straight across a large field and after 500 yards along an isolated line of trees. Just past the last tree veer half left and follow the worn path across the field to a gate. Exit the field and immediately turn right onto a footpath downhill with the road to the left and below. Near the bottom of the decent the path merges with the road for a short distance as it narrows and crosses a bridge over, what for most of the year is a dry river bed.
This area is called Whippendell Bottom and is one of the few places where the underlying chalk is exposed. This place is very peaceful and only the road through it really intrudes on the silence. However, in earlier times there was a lot going on here. During World War I the Whippendell Farm (on the LHS at the bottom) was set up as a poultry farm used to help rehabilate injured soldiers and by 1938, when it ceased these activities, was the 4th largest poultry farm in the country.
During this time according to a publication entitled “Does the Lark Still Sing? My Life in Kings Langley” by Allan Norman Butler.
“On 15th April 1933, Sir Alan Cobham brought his Air Show to Whippendell Bottom. What a strange choice of venue for such an event! The field was rough and sloped on either side, so how did the pilots manage to take off and land a De Havilland Dragon Rapide, under such conditions? Granted the plane was only small but the odds were challenging! The public were offered trips at 21shillings (£1.05) a ride and there were plenty of takers. A flight in a Tiger Moth cost 5 shillings (25p).”
Continue along the road as it climbs out of the valley past some houses and over the A41 to Kings Langley. Immediately over the A41 turn right through a kissing gate and follow a track downhill. At the bottom turn left onto a narrow enclosed path. After 500 yards a path to the left leads to the Old Palace Pub, ignore this path and continue straight on.
Kings Langley is a large village in the Gade Valley, (Langley being a long meadow or clearing). The settlement dates back to Roman Times and has links with William the Conqueror. In the late 13th Century a Royal Palace was built here under the supervision of Eleanor of Castile (1241 – 1290), wife of Edward I. It was used as Royal Residence by Edward I, II and III, Richard II and Henry V. During the Black Death of 1349, it was used by Edward III as his seat of government. It is also mentioned by Shakespeare in Richard II as he was first buried here in the priory chapel in 1400 before his body was moved to its final resting place at Westminster Abbey thirteen years later. A Dominican priory was founded by Edward II in 1308 and built just north of the palace.
Edmund de Langley, 1st Duke of York and fifth son of Edward III, was born in the Royal Palace on 5th June 1341 and died here on 1st August 1402. He was originally buried next to his first wife Isabel of Castile, in the priory chapel at the Friary, but in 1575 both their remains were moved to their current tomb in All Saints Church.
Sadly very little of the Palace remains and most of the site is now the home of the Rudolf Steiner School (the oldest Waldorf School in the UK). However it is worth going a few yards off route to the area around the Old Palace Pub and the school. A house opposite the pub has old remains in its front garden as does the garden of the pub. An old building, now part of the school, housed the original “Priory School” from 1908 and is still part of the Steiner School. Nearby in 1970 a 60ft wine cellar was uncovered. All of these hold claims to being part of the Royal Palace, or the priory.
The path comes out onto a residential road (Archer Close). Go straight on along the road, and after a few yards as it turns left, go straight onto a footpath between houses and follow it to Kings Langley High Street, next to the Rose & Crown public house (at 2.1 miles into the stage). Cross straight over into Church Lane and past All Saints Church.
Christopher Cox VC is buried in the graveyard. He is Kings Langley’s only resident to be awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) – “the highest military decoration which is, or has been, awarded for valour "in the face of the enemy" to members of the armed forces of various Commonwealth countries, and previous British Empire territories”. Cox was a Private in the army during World War I and received the medal for his bravery in crossing the frontline many times as a stretcher-bearer under fire to carry wounded soldiers back to the trenches and saved many young lives. He served in the Home Guard in World War II and died in 1959. In 2007, 90 years after the battle, a memorial was unveiled in the village of Aichet le Grand in France to Private Cox near the site of the battle. His son and many representatives of his old regiment attended the ceremony. In 2009 the village was also twinned with Kings Langley because of the heroism of Private Cox.
All Saints Church was built in the 14th Century on the site of an older church dating from the 12th Century. It had quite a unique privilege, as up until 1925 it was allowed to fly the Royal Standard on certain days.
To read more about Kings Langley and its history visit the Kings Langley Local History & Museum Society, the town’s entry on Wikipedia or Kings Langley Village.
Follow Church Lane downhill, staying on the left hand pavement. After 350 yards keep following the road as it veers firstly left, then right and becomes Water Lane. Cross the bridge over the Grand Union Canal, then immediately turn sharp left onto a path down to the canal.
To the right on crossing the canal is a large imposing milk coloured building. This was the original Ovaltine Factory which opened in 1913 and was in production for almost 90 years. In 1929 the Ovaltine Company bought Numbers Farm at Kings Langley and Parsonage Farm at neighbouring Abbots Langley and created a single larger Ovaltine Farm. Here the produced the milk, eggs and barley to make their famous product. In 2002 the production of Ovaltine was moved to Switzerland. Today the factory has been converted to residences, and the farm is now called Beaufort Court and is home to Renewable Energy Systems Ltd. The farm has once again been divided into two as the M25 motorway cuts straight through it and from the motorway the large wind turbine is very noticeable.
On reaching the canal towpath turn right and follow it past Kings Langley Lock and after another 170 yards under a metal footbridge.
The canal is the main line of the Grand Union Canal. It is 137 miles long and links Brentford in London to Birmingham. There are also branch arms going off to other destinations including Paddington, Slough, Wendover, Aylesbury, Milton Keynes, Northampton and Leicester. The name comes from the formation of the canal, completed in 1929 and comprised of the linking up of many earlier canals up to form a union of waterways. At Foxy Island Walks website there are some excellent photos of the canal.
Immediately after passing under the metal footbridge turn right onto a footpath along the edge of Primrose Hill Playing Fields. At the far end, cross straight over the road and turn left for just a few yards. Turn right onto a narrow path which leads up to a subway under the railway line. Be careful not to bump your head on the roof of the tunnel and be wary of nettles and barb wire on the next section of the path.
The path up to and under the railway line is narrow and seems not much used by the locals – it’s desolate, not very well maintained and almost seems it shouldn’t exist. The railway line is the West Coast Main Line from London Euston to Glasgow. Almost 400 miles in length and the busiest for mixed-traffic in the UK. This part of the line is the oldest (Euston to Birmingham) completed in the 1930s. Today the line is the main feeder for Birmingham and the Midlands, for one of Britain’s busiest railway junctions at Crew, for the industrial cities of Manchester and Liverpool and beyond to Glasgow. This line also carries the Irish Mail Train from Euston to Holyhead. It is the oldest surviving railway journey in the world and began in 1848.
As you pass through the low and lowly maintained tunnel you will feel isolated and away from the world, you’ll not hear a train and probably think to yourself “what the hell am I doing here?” But to me this is one of the greatest quirks of this path. Just think about the history and the people the few bricks above you head have carried for many years now. They’ll be flying past in their Inter-City 125 above you, not having time to notice you crouching down and slowly walking under them.
The path comes out onto a quiet road. Turn left and downhill to a T-junction with Hart Hall Lane (at 3 miles into the stage). Turn right along the lane and follow it for 0.75 miles to where a public footpath pole on the right marks a stile in the hedgerow. Climb over the stile and follow a path half left across a large crop field towards house rooftops directly in the far distance at the village of Bedmond. Some paths go off on both sides on crossing the fields, but stay basically straight on towards the rooftops.
At 4 miles the path goes straight on through the hedgerow and into a second field. Stay straight on for 150 yards and on reaching some trees, veer left to continue across the centre of the field. On reaching the opposite side go straight on along and enclosed track which leads to a road – Church Hill / High Street at Bedmond.
Nicholas Breakspear was born at Breakspear Farm in Bedmond around 1100, and is the only Englishman to become Pope (although some sources claim there was also an Englishwoman Pope). His mother died when he was young and his father then joined St Albans Abbey as a monk. At 18 years old Nicholas also applied to join the abbey but was refused due to the fact he did not have enough schooling. Undeterred he went abroad to study. Firstly to Paris and eventually onto Avignon where in 1130 he became a monk at the Augustinian Abbey of St Rufus. He was elected Abbot in 1137 and eventually promoted to Cardinal by Pope Eugenius III. After four years of helping to restore peace in Scandinavia and setting up two new archbishoprics there, he returned to Rome. Eugenius had died and had been succeeded by Anastasius IV. The new Pope was ninety years old and within a year was also dead. Nicholas was then unanimously elected Pope in November 1154. He took the name Adrian IV and died in 1st September 1159. His tomb is in the Vatican. History has it that he granted Henry II permission to conquer Ireland.
Cross straight over the road and into Sergehill Lane.
On the corner is Bedmond's Tin Church (or the Church of the Ascension), constructed using corrugated iron in 1880 at a cost of £80. I can't find any connection with the local Pope, but every time I see it, I am reminded of something from a child's storybook.
Within a short distance pass the 17th Century White Hart Inn (now closed) on your right and after just another 100 yards at a Y-junction stay left into St Albans Lane which later becomes Bedmond Lane.
After 400 yards the St Albans Lane turns left then right past Funny Farm. The owner's children living up to the name, as every time I have passed, the two statues at the entrance were always dressed in different clothes and a caption to go with. However, from the caption in the picture it seems they got fed up with rogues trying to spoil their show.
Fly-tipping is one of the greatest enemies of the English countryside and is common place along this lane as it is quiet and has few dwellings. During a visit on 17th May 2008 the whole lane was closed off to traffic, thanks to some very selfish, unthoughtful people who dumped a whole lorry load of waste on the road. Their only goal was to save the few pounds it would have cost them to dispose of it properly at a local council dump. It caused a great inconvenience to me as I was just in front of a charity run around London, marking the route for the runners. I was delayed, had to go back on myself and take a 5 mile diversion, luckily the runners were allowed through by the local council employees who were starting to clear the lane. However, because of the delay, later in the day it caused me to skip a few marking points and some runners went off-course. It spoilt their weekend and put a dampener on mine. The expense to local tax payers to remove the tip ran into thousands of pounds. Fly-tippers and others who dump rubbish in the countryside don’t only cause temporary problems, they also cause permanent problems. There is evidence of this all over the British countryside where picnic areas, nature reserves, car parks and lay-bys have been closed by councils because the cannot continually afford to clean up the mess that is left. A recent programme on TV by Bill Bryson, author and President of the CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England) highlighted the problems of how illegal dumping of waste and littering was affecting this beautiful country. It’s currently one of the top items mentioned by the public in political polls. Basically look after where you live, look after the countryside, have respect for others and your surroundings, take litter home and dispose of it properly – recycle it when you can. It does not take much effort and you’ll feel better about yourself for doing it. Also, encourage friends to do the same and report other you see blatantly breaking the laws and making this country a more unpleasant place for us all.
Follow this narrow and enclosed country lane for a mile to where it passes under the M1 motorway – now 5.5 miles into the stage.
To the left and above the lane before the motorway is the newly built Centurion Club – a private members gold course. For well over a decade it looked like something was being built on this land, however work began and stopped many times. Each year I passed I got the impression it was being used as a scam to somehow generate money from grants by pretending to do something with it. I’m glad to see the land has now been put to good use in building this championship golf course and making the area more pleasurable to the eye.
After another 500 yards go straight on at a crossroads past Potters Crouch Farm, staying on Bedmond Lane as far as The Holly Bush pub. In front of the pub turn right into Ragged Hall Lane. Pass Potters Crouch East Farm to the left with its duck pond next to the road.
The Holly Bush pub dates from the 17th Century and has been run by the same family for over 30 years. Ragged Hall Lane is very narrow with raised banks on both sides and luckily has little or no traffic.
It’s difficult to believe that within a mile on both sides are busy motorways. Park Wood, an ancient woodland, is soon past to the left, and to the right Furzebushes Lane leads to The Garden of the Rose (no connection with the Wars of the Roses, but our route does have as you’ll see later). The Royal National Rose Society's Garden is open between June and September each year and there are over 30,000 roses on display.
At the end of Park Wood (at 6.65 miles into the stage), turn left over a stile to follow a path around to the left and along the edge of the wood. This leads to a conveniently positioned footbridge over the M10 motorway. Cross over the footbridge.
The footbridge has recently been reopened after being damaged by vandals in 2004 – they stole the metal railings. It took the council a few years to repair it and caused a lot of inconvenience. As you can see from walking over the bridge, the motorway cuts straight through the wood – I suppose this is called progress.
Continue along the path keeping the wood to your LHS. On reaching the corner of the wood turn left with the wood still to your LHS. After just 50 yards, turn right on a footpath directly away from the wood and downhill, across a large field (now 7 miles into the stage). In the distance you get a good view of St Albans. At the bottom go through a hedge then turn left through a grassy area to enter a modern housing development.
All of the streets in this area are quite modern, but have Roman names thus reflecting St Alban’s history, and unless you know the area well it is difficult to find your way out by road. However, whether by sheer fluke or good council planning, there is a very direct path which cuts straight through the house to where we want to go.
Pass the side of the first house, then immediately turn right along the pavement in front of the house and go straight on along a path between houses. The path cuts straight through, crossing roads and between houses. It eventually leads past St Alban School Playing Fields to King Harry Lane.
Go left along the pavement for a few yards to cross over the road using the pelican crossing. At the opposite side turn right and after just a few yards turn left onto a path away from the road and leading downhill along the Roman Wall of Verulamium Park.
The path through the park eventually leads past a lake to your LHS and over a bridge across the River Ver. Immediately over the river turn right in front of Ye Olde Fighting Cocks pub. Continue along the river, keeping it to the right, and into the grounds of the Abbey. Go straight on along a path through the grounds with the Abbey on the hill to the left. At the other end follow the path as it becomes enclosed and leads to a road. Turn right along the road to a T-junction with Holywell Hill. Turn right along the pavement to cross over the River Ver and 80 yards further to the finish of the stage at the entrance to Westminster Lodge Leisure Centre.
On the last mile of the stage through St Albans there are great views of the Abbey, the Roman remains, the lakes and the river from the path through the park. Ye Olde Fighting Cocks is one of many old inns in the city and claims to be the oldest inhabited licensed house in England. The Guinness Book of Records lists it as the “Oldest Inn in Britain”. Parts of the pub date from the 8th Century, but most of what is seen today dates from the 11th Century. Oliver Cromwell is reported to have stayed here during the English civil war. It was originally known as the Round House but this was changed to its current name in the late 19th Century due to the sport of cockfighting being held here. Thankfully this barbaric sport was banned in all of the UK by 1895, but is still legal in some countries in the world.
St Albans as a settlement goes back to well over 2000 years ago. It was originally a Celtic Iron Age settlement called Verlamion, meaning “the settlement above the marsh”. It is a city steeped in history with many old buildings, including the Roman Verulamium with its unique Verulamium Theatre, the 14th Century Abbey Gateway, the 15th Century Clock Tower which retains its original bell, the Marlborough Almshouses of 1736 and the many old houses in Fishpool Street, to mention a few.
The town was one of the first built by the Romans after their invasion in 43 AD and went on to become one of the largest towns in Roman Britain. It was completely destroyed by Queen Boadicea in an uprising in 60 – 61 AD, but rebuilt even larger, by the Romans in the following years.
Boudica and her husband King Prasutagus ruled over the Iceni tribe of East Anglia in an area now we know as Norfolk. Cassius Dio, the Roman historian recorded about her:
“In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh; a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace; and she wore a tunic of divers colours over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch. This was her invariable attire.”
When the Romans invaded southern England in 43 AD Prasutagus allied with them. This enabled the tribe to keep their independence and afford Boadicea and Prasutagus a lavish lifestyle. Before his death Prasutagus willed his lands jointly to the Roman Emperor and his wife and two daughters, hoping to keep his bloodline in place. However, the Romans did not believe in female inheritance. When Prasutagus died Boadicea’s lands and property were confiscated by Suetonius Paulinus, the Roman Governor of Britain at the time. She was publicly flogged and her daughters were raped by Roman slaves. The Iceni were outraged and rose up under Boadicea. They sacked Colchester, torturing, raping and killing the inhabitants. They burnt their houses and desecrated their burial grounds. London and Verulamium were next to suffer the same fate at the hands of the Warrior Queen. In total around 70,000 died in the three places. When the Roman Army finally caught up with Boudica, her huge army was defeated in the Battle of Watling Street by the smaller but more tactful Roman army. They systematically slaughtered the Iceni warriors and their families. It is claimed that between 100,000 and 250,000 died, wiping out almost all of the Iceni tribe. Boudica survived the battle, but later poisoned herself and her daughters so as not to be taken as prisoners.
The Roman Army eventually departed in 410 AD, and the Verulamium fell into decay. By the time of the Doomsday Book (1086), St Albans was recorded as having a population of only 500. However, the town soon started to grow and again became an important settlement. It was chosen by the Barons and the Clergy as one of the five places where Magna Carta was drawn up and figured highly in the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381. Today there remains many visible signs of the Roman presence and the history of the occupation is well depicted in Verulamium Museum with its model of the Roman Town.
The Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban has an exceptionally long nave and dates from Norman times. It was built on what is believed to be the site where St Alban, Britain's first Christian martyr, was killed. According to English historian John Morris, Alban was executed in 209 AD in the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus, although this is disputed by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles which puts the date as 283 AD and by the Venerable Bede who suggested it was around 304 AD in the reign of Diocletian, an Emperor known for his persecution of Christians. Alban was a Briton and also a Roman citizen. He sheltered a priest called Amphibalus who converted Alban to Christianity. Alban protected the priest by changing cloaks with him and was arrested in his place. The Roman judge was furious when Alban’s cloak was removed and the deception was realised. Alban was tortured, ordered to denounce his Christianity and give sacrifice to the Roman gods. He refused to recant, reaffirmed his faith saying “I worship and adore the true and living God, who created all things”. For his actions, Alban was taken to a hill across the river from Verulamium and was executed. A monastic shrine to St Alban was built here around the 4th Century, and later, in 793AD, Offa, King of Mercia, founded an abbey and restarted the monastery.
There are several legends associated with Alban’s beheading. One states that on the way to his execution he was unable to cross the river using the bridge as it was crowded with onlookers. Instead he parted the waters and walked across the dry river bed. On seeing this, his executioner was so amazed he immediately converted to Christianity and refused to carry out his job. A replacement was soon found and as he cut off Alban’s head the executioners eyes were said to have dropped out of his head. The original executioner was also beheaded for refusing to obey his orders.
The present Abbey was begun in 1077 AD, yet a lot was destroyed with the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536 – 1541) under Henry VIII. In 1877 St Albans received a Royal Charter, giving it city status and the Abbey became a cathedral. In the 1880's Edmund Beckett, 1st Baron Grimthorpe and a wealthy businessman, restored the Abbey to its present state. He died on 29th April 1905 and is buried in the Abbey grounds. The Abbey still contains St Alban’s Shrine which has been visited by pilgrims for almost 1800 years. It also has a shrine to Amphibalus, the priest whom Alban was trying to protect. Although he had escaped originally, he was later captured and also martyred by the Romans.
There are many other old churches in the City, including St Michael's, founded by Abbot Ulsinus in 948. It is where Sir Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626) is buried. The church also houses Bacon's Monument. He was the 1st Baron Verulam, Viscount St Albans, an English philosopher, lawyer and politician. He lived close by at Gorhambury House, which he inherited when his brother died in 1601. The present Gorhambury House was built in the late 18th Century and replaced the older 16th Century one where Bacon lived and remains the seat of the Earl of Verulam. The ruins of Bacon's house can still be seen in the grounds.
Charles Williams (1886-1945), the prolific English writer, as a boy lived at 15 Victoria Street and went to St Albans School. He was a member of the Oxford literary group, the "Inklings" whose other members included C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien. The house was knocked down in 1981 to make way for the Maltings Shopping Centre. However, there is a blue plaque on the building to commemorate his former home.
Two great battles of the Wars of the Roses (1455 - 1487) were fought at St Albans, one on 22nd May in 1455 and the second on 17th February 1461. The wars took place between 1455 and 1487. They were a consequence of a feud over the throne of England between the Yorkists (white rose) led by Richard, Duke of York and the Lancastrians (red rose) led by King Henry VI. Henry was not a strong king, he had bouts of mental illness, He was not being very successful in the war with France and Richard blamed this on the influence of his advisors, especially the Duke of Somerset.
Both factions had legitimate claims as they were directly descended from Richard III. When the first battle of the wars commenced at St Albans on 22nd May 1455 it took a lot of people by surprise as most did not believe there would be a military engagement. 3,000 Yorkists led by Richard, Duke of York and Richard, Earl of Warwick defeated the king’s army of 2,000. Henry VI was injured by an arrow during the battle. He took refuge in a local tannery, but was soon found by his enemies. He was taken prisoner and was held in the Abbey. Many of his supporters died including Henry Percy, 2nd Earl of Northumberland, Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset, Thomas de Clifford, 8th Baron Clifford and Sir William Chamberlain. In total the king’s army lost a few hundred men. Some of the nobles slain in the battle were laid to rest in the Lady Church at the Abbey.
With Somerset now dead the two sides reconciled their differences for a while. However, on 23rd September 1459 at the Battle of Blore Heath, hostilities resumed. Four battles later and with advantage moving back and forth, Henry was once again a captive of the Yorkists. On 17th February 1461, Henry’s wife Margaret of Anjou with the new 3rd Duke of Somerset led 25,000 soldiers to attacked Richard, Earl of Warwick and his similar sized army at the 2nd Battle of St Albans. In defeat, Warwick fled and left his hostage behind. The king was found sitting under a tree in the town. After the battle the king and queen went to pray at the abbey for thanks for their victory.
The battles continued, sometimes with breaks until 1486, when after the Battle of Bosworth Field, Henry Tudor became King Henry VII and united the two houses by marrying Elizabeth of York.
Today if you walk around the centre of St Albans you will be treading the same steps and even passing some of the buildings that the soldiers in these battles did over 500 years ago. Holywell Hill and the Market Place are just two of the places referred to in stories of the battles.
William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616), although not always historically correct, covers the wars in Henry VI (parts 1, 2 & 3) and in Richard III.
During the first English Civil War (1642-45) St Albans sided with parliament against the Crown. However, in 1643 when the High Sherriff of Hertfordshire was reading a royal proclamation from the steps of the Eleanor Cross outside the Clock Tower, he was unfortunate to soon find out that at the same time Cromwell and a group of his men were riding up Holywell Hill towards him. He was arrested and soon on his way to the Tower of London.
In more recent times you can say that another great battle which takes place every two years had its roots in St Albans. "Ryder and Son" had a seed merchants here. Sam Ryder (1858 – 1936) is better known today as the founder of the golfing competition, the Ryder Cup. His own club, the Verulam Golf Club, to the south of the city and which we pass on leaving St Albans via the Alban Way, is the original home of the Ryder Cup and is where he developed the competition.
This old town has a lot of history, connections with many famous people and has been much used in film-making and television. If I were to list it all it would go cover many more pages. However, you can read more by visiting the St Albans entry at Wikipedia.
Before leaving St Albans, I’ll direct you to a very interesting website named www.salbani.co.uk. It has lots of information about the archaeology and history of the city, with maps, photos and sketches.
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