First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Flamstead sits in the gently undulating clay-and-flint country where Hertfordshire slips over into Bedfordshire. On this spring morning bright sunlight played on the tile-hung houses, and lit the pleasing jumble of brick, flint and thin old tiles that composes the church of St Leonard at the heart of the village.
It was a day in a thousand, woods and fields all bursting into life under the warm sun. Central London lay less than an hour away – how could that possibly be? Luton-bound aeroplanes passed silently like silver fish across the blue pool of the sky; but down here, walking through the spring wheat with flints jingling under our boots, we felt as remote from them as could be.
Beyond the busy main street of Markyate we came into more rolling ploughlands where beans were beginning to push up dark green leaves in neatly drilled rows. A faint heat ripple shimmered above the sun-warmed clay. In the woods around Roe End the beeches were just coming into leaf, their upper works a froth of tender translucent green, a contrast to the sombre density of the storm-tattered cedars in the former parkland of Beechwood House.
Some of the ancient oaks standing barkless like dry ghosts might be old enough to have sheltered the wicked Lady of Cell Park, Markyate. The legend that attaches to Lady Katherine Ferrers is well known hereabouts – her marriage in 1648 at the age of fourteen to the heir of Beechwood, the robbing expeditions she embarked on with her highwayman lover, their hideout in Beechwood Park, and the bullet that ended her life at twenty-six. Are the youngsters who attend school in the great mansion nowadays taught that racy tale? Let’s hope so.
Beyond Beechwood Park we followed the stony old trackway of Dean Lane, where two blackcaps were conducting a song battle from the hedges. Dean Wood is a magical sort of place, sun-silvered and wren-haunted. We drifted on in a daze of sunlight, past the duck pond at The Lane House, a tumbling old cottage of many corners and nooks, and back toward Flamstead through woods hazed with bluebells, where wild cherry trees lifted a froth of pink blossom against the deep blue sky.
Start: Three Blackbirds PH, Flamstead, Herts, AL3 8BS (OS ref TL 078146).
Getting there: Bus service 34 (St Albans-Dunstable), 46 (Hemel Hempstead-Luton)
Road – Flamstead is signed off A5 Dunstable road, just west of M1 Jct 9.
Walk (8½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 182): Right along Chapel Road, left down Friendless Lane. At fork with Mill Lane, right; in 200m, right (073146, Hertfordshire Way/HW). Follow HW waymarks to Markyate. At road, right to village street (662164). Left for 50m; left along Buckwood Road. By last house on left, left (057164, HW); follow HW waymarks for 3 miles to Jockey End via Roe End (048156), Kennels Lodge (040149), Beechwood House (046145) and Dean Lane (048141 – 042140). In Jockey End, left along road (041137); in 150m, right past allotments. At gate, leave HW and turn left (041134, yellow arrow). Fenced path through paddocks, across road (044131); field, paddocks, white arrow to The Lane House drive (048128).
Left here on Chiltern Way/CW; follow CW waymarks to Flamstead via road at Prior’s Spring (055136), Little Woodend Cottages (058136), Wood End Lane (067137) and Pietley Hill (073142).
Lunch: Three Blackbirds (01582-840330, threeblackbirdsflamstead.co.uk) or Spotted Dog (01582-841004, thespotteddog.co.uk), Flamstead.
Info: St Albans TIC (01727-864511)
Online maps, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk
Dawn Chorus Walk, 7 May: College Lakes Nature Reserve, Tring, Herts – bbowt.org.uk/events/2017/05/07/dawn-chorus-0