First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A cold, cloudy morning had settled over Hertfordshire, but that hadn’t stopped the thrushes fluting their triple phrases in the trees around Aspenden. What a pretty place, all plastered cottages and deep thatched roofs. The bells of St Mary’s Church rang us out of the village, past park-like paddocks and on west between hedges thick with crab apple blossom and dog roses. We stooped to sift flints out of the dark earth of the fields, looking for the bevelled edges that might betray a scraper or arrow-head worked thousands of years ago.
Beyond Tannis Court lay a thicket full of early purple orchids and rain-spotted silverweed fronds. ‘Moat’ said the map, and there it was, a shadowy dip behind the trees, full of mossy boughs and a glint of water. Site of the old manor house? Bruno the black labrador, who came up to inspect us, couldn’t have cared less. Curiosity satisfied, he turned his attention to a rank piece of fox-stinking hedge, while his owner gave us a cheery hello.
We turned down a lane past impossibly pretty Rumbolds under its thatch, and came to Back Lane. The rutted green lane was far too long and unwavering to be anything other than a Roman road – Stane Street, in fact. The cross-country road from St Albans to Colchester had been made two thousand years ago by men who left thick red tile fragments and oyster shells to be kicked out of the earth by today’s walkers.
The Sunday rambling club of the Letchworth Arts and Leisure Group came shouting and laughing along Back Lane. Where were they heading? ‘Haven’t a clue,’ they chortled, ‘we’ve left our leader behind back there, and he hasn’t caught up yet!’
Forget-me-nots, the blue trumpets of self-heal, white stars of stitchwort, drifts of bluebells. This was a really delightful old highway, hedged and ditched, passing in secret through the countryside. We left it near Cherry Green, and followed the muddy path to Button Snap.
In the early 19th century the curiously named little cottage, remote then as now, belonged to poet and essayist Charles Lamb. Poor dutiful Lamb with his crippling stutter and his failed love affairs, claustrophobically entwined with his bipolar sister Mary who had stabbed their mother to death in a fit of mania. Walking on along the lane to Aspenden it was good to think of the twitchy poet striding the garden at Button Snap, liberated from mental strife for a few hours at least among the wide green fields of Hertfordshire.
Start & finish: Fox Inn, Aspenden, Herts SG9 9PD (OS ref TL 361282)
Getting there: Centrebus (www.intalink.org.uk) Service 700 (Stevenage-Stansted) to Buntingford (1 mile). Road: A10 to Buntingford, minor road to Aspenden
Walk (7 miles, easy grade, OS Explorer 194): Leaving Fox Inn, left along road. Ahead at bend near church (‘Bridleway 003’). In 400 yards follow 001/Buttermilk Farm, then 007/Tannis Court. At ‘Private Property’ notice in 2/3 mile, right (yellow arrows/YA) past Tannis Court, over Old Bourne stream (333283) and through thicket with moat. Emerging (319285), cross field to road. Left past Rumbolds to Cottered Warren. Right opposite The Lodge, then left (014/Moor Green) between ex-barn houses, through gate (YA) and on (YA) to Back Lane Roman road (320277). Left (red arrow) for 1 3/4 miles. Cross valley bottom; through gate; in 300 yards, left (blue arrows) to Button Snap (348265). Left, passing Wakeley Farm entrance, on track for 1½ miles to Aspenden.
NB – Detailed directions, online map, more walks: www.christophersomerville.co.uk
Lunch: Fox Inn, Aspenden (01763-271886; www.theferryhouseinn.co.uk) – really good, friendly place
More info: Sittingbourne TIC (01438-737333); www.enjoyhertfordshire.com