First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A grey, cold and blowy day in south Hertfordshire, with the sky set to clear towards the end of the short winter’s day. We started out across the wide recreation ground at Chipperfield, where the village was going about its business – walls being mended, fences put right, young voices yelling in the school playground and a man mowing the damp green circle of the cricket field.
Chipperfield Common was a tangle of holly and laurel under pine, oak and silver birch. A natural saddle between two stems of an old oak had been polished black and shiny by the feet of countless climbing children.
A track sticky with the characteristic dark mud of winter led south by Hillmeads Farm where a horse snickered and hooves rattled on a hard track somewhere out of sight. This corner of Hertfordshire gives the impression of secret country, where farmhouses and barns lie hidden in clefts between two low ridges or behind a humpbacked wood.
Beyond Commonwood we joined the Chiltern Way path and caught a glimpse of red brick Great Sarratt Hall, surely the model for ‘Sarratt’, the training school and interrogation centre for well-bred spies that John Le Carré nicknames ‘the nursery’ in his George Smiley novels.
Irresistible, the thought of Old Craw the profane Australian lecturing the ‘monsignors’ and ‘your Graces’ in the bowels of the hall, or Jim Prideaux and his sniper’s rifle creeping through Rosehall Wood to take out the mole and traitor Bill Haydon.
In a field among horses in winter coats, we were struck still and silent by the spectacle of two foxes racing past, a vixen pursued by a big dog fox with a white tip to its tail. They crossed the field at an easy canter, the vixen slipping through the hedge and the dog turning away as though entirely satisfied with his entertainment.
Below Rose Hill Farm a tractor was cutting the leafless hedges into a wildlife-friendly A-shaped profile, well before nesting season. A jay gave out its harsh tearing complaint of a call from a copse before swooping away low to the ground with strong quick wing beats and a flash of white rump.
A gleam of weak sun slipped between the clouds, a crack of ice blue broadened across the sky, and instantly the hazels and field maples along the homeward path were a-twitter with goldfinches and long-tailed tits, making the most of the last hour of daylight.
How hard is it? 5½ miles; easy; waymarked trails
Start: Village green car park, Chipperfield, Hemel Hempstead, Herts WD4 9BS (OS ref TL 045015)
Getting there: Bus 352 (Watford-Hemel Hempstead)
Road: Chipperfield is signed from A4251 in Kings Langley (M25, Jct 20)
Walk (OS Explorers 182, 172): Cross recreation ground, keeping left of old chapel. Head south across Chipperfield Common. In 500m at far side, ahead through barrier (042011, ‘Sarratt Parish Footpath’). In 250m at lane, ahead (042008, ‘Commonwood’) past Hillmeads and on. In 150m fork left (042005); at road by Dellfield House dogleg right/left; up steps (043001, ‘Sarratt Green); on to road at Old Forge (040999). Dogleg right/left; follow Moor Lane for 400m, right (037997, ‘Chiltern Way’/CW). Follow well marked CW for 2¼ miles via Rose Hall Farm (031005), road at Bragman’s Farm (027006), right/left dogleg at Newhouse Farm (022007, ‘Flaunden’), road at Flaunden (018009), T-junction at Black Robins Farm (020011) and Lower Plantation. At Holly Hedges Lane (024016), right on Hertfordshire Way/HW for 1½ miles back to Chipperfield.
Lunch/Accommodation: Two Brewers, Chipperfield WD4 9BS (01923-265266, chefandbrewer.com)