Leg 29 Great Hormead to Barkway

In which the deer reappear and the end is almost in sight

The forecast showed 45 mph winds on Saturday so we decided we had better things to do, including the standard "not parkrun". This marked exactly a year since my last parkrun, Ellenbrook Fields on 14th March 2020, and there won't be another until June this year at the earliest. The forecast for Sunday still had 20 mph winds but looked promising enough. We made an early start but it was looking a bit gloomy as we approached Hare Street. There were red kites on the ground in field in Hare Street just like last week. There had been much debate about possible parking places but in the end we found a space near the road junction which was exactly where we wanted to be.

The first road up the hill was quite steep and Helen was puffing by the time we got to the top. I did an extra 20 metres to get a photo to prove that we really were starting at The Old Cesspit and then it was across a field back down to the road. We came out just past where we had left the car ten minutes before. The road through the village was lined with the normal assortment of large buildings including Dane House. Helen was at university with someone who lived there forty years ago.

We passed Hormead Hall and found the first primroses of spring had come out. This was now the start of the large fields that would be typical of the rest of the day. Two long lines of pylons dominated the skyline as they ran into the distance towards St Ippolyts near Little Wymondley where we had crossed them on Leg 4. To the north we got a first glimpse of the tall radio mast just beyond Barkway.

We dropped down towards Anstey through a large area of newly planted trees each with its own red label. The road then led up to St George's church. The entrance to the churchyard was through a mediaeval tripartite lych gate (or a wide gatehouse if you prefer). We headed past the church and found the latest motte and bailey: a very large hill in the middle of the moat behind Anstey Hall. The old stables had been converted to houses and lay along the edge of the churchyard with gravestones almost up to the windows. Primroses and crocuses glowed in the sunshine.

We set off along the road through the village, passing Anstey Hall next to the church, the Blind Fiddler pub, a road junction with a water pump in a wooden shelter and then Anstey Chapel. The final terraced row of cottages along the road were all painted in slightly different shades of white much to Helen's annoyance. At this point we turned onto a path and started heading around the edge of Scales Park wood. This is quite large and looked surprisingly runnable although flat and featureless: welcome to East Anglia. We had now reached what used to be the main runway of Nuthampstead airfield. This was a USAAF airfield known as Station 131. It was built in 1942 and was home to P-38 Lightning fighters and then B-17 bombers. After the airfield closed in 1959 much of the concrete was broken up and used as hardcore for the M1. The line of the runway is now marked by a plantation of quite large mature pine trees.

We ran along a remaining taxiway parallel to the trees and a familiar object soon appeared. This was our third VOR after Bovingdon on Leg 11 and Brookmans Park on Leg 18. Just as Brookmans Park VOR is in fact just outside Bayford so this was Barkway VOR just outside Nuthampstead. There were old airfield buildings in the distance and beyond them was a strange bright green hill. We couldn't decide if this was a planted field or a roof on an enormous barn. Helen eventually got out the binoculars and decided it was a green tarpaulin over a big earth bank. The map shows this was Nuthampstead Shooting Ground which hosts clay pigeon shooting.

The path headed left away from the airfield and towards Nuthampstead airfield museum and The Woodman Inn. The pub is marked by an axe on top of the thatched roof. On the edge of the car park are memorials to the 398th Bombardment Group and the 55th Fighter Group that were based on the airfield.

The next farm had a bull on the weather-vane, warnings about bulls on the gate into the fields and finally a bull in a barn. The rooks had started to nest in the trees beyond the farm and seemed to be veering towards "high for dry" so maybe this summer will be OK. A short stretch along the edge of another large wood and we dropped down to cross the River Quin next to a group of recently modernised farm buildings. The array of cars parked outside included two Teslas but the only access appeared to be down a long potholed track which didn't look ideal.

We came out onto the main road through Barkway which consists of yet another long sequence of old houses like Much Hadham and Hare Street. A road sign warned of ducks just before we came to the pond with a village sign and views of the church tower. The next turn off the main road took us to St Mary Magdalene church and we had reached the end of the Hertfordshire Way for today.

Well almost. Our route back to Great Hormead followed the Hertfordshire Way for the first 500 metres. But at the next crossroads we headed straight on rather than turning right as we will do next time we are here. A large solar farm was partially hidden behind the trees. Two horse riders came towards us on the path, one on what looked like a short, stocky carthorse. By this stage we had decided it was time for snacks so the handy bench on the path corner seemed a good place even if it was a little windy. It turned out there was a much better bench in the sunshine and out of the wind not long after but we weren't to know that at the time.

I took a short detour through some blackthorn and bramble to get a closer look at the solar farm just as a pheasant flew across it. Helen meanwhile had kept running and it took some time to catch her up by which time she had reached some even bigger fields with extensive views. Behind us was a view of the radio mast beyond Barkway that we had been heading for all morning, along with views of Reed church which we will visit on the final leg and another large radio mast behind it which marks where the Hertfordshire Way finally heads down towards Royston.

Off to the right there was a distant view of St Andrew's church, Buckland. And in front across the latest windswept ploughed field was an extremely large haystack on the skyline that got even larger as we approached and eventually reached and ran past. It turned out to be eight large cylindrical bales high which is probably close to eight metres.

The footpath signs started having a new "GMT" marker on them which turns out to be the Greenwich Meridian Trail. The next ploughed field had a signpost pointing vaguely towards the middle but no obvious path through the wheat that was starting to grow. We checked the map and decided that we needed to be heading straight at the pylon on the skyline. At that point I spotted a large herd of deer jut below the skyline. As I was trying to get a first photograph I spotted two small brown shapes disappearing off across the field to the right. These were two hares who sprinted off until well out of sight.

The herd looked strangely familiar. It was about the same size as the one from the previous leg (I counted 111 in the photos this time, and had about the same number of white deer. But as we got a bit closer we could see several more sets of antlers than last week, including a white deer with antlers So this certainly wasn't exactly the same herd.

We ran around the edge of Wyddial Hall estate with its large cedar tree in the middle of parkland and its moat around farm buildings (no swimming - deep water!) and then came out on the road in Wyddial. We decided that a short loop through the village wouldn't add too much distance and would help us avoid the noisy group of walkers and dogs just ahead. The grounds of Wyddial Hall lay behind neat holly hedges and then we arrived at St Giles church. On the other side of the road the was a garden full of statuary (life size baby elephant, human sized mouse, fountain from a small town square) and right next to it we found the unexpected bonus of a Greenwich Meridian marker on the side of road, complete with "millennium tree line" oak tree and plaque. Eventually the grounds of Wyddial Hall ran out and turned into the grounds of The Old Vicarage which were nearly as big.

Another ploughed field took us past the walkers we had been trying to avoid and then it was back under the pylons and over a road and we had reached the final crossing of the mighty River Quin. At this point it as the odd puddle in the bottom of a treelined ditch. Yet again there was no obvious path across the ploughed field so we decided to stick to the grassy strip round the edge. An uphill section gave an excuse to walk up and around a small wooded area. Later investigation showed that this used to be the site of two windmills. I can tell you this since I am currently reading "Wind, water and steam. The story of Hertfordshire's mills", inspired by the various mills we have seen around the county.

The final red kites of the day flew overhead as we dropped back down the hill into Great Hormead and came out on the road right next to the car. One leg to go.


Leg 30 Barkway to Royston


Leg 28 Patmore Heath to Great Hormead

Date: Sunday, March 14, 2021

Distance: 22.0km

Climb: 231m

High: 143m

Low: 89m

Time: 3 hours 25 minutes

From: The Old Cesspit, Great Hormead

To: St Mary Magdalene church, Barkway

Snack: Apple and blackcurrant pies

Orienteering maps: None

Leg profile


Leg 30 Barkway to Royston


Leg 28 Patmore Heath to Great Hormead