The benefits of getting outside for exercise in green spaces and the countryside are now well-known, and winter walking could be especially beneficial. Here we present our ideas for winter walking routes around the county.
People report being able to think more clearly after exposure to colder weather and our bodies burn more calories to keep us warm. Research suggests that two hours a week spent outside in a natural environment is enough to boost energy levels and put us in a better mood.
Birds are easier to see among the bare branches of trees and hedges this time of year. Look out for winter visitors which come to the UK to escape colder weather further north. These include fieldfares and redwings, relatives of our resident thrushes, and waxwings. Our robins continue to sing throughout the winter, and other wild birds break their long silence early in the new year, as the males start to sing for the first time since midsummer, to establish territories and attract a mate. Listen out for the shrill song of the tiny wren, melodious blackbirds and the persistent ‘teacher, teacher’ call of great tits.
CPRE Hertfordshire Winter Walking Routes
Each walk on our website features a map, route description and photographs to aid navigation. Be prepared for cold weather and muddy conditions underfoot and remember that midwinter days are short.
Hertfordshire bus information is on www.intalink.org.uk. Bus services may not operate on Sundays or public holidays.
Here are our ideas for midwinter walks. They are all circular, starting and finishing in the same place.
Wallington and Clothall Just under 5 miles (plus a shorter option). Starts in Wallington, 3 miles east of Baldock. Mainly flat, with a short climb beyond Clothall.
Public transport: a new dial-up minibus service operates in the local area: www.intalink.org.uk/hertslynx
Food and drink: take your own as there are no pubs near the route.
The novelist George Orwell lived for a while in Wallington and is thought to have based his book Animal Farm on a farm in the village. The route follows the Hertfordshire Way to Clothall, then returns via the Icknield Way trail along a high ridge with far-reaching views. Best completed on a clear bright day.
Look out for: historic buildings in the villages, 15th century pews in Wallington Church, and rare 14th and 15th century stained glass in Clothall Church depicting leaves and birds.
Bencroft and Wormley Woods 4½ miles. Starts in Bencroft Wood West car park in White Stubbs Lane, 4 miles south of Hertford. Mainly flat.
Public Transport: Bayford station (on the line to Hertford North) is 1½ miles approx. from the edge of Wormley Wood. Bus route 251 links stations in the Lea Valley to Hammond Street, close to the southern part of the walk.
Food and drink: The Farmer’s Boy pub at Brickendon.
Wormley Wood is part of Hertfordshire’s only National Nature Reserve. The main tree species are oak and hornbeam. There are several ponds and the wood is a stronghold for great spotted woodpeckers and hawfinch.
Look out for: woodland birds, ancient hornbeam pollards and woodland banks.
Shenley and Radlett Just over 4½ miles. Starts in the Shenley Park car park off Radlett Lane. Slight hills.
Public Transport: Bus number 602 links to railway stations in Hatfield, St Albans, Bushey and Watford and stops at Shenley Park.
Food and drink: The Café in the Orchard in Shenley Park. Several options in Shenley and Radlett.
This route inside the M25 follows sections of the Watling Chase Timberland Trail and the Hertfordshire Way. Mainly in open countryside, the walk goes through several woods and also skirts the edges of Radlett and Shenley. Recommended on a fine day to enjoy the amazing views – among the best in southern Hertfordshire.
Look out for: the apple orchard and walled garden in Shenley Park. Two Second World War pill boxes near the start of the route were part of the Outer London Defence Ring built in 1940.
Whippendell and Harrocks Woods, the Grand Union Canal and Cassiobury Park A 5 mile figure-of-eight route starts in the Whippendell Woods car park in Grove Mill Lane, west of Watford. Mainly flat with a few gentle hills.
Public Transport: From the Metropolitan Underground station at Watford walk across Cassiobury Park to join the route. The 500 bus from Watford to Aylesbury runs along Hempstead Road in Watford – ask for the Grove Mill Lane stop. Join the walk via the canal towpath (this adds a mile).
Food and Drink: Various cafés in Cassiobury Park, including one on a moored canal boat.
Another route inside the M25, which is arranged in two shorter loops if the whole route is too long. Both woods are valuable wildlife sites and mostly ancient woodland. Cassiobury Park was formerly owned by the Earls of Essex and landscaped in the early 19th century by Repton.
Look out for: woodland birds including all three native woodpecker species (you will be lucky if you see the rare lesser spotted woodpecker), as well as tawny owls and sparrowhawks. The route passes the site of a former watermill by a weir on the river Gade, one of the county’s chalk streams.
Tring Park and Hastoe Just over 4 miles. Starts in the car park close to Tring Museum. Some climbs and descents.
Public Transport: Tring is on the 500 bus route from Watford and Aylesbury. There is also a bus route connecting the town centre to Tring railway station.
Food and Drink: Numerous options in Tring and at the Museum. Pub in Wigginton (adds a mile to the route).
Tring Park is a designed landscape with grassed areas and woodland. A climb brings you to the high level route above the park with fine views. Reaching the highest point in the county at 803 feet, the walk then descends the wooded Chilterns scarp. Towards the end of the walk there is a fine view towards Ivinghoe Beacon. The whole route is within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Look out for: Tring Museum’s natural history collection assembled by Walter Rothschild; the designed landscape including a summer house and obelisk; hollow ways – routes eroded into the underlying chalk by centuries of local villagers herding their livestock to and from hilltop pastures.
Ayot Greenway and the Lea Valley Just over 4½ miles. Starts in the Ayot Greenway car park in Ayot Green, just west of the A1 and west of Welwyn Garden City. Mostly level, with one short steep descent (with a handrail).
Public Transport: The 366 bus links the centre of Welwyn Garden City (bus and rail stations) to Lemsford – access the route one third of a mile from Lemsford. Also connects to Harpenden and Luton.
Food and Drink: Pubs in Lemsford and Ayot Green.
The route runs through the Brocket Hall estate, then heads upstream along a secluded section of the Lea Valley Walk before joining the Ayot Greenway (on a disused railway line), from where there are lovely views.
Look out for: the Palladian Bridge over the Broadwater lake by Brocket Hall.
Sandridge 4¼ miles. Start in Sandridge Village on the B651 north of St Albans. Park next to the village hall or in the Heartwood Forest. Gentle inclines.
Public transport: Buses 304 and 357 stop in the village and connect with Hitchin, St Albans, Harpenden and Borehamwood (all have rail connections).
Food and Drink: Three pubs and a village store in Sandridge.
An appealing walk through fields and woodland with pleasant views. The route runs through the Woodland Trust’s Heartwood Forest, the largest continuous new native forest in England. The area witnessed skirmishes in the Second Battle of St Albans during the Wars of the Roses in 1461.
Look out for: the more than 600,000 trees planted since the Woodland Trust acquired the 858 acres (347 hectares) of Heartwood Forest in 2008. There is a community orchard, and an arboretum planted with all 60 of the UK’s native tree species. There are also remnants of ancient woodland and open grassland. There has been a church in Sandridge since around 750AD. The present building dates from the 12th century, and was substantially altered in the 19th.
Aston and Hook’s Cross 4¼ miles. Start in Aston just to the east of Stevenage. Park with care in the village. Mostly flat with gentle hills.
Public Transport: Buses 383 and 390 run along the A602 through Hook’s Cross with a very infrequent service to Aston. They connect to Stevenage, Ware and Hertford railway stations.
Food and Drink: Pubs in Aston and Hook’s Cross.
From the walk there are fine views across the river Beane valley. Sadly in the vicinity of Stevenage this chalk stream has been heavily impacted by abstractions for the public water supply, and at times may be dry. There is an optional detour into Astonbury Wood, which after a successful appeal is being acquired by the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust.
Look out for: ancient oak trees in Astonbury Woods.