Monday 27th May 2013
Toilets: East Lane Car Park, Wheathampstead; pubs in Wheathampstead; The Waggoners, Ayot Green; Red Lion, Ayot Green; pubs and restaurants in Welwyn Garden City; Howard Centre, Welwyn Garden City; platforms at Welwyn Garden City Station.
We wanted to go for a slightly shorter walk than usual, so we chose an easy, disused railway route, the Ayot Greenway. There are a couple of websites suggesting it’s only two-and-a-half miles long, but this is definitely not the case. There were signposts along the route, indicating its five-mile length. We took a train to St Albans, then the 304 bus to Wheathampstead (£3.40 per person). The bus didn’t go very often, so we had to check the timetable carefully. Wheathampstead was very picturesque.
The location of the old station was near a roundabout on the corner of Station Road and Codicote Road. A couple of years ago, local volunteers cleared away vegetation from the platform, installing new station signs and benches.
We then set off along the Ayot Greenway itself. The path was improved a couple of years ago – the first part was a bit gravelly, but most of the route was on compacted earth which was quite comfortable to walk on. I was glad I’d risked wearing trainers instead of walking boots. I don’t think walking boots would be essential unless it’d been raining a lot, or maybe during the winter months.
Last year we walked along another disused railway route, the Nickey Line, in the middle of January. Being in a railway cutting, it was very shaded by trees and I realised that these types of routes would be perfect for summer, so this time we’d chosen an excellent day for it.
There wasn’t much signposting, which wasn’t a problem most of the time as the route was generally obvious, however we did have to pay attention to the map after the first section where it met Cory-Wright Way. The path turned left under the road, then straight on for a short while before the correct right turn was signposted.
I’d found a couple of blog posts suggesting the route was a bit boring. While I’ll agree it wasn’t the most varied walk we’d ever done, there was still plenty of open countryside to be seen and plenty of attractive views over fields. Unlike the Nickey Line, the Ayot Greenway wasn’t in a particularly deep cutting and we didn’t feel too fenced in. It was an enjoyable afternoon.
The walking route didn’t follow the railway cutting under the A1(M) motorway, so we took a right turn into the village of Ayot Green. It looked like a beautiful, traditional village, but was very noisy due to the traffic nearby. I can only imagine the outrage when the road was built, as it must’ve been an exceptionally tranquil place before then.
Before taking the road over the motorway, we took a right turn to the Waggoners, where we stopped for a quick drink. There was a lovely garden at the back, but the pub was far older than the motorway, and I’m sure it must’ve been a much more peaceful experience in the past. After crossing the road bridge and turning left we saw another pub called the Red Lion, although we didn’t stop by. Having looked at both their websites, it appears that the Waggoners has practically nothing vegetarian on their menu, whereas the Red Lion actually has its own separate vegetarian menu, along with some interesting drinks. If we do the walk again and want to stop for lunch, I know which one I’ll be choosing.
After crossing the road, we walked through Sherrardspark Wood, with lots of shade. We followed the ex-railway line as far as we could, and were surprised when it continued under Digswell Road, where we’d expected it to end. We ended up emerging at a college.
Welwyn Garden City was created in 1920 and designated a New Town in 1948. It was created as part of an idealistic vision of being a perfect place to live, avoiding the disadvantages of both city living and rural living. The streets were built with wide grass verges, and a central Parkway contained trees and a fountain. It was a pleasant place to visit, but I couldn’t imagine living there. Obviously the buildings were attractive, but there was a certain artificiality about it all.