Chris Flint, Brian Boggenpoel and Steve Kemp set off from the Old Town Hall in the heart of St Albans on a warm Saturday morning with the adjacent market bursting into life. Cobbled streets led past the historic clock tower c1495 towards the Cathedral and Abbey Church which dominates the skyline. Pauses were taken at the Verdun tree, planted in the aftermath of the First World War, Vintry Park, once the burial ground for local monks, and the Cathedral itself, where a University Graduation Ceremony was in full swing.
Past the Old Gate House, once used as a jail, and the Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, reputedly the oldest public house in the country, the seventy-seven hectares of Verulamium Park opened up in front of us, exposing the fine remains of the Roman City Walls and mosaics (now covered for preservation). The local Beer and Music festival taking place in the park grounds provided entertainment as we continued our walk across the park towards the west side of the city. But, before leaving the park, we were surprised to find that the Roman Museum was offering free entry for one day only as part of a heritage day. So another lengthy but worthwhile pause. The museum contained a fine collection of Roman mosaic floorings, wall coverings and coins.
The western section of the walk highlighted more of the shallow chalk streams that run through the city, followed by a mix of residential areas until reaching the high ground of Bernard’s Heath. The area is most famous for hosting the second Battle of St Albans c1461 during the War of the Roses, but has also hosted gallows, windmills and was a previous home to Hertfordshire County Cricket Club. This heath proved an ideal location for lunch, so shade was sought from the near 30 degree heat, refreshments consumed, and thirty minutes later with ice creams in-hand we were ready to continue.
The northern and eastern sections of the Green Ring are a mix of quaint cottages and luxury residential, converted buildings and private schools, before joining the Alban Way, a traffic free route along the former railway line joining St Albans with Hatfield. The disused railway path was followed south, display boards informing us of the stations which had once served the line. Salvation Army Halt is one such station, with platform still visible amongst the vegetation, it served the printing works that produced the Salvation Army official newspaper, War Cry, from 1924.
Continuing along the pathway, we paused again at the Watercress Beds, a local nature reserve tucked between the path and River Ver. A little further on, we paused once more to appreciate magnificent views of the Cathedral perched high on the skyline, with allotments and streams in the foreground. We then turned north towards Sopwell Ruins, known as ‘The Nunnery’, the ruins are thought to be the remains of a Tudor Mansion built on the site of a nunnery following Henry VIII’s dissolutions.
We left the Green Way at this point, following the National Cycle route back into the city, back to the Old Town Hall c1826, where tea and cake provided a perfect ending to the day. The Old Town Hall had a dual function as a place of governance and a jail. There was just time to explore the court room and cells before bringing the day to a close.
Numbers were down on previous social walks with just three taking part, others unable to partake for reasons of extremely hot weather, upcoming race preparation, holidays and other commitments.
Our schedule of 2024 social walks will be circulated before the 2024 AGM in January.