Ellie & I have been doing walks with Gary Bebb’s fabulous ‘GO London’ hiking group for more than two years now. A few weeks ago we joined him and 20 other hikers on the “Panshanger Park, Chadwell Springs, and Hertford Castle” hike. The 18km (12 mile) walk which involves 118m of ascent (all added up) and takes about 4 hours to complete, is classified as “Beginners Hike.” No complaints from our side. We had just come out of lockdown hibernation and weren’t going to climb Everest anytime soon.
No maps, instructions, or directions
This blog post does not include any maps or specific instructions. It is not aimed at enabling you to do the walk on your own. It is instead intended to give you an idea for what to do on London weekends if you should ever be bored. If you don’t live nearby, hopefully you’ll still enjoy some of the beauty that one can find near The Big Smoke. Even if you’re an experienced navigation expert we’d still highly recommend the tours offered by GO London. They are a great way to meet new people. We like the fact that we do not have to stress about finding the path, reading the map, looking for road signs and markers.
Short distance by train
The train from London’s Liverpool Street Station takes about 1h15m, and we arrived a few minutes before the official departure time of 11am at Ware Station in Hertfordshire, about 35km north of the big city.
Meet & greet
The group was perhaps 20 people strong. Gary went through the usual Covid- and general safety briefing and outlined the day. The weather was warm and sunny, which made for a pleasant surprise.
Not sure if I am the only one, but I’ve never thought of Hertfordshire as a place to visit. It’s one of those counties that everyone’s heard of, because so many Londoners commute from there, but it’s not associated with historic university towns like Cambridgeshire or Oxfordshire, with bankers like Buckinghamshire, with superb hiking trails like Berkshire, seals and seaside towns like Essex or the South Downs like most of what’s south of the M25.
Hertfordshire is pronounced Heart-fuhd-shuh. The settlers in the New England Colonies named one of their settlements after the county town of Hertford but wisely relabelled it Hartford with an ‘a’ to avoid unnecessary confusion over the pronunciation.
The first bit of the walk is along the so-called New River. A canal that was built in 1613 to supply London with drinking water. It was quite a planning feat back then, because there is very little differential in altitude between the two locations. Engineers had to make the canal meander along the contours in a way where it keeps exactly the same grade all the way to the country’s capital. Otherwise the water would have stopped to move and spilled along the way.
Chadwell Springs where the water of the New River emerges from the ground, is an interesting sight for anyone who hasn’t seen a lot of springs (like Ellie & me haven’t). The water is very clear and there is almost a scuba diving coral reef vibe about it.
Wild Swimming Beach
From the Springs we made our way along some marshlands to the River Lea (also spelled Lee). Walking upriver we passed by the famous ‘Wild Swimming Beach’ at the confluence of the rivers Beane and Lea. This was particularly interesting to me, considering that I have picked up open water swimming recently (check out the blog post here). Shortly thereafter we stopped to have our packed lunches on Hartham Common.
Temporary Seat of Parliament: Hertford Castle
After about half an hour we were on our merry way again, crossing the River Beane and walking alongside it for a few hundred metres before turning into Port Hill and walking down into Hertford. The Castle and the surrounding park grounds are very picturesque.
Gary informed us that England’s parliament had been temporarily relocated to Hertford Castle during an outbreak of the plague in London, an information that is curiously missing form the Wikipedia page of Hertford Castle despite being easy to verify.
In my opinion, the most scenic part of the walk followed now, when we reached Panshanger Park. We crossed the River Mimram to reach Osprey Lake, which is known to be a stopover point for these migrating birds of prey that are a family of one species. They are not closely related to eagles or hawks or other birds. This species can be found on all continents except Antarctica, in arctic Northern Alaska and tropical Ecuador, on the top of Kilimanjaro. We didn’t spot any ospreys, but we were told that several of them had been sighted a few weeks ago.
Walking parallel to the Mimram (feature photo) we made our way to the so-called Panshanger Great Oak, a mighty tree planted by the ginger Virgin Queen, Lizzy #1, around 1570. It is the largest of its kind (maiden oak) with a circumference of 7.6 metres (first one of the last four pictures in this post).
Back to the station
The walk from the Park to Hertford East Station was longer than anticipated and we arrived about half an hour after the planned finish time of 4:30pm, which is fine in our book. We had to dash off to meet up with local friends (from a single household, socially distanced, and outside, in case you were wondering, we do try to comply with the rules 🙂 ). This had been another fun day out with GO London and £10 (per person, not including train tickets) well spent: 5 out of 5 in our book.
Looking for more adventure? Feel welcome to check out our posts about our ride on an e-scooter, on a hot air balloon, on a powerboat, on a quad, and in a helicopter. We’ve also written about poor man’s food that turned posh, about our trip to Bhutan, our visit to a Russian coal mine near the North Pole, and about a ten-course dinner at two-starred Lafleur in Frankfurt.