Larks ascending, the yellowing barley, dappled sunlight in a verdant glade, the gentle rush of a passing stream and, deep joy, a sunny pub garden and a refreshing pint of real ale. What, no Elgar? Well something had to give but our rich Hertfordshire countryside can provide everything else. It’s time to put on some stout shoes, embrace the golden sunshine and head out on a mini-pub expedition. Our pubs await your arrival. There are several books describing the county’s by-ways and footpaths – but here’s a quick taster to get you going with a pint or two along the way.
This is a circular journey, similar to one enacted by local CAMRA members some years ago – with a useful bus service leading to the start of the walk and early evening bus services and nearby trains leading away at the end. Our route is approximately Hertford-Ware-Tonwell-Chapmore End-Bengeo-Hertford with a walking stretch of 4.5 miles. To maximise on the pubs best to avoid Sundays and Mondays for reasons that will soon become apparent. For a more detailed map use Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 194.
At Hertford Bus Station wait for the 384 bus service (operates Monday to Saturday, NOT Sundays) leaving at 12.05pm. This calls at Ware College (near the station) at 12.13. Alight at Tonwell (pronounced “tunnel”) at 12.26.
The Grade II listed Robin Hood & Little John is a Free House and friendly village local offering lunches and evening meals and a range of three real ales. There’s a pleasant patio at the rear making it the ideal meeting point for friends and that first pint of refreshing ale. Note: The pub is closed on Sundays and daily between 2.30 and 5.30 during the afternoons. When you are ready to leave turn left out of the pub and proceed to the T junction with the A602. This is a fast road so be careful crossing over to the other side. Hurdle the style and bear left following the trodden footpath up the field reaching Chapmore End opposite the duck-laden pond.
Continue around it to the Woodman. Despite some building additions it’s still a gem of a pub with three or four beers (Greene King plus Hertfordshire beers from the likes of Tring or New River breweries) dispensed direct from barrels in the cellar behind the bar. There are excellent gardens to the front and rear. Food is generally restricted to the evenings from Wednesday to Saturday but often there are summertime Sunday barbeques. Beware, the pub is closed Monday lunchtimes.
Leaving the pub turn left and proceed carefully (there is no pavement) through the hamlet until the road’s sharp left turn. Leave the road by continuing ahead along the track until it opens out into grassland. Take the metal gate on the left and proceed with the hedgerow to your left until the roadway which crosses your path and which leads to disused gravel workings. Cross the road and descend into the woodland then up to the open arable farmland and continue along the long well-used footpath towards Bengeo, once a village (still has a bit of that feel to it) but now part of Hertford.
At the junction with the B158 turn right and 250 yards on the left just past the mini roundabout is the Greyhound. The pub is an excellent community two-bar local – the first pub to be bought by McMullen’s, way back in 1836. There are two or three Mac’s cask ales. The pub offers food Wednesday to Saturday lunchtimes and evenings and there are roasts on Sunday afternoons but, note, the pub is closed on Mondays. There is a roadside patio at the front and small garden area to the rear.
Leaving the pub turn left and along Bengeo Street and turn left into New Road. Take the 3rd right – Boundary Drive – which solders into St Leonard’s Road, leading to St Leonard’s church. Take a moment to walk around the building. This is a remarkable Norman church and the oldest building in Hertford. If you are lucky to find it open (during summer Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons) marvel at the frescos which were uncovered in the 1930s and consider the life of the anchorite who once lived as a hermit in a small cell in the building. At the church’s western end find the tarmacked footpath (known as the Warren) which leads down towards Hartham Common. As you reach the bottom, where the path forks, bear left and over the footbridge then straight ahead to the swimming pool. Cross over the road and turn right walking under the former railway lines (mind your head not the gap) and turn left at the end on to the Folly (Thornton Street), a community of terraced houses built largely in the latter half of the 19th century.
At the crossroads go straight ahead to the River Lea Navigation. Turn right and 100 yards along the towpath you will find the oft-photographed Old Barge, a Free House offering food all day and four handpumped real ales mostly from the Marston’s stable – Jennings, Ringwood etc – but often including wider-sourced independents. There are three or more real ciders and the riverside pub has a large patio at the front and side. This is the end of the ramble. You deserve a final pint!
To find the bus station cross the canal bridge and immediately turn left at the Hertford Club (located in the 15th century Lombard House) where CAMRA members may be signed in upon production of a membership card to enjoy the three to four real ales, real cider, and the pleasant walled garden and riverside terrace. Take the short footpath then walk along the riverside opposite the Old Barge and the bus station can be found 100 yards ahead. For those travelling back to Ware you might consider taking the waterbus which follows the River Lea through locks and meads – a journey of 80 or so minutes – the last waterbus leaving Hertford at 4pm. It operates on Saturdays and Sundays and additionally on Thursdays and Fridays during August. The service stops in September for the winter.
If you have a favourite Hertfordshire real ale ramble or excursion why not write to Pints of View and let us know.