Railways and waterways: Harpenden to St Albans

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Lowland and Hill Walks
Feb 03

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This is a linear walk approximately 9.5 miles in length starting at Harpenden Station and finishing at St Albans City Station (starting at 10:35am and finishing at approximately 16:30/17:00).

The Route

Harpenden to Redbourn

We start at Harpenden Station on the Midland Main Line.  This was actually the second station to open in Harpenden (although the first, Harpenden East, now no longer exists).  The station was built by the Midland Railway in 1868 (the same year as the grand terminus at St Pancras) on its extension to London.  Prior to this date, the Midland Railway had been forced to use the Great Northern Railway's tracks from Bedford to Hitchin and into King's Cross.  

Our route takes us out of Harpenden to the west, passing through the grounds of the Rothamsted Research centre, one of the oldest agricultural research centres in the world, having been founded in 1843 by John Bennet Lawes, a noted Victorian era entrepreneur and scientist on his 16th century estate, Rothamsted Manor, to investigate the impact of inorganic and organic fertilizers on crop yield.

We pick up a disused railway line (known as the Nickey Line) to head south-west to the charming village of Redbourn.  The Nickey Line was a branch line built by the Hemel Hempstead Railway Company in 1877, but operated by the Midland.  It diverged from the main line north of Harpenden station and ran to Hemel Hempstead.  The intention had been to meet the LNWR at Boxmoor but the section from Hemel Hempstead never had a passenger service. In 1886 a south curve was added to the junction allowing passengers to join the London trains at Harpenden rather than Luton. The branch was closed in 1979.

We will stop for lunch in Redbourn on the attractive village common, weather permitting.

The River Ver to St Albans

Heading south-east picking up the Nickey Line again for a short time, we will then follow the Hertfordshire Way to Redbounbury Watermill.  A mill has been operated at this site since Norman times.  The current mill dates from c.1780, milling ceased at the site in the 1950s, but following restoration in the 1980s and 1990s, a bakery was established in one of the barns in 2005.  

Heading south-east, we continue along the Hertfordshire Way adjacent to the River Ver to St Albans, entering the city via Verulamium park, which stands on the site of the old Roman city of Verulamium, once one of the largest Roman settlements in Britain

St Albans, the Abbey and Verulamium park

Passing through the park, depending on time, we may call in for a quick warming drink at the Ye Olde Filghting Cocks pub which is one of a number of pubs which claims to be the oldest in Britain.  The building dates from the sixteenth century but the earliest date for which it can be proved to have been licensed is 1756.

Heading uphill, we approach the majestic St Albans Abbey.  The Abbey stands at a site believed to be the location at which Britain's first Christian Martyr (later canonised as St Alban) was beheaded.  A monastery is believed to have been founded in Saxon times (c. 793) at the site. The present Abbey dates from Norman times, with much of the current layout and proportions of the structure attributed to the Norman Abbot Paul of Caen (1077–1093) and being of Norman and Romanesque style.  It ceased to be an abbey in the 16th century and became a cathedral in 1877, with various Victorian gothic additions made to the structure. Although legally a cathedral church, it differs in certain particulars from most other cathedrals in England: it is also used as a parish church, of which the dean is rector with the same powers, responsibilities and duties as that of any other parish.

From the Abbey, we head through the historic centre of St Albans to the station, where the walk will finish.

We will aim to be back at St Albans City station in time to catch the 1630 train to London. Alternatively the 1700 is a fast service to London.  For those who need to return to Harpenden to collect cars, the trains run at xx09, xx29, xx39 and xx59 (journey time 5 minutes).


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