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Hertfordshire Walks 1: Mrs Harris on the History of Welwyn Garden City

Monday 1 February 2021

This 17km circular walk incorporates town and countryside and starts in heart of West Side Welwyn Garden City, the home of Shredded Wheat, and takes in Welwyn Village, Danesbury Park, Mardley Heath, Harmer Green Woods, and Digswell.  Welwyn Garden City celebrated its hundredth anniversary in 2020. 

The town’s radical planned approach to living was based on new ideas formulated by the Garden City Movement.  The Movement sought to improve slums, poverty, pollution and acute social problems of towns and cities where over half the population lived in the latter part of the 19th century by using the design of a garden.

On reflection, the planners’ vision was ahead of its time, with well-being very much at the forefront of our minds today.  The story of Welwyn Garden City can be read here.

Starting in Handside Lane, pause at Meadow Green to find out all about the Ideal Village  which opened in 1922 to showcase the most innovative homes of the time, and was so popular that special trains were laid on from London!  

At the top of Handside Lane, cross over the road, entering the woods briefing to cross the disused railway line and find the entrance to Sherrardspark Wood at the corner of Reddings.  It’s very muddy here!

Sherrardspark Wood extends to approximately 80 hectares (200 acres) and has some of the county's finest oak and hornbeam trees, as well as a wide range of wildlife including birds, plants, mammals and fungi.

Follow the undulating paths and bridleways towards “Monks Wood” until you leave the woods through the avenue of beautiful trees  and cross over Knightsfield to walk through Welwyn Garden City Cricket Club.

At the far side of the cricket pitch, head left and first right into Digswell Park Road, until you find the footpath sign to Welwyn.

Welwyn Village takes its name from the Old English, Welig, meaning “willow” which refers to the trees along the river Mimram.  A beautiful village with lovely houses, more pubs than the days of the week, boutique shops and Church, Welwyn is home to Roman Baths which are open to the public, discovered when the A1(M) was built. 

Vincent Van Gogh’s sister lived in Welwyn and it’s believed that he walked all the way from London to visit her – good job there are two lovely cake shops in the high street to break up the walk! 

After enjoying Welwyn Village, walk up Church Street, cross into Carlton Rise and continue to North Ride to access Danesbury Park Road and enjoy The Fernery in Danesbury Park.

Continue towards Mardley Heath, drop down into Oaklands Village Centre to cross the road into Turpins Ride to access Harmer Green Woods, enjoying the beautiful views of the countryside and huge piles of logs. 

These coniferous and deciduous woods straddle the mainline train route, but you’d never know it was there – until you hear the whooshing sound from the silos.  These silos punctuate the woodlands to vent the tunnels and for trainspotters, there’s a super spot to observe the trains at the head of a cutting, looking northwards, behind the safety fences. A great place for finding fir cones too.

Eventually exit Harmer Green Woods and wander downhill through Digswell Village towards the viaduct. The viaduct, of 40 arches, is a Grade II* listed structure. It is the longest and tallest viaduct on the Great Northern Railway's route.   
Heading back into Welwyn Garden City, you will arrive via the White Bridge, to see the beautiful gardens stretching for over 1.5 miles through the town centre. A new edition is the Henry Moore sculpture to celebrate WGC’s Centenary.

The beautiful Coronation Fountain celebrates HRH Queen Elizabeth II ascension to the throne and the water is coloured pink in October by Roche to highlight breast cancer awareness and more recently, blue, to thank the NHS.