Rural Heritage Society

NEWSLETTER Spring 2008

1. New Little Gaddesden Map of Paths - details of launch

2. New Little Gaddesden Map of Paths - Some of the things we did and didn’t do - John Leonhardt and Peter Grainger

3. Beechcombings: The Narratives of Trees by Richard Mabey

4. The Society’s Walks - John Leonhardt

5. College Lake Wildlife Centre

6. Visit to College Lake Wildlife Centre - Sunday 13 April

7. Committee members

1. The new Little Gaddesden Map of Paths - Launch Party Friday 8th February

It’s finished and ready for collection in a lovely clear plastic folder. We will be holding the launch party on Friday 8th February in the Village Hall at 8 pm. Please come and join us for a glass (or two) of wine and, if you are a member, collect your map. Additional maps may be purchased by members only at £6 each. If you are not currently a member it is only £2 per annum to join. Please either telephone Lyn Hyde (842267), e-mail me ( or deliver £2 and your name and address to a committee member (see last page) and you’re in.


SOME OF THE THINGS WE DID AND DIDN'T DO - By John Leonhardt and Peter Grainger

What you will see on your new map is an Ordnance Survey map which has been altered by both addition and subtraction. The different types of paths and long-distance routes have been printed in 13 different colours. The notes and key at the top of the map should tell you what you most need to know. We here offer some more information.

Misprints: We are afraid some errors have slipped past our proof reading and correcting processes. We will mention them as they crop up under the headings which follow. As the map is composed of layer upon layer of computerised information it is tricky, but not impossible, to alter layers that have been laid down and subsequently built over. Peter, however, is an expert at this, and has worked wonders while John has driven him mad by fussing over details. John points out that proof-reading a map is a multidimensional task involving lines, colours and positions as well as disembodied words floating far from the ones whose font is supposed to match.

The Area Chosen: It is

(1) a close match to our previous footpath map (Rural Heritage Society, 1978). That scale was 1:10,560. The new one is 1:10,000, both being the scales available for us from the O.S. at the time.

(2) centred in the middle of The Green, and representing 7km x 7km, the largest square fitting a convenient printing size.

Colours: We have noticed that the colours are not all easily distinguished in artificial light. In daylight, however, we think you should find it much easier.

Churches: The Ordnance Survey, for some strange reason, has stopped marking churches as such on this large scale. They are marked PW and nothing more, meaning Place of Worship. We have reversed this trend by putting back their proper names. Apart from anything else, they are significant landmarks for navigation.

Public Houses: We have added their names also.

Names of Houses: We have left these alone. The O.S. map shows a selection, generally significant or isolated. The only one we have added, I think, is The Old Dairy, but in retrospect we should have added Woodyard Cottage also (sorry, Antony). We are surprised the O.S. has dropped this name from this edition.

Names of Roads: We have added some that the O.S. had missed. We also had to clarify the Ashridge Toll Road, which on the original is indistinguishable from a farm track. I have stuck to the name Crovells for the nine houses just north of Becking Lane for historical reasons. I am not sure what the people who call it The Grovells will think of that. Crovells was what Frederick Whitman's daughter Freda told me it was called, and Frederick was, of course, the builder of that development. At that time Kaim End and Dial House were not regarded as part of Crovells, nor was Meadow Farm.

Car Parks: We forgot to show the symbol on the key, but you could guess what a blue P meant. Only those on National Trust land are shown. Next to each P is the National Trust's reference number for reporting incidents. If you are at one of these parking areas you will see the N.T. ref. number on a small square on a post. It is not obvious, but the location is known to the police. (The Visitor Centre car park by the monument has no number.)

Names of Paths: We have put in Becking Lane, Luck Lane and Bird Pightle in the Hudnall area. These names we originally learnt from the late Mrs Field of Hudnall, but they have since been confirmed from other sources. We have also added some National Trust path and track names: Brown Fence Ride, Ling Ride, Ringshall Ride, Monument Drive and Thunderdell Drive

Missing Definitive Path Numbers: These are errors which slipped past our proof-reading eyes. Note that only dark green and dark blue paths have numbers. The missing ones are all at or near the edges of the map, here listed clockwise from the top:

E14 (green) Grid ref 995164 where it leaves the north edge at Dagnall. The detached portion to the west of the allotments, marked E14, is known as E 14B

GG66 (green) Grid ref 033105 where it leaves the right hand edge near the bottom. From Nettleden Road to Water End. Also part of the Chiltern Way (bright red).

Nd5 (blue) Grid ref 021094 where it runs off the bottom edge towards Potten End. From Five Acre Farm.

Nc70 (blue) Grid ref 963101 where it leaves the left hand edge alongside the railway track near the bottom.

Nc29 (green) Grid refs 963104 and 963108 where it enters and leaves the map at the left hand edge near the bottom, with a fragment of the Chiltern Way (bright red).

A BOAT 1 (blue) Grid ref 963113 (i.e. Aldbury parish, Byway Open to All Traffic, number 1) where it leaves the left hand edge south of Aldbury, from Tom's Hill Road. Also forming part of the Chiltern Way (bright red).

A9 (blue) Grid ref 967118 where it leaves Tom's Hill Road. Joins the track to Brightwood.

I28 (shown pale green but should be dark green) Grid ref 963156 where it leaves the left edge near the top, from car park 14.

Private Paths and Tracks. These are not coloured unless public access is permitted. In some cases where it might appear that an uncoloured private path is part of the public network we have added the word Private. (There are two examples in Great Bradwin's Wood near the top right hand corner of the map. The one lettered in green is a colour misprint. It should be black like the others.)

Existence of Paths: Many of the paths on even the most recent large scale O.S. map have become overgrown and have completely disappeared. Where these were in publicly accessible areas we have erased them. We have not done this to public rights of way, however. If we have confirmed a path shown on the O.S. map we have coloured it in unless it is private. You will also see that we have added in colour numerous paths that were not on the original O.S. map.

Although uncoloured paths are mostly private, some in areas of public access could be used if found, but are almost unusable or very difficult to find. In any case there are far more paths in winter than summer, especially where there is bracken. We leave you to find them for yourself. Some paths only work in one direction! You take a turning from an obvious path, follow it easily at first, and at the end it dives under a low branch to come out on another path. Turn around and you can't see the way back.

Another mistake we have made: There is an area between The Old Park and Coldharbour where there is a network of paths neither erased nor coloured. In that area the light green paths are the only ones you will find. The uncoloured ones in pecked black lines have vanished without trace. You would do well to put some deletion mark on them if you walk thereabouts.

Field and Wood Outlines: The O.S. draws a line round a field if it is bounded by a hedge, fence or obvious ditch or bank.

Wherever these outlines come close to the footpaths we have updated them, erasing boundaries which no longer exist, and adding (as accurately as an un-measured field survey will allow) any new ones found. A typical example is an extra fence with a stile on footpath Northchurch 50 from Berkhamsted Common to Alpine Meadow.

The Ordnance Survey still marks many ancient banks in the woods, which are of historic interest and easily overlooked since they present no obstacle and are often very low. On the maps they are just thin black lines like a fence. You will find one surrounding Rail Copse on the south side of the road to Aldbury, and another around Sallow Copse between the Bridgewater Monument and Ringshall.

Circular banks surrounding clumps of planted trees are a common feature of the Ashridge estates. You will find over a dozen marked on the map, from 20 to 80 yards diameter, and there are more unmarked ones if you keep your eyes open. Some are ancient and some very recent.

Names of Fields: These are late twentieth century names collected from local farmers and from the National Trust, mostly for the book a century remembered. Field boundaries have changed many times, and the field names change with them. The farm boundaries also change, as do their owners, and names which are spoken more often than written can change in subtle ways. The last complete lists of field names were the tithe schedules, made for almost every parish in the 19th century. These names for all the fields in Little Gaddesden and Hudnall can be found in Canon Howard Senar's book Little Gaddesden and Ashridge on page 139.

Present-day Field Names Matched with the Old Names

1. Roughly from North to South in old Little Gaddesden Parish:

Cadin was Cadding

Lamsey House Field was Slangs + Stoney Beds + Great Field + Little Barrels + Hoo Close + Great Barrels + Step Furlong + Long Hedges + Barn Field.

Mile Barn Field was Faunches + Crab Tree and Ivy Closes + South Field Close + Bess Derby and part of South Field.

Hoo Field was Homesdens + Great Cockerells.

The present Church Meadow is only a small part of the old Church Meadow which extended along the full length of both sides of Church Road (then only a track) before even the Bede Houses or the School were built.

Pond Field was the larger part of Dukes Meadow.

Mill Field now contains the old Mill Field + a piece of Dukes Meadow + Weigh Piece + Little Newmans + Hayles + Groomes Meadow + Lay Close + half of The Hale and a piece of Godfreys from Hudnall. The windmill didn't stand in Mill Field itself but between Mill Field and the church.

Engine House Field (Engine House Meadow according to Vicars Bell, 1959) was Dip Well + Apple Tree Close + Great Meadow, and a bit extra to straighten the edge. The engine house which gave the field its later name was built in 1857 for the steam engine which powered the village water pump. This was not actually in Engine House Meadow, but alongside it, behind what is now Red House. The bore hole, directly beneath the pump, is still there, and the water is still pumped up to the reservoir at Ringshall before returning to the village taps by gravity. The old steam pump and its house have been replaced by an electric pump in a small building.

Grey's Field is partly a field that was scheduled as Part of Newmans and partly just Meadow.

Nursery Field is the old Crouch Croft + Long Croft

2. Fields in Hudnall, that is to say in what used to be the detached part of Edlesborough Parish, Bucks:

Stones Hill is more or less the old Stoney Wheatfield.

The Apple Field (an apple orchard in the mid twentieth century) was part of the old Home Pond Field.

Little Russells Piece, Wood Meadow and Wood Field still have their 19th century names.

Arden Hills is the uphill part of the old Arden Hills

Miscellaneous: Close to the northwest corner of the map you will find SITE OF MAPPLEDEDEN and WARREN. The former is a mediaeval hamlet site, from information provided by John Wilson (retired National Trust Warden). The latter comes from an early 18th century map in the County Record Office (copy in our church).

3. Tall, majestic, hardy – the British beech is the king of the forest, argues our leading naturalist, Richard Mabey. Rob Sharp takes a walk in the woods with the man himself

Published in The Independent on 24 September 2007 and reproduced with permission

The most striking piece of trivia about the Queen Beech, a gnarled, knotted old tree in an ancient Hertfordshire woodland, is that it was once a character in a Harry Potter film. ** see Footnote. The landmark at Frithsden Beeches, just outside London, took a turn as the sometimes violent Whomping Willow in The Prisoner of Azkaban. You can see why the filmmakers were struck by it: it looks good for a 350-year-old. Regal limbs creep out from its centre; it has the grandeur of a seen-it-all veteran that has lived since before the Great Fire of London, and taken in plenty more besides.

If one could pick the ideal companion with which to encounter this majestic and spooky scene, it would surely be Richard Mabey. Softly-spoken, intense and erudite, he is one of the "wild bunch" of lyrical writers currently riding a wave of interest in man's relationship with the landscape. His drinking buddies include Crow Country scribe Mark Cocker and Cambridge University don Robert Macfarlane, author of the recent hit The Wild Places. Among his peers, Mabey's name is uttered with a hushed reverence. In the world of the green-fingered literary gurus, he is king.

The beech is Mabey's favourite tree. He spent much of his childhood playing in the beech woods of the Chilterns, and once owned a beech wood himself. He admires the tree's amazing ability to respond to catastrophe. Today, beech woods criss-cross southern England, from Burnham Beeches to the New Forest and the Chilterns.

Unlike the high-profile oak, Mabey calls beeches the "workhorses of the forest". They provide firewood and furniture, and epitomise nature's capacity to respond to change. They also play host to many organisms, from hawks in their branches to toadstools on the ground. The Wild Wood in The Wind in the Willows is, inevitably, a beech wood.

All this is chronicled in Mabey's eagerly-awaited new book, Beechcombings, the Narratives of Trees. Released next month, it describes the beech's characteristics, habitat and mythology, and explores what we, as humans, can learn from the world of trees.

Most people, of course, take beeches for granted. They are viewed as biological barriers to motorway construction. But throughout history, natural selection has provided them with a long-standing ability to adapt to day-to-day environments (an adaptability that makes humans look like sallow, spluttering wrecks in comparison).

Sadly, they were also one of the main casualties of the famous 1987 hurricane, the 20th anniversary of which comes round on 16 October. Mabey believes the so-called "great storm" was a significant landmark in the tree's ancient cultural history.

Like much of the work of the "wild bunch", Beechcombings is touchingly personal. Mabey grew up near Frithsden Beeches, and still regularly visits. When we meet to tour the woods, he escorts me with a sort of second sight, rattling off the history and mythology of the trees with zeal. Bathed in a cathedral of diffused light from the canopy, he is as fluent discussing their morphology as their significance to his life.

Frithsden Beeches has an ancient and important history. In the 11th century, William the Conqueror based himself nearby after the Conquest, and would have stared across them while contemplating a new kingdom. Over the years, the area has provided vast amounts of space for hunting, as well as supplying local firewood.

"It was a large area of wooded common land, and therefore like all commons it was sought after by landowners for other purposes," Mabey says as he stumbles through its undergrowth and trunks. "There were repeated attacks on it over the years and these were rebuffed by locals on a number of occasions."

This trend came to a head in the 1860s, when the woods were seized by landed gent Lord Brownlow. His agents, Mabey says, illegally enclosed the common behind four miles of fencing. They were thwarted by Augustus Smith, a local landowner with a conscience whom he describes as a "radical precursor of [campaigning environmentalist] Jonathon Porritt."

"Smith was distressed because Brownlow had done it in underhand way," says Mabey. "He should have gone through the proper channels in Parliament." Smith hired a 120-strong rent-a-mob to tear down the fencing in March 1866, finishing the job in a single night.

The beech has survived because it is a hardy species. It casts a long shadow and, as a result, many other species, such as birch and oak, do not get the sunlight they need to grow high around it. Beech saplings are also steely growers, enabling them to thrive on poor soil, including chalk. They blanket parts of the Chilterns, the South Downs and the Cotswolds.

When a beech tree, like all other trees, is "wounded", it does not heal the lesion as an animal would. Instead it seals off the graze or cut, isolating it from the rest of its "body" via a large, warty canker. The Queen beech has these in spades. You can also see evidence of how some trees cope with high winds. In some cases, if one is uprooted, it can produce new shoots, phoenix-like, from a seemingly ruined root system. Tree populations can also cope with strong winds because many of the more elderly ones are hollow, their insides

long rotted away; this dramatically reduces their centre of gravity. *** See Footnote

While many beeches in Fristhden survived the 1987 storm (often the hollow ones), plenty were felled. In the areas of Britain that experienced the worst of the winds – the South-east – the beech was the hardest hit tree of all; by weight, 40 per cent of all fallen timber was beech. Twenty years on, many of the fallen trunks have been cleared up, the latest instalment in an ongoing debate over whether man should interfere in such matters. In post-storm 1987, the National Trust, which looks after the wood, did not believe that fallen trees met with the public's perception of what " a wood should look like", and so got rid of them. Over the ensuing years it transpired that much of the NT's man-made regeneration and planting was not successful. In areas where no one intervened the wood has begun to flourish. It has since become National Trust policy to intervene much less, Mabey explains, except where public safety is at risk.

"The hurricane made one aware that natural systems aren't stable," he says. "We in this country have always had an idea of nature as something peaceful, contrasting with the energy of a city. The storm demonstrated this was not the case. It showed living systems are fantastically dynamic; and need to be to survive."

The author summarises the importance of such "dead trees" to the environment. "Trees are terribly important for fungi and insects," he continues. "In a totally unmanned wood, 50 per cent is dead wood. So it is of equal importance, ecologically, to so-called live wood. It also protects regenerating seedlings from animals, and then there's the philosophical question: the natural way is to leave it the way it is. The onus is on the person who wants to remove the wood to explain why they are doing it."

Mabey once owned Hardings Wood, located close to Fristhden in the village of Wigginton. He bought it in 1981. But after publishing the book many critics believe he will be best remembered for, Flora Britannica, in 1996, he sunk into a depression, moved east, and flogged it to a trust run by local residents. The ensuing "sense of dislocation" he felt formed the basis of his 2005 book Nature Cure, about how he used nature to revitalise his mental health.

Several miles away from Frithsden, on a brisk autumnal evening, we find Hardings growing on strong, just as when Mabey left it. Felled wood is packed neatly by the path at the wood's entrance. Mabey says of selling it: " My friends were surprised. I didn't feel like I'd put it all behind me; I didn't feel like I was severed from them at all. It was a mere inconvenience, not a barrier at all. There was no emotional barrier."

Later, along the track leading out of the centre of the wood, Mabey discovers that a single cherry, one of "his favourites" has died. It is an awkward moment. He leans over a gate, staring at a panoramic bowl of landscape, the distant beeches of Frithsden visible where land meets the sky. He smiles, acknowledging an internal emotion that I'm not privy to, before, as the old joke goes, making like a tree.

Footnotes from John:

** So says Richard Mabey but the real Queen Beech was in Golden Valley, a mile away. It was the very opposite kind of Beech tree with a tall straight smooth truck. There is a photograph of it in ‘a century remembered’ on page 279. The trunk appears to ascend about 140 feet before dividing and the total height at least 220 feet. It blew down in 1928.

*** Surely it raises their centre of gravity, even allowing for the roots.


Beechcombings: The Narratives of Trees

'I see the tree through a mist, astonished I could be so moved'

By Richard Mabey

Published in The Independent on 24 September 2007 and reproduced with permission

Back in Burnham, I'm looking at a spectacularly tilted beech, a high-wire balancing act. It's sloping away from me at an almost impossible angle, about 40 degrees to the vertical – as far as it could go, I'd say, without collapsing under its own weight. Hard to guess how it got into this position. First tilted in a gale maybe, then slowly sinking as it tried to grow itself back to uprightness. The whole core of the tree is missing, maybe discarded as useless ballast, so that the trunk is like a trough. The rims of the trough are massive tension-wood muscles, hauling it back. There is a twisting mesh of crooked branches at the top end pulling it the other way, down towards the ground, so the tree has responded with flaring root hawsers and a long single branch, both growing against the direction of the tilt. The trunk has become a lever, perfectly balancing weight with muscular tension.

I try it myself. I lean forward at the same angle as the tree, imagining my feet pinned down by straps, and trying to pick up a huge weight with my hands. It's a ludicrous posture, and I know it would break my back if I tried it for real. Unless I had tension wood up my spine, doing the pulling.

Burnham is full of humanoid trees like this Weightlifters' beech. A League of Health and Beauty tree, doing an elegant midriff twist. A Stilt-walkers' tree. A beech with a wooden Zimmer frame. All of them are exercised, like us, with the business of keeping a rather disorderly mass of tissue upright in a turbulent world. You are beyond anthropomorphism in Burnham, into a place of more mutual metaphors. But a few of the pollards have picked up names because of another kind of human association. Gray's beech, supposedly the subject of one of the final stanzas of Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard", went down in the 1930s. The remains of a tree called Jenny Lind, on whose roots the Swedish Nightingale used to perch when she was staying at East Burnham Cottage, is surrounded by a safety fence. Mendelssohn's tree, whose dappled shade is said to have inspired him while he was writing the incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, had its top blown off in the gale of January 1990. All the old trees, including these barely living butts, have their own numbers, stamped on small aluminium plates. I like this way of registering their individuality, rather than subsuming their existence under some human's name.

Standing on a small mound, and peering at one of the labels, I can see that I'm at number 01325. It's a conventional pollard, with a decent head of branches. But the trunk's surface is beginning to break up. Some fungal infection is causing flakes of bark to lift up, like scabs, and a thin trickle of sap is running down the tree. And when I look closer I see that the bark is alive with animals. Small spiders are rushing about in zig-zag exploratory dashes. A stream of wood ants is moving against the sap current. I don't think they're drinking it, but they're collecting minute scraps of bark debris and ferrying them down the tree. I follow the thin line of downward traffic and discover, a shade embarrassingly, that I'm standing on their nest, a vast pile of tiny pieces of wood and leaves. Number 01325 is a very desirable address.

But I can't make any sense of number 01243. It makes me feel uneasy. It isn't a tree from any tradition I know, not picturesque, or noble, or intellectually amusing. It is scarcely a tree at all, just two snail-shells of wood perched on a stalk. Or the skeleton of a prehistoric bird, standing on one leg. Or a voodoo warning. Or an immense fossil embryo. I can't stop these resemblances crowding into my head. How else do you make visual sense of an illegible life form without comparing it to other living things? But is it living at all? I go close enough to touch the tree, and can read what might have happened. The shells, almost level with my eyes, are part of an immense shoulder of wood half hidden by the foliage of other trees, which itself looks like the remains of an even bigger crown. The embryonic whorls are a tangled turk's-head of tension wood and scar tissue and braces that the tree has grown to try and keep its balance while its top fell apart. And the bird's leg – a grooved tube of tension wood about 25 cm wide – is the final filament of trunk that is holding up the whole extraordinary structure.

And it's working. The tree has kept its thin sheaf of branches in the light. Above me I can see its autumn leaves, with not a sign of "the condition of beech". It's covered in mast. And all around, where the collapsed crown has opened a space in the canopy, there's a forest of seedlings. I guess that in 50 years they will have shaded their parent to death, and it will sink down among them in its last rites like a crumbling megalith.

I'm seeing it through a mist now, astonished that I could be so moved by a vegetable. I back away a little, and look at it through my binoculars. I'm trying to frame it as a picture, the old Picturesque discipline. But the bony pterodactyl in its halo of green does not look like any ancient landscape painting. It's defiantly Modernist. It could be a Mirů squiggle, or a bizarre Surrealist coupling, or abstract Expressionism gone three-dimensional. It could be one of Maurice Cockrill's doors, with the new green forms emerging from the shadowed pit. But mostly it makes me think of the paintings van Gogh made in the last months of his life, those total immersions in the chaotic creativity of nature that make no concessions to our tidy-minded perceptions. It insists that natural systems are never completed, not contained within fixed time frames. Uvedale Price was right to connect the grammar of painting with the grammar of nature, but not to suggest that we need the first to appreciate the second.

What 01243 says is primitive, empathetic, universally recognisable. It's both reality and metaphor, a living instance of nature's resilience, and of the graciousness of survival. Simon Schama, in his uncompromising TV series Power of Art, said that art is about learning what it means to be human. In the more inclusive arena where we're now trying to live, art – and the natural forms that spontaneously aspire to it – could also be said to be about learning what it means to simply be alive.

This is an edited extract from Beechcombings: The Narratives of Trees, by Richard Mabey (£20), published by Chatto and Windus on 4 October. To order a copy for £18 (free P&P) call Independent Books Direct on 0870 079 8897, or visit www.independentbooks

4. The Society’s Walks


The remarkable warm spring had already happened when this walk was held, and we thought it might turn out to be more of a summer flower walk. In fact it was a mixture.

This was one of our lengthened walks with a lunch stop, and Saturdays suit me better than Sundays for this kind. In the morning there were five of us, but, very unusually, no dogs. We walked from Potten End Village Green to the Bridgewater Arms. After lunch we were joined by one more and continued to Ivinghoe Beacon.

As spring flowers were the subject, we looked out for as many as possible, especially native wild species. While we were still on the Green at Potten End, we kicked off with Pignut, that delicate little relation of Cow Parsley which has edible tubers - though of course you are not allowed to dig them up except on your own land. Creeping Buttercup was the only other flower in the grass. Looking up at the trees, we saw that Horse Chestnut and Hawthorn blossom were out, and so were the female catkins of a Grey Sallow. Bird Cherry blossom had just finished. Beech catkins had already started their development into beech nuts.

We left the green by the road towards Water End, but only for 200 yards, then slipped into the footpath on the left to head towards Frithsden. This is part of the Roman Road classified by the Viatores as no. 169A which was discovered by Richard Bagshawe (now living in Hudnall Lane) and R H Reid and published in 1964. This section of it is a curved terrace around the hill, very well constructed with a firm stony surface. It may be pre-Roman. The full length of road 169A, as described, is from Boxmoor to Pitstone via Aldbury. In March 1985 the Rural Heritage Society went on a walk to retrace the Potten End-Aldbury part of the route. A report of this walk can be found in our Newsletter of May 1985.

As you come around the curve of the terrace, a view opens out on the right, with Frithsden below you. The path descends and opens out on to the Berkhamsted-bound Nettleden Road by some White Bryony. By this time we had seen several more wild flowers including Cow Parsley, Germander Speedwell (bright blue), Ground Ivy (mauve) and Garlic Mustard (white). More tree blossoms were Holly, Rowan and Guelder Rose, and a very early Dog Rose.

The next section was on the road for a bit, to get to the Alford Arms, near which there was Herb Robert, Red Campion and Green Alkanet which looks like a very deep blue Forget-me-not with broad rough leaves, Hedge Mustard (tiny yellow flowers) and Common Vetch (bright purple).

Then we turned into Little Frithsden Copse, where a Wild Gooseberry was setting a fruit, and there were 2 patches of Yellow Pimpernel, an unusual plant, for me, at least. After following rides or breaks through the copse, we emerged on the Ashridge road and crossed into the edge of Berkhamsted Golf Course. A woodland path led to Frithsden Beeches where we heard a Cuckoo, the first of the season for most of us, I think. For me it also proved to be just about the last, as there are so few heard in these latter years. We also heard a Chiffchaff.

Leaving Frithsden Beeches we followed the Brick Kiln Cottage road down to the bottom and straight over to Roding Head, and up the long straight footpath no. 7 to Golden Valley. We crossed the valley to get up to the recently re-opened old carriage road, which we followed to the restored bridge, then back down to the valley, along the toll road to Ringshall Drive until we were level with the Bridgewater Arms, towards which we turned for lunch.

After lunch we returned to the Ringshall Drive, crossed over it through Witchcraft Bottom and turned right along the edge of the Golf Course (part of the Ashridge Boundary Trail) until we met the main Northchurch road. This we crossed into the woods. Over these sections of the route we found Ramsons (wild garlic), Lesser Celandine, Gorse and Herb Bennet. We tracked down (once again) the Winston Churchill Oak (planted on his 80th birthday, November 30th 1954, by National Trust foresters, one chosen and dedicated by them out of the hundred or so they were planting on that site). This time George Godar had his GPS. system with him, and pinpointed its position: 51.81774 degrees north, 0.58708 degrees west. (If the fifth decimal place is reliable, this is accurate to roughly 1 yard, so should fix the exact tree.)

Not far from here is the oak section of the Adrian Haddon-Paton Memorial Arboretum. Three trees we took an interest in turned out to be Quercus hispanica (a hybrid of the Turkey Oak and the Cork Oak with long narrow leaves with toothed edges), Q. agrifolia from Mexico and California, and Q. phillyreoides from China with evergreen leaves like a Holm Oak.

When we got near Clipper Down there were some more wild flowers, woodland species, especially beyond the kennels: frequent Sweet Woodruff with its vanilla scent, Bugle, more Ramsons, Yellow Archangel, Cuckoo Pint, Sanicle and Greater Stitchwort. Although we had seen Bluebells in quite a few places they were nearly all past their best. This was a year for early ones.

Out on the downs, a few of the chalk downland flowers were out: Cowslip, Rock Rose, Milkwort, Wild Mignonette, Horseshoe Vetch, White Campion and Birdsfoot Trefoil. Most of these were just beginning their season.

We made it to the top of Ivinghoe Beacon to complete our walk before returning to the Ivinghoe Road car park. The calculated distance was 8.8 miles.

John Leonhardt


The River Ver rises near the edge of Redbourn, and flows south to Redbournbury Mill, where we held our AGM. Outside Redbournbury Mill is a notice board showing a large map of a circular walk which takes you into the centre of Redbourn and back if you choose the full route. This would have taken well over the 2 hours we had available.

I tried out the route a week or two beforehand and discovered that the riverside section was not nearly so attractive as it sounds. The river is hardly ever in site as the path runs on the wrong side of a thick hedge. We therefore started in the opposite direction, anticlockwise on the displayed map.

The first encounters were the two fords in Beesonend Lane, which fortunately have footbridges. We saw one or two vehicles plunging through. The water looked deep and was running fast. After the second ford we turned left on a well-made track with the river somewhere below us in the field on the left. After about a quarter of a mile is the entrance to a fishery and the main track turns sharply to the right to climb the hill. To the right was a large field of wheat. On our left was a thick hedge concealing a field of oil-seed rape. The mixed hedge was notable for some extraordinary Field Maples with the most enormous leaves I have ever seen on this species. In climbing the hill we began to glimpse the houses on the edge of Hatching Green at the top, but after about half a mile we turned left towards Hammondsend Wood to get a view to our left. Here the crop was some more wheat at first, and then came a plot of a beautiful slender blue-green cereal with perfectly straight stalks and heads which must have been some variety of barley or rye. By now we had Hammondsend Wood on our right, bordered with a mixed hedge containing both scented and unscented pink and white wild roses. At the end of the wood we turned right and completed the climb to the top where stands Hammondsend Farm. The old farm house is more of a small mansion in appearance, red-brick and solidly rectangular, of three storeys, and best seen from round the next corner where there is a small triangular horse paddock. We made some guesses as to its age and thought 18th century would be likely. This brought us to the edge of Harpenden Golf Course, but the next section of the circular walk is a bit dull, so we turned back. There was an alternative footpath available around one of the fields, and the satisfaction of seeing everything again from a different aspect.

John Leonhardt


College Lake Wildlife Centre is a remarkable new(ish ) reserve only a few miles from Little Gaddesden. The 160 acre reserve is situated between the canal and the railway at Bulbourne and was formerly a chalk quarry, part of the Pitstone cement works. My first introduction was about 20 years ago when I bought a Jacob sheep to join a small flock whose job it was to improve what was then a degraded and worked out industrial site.

The subsequent transformation of the site is just amazing. BBOWT (Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust) managed to secure a long lease on the site in 2006. Then major landscaping works were carried out to create a variety of habitats. There is a large expanse of open water, comprising a deep lake and a separate marsh area where natural winter flooding creates fluctuating water levels. On land there is chalk grassland (currently grazed by 2 Highland cattle), woodland, chalk banks, hay meadows and arable fields .

There is a good network of paths; the main circular walk around the site is an easy 2 mile walk. There are several hides, especially around the marsh where most of the wildfowl and waterbirds can be seen. The species depends on the time of the year, the weather and luck. It has already become a refuge for migratory birds (and indeed for wildfowl when shooting starts on the nearby reservoirs). Birds which may be seen include wigeon, teal, plover, snipe, lapwing, sandmartin, pipit, kingfisher, kestrel , sparrowhawk , hobby, redshank, corn bunting and tern. In the summer months there is rich insect life including butterflies , dragonflies , damselflies and glow-worms . 16 species of dragonflies have been recorded on the reserve. This is also the best time for a colourful variety of wildflowers including cowslip, corncockle, cornflower, vetch, poppies and orchids ( 10 varieties of orchids so far ). Mammals are less easy to see (apart from domestic varieties on grazing duty ) but include hares, bats and the now rare water vole.

There is a Visitor Centre with several rather temporary buildings housing displays on geology, wildlife gardening, beekeeping, farming and farming tools. Thanks to a recent Lottery grant a purpose-built visitor centre (with electricity and proper W.Cs, neither of which are available at present) will be built soon - planning permission has just been granted.

College Lake Wildlife Centre is open every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m except Mondays and over Christmas. There is a car park by the entrance and access for wheelchairs. The Rural Heritage Society is arranging for a short guided talk & walk by the warden in the spring - details below. Once you've had a taster I'm sure you will keep going back - everytime I see different things. Remember to take binoculars but leave the dog behind. For more details, look on from where a reserve leaflet can be downloaded.

Frances Read

6. A visit to College Lake Wildlife Centre has been arranged for Sunday 13th April. There will be a talk and walk led by the warden. This should last about one and a half hours after which we can explore other parts of this large reserve or just sit in one of the many hides and observe. We shall meet in the car park and be ready to start at 2 p.m. There should be lots to see this time of the year - bring binoculars if possible. A donation of £2 per person is suggested .

The centre is situated between the railway and canal bridges at Bulbourne on the B488. For further information on the centre look at and for more information on the visit, including car sharing, contact Frances Read on 01442 843402.


Chairman George Godar - The Old Rectory 842274

Vice-Chairman Anne Wooster - Vine Cottage 842469

Treasurer George Godar

Secretary Gerald Humphreys - 28 Ringshall 842228

Minutes Secretary Lyn Hyde - 22 Little Gaddesden 842267

Local Development Officer Mary Fletcher - Beverley House 843462

Publicity Frances Read - 8 Ashridge Cottages 843402

Gaddesden Diary Reporter Frances Read

Footpaths John Leonhardt - 21 Little Gaddesden 843550

Membership Secretary Lyn Hyde

Newsletter Editor Anne Wooster

The views expressed within all RHS Newsletters are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the Committee.


As ever, a plea for prompt payment of subscriptions - £2 per person. Please drop the attached slip, together with at least two pounds (cheques are quite acceptable) into Lyn Hyde at 22 Little Gaddesden (or your nearest committee member). If you are not yet a member and would like to join please do the same. Very many thanks

e-mail addresses

The Society is compiling a list of residents’ e-mail addresses (naturally complying with the Data Protection Act) in order to facilitate the dissemination of information around the village without the necessity of hand-delivery. We would very much appreciate your views on this. If you have any and/or would be prepared to let us know your address, perhaps you would like to advise me on

Anne Wooster

If you have not yet purchased ‘a century remembered’ - the Society’s book about the village in the 20th century, the Village Shop has copies or a committee member will be delighted to sell you one for £15. Information about the book can be seen on this website.


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