Alma Collins recommends a little-known local walk
Between Abbots Langley and Hemel Hempstead stands the ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ village of Bedmond. With a population of under two thousand, two general shops and one pub, even on the High Street Bedmond is very quiet at most times of the day and night.
But behind the High Street lays Bedmond’s hidden gem: the woods. A short walk down Millhouse Lane, opposite the shops, and, aside from the tarmac surface, you could be stepping back in time. This is the lane that the father of Nicholas Breakspere, later to become Pope Adrian IV, would have walked down on his way to work at St Albans Abbey in the 12th century. This is the lane that highwayman Dick Turpin would have ridden Black Bess down, on his way to rob stagecoaches on the road to the north. This is a lane full of history, so don’t rush… just let your imagination run free and allow it all to seep in.
With only the rare car your dog can be let off the lead to explore the olfactory delights all dogs love so much. With the only sound being that of the birds singing and the only sight the lane rolling out in front of you enclosed in greenery you can feel the tension of modern life slipping from your body.
Turn into the signed footpath to Bell Lane and walk with the wild flower meadow on one side and the woods on the other. In spring both are a sea of blue, rich with the scent of a million bluebells. When they die back the meadow offers up buttercups and daisies, and butterflies perform their mating dance. In the sunless spots under the trees ferns start to push up through the ground, turning an ancient wood into a prehistoric forest; a child’s delight.
When you come to the spot where two paths cross, turn right and a short walk down an even narrower path will bring you to an archway in a hedge. Step through, and you’re back in bright sunshine again in Bell Lane. Turn left, past horses grazing in a field and the unmade lane brings you to a kissing gate at the edge of a small meadow, again covered with wild flowers. Through the gate… across the meadow… back into the woods… and the silence is only broken by birds singing, or woodpeckers tapping at trees looking for food. If you are fortunate and very quiet you might hear the barking of a muntjac deer (a strange little sound halfway between a cough and a bark) or see the squirrels busy in the trees.
This wood is not ‘managed’ so you will see fallen trees overgrown with ivy or covered in moss which provide a wonderful habitat for insects and you will walk with last year’s leaves crunching underfoot. Year upon year of leaves… how much lower the surface must have been when a future pope walked there as a boy, 900 years ago. Perhaps this was where he made the decision to move to France in order to follow his calling into the church. Here again, is a large glade which in the spring turns blue, with a smell so sweet and heady that you might be in a perfumery.
Back into the lane, and if you feel energetic you can turn right and walk all the way to St Albans; otherwise, turn left and walk back towards Bedmond.
The wood on your right hand side is privately owned and fenced off but it’s certainly worth a few moments to stop and admire the stunning sight of the purple rhododendrons. The left of the lane is the sunnier side and here you will see dog roses and brambles flowering and, woven in between them, buttercups and daisies. In the autumn, of course, there will be rose hips for the wine makers to pick and blackberries for delicious pies and jams.
Wander slowly up the lane with the warm sun on your back and you will see magpies, blackbirds, squirrels and maybe a fox crossing from one side to the other. The foxes are not afraid of people and, although you won’t get close, they don’t skitter away so there is plenty of opportunity to observe. On one particularly sunny day I came across a fox dozing in a clump of fern; he opened one eye, looked at me… and went back to sleep again.
And so – unfortunately – all too soon back to reality, but you will have enjoyed a very relaxing hour in secret surroundings, and hopefully feel refreshed and all the better for it.