DESPITE its proximity to the A1 motorway, Welwyn retains an old-world charm, with old coaching houses dating back from the time the Great North Road came through the village.

On a lovely spring morn, the daffodils were in flower in St Mary's churchyard, as they must have been for many a year.

Near the church, there's a splendid 16th Century timber-framed cottage. A plaque tells you it has served as church house, almshouse, police station, post office and church house again. There's an ancient, long-handled drag hook fixed underneath the beam of the first storey which was used to remove thatch whenever fire threatened. It must have taken several pairs of hands.

A poverty-striken Vincent van Gogh walked to Welwyn from London on several occasions to visit his sister Anne, who lived at Rose Cottage from 1875 to 76. He lived at Ramsgate, where he worked at a school. Dare we imagine that a Hertfordshire cornfield provided the inspiration for his famous painting?

I passed under the motorway, and turned up the embankment where the right of way runs just yards from speeding traffic, so close you can see the concentration on drivers' faces as they hurtle past at 70mph. Lucky you, if you are on foot, for where motorists must focus on their driving, you can focus on your immediate surroundings, woodlands and, beyond, the open fields of the Mimram valley.

Excellent waymarking yellow arrows guide you over a big field, where its worth pausing to look around at the lovely Hertfordshire countryside. Ahead are the tall buildings of Welwyn Garden City and the Digswell Viaduct. Somehow they belong to this unspoiled scene. Today, a brightly coloured hot air balloon rose serenely above the valley: what a view its occupants would have on such a beautiful day.

In a deep hollow, the right of way turns north and runs alongside a wood, where a sign warns of poison being put out for the control of rodents. Best not to nibble at any scraps you might find hereabouts. Beyond is Harmergreen Wood, where Turpin's Ride leads to the B197 at Oaklands. It may be named after the highwayman Dick Turpin. He certainly got around. Further on, I turned left into Hangman's Lane. They didn't hang old Dick here, he was executed in York.

A sign at the entrance to Mardley Heath forbids you to carry guns, firearms and catapaults (I'd left mine at home). An area of natural heathland, it was purchased by Welwyn Rural District Council after the owner applied for permission to use it as a rubbish tip. All who use the heath and live by it must be forever in the council's debt. After the road, care in navigation is needed in the woods. You must locate the tunnel beneath the motorway: I followed blue arrows instead of yellow and succeeded.

The right of way beyond Plummers farm crosses fields of prairie-like proportions. It leads to Codicote, where a convenient bench in St Giles's churchyard affords rest. Note the grave of John Gootheridge, who died in 1824 and was reburied a week later. Bodysnatchers dug John up and sold his remains in the "interest of science". You could earn £10 a body at the time. The restored church is the oldest building in the village.

Codicote appears in the Domesday Book as "Cuddas Cot". On the main road through the village the As You Like It Peking restaurant occupies a building that once housed the oldest licensed premises in Hertfordshire, the George and Dragon. It was the Greyhound in 1279. I wonder how long it will be a Chinese.

I crossed the Mimram at Codicote Bottom, where the Hertfordshire Way leads to Ayot St Lawrence. In the village, opposite the Brocket Arms, is the Old Church, partly demolished by Sir Lionel Lyde because it spoiled his view. Thankfully, the Bishop of Lincoln intervened, but too late, sadly, to prevent its ruin. The church has been restored, as far as possible and you can walk up the gravelled path and explore the old walls.

A bridleway opposite Stocking Lane Cottage leads across the fields to a lone fingerpost, thence to Old Welwyn. I wonder if Van Gogh ever wandered out this way.

Approximate distance: 8.5 miles

Start and Finish: Car park by the bridge over the River Mimram in Old Welwyn


St Mary's Church, Welwyn, under A1(M), Harmergreen Wood, Oaklands, Mardley Heath, under A1(M), Codicote, Codicote Bottom, Ayot St Lawrence, Welwyn


l.=left; r.=right; n. s. e. w.=north, south, east, west; br.=bridge; r.o.w.=right of way; PH=public house; m.=mile; s/post=signpost; f/post=fingerpost; b/way=bridleway; ch.=church; f/p=footpath


To St Mary's Church, turn r. past Church House and Rose Cottage, r. at main road, under m/way. Turn r. up embankment alongside m/way, follow yellow waymarking arrows to hollow, then l. (n.) through Harmergreen Wood to B197. Turn r. Turn l. into Hangman's Lane to Mardley Heath. Continue n. to rd, turn l. 100 yards, r. into woods. Follow blue arrows under A1(M) to rd. Turn r. then l. at Spinney Lane to rd. Turn r. to Plummers Farm, cross fields to Codicote (ch.). At High St, take Heath Lane. After leaving village, follow f/p through woods to Codicote Bottom. Cross Mimram, turn l., take r.o.w. at Ayot Lodge to Ayot St Lawrence. Visit Old Church. Take Ayot St Peter rd, then Hill Farm Lane to Stocking Lane Cottage, opposite which r.o.w. leads to Welwyn.


Welwyn: several

Oaklands: North Star

Codicote: several

Ayot St Lawrence: Brocket Arms

Reproduced from Limited Edition magazine, exclusive guides to living in Hertfordshire, Middlesex and the London Borough of Barnet (01923 216295).

For a printable map of the walk, please click the image below.