Aldbury and the Grand Union Canal

NEAREST LOCATION

Aldbury

RECOMMENDED BY
DISTANCE

6 miles (9.7kms)

ASCENT
510ft (155m)
TIME
2hrs 15min
GRADIENT
DIFFICULTY
Hard
STARTING POINT
SP965124

About the walk

Aldbury, one of Hertfordshire’s most attractive villages, nestles in the lee of a steep, wooded chalk escarpment, the stone column of the Bridgewater Monument crowning the ridge to its northeast. To the northwest the wooded Aldbury Nowers terminate the chalk escarpment from Ivinghoe before dropping nearly 300ft (91m) into the valley of the River Bulbourne – a superb setting for Aldbury with its triangular village green complete with a reed-girt pond and old stocks. Around it are fine cottages, including the timber-framed and partly medieval Old Manor House. In the 19th-century Lord Brownlow of Ashridge improved the estate and built cottages in the village, identified by his initial ‘B’ and the date on a plaque. His improvements included the communal bakery, which has a distinctive chimney.

The railway cutting

Heading westwards, our route crosses the railway line that cuts through the Chilterns via the Berkhamsted Gap. Built as the London and Birmingham Railway from Euston, it runs in a cutting that is over 2 miles (3.2km) long and up to 57ft (17m) deep – a major feat of engineering. The line opened as far as Tring Station in October 1837, then to Birmingham the following year. A railway hamlet grew up here with railway labourers’ cottages being numbered in sequence from Euston and the former Royal Hotel of 1838 which has a grand frontage block in stucco with a portico. To its rear was a long range of stables, coach houses and staff accommodation, all now converted to flats and apartments.

Canals cut costs

Later in the walk, but 40 years back in time, is the canal along the Bulbourne Valley. The canal was built by the Grand Junction Canal Company, formed in 1793. (It was renamed the Grand Union Canal in 1929.) The company's canal significantly shortened the route to London from Birmingham by avoiding the winding Oxford Canal and the River Thames. The canal reached Kings Langley in September 1797. As the Chilterns proved difficult to pass, it needed a major cutting – some 30ft (10m) deep – to reduce the number of locks required. It was finally opened in May 1800 and our route follows a good, deep section of the Tring Cutting.

The father of inland navigation

The Bridgewater Monument, a giant Doric column topped by an urn commemorates Francis Egerton, the third and last Duke of Bridgewater who died in 1803 and is buried in Little Gaddesden church. A canal-building pioneer, his 1755 Bridgewater Canal in Lancashire was the first of the 18th-century canal boom. His monument looks down on the Grand Union Canal with which, ironically, he had no connection. He also demolished the old Ashridge mansion but died before making much progress, leaving his cousin who inherited with virtually nothing rebuilt. You can normally climb up to its viewing platform between April and October on weekend and Bank Holiday afternoons.

 

Walk directions

From the village green, visit St John the Baptist Church, then leave via the lychgate. Turn right to a kissing gate, signposted 'Pitstone Hill', and turn right on to the Hertfordshire Way. Pass some farm buildings and go left through a kissing gate. Continue alongside a new farm building and, across a track via two kissing gates, the path climbs gently between a hedge and a fence. At the crest turn left on to a bridleway, with a golf course on your right. Drop to join the Ridgeway National Trail, which reaches the road via the drive to Westland Farm.

Follow the road right, and then the railway in its cutting, passing Tring Station and the former Royal Hotel and cottages. On the right of the bridge descend steps to the Grand Union Canal tow path.

Follow the tow path beside the canal in its cutting as far as the next bridge, No. 136, where you climb up to the lane.

Turn right on to the lane to Marsh Croft Farm. Go across the railway and through a gate on to a concrete road. Pass Park Hill Farm, then some horse paddocks. At the road turn left and pass the gates to Northfield Studio and a copse. Turn right beyond, to a footpath sign set back from the road, 'Pitstone and Pitstone Hill'. Go through the kissing gate on to the path skirting some old chalk pits to your left. Go through a kissing gate to climb steeply alongside woodland, with downland on the left, to reach Pitstone Hill.

Turn right through a kissing gate into the woods of Aldbury Nowers, following the Ridgeway. Here the path follows a section of Grim's Ditch along the ridge until, descending, you veer left down some steps. Ignore turnings off. At a footpath T-junction, where the Ridgeway turns right, go left. At a guidepost go straight on, initially in the woods, ignoring a path to the right.

Go through a kissing gate and across a track. The path, now on a golf course, curves downhill through trees, then turns left at the hedge. At a sign go right and keep on the metalled track, with a hedge right. At the next hedge go through a kissing gate, the path now between high hedges.

Turn left on to a bridleway via a kissing gate to the road and turn left, then right up to a kissing gate. Halfway along a hedge go left through another kissing gate. Head half right, uphill, across cattle pasture to a kissing gate on the edge of the wood. The well-marked path climbs steeply through the woods and near a cottage, veer right, then left, now climbing gently. Meeting a track go left along it, then at a metalled track go right to walk to the Bridgewater Monument.

Leave the Monument and pass the tea rooms on a public bridleway, waymarked 'Ashridge Estate Boundary Trail', and at a fork go right to descend on the metalled track. At another fork bear right, briefly on the Hertfordshire Way, to descend steeply on to a holloway track, and reaching the road turn right into Aldbury village.

Additional information

Bridleways, field paths, canal tow path and woods

Bridleways, field and woodland paths, canal tow path and two steep path ascents

On lead near horses and cattle when passing farms; care needed on road

AA Walker's Map 24 The Chilterns

Around green in centre of Aldbury or in public car park up Stocks Road at north end of village

None on route

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About the area

Discover Hertfordshire

As Hertfordshire is so close to London, many of its towns have become commuter havens. St Albans, less than 19 miles (30km) from the capital, has retained its distinctive character, along with many historic remains. The Roman city of Verulamium is situated in a nearby park, and excavations have revealed an amphitheatre, a temple, parts of the city walls and some house foundations. There are also some amazing mosaic pavements.

The abbey church at St Albans is thought to have been built on the same site where St Alban met his martyrdom in the 3rd century. The abbey was founded in 793 by King Offa of Mercia, and contains the saint’s shrine, made of Purbeck marble. Lost for years, it was discovered in the 19th century, in pieces, and restored by the designer of the red telephone box, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. The abbey also contains some wonderful medieval wall paintings. Nicholas Breakspear was born in St Albans, the son of an abbey tenant. In 1154 he took the name Adrian IV, and became the first, and so far only, English pope. Another famous son of Hertfordshire was Sir Francis Bacon, Elizabethan scholar and Lord High Chancellor, born in Hemel Hempstead in 1561.