From Baldock on the Great North Road




4.5 miles (7.2kms)

95ft (29m)

About the walk

On the map Baldock looks little more than an appendage to the vast sprawl of Letchworth, but the A1(M) bypass between them will ensure that the town retains its identity. Baldock is very much an ancient town compared with the first 'garden city' of that Edwardian upstart, Ebenezer Howard, begun in 1903. And yet Baldock is similarly an artificial creation, from the Middle Ages, planted at an important crossroads, as was Royston, founded about 1189 further east. Baldock's predecessor, a Romano-British town of some size, grew up where the much older Icknield Way, running northeast to southwest along the down edge, met the Roman Ermine Street. Another important Roman road from St Albans to the southwest joined Ermine Street a little south of the Icknield Way crossroads. The Roman settlement had disappeared well before the medieval town arrived immediately west of its site. The far north of the large parish of Weston reached the Icknield Way and in the 1140s Gilbert, Earl of Clare, gave the area to the Knights Templars. Before 1185 a town had been laid out and Ermine Street and the Icknield Way diverted through the big triangular marketplace in Whitehorse Street.


The High Street, running south and wide, was a second marketplace, but subsequent encroachment has blurred the picture. Encroachment usually happened when a market stall was turned into a permanent shop or structure. So the bends on the A1, which choked the town before the bypass, had their origins when the town was laid out in the 12th century.

Baldock, strangely, is a corruption of Baghdad, presumably reflecting the Middle Eastern interests of the Templars, who built a sumptuous parish church. Richard I confirmed the town's charter in 1189. It is interesting to note the tradesmen already listed among the 122 tenants of the 150-acre (61ha) town in a Templars survey of 1185: blacksmith, ironmonger, tailor, shoemaker, tanner, mason, cook, carter, mercer, weaver, saddler, goldsmith, merchant and vintner. Baldock prospered, later playing a key role as a coaching inn on the Great North Road (which became the A1).

In the 18th century the town acquired fine, brick town houses, particularly along the High Street and Hitchin Street. These were for their prosperous citizens, many of whom were merchants or maltsters, the town having seven maltings. You'll find the older buildings at the north end of the High Street and along the east part of Hitchin Street, Whitehorse Street and Church Street.

Walk directions

Head north along the High Street to the crossroads and into Church Street, then left into St Mary's churchyard. Go to the right of the church and pass the church hall, alongside a narrow extension to the churchyard. Emerging on, Norton Road, turn right. Beyond The Orange Tree pub, turn left.

Follow Norton Road under the railway. Immediately after the road crosses the A1(M) in its cutting go left to a footpath sign. Turn left along the edge of farmland, with the A1(M) down on your left, and go right on to a grassy path across the arable ground to the right of an electricity pylon. Cross the brow of the hill and descend to a hedge with a pair of cottages to the right of the opening. Through this you reach a lane which leads into old Norton. The village has some attractive cottages and the Three Horseshoes pub.

Turn right through the war memorial lychgate. Go to the right of St Nicholas' Church to a gate into a paddock. Follow a hollow trackway and leave via a kissing gate. Cross a lane, bear left and at Nortonbury Lane go to its right, to a footpath which climbs between overgrown hedges to the edge of a field. Descend and turn right on to the lane leading to Norton Bury Farm.

Opposite the old stable buildings go to the kissing gate. The path runs diagonally left across pasture. Leave these through a kissing gate and turn left, ignoring the iron footbridge over the River Ivel. The route now follows the prominently waymarked Kingfisher Way through pasture and water-meadows by the side of the River Ivel.

Keep on the Kingfisher Way, turning right through a kissing gate to pass to the right of a cottage to a lane. Cross the River Ivel into Radwell. The lane climbs and you now ignore the Kingfisher Way, which turns left. Pass the Victorian All Saints Church and go right at a footpath sign by the postbox. Walk through the yard of Bury Farm.

At the far end of the farmyard turn right, the path descending past horse chestnuts to the Ivel valley. Follow the grassy path as it curves left, the river on your right, arable fields on your left. At a road turn left and pass under the A1(M).

At the main road, the old Great North Road, turn right and follow this south into Baldock. At the traffic-light crossroads turn right into Whitehorse Street and back to Baldock High Street.

Additional information

Pavements, lanes and field paths, and stretch of old Great North Road

Valley of River Ivel and townscape of Baldock

On lead in Baldock; some cattle grazing and horse paddocks too

OS Explorer 193 Luton & Stevenage

In High Street, Baldock

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.

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