** Please note that this is an archive of the CANTAB publication and contains out-of-date information **
I send best wishes for a year of pleasant and adventurous rambling to all readers!
This month the focus is on the Royston area, with two informative articles from members of Ramblers’ Association Royston Group, concerning Bassingbourn cum Kneesworth (in fact a Cambridgeshire parish), and the Baldock Bypass, and the way it will affect (and generally improve) walking opportunities in the corridor between Royston and Baldock.
“Parish of the Month” is Bassingbourn, with special emphasis on its history, and new woodlands.
In November, your editor attended the first day of a Public Inquiry into Hertfordshire County Council’s Order to extinguish Footpath 16 in Therfield. I wish I could have attended the Inquiry on further days, for this was a complicated case, and the issues involved more than the closure of the single path involved. We await the judgement on this, but I take the opportunity to say that if you have the chance to go to a public inquiry on path issues, then do so, as it is a very revealing exercise, and the presence of ramblers supporting their Footpath Secretary, or staff member from the RA’s Head Office gives a good impression of a general interest by ramblers in the proceedings.
Quotations of the Month
“Earth is innocent. Only the use we make of it mars it”
Ellis Peters, The Cadfael Chronicles
Footpath 19 – Bassingbourn Barracks
In a more innocent time military homes were built alongside the public footpath which passes through the grounds of Bassingbourn Barracks. This was convenient for both military and civilian personnel wishing to travel quickly and easily to our village shops, post office and schools. However, during the heightened security which accompanied the resurgence of the IRA threat in the 1980s the gates at either end were locked and a notice was put into place which gave the telephone number of the Guard Room so that walkers could ask to be let through to walk on this right of way.
These notices have been missing for some time but the Commanding Officer has quickly complied with my request to replace them. The number on the gates is 01223 204331. This may be rung at any time. Walkers may telephone either on arrival at either gate or beforehand, giving the time they would like to be met.
For those who don’t know, or have forgotten about this path it is easy to find. Walk along footpath 6, otherwise known as the ‘Back Lane’ which runs from the Green to Guise Lane parallel with North End, passing along the stream behind the Church and gardens of the houses. At about 200 metres from the Guise Lane end, a ditch or ‘drain’ edged by a few trees runs off to the east, towards Kneesworth [Map reference 332448]. Walk along the north or Guise Lane side of this drain. Walkers are allowed about 2 metres of space* at a headland so are entitled to walk along the edge of the field. The path crosses a farm track and swings north-north east following the drain to the gate in the Barrack’s fence.
The path meets the Old North Road almost opposite the gap in the hedge which leads to all footpaths and permissionary paths to the east. These pass around Kneesworth, Whaddon, Meldreth, Orwell and the Wimpole Avenue, giving direct routes which avoid walking along the main roads.
The Cambridgeshire Countryside Access team have promised to put a small by-way sign at the point where footpath 19 leads from the Back Lane. There is already a sign near the Barrack’s entrance on the Old North Road, however it is partially concealed by the hedge and is misaligned at the moment.
The Access Team are working hard at the moment to find a sensible diversion to Footpath 19 which will avoid the MOD land.
I should just like to add that we are very well-served with footpaths in Bassingbourn. However, there is no right-of-way into the barracks through the gate at the end of Guise Lane.
Please use the correct route!
Sue Hedges, 23 Oct. 2005
* Actually, 1.5m minimum or as specified on the definitive path description. However, South Cambs. D.C and Cambs. C.C. require a minimum of 2m width for all new field-edge footpaths. Ed.
Although the bypass is not scheduled to open until August 2006, all the rights of way bridges are now open so that one is now able to walk this very beautiful area again without having to make detours. The bypass goes in a tunnel through the Weston Hills to minimise the environmental impact.
At TL276359 where one crosses from Wallington by Bygrave Lodge Farm to Bygrave, there is now an underpass to take one safely across the A505.
At TL261342 a bridleway bridge, requested at the Public Inquiry, is now in situ enabling both walkers and riders to continue towards Clothall on the original right of way without the dangerous and unpleasant detour via a roundabout on the bypass, which had been originally proposed. A path has also been created from this bridge to the Clothall Estate at Baldock. Continuing on the right of way southwards one crosses Wallington Road, which is now a bridleway only, the road having been severed by the bypass.
The path out of Baldock at California TL248342 was not walkable for part of its route when I attempted to walk the path on 26 November but a diagonal path was requested and agreed at the Public Inquiry, which will take one to a new road bridge to reach Warren Lane. This should become available in due course.
A short distance out of Baldock, a bridleway bridge at TL255329 takes the Icknield Way towards Clothall.
In the Weston Hills there is a footbridge at TL252322, which was officially opened on 28 July at a ceremony attended by several members of Royston Group. A photograph of the event appears on the front of Royston RA Group’s current programme.
Near the Letchworth Gate (Junction 9 on the A1(M)) a bridleway from Weston by Lannock Manor Farm crosses the A6141 to a permissive bridleway on the other side of the road. At the Public Inquiry I asked for an underpass here as it falls steeply on the Baldock side. However the officials from the Ministry of Transport based in Newcastle saw no need for an underpass as riders and walkers would be able to cross safely via a grass strip in the middle of the road towards Junction 9. At the moment the area around the bridleway from Weston looks a total mess but a crossing on the level is, I understand, to be provided which should make it, hopefully, a little less hazardous to cross.
STOP PRESS – Just before going to print, David Allard reports that Herts C.C. have extended the temporary closure of these bridges until May.
Parish of the Month –
Bassingbourn cum Kneesworth
OS Explorer Sheets 208, 209
This large parish of over 1500 ha lies mostly on chalk, and is thus well drained for Winter walking, and is popular with ramblers from both the Cambridge and Royston areas.
The Domesday Survey describes Kneesworth as part of Whaddon parish, but it was a separate hamlet by the C13th, and not united with Bassingbourn until 1966. Kneesworth’s open field system was enclosed in 1842, whereas the fields of Bassingbourn were enclosed by an Award of 1806.
The centre of Bassingbourn is nearly a mile from the cross-roads at Kneesworth, along The Causeway – a weary road to walk, although it has a footway, and a strategically placed seat near the burial ground. The village sign is neatly sited on the Green, not far from The Hoops public house, and the chimney of the small village gashouse (TL 336 440), dating from the C19th, and an adjacent former agricultural engineering works of 1873. Tactful redevelopment of the site has recently been completed, with plaques giving a brief history.
The Church stands away from the High Street, up Church End. The main body of the building is C14th, with a tower some 100 years older, and a Perpendicular oak porch. South from the church, the Village College, opened 1954, occupies a spread of buildings set in wide recreation grounds, and acting as a centre for village social and educational facilities, including the library.
There are 24 rights of way within the parish, and a number of permissive or customary paths, making a substantial network, mostly in excellent order. The only path with a persistent problem is Footpath 19, linking the two parts of the parish, and discussed in our leading article. The crossing of the A1198 (otherwise Ermine Street, or The Old North Road) needs care, and is safest in the 20 mph zone at the junction of The Causeway & Ermine Street, although elsewhere, at least there is good visibility.
The parish is crossed by Ashwell Street, the remnant of the various tracks of The Icknield Way prehistoric trade route. Sections of this path in the parish are grassy or hard, and (thanks to traffic restriction orders) largely traffic-free, save for agricultural vehicles, as the way runs pleasantly between intermittent hedges. To the east, the track runs to Melbourn: to the west it continues past Litlington and The Mordens to Ashwell.
From Ashwell Street, turn north up Spring Lane or South End, to return to Bassingbourn centre, with its network of well-signed inner-village paths, between housing and attractive young woodland (1). Field paths off Ashwell Street at TL 346 432 short of the junction with the A1198 lead across fields to the health centre and the village.
Leaving Ashwell Street to the west of the village, a kissing gate at TL 330 426 gives access to a permissive path, leading north through a narrow belt of new woodland (2) and along an older treeline towards the Springs, and thence back to the Village College.
A track starts south from Ashwell Street, at TL 341 430 (almost opposite the end of Spring Lane) going towards Royston, crossing the bypass, and continuing on a dingy path through the industrial estate to emerge over the railway onto Green Drift. This is a relatively fast bolt-hole to Royston station, but parts of the track may be muddy in Winter.
Further west along Ashwell Street, at TL 327 425, another route south on a field-edge bridleway leads across the railway line and the bypass to the Little Chef on the outskirts of Royston. This gives an excuse for a stop for tea, before ambling into the town along the heath…(An alternative “finish” may be made on a sticky cross-field path turning off by a waymark at TL 334 410, taking steps up and down the bypass, and stiles over the railway).
From either behind the village sign in Bassingbourn, TL 336 440 or, alternatively, beside the church wall, TL 330 441, fenced paths lead to a field edge route north to Guise Lane. Thence a circuit may be made via North End and Fen Road. The “John o’Gaunt” Inn is closed long since, but there is a seat at the road junction! (John o’ Gaunt’s Castle shown on old maps at North End, ca TL 325 452, see the 1937 1:25000 series, was in fact built by Warin de Bassingbourn in 1266. The site was damaged by coprolite digging in the C19th, and nothing is visible from the road). Return via one of two paths going south through Shadbury End, and Church End.
More energetic walkers may turn off west at TL 325 442 before reaching Church End, taking cross-field paths to Abington Pigotts. The route starts off well on a hard track, makes across a field to a bridge/hedge gap, and continues across 5 further fields, with occasional waymarking. This can be a fine tramp in Summer, but only recommended in Winter when the ground is frozen! A return may be made via Bibles Grove, Down Hall, and the paths of Litlington to Ashwell Street and Bassingbourn.
Long distance walkers doing the Harcamlow Way approach the parish along Ashwell Street, cross the A1198, and, beyond the nurseries, turn north up a field edge path, shirting a wood, and later, Kneesworth House Secure Hospital. The path emerges on Chestnut Lane past the farm shop, and turns towards the Kneesworth crossroad. Just before the junction with the A1198, the route goes north over a stile, and passes a new reservoir, before reaching the parish boundary with Whaddon, at Dyers Green. The Explorer 209 OS sheet shows the Icknield Way Path along Ashwell Street, but recent guides give the preferred option for the Icknield Way Walkers route peeling off at Baldock, for an upland route to Royston via Wallington.
Note (1) & (2) refer to woods mentioned in the item below.
Woods of Bassingbourn
The following is updated from an article “The New Woods of the Cam Valley”, which first appeared in the Cantab Issue of October 2001. These woods, mostly planted under the aegis of The Woodland Trust, were mostly still fairly small 4 years ago. However, within the last year, all have shown a growth spurt, possibly thanks to the pleasant warm Summer, and now contain respectable young trees, 10 – 20 feet high.
One of the woods within Bassingbourn can be found just off Ashwell Street. Halt beside a kissing-gate at the side of the byway. A permissive path leads across an arable field to a dip in the chalk downland. Here, the County Council has planted Clear Farm Wood, TL 330 427, (2) with trees now 10 foot high, well-fenced against rabbits. Stiles lead in and out of fences, and the path leads on to the wooded springs behind the village college.
Continue into the village, to visit Keith Wood, TL 337 428 (named after a former parish clerk), and Ford Wood, TL 334 435. Both of these attractive woods (1) are now quite well-established, and blend well with the dog-walking network of paths behind the village recreation ground.
Finally, off Spring Lane at TL 336 435 is a newly planted strip of woodland, with a notice “welcome” and an invitation to walk this way. How nice!
Quotations of the Month
“The roads lead always two ways, hither as well as yonder”
Ellis Peters, The Cadfael Chronicles
Cantab Rambler by E-Mail & Post: Issue 34.
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© Janet Moreton, 2006.