This is a longer version of the tour from Harpenden Railway Station that takes you across the undulating chalk hills of the Chilterns dip slope into the valleys of the Mimram and Lea Rivers. The extension extends the circuit to the north, taking you through the Barton Hills and across the Eastern scarp slope of the Chilterns into the clay vale beyond. It then circles back and finds a gentle climb back up the scarp to re-join the shorter route at Offley.
Old Mercian and Celtic Kings are the ghosts in this historic landscape in which you use the old roads and tracks in and over chalk valleys, to pass through sleepy villages that were not always so quiet. You have an opportunity to admire George Bernard Shaw's revolving writing shed and eyeball the unlikely last abode of the villain of the notorious (in France at least) Dreyfus Affair.
In addition to the summaries here, there are notes on each waypoint. These can be difficult to find and access on Outdooractive. You can find better edited and updatded versions on my blog site, www.pootler.co.uk . Look under the 'Pootler' heading.
The character of an area reflects the rock beneath it. Here, it's chalk, a soft stone which was formed out of the compaction and compression of a thick sediment of the skeletal remains of microscopic creatures at the bottom of a warm and shallow sea, located somewhere around the latitude of today’s Mediterranean. If you want to know more, check out my blog notes on local geology at www.pootler.co.uk where you can also find better edited and illustrated versions of these notes.
The chalk gives its name to the Cretaceous Period which on land elsewhere, some 100m years ago, saw the age of the dinosaurs. Over the eons that followed this sediment hardened into rock, moved northward and emerged from the sea. The Chilterns subsequently formed as wrinkles in the Earth's crust when the various tectonic plates carrying bits of what would become Africa, Europe and America, shifted around like giant dodgems cars.
The dip slopes of the Chilterns were occupied by early man before the last ice age but permanent occupation dates back to the time when people reoccupied the area after the glaciers retreated. Before the Romans showed up the area was populated by the Belgic Catuvallauni tribe. One of their Kings was Cunobellinus who was the 'Cymbeline' in Shakespeare's eponymous play. They will appear in the Waypoint Notes. There would have been some Roman settlement here as you would expect given the proximity of St Albans, but they left nothing to see on this route.
Generally, the population was never as dense on the higher ground as it was in the lower countryside to the north and south. It would have been concentrated in the fertile valleys and lower slopes where there was a water supply and where the larger villages are now situated. As a result there is perhaps less to see other than the countryside itself which is mainly arable although there are some cattle and sheep. As you might expect, wheat is the major crop but a significant amount of barley and rapeseed is grown as well as well as oats and, occasionally, fields of blue flowered Linseed. There are a few orchards but the poor soils don't lend themselves to growing vegetables.
The pattern of settlements is mostly hamlets and lone farmsteads. The villages, Lilley, Great Offley, Whitwell and Caldicote are for the most part pretty but not stunningly so not least because they sit on well-used roads, with a scattering of houses great & small and pubs dating back up to 400 years and several churches that are very much older, nearly all of which have been altered in varying degrees.
‘Lea’ is old English and means ‘meadow’. Mimram is a more interesting name and is believed to be of Brythonic origin.