A seven-mile circular walk from Hadham Hall to Patmore Heath in East Hertfordshire
Nature Notes columnist Jono Forgham covers your fortnightly look at nature around Bishop’s Stortford
Last Wednesday was my first chance to get out for my latest Nature Notes wander. A grey morning as I set off along Millfield Lane, Bury Green, having parked near the polo fields.
I was heading to take the footpaths from Hadham Hall to Patmore Heath and then return via Albury. A red kite soared overhead in the stiff westerly breeze, the first of 12 that I recorded for the walk.
I arrived at the drive to Hadham Hall and the resident common buzzard that regularly roosts upon a dead tree was absent, but the local mallards were in fine voice on the moat.
I took the path north from here, passing a pond where some really exceptional improvements have taken place recently. The spit between the two ponds now has plants, woodpiles and smart benches. Really good to see and I expect the new habitat to attract many species, including dragonflies, damselflies and maybe birds such as kingfishers and grey wagtails.
Once on to the farm track I headed towards the bridge over the bypass. Here, the hedge was alive with a mixed flock of great tits and blue tits. I checked the moat around a small island just before the bridge, but just a moorhen here.
Once over the bridge the path continues alongside hedgerows and arable fields. More kites, which were joined by a pair of common buzzards as I slipped through mud near to Upwick Hall. In the verge, snowdrops and winter aconites, both plants I was to encounter on several occasions further along the walk. A closer check on these verges showed there to be the first growth of Arum maculatum (lords-and-ladies) and Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard, also known as jack by the hedge).
At Upwick Hall there is a red brick and oak cart barn which I checked for signs of barn owls, but no pellets were to be found. A viburnum was in blossom next to a splendid mahonia displaying vibrant yellow flowers. At last, a bit of countryside colour and the first signs that nature is waking up ready for the spring. Always a great time to be out to see these changes.
I came to the lane (Farnham to Upwick Green and Albury) and turned left. More snowdrops as I picked up a path on the right, signposted Brooms Farm.
Very little seen so far and, as I was heading into fallow deer country, I had my fingers crossed that I would get some good views. The muddy path indicated that many deer had recently wandered here, their slots (footprints) were abundant and some looked very fresh so I thought I would see if I could track them. Muntjac slots were also seen along this path, but these looked a few days old. The path passes a few small woodlands so I stopped to see if the fallows were hiding away, but no sign.
A pair of grey squirrels scurried up an oak as I checked a stand of conifers for goldcrests and coal tits, but none appeared to be present. It was beginning to look like one of those days where nature seemed to be avoiding me.
I continued along the footpath, crossing a lane and taking a path uphill towards Lane Cottage and Patmore Heath. A solitary black-headed gull flew by effortlessly as I headed to the pond at the south-west corner of the heath.
Patmore Heath is managed by Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust and it was obvious that they had been busy carrying out improvements around the pond. The encroaching willows have been cut back, permitting more light to reach the water. The remaining vegetation held good numbers of birds - great tits, robins, blue tits and blackbirds - whilst, in the verge, both primulas and daffodils were already in flower. Just as I was about to set off to check out the rest of the heath, a male reed bunting popped into view and I managed my first bird photo of the day.
Crossing over the heath led me to the bench where I enjoyed a sit down and some home-made caldo verde soup, piping hot from my flask. A robin burst into song, but the only things moving were two ladies on horseback and a Parcel Force van. All very quiet until the familiar and unmistakable “cronk cronk” of a raven. These large corvids are becoming more established locally and always a pleasure to see and hear.
Following my second mug of soup, I set off to check the ponds. These held plenty of sedges, but little else. Evidence of rabbits with numerous scratch holes, but the only interesting thing of note was a group of bracket fungi growing from two silver birch trunks.
I set off down the lane to the Albury road right next to The Catherine Wheel pub and turned left. After half a mile or so, opposite High Hall, there is a footpath down to the River Ash, which in this area is now a dry riverbed, but showed signs of having flowed rapidly in the recent heavy downpours.
The footpath runs parallel to the river and in a field next to Albury church was a strange geological phenomenon. An almost perfect circle, overgrown with trees. Clearly a dip in the middle, but, as there was no path to access it over the winter wheat, I could not explore more closely. I had an inkling of what had caused this, but needed to do a little research.
Two grey herons stood motionless in the field as I arrived at the lane up to the school and the church. In the field on my left was a huge party of 300-plus fieldfare and redwings, joined by several hundred starlings and wood pigeons. One fieldfare flew from a tree just as I pressed the shutter. A lucky shot.
On to the footpath that runs behind the village hall. This takes the rambler back to the Albury road and on to a path that crosses a field towards some woods. The signpost states “Farnham, 2 miles”. The undulating slopes here cause good updraught and so I was not surprised to see three red kites and four common buzzards soaring majestically on the breeze.
In the far distance, movement caught my eye. Some 600-800 yards away a large herd of fallow deer were heading into the woodland, in with them several white harts and does. Pity that they were so distant as I fired off numerous shots, more in hope than expectation. Even from such a distance, the deer were clearly aware of my presence as I, too, entered the wood and headed uphill.
Here, another mysterious hollow, similar in size to the one near the church. About 20ft deep and almost a perfect circle again. It reminded me of a bomb crater my mother had shown me when I was a youngster. This was in a village in North Wales where she had been evacuated from The Wirral in 1940. She recalled the night the bomb landed. Probably a bomber returning from a raid over Liverpool who, perhaps having seen a light from the village, dropped any remaining bombs.
I fished out my phone and googled “Did Albury in Herts get bombed in WWII”. Indeed it did and the piece even stated bombs fell in Albury End Wood. Mystery solved. If readers have any more information about these and the secret governmental works going on at Albury Hall, I would be keen to hear about this.
A quick search of the wood showed the first dog mercury pushing through, an unusual plant in that it is one of very few that has green flowers.
Soon I was back at Upwick Green and on the path passing Upwick Hall, over the bypass and back to Hadham Hall. The hedge, previously alive with tit species, was now full of a large flock of colourful yellowhammers, the first sighting of this typical hedgerow bird for the whole walk.
Back at the ponds at Hadham Hall and the mallards had now gone and been replaced by a moorhen. I noted what I presumed to be an ancient mulberry tree, a favourite of the Stuart kings, and wondered if this specimen had begun life in the time of James II?
I returned to the polo fields and off home with a camera full of shots, mostly grey and grainy ones to be deleted, no doubt. Pleased to find the fallow deer and witness the two environmental enhancements at the ponds. A wonderful seven-mile wander with, by the end, plenty seen.
Finally, please note that Hadham Hall is a residential area and the drive to it from the road, whilst being a public footpath, is private with no cars permitted apart from residents and deliveries. The footpath goes through the arch and then heads to the right-hand corner by the two ponds.