The Camping and Caravanning Club Site at Theobalds Park is situated within what was the estate of the Royal Palace of Theobalds. This historical theme continues throughout the walk, with short detours possible to visit attractions and places of interest. Alongside this, there is an abundance of wildlife viewing opportunities during the route, including nature reserves that are home to nationally important birds and wildlife.
Immediately outside the site you are on Ermine Street a Roman Road that was used as a main route for hundreds of years. It is along this road that King Harold marched his army to battle the Vikings near York before turning south to the fatal Battle of Hastings.
Still marked on Ordnance Survey maps, is where Temple Bar stood for several years. This was one of the eight gates into London and possibly designed by Sir Christopher Wren. For 200 years it stood at the junction of Fleet Street and The Strand until 1878 when it was replaced by the current City Dragon structure. In 1908 the Muex family paid for the bricks to be brought to Theobalds Park where the gate was rebuilt. In 2003 it was returned to its current site at the side of St Paul’s Cathedral, a plaque marks the spot where it stood.
On 12 August 1944, a USAAF B-24 Liberator from RAF Wending on its way to a bombing mission had major problems whilst over Cheshunt. The crew led by the pilot Lt Ellis remained on board and steered the aircraft away from the town crashing into nearby fields, the ordnance exploded on impact killing all the crew. A monument to their bravery stands in the grounds of St Mary’s School, close to where the crash happened.
The outward journey follows the course of what is referred to as the New River, however, it is not a natural watercourse, but a manmade canal for delivering water to the population of London. A charter was issued in 1604 to construct the New River, which was eventually opened in 1613. Initially taking water from springs, it was later augmented with water being drawn from the nearby River Lea. The New River was almost the scene of a royal death, King James I was riding at his Theobalds estate when his horse reared and threw him into the icy water. Fortunately, one of his companions saw the King’s boots sticking out from the water and rescued him.
Cheshunt Park, of which the eastern side is now a golf course, was a huge hunting ground for the Royal Palace at nearby Theobalds Palace. However, after the death of Charles I the estate was broken up by Oliver Cromwell. By a quirk of fate in mid-eighteenth century. Oliver Cromwell’s Great Grandson came to own the estate through his marriage. In 1795 he built a mansion, Brantyngeshay on the grounds. Ironically this later Oliver Cromwell became Lord of The Manor of Theobalds, from which his ancestor’s adversary Charles I had set out to raise his standard at the start of the Civil War. The house was demolished in 1969.
At almost the most northerly extent of the route is Broxbourne Mill. A mill has stood here since before the Doomsday Book of 1086. It changed many times over the centuries but a catastrophic fire in 1949 destroyed the building leaving just a 16th-century floor. A pleasant spot to take refreshments.
After passing under the railway at Broxbourne Mill the nature of the walk changes as you stroll south through nature reserves adjacent to the River Lea, or Lee, or Ley depending on whether using new of older spellings. The area is a haven for wildlife, birds, mammals, insects and plants being a patchwork of different habitats; scrub woodland, open grassland, mature woodland, reed beds and open water. Some of the area was turned into wetland as a defensive measure when in 894 King Alfred had huge ditches dug to draw water off the river, which was considerably larger in those days. The plan, which apparently worked, was to prevent a fleet of Danes from reaching Ware.
This may have been a military triumph, but it caused another problem for the locals as traditionally the river had been the dividing boundary between parishes, manors and counties. The dispute over who had ownership over which bit of land was not properly settled until the later 1800’s.
A less romantic reason for many of the lakes to be present is the extraction of sand and gravel from the area. Once finished the old gravel pits have been converted into nature conservation areas and fishing venues. Take the opportunity to meander along other tracks to enjoy the wildlife and look for the sculptures that are dotted throughout the nature reserve.
Cedar’s Park is part of the old Theobalds Palace grounds, with some artefacts remaining.
Binoculars would be useful for this walk.