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Last weekend was a Bank Holiday Weekend in the UK, and with the first real view of blue skies of the Summer, it was time to take to the road for another Heritage Drive. The plan this time was to take a circular route from London, up the A1 to Letchworth, across to Cambridge, then heading south again via Saffron Walden and Bishop’s Stortford back to London, taking in various heritage sites en route.

Turning off the A1M at the Letchworth junction, our journey proper starts with a trip northeast across the ‘Baldock Bowl’, so called by the Norton Community Archaeology Group, who have a long term project running just north of Letchworth on the western side of the bowl, investigating a Class Ia henge with internal post setting and two ditches, amongst evidence of other contemporary monuments. But as we follow the A505 toward Baldock we pass an area which includes another prehistoric monument, the Weston Hill Henge.

Past Baldock, we continue on the A505, which for some of its length follows the line of the Icknield Way ancient track, until just before Royston we see on the horizon to the right the barrow cemetery of Therfield Heath, which we’ve featured here on the Journal before. Royston of course, is named after the glacial erratic stone which features in the centre of the town, close to the entrance to Royston Cave, a possible medieval hide-away or meeting place with some intriguing carvings.

Joining the A10, we next head up toward Cambridge, turning off after the village of Harston, to head toward Hauxton and the Shelfords. Our next scheduled stop is the church at Little Shelford (turn left into Church Lane), where although the church has a web site there is no information whatsoever about the history or structure of the church, which has several old carved stones embedded within the tower, porch and on the southeast wall. It would be interesting to know the history of these stones, but the church was locked on my visit, so I don’t know if an information booklet is available.

Porch stone at Little Shelford church.

Porch stone at Little Shelford church.

Another stone in the porch at Little Shelford Church

Another stone in the porch at Little Shelford Church

Back on the road, we head toward Great Shelford, and the A1301. Our destination is a short distance north east on Granham’s Road. After passing the White House farm, there is a pull-in with a Public Footpath sign. From here we set off on foot toward Addenbrooke’s Hospital in the distance, before following the bridle path round to the left, to Nine Wells nature reserve. This is a small area, with several natural springs, now formed into three separate springheads. In 1614, Cambridge needed a new water supply. Thomas Hobson built a causeway bringing water from the springs at Nine Wells into the city centre. But he had another claim to fame. Thomas Hobson hired out horses, but hirers had to take the horse closest to the door. This led to the expression “Hobson’s Choice” meaning “No choice”!

One of the springheads at Nine Wells

One of the springheads at Nine Wells

The main springhead at Nine Wells. I counted at least 4 separate springs feeding this pool.

The main springhead at Nine Wells. I counted at least 4 separate springs feeding this pool.

Continuing on, and turning right onto the A1307, we come to Wandlebury Park on the left by the dual carriageway, the site of an Iron Age Hill Fort,  within the Gog-Magog Downs, site of Tom Lethbridge’s now legendary hill figures. The hill fort is now part of a Country Park and popular with families and dog walkers alike. The car park was busting at the seams when we arrived and we did not stop to investigate on this occasion.

Wandlebury Ring, Wikimedia Commons, © Sebastian Ballard via the Geograph Project

We then headed down to Saffron Walden, site of a turf maze and Audley End House and Gardens,  an English Heritage property, for a spot of lunch at the weekend market in the town.

Cutting back west past Audley End to head south on the B1383 we passed close by the site of the Ring Hill hill fort, now overgrown and as far as I know, inaccessible on private land. The next village south was Newport, home of the Leper Stone, a prehistoric standing stone more recently used as a receptacle for alms for inhabitants of a nearby leper hospital. Also in the town, near the railway station, is a large puddingstone, possibly one of the sites on the supposed ‘Puddingstone Trail‘.

Nearing the end of of own trail, we pass through Ugley, where another Puddingstone lies at Ugley Green, and Stansted Mountfitchet, site of a replica Norman Castle and Toy Museum – fun for all the family is apparently guaranteed!

And finally to Bishops Stortford, where Wallbury Camp, yet another hillfort in this mostly flat part of the country, lies just to the south of the town on a private estate, hidden by trees.

The variety of heritage on a trip like this just goes to show how much it’s possible to see, from many different periods, on a day trip by car from North London. Why not tell us about your own trips?


May 2013

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