A weekend with a difference

A Weekend Cycling from Abbots Langley to Whipsnade

By Fay Bryant

 Fay Cuthbert

At the age of 16yrs. I commenced working with a friend Carol, towards attaining the Duke of Edinburgh Award. unfortunately the whole thing had to be completed by the age of 21yrs.

This did not give me enough time and although an extension was applied for, it was not granted. However, the age limit has since been extended to the mid twenties.

You will see from the grey book that details for the Bronze Award were:-

1) A course in the Art of Makeup.

2) A swimming course which included Life-Saving & retrieving a brick from 2 metres of water.

3) A day’s cycling from Watford to Hatfield.

4) A First Aid course.

The Silver parts I completed were:-

1)a weekend’s cycling from Abbots Langley to Whipsnade.                                                       (the enclosed account illustrates this)

2)A further First Aid/Nursing course.

My friend, who was younger than me went on to obtain her Gold Award and went to Buckingham Palace with her parents to receive it.                                                             Eddie and I shared the celebrations with her during the evening of her return from London. Her parents had arranged a special dinner at their house for us all.

The Award gives young people an incite into many varied interests that they can pursue sometimes into later life. I would thoroughly recommend it to every young person.

Purpose of the journey was to note anything unusual and of interest

Saturday June 22nd 1963

At last we are ready. our bikes securely laden and in good  working order Carol and I set off at 10:50am from Gallows Hill Lane and proceeded towards Hemel Hempstead.

At first we felt a little strange cycling with such a heavy load which consisted of tent, sleeping bag, blankets, stove and food for two days; however we gradually gained confidence and continued on our way, looking forward to an exciting week-end.

It had been decided to avoid the large new roundabout in Hemel Hempstead as we were a little uncertain as to how our burdened bikes would cope with the traffic. We turned off Bennett’s End Lane and continued on to meet the road leading to Boxmoor. At the cross roads we took the road past St. John’s Church.

St. Nicholas School

Our route led us through a very narrow winding country lane and it was here that we came upon “St. Nicholas School for Girls.” We carefully propped our bikes against the wrought iron gates and went to investigate. I felt almost like a criminal as we crept stealthily up the drive our eyes searching the place for anything which might give us some clue as to its occupants. We peered inside the open doorway of this small victorian dwelling, whereupon one of the cleaners immediately summoned the headmistress. Two small girls were wandering around with towels tied round their heads and we decided at that moment it must be a boarding school as day girls would not be washing their hair in the middle of morning lessons nor it fact any time of day.

Miss Clegg, the headmistress, was most co-operative when she knew that we were working for our silver award gladly proffered the history of the school and its present-day activities.

It seems that the school was founded at Stanmore in 1924 by two Miss Browns. Prior to this their were two brothers living in Green End and one of their sons built the house which is now the school. in 1934 the girls moved from Stanmore to take their place in this lovely setting.

The pupils, their ages ranging from 4 to13, are made up of 40 day girls and 20 boarders and they have in their midst two Africans, two Pakistanis and one American.

Music plays a large part in the school curriculum, the instruments they use being piano, violin and recorders. Visits to concerts in London and neighbouring districts of the school are a regular occurrence but their other activities include swimming in Lockers Park; and in the grounds of the school were some grass tennis courts. On Sunday the girls all go to St. John’s Church in Hemel Hempstead.

Most of the girls move on to very important schools and there is the satisfying knowledge that some of these ex-pupils have been head girls of famous schools such as “Rhodene” in Brighton.

Miss Clegg offered to show us the interior of the building but as we were a little pressed for time we politely refused and once more went on our way.

 Potten End

On the road to Potten End we past a large rifle range, fortunately not in use at that particular moment, also rode by some very large houses.

At the green we stopped for a while to study the village hall and church. The hall was built in 1927 but we could not find a definite date for the church. The earliest record on a tombstone was 1834 and therefore the church must be approximately early nineteenth century. The bells in this lovely building were first rung in 1927 and are now rung every Sunday. The 7 year old organ is a beautiful instrument and I am sure that the 50 members they receive at communion are proud of this small but reverent church which is linked with the one in Nettleden.

The next part of our route took us across Berkhamsted common and past the Cooper Technical Bureau Research Station where qualified men and women probe into science discovering new ideas for the aerosol sprays which are manufactured in their factories.


A long steep hill led us down from the common and past Berkhamsted Castle (see diagram left) of which little is left standing. all that exists now are the sparse remains of the outer walls; one of these, which was once part of the living quarters still displays its fireplaces.

On the top of the keep we looked down into a deep black hole which was a well when to castle was lived in. All the inhabitants were well protected as the walls were very thick and strong, keeping out any invaders: however as an extra precaution they were surrounded by three moats. Only one still exists; the other two are now the road and the railway.

It seems that when the Castle was in use the monks in Berkhamsted were wolves in sheeps’ clothing. They were in actual fact soldiers but in the morning they left the castle by a secret underground passage and wound their way to the church in Berkhamsted. From there they followed back alleys and footpaths through to Shooters Way and finally arrived at the Marlin Chapel. The secret passages still exist under Berkhamsted but the entrances are sealed off. Who knows? perhaps one day we may be visiting the secret vaults of the ancient town as well as its castle.


By this time both Carol and I were feeling hungry and so we set off through Berkhamsted and on the B4506 tp Northchurch common. We had planned to have lunch here and looked around for a suitable place to stop. We found a quiet spot with a huge log adaptable as a seat and enclosed by trees far enough away to be out of danger from fire. In the middle was a tree stump about 3 inches out of the ground which was ideal for our Primus. After some difficulty with the stove our meal was ready and soon eaten as the exercise had made us ravenous.

Feeling decidedly better after an appetising meal we cleaned our plates with turf, made sure that everything was as we found it and continued on our way. we turned left down a steep narrow lane with hairpin bends and free-wheeled into Aldbury.



The first thing we noticed were the stocks and a pond. At one time any criminals were pinioned in the stocks and the villagers were given things to throw at them. there was originally a “ducking stool” too. Anyone who was thought to be a witch they strapped on the stool and “ducked” in the pond. Anyone who drowned was innocent and those who survived the ordeal were guilty. Either way it was unfortunate.

The Church in Aldbury attracts many visitors who pass through the village. From the exterior it appears quite large but inside it shows that it was built for a small community. Everywhere there seemed to be candles or candlestick; on the piano, by the pulpit and at the side of and above the font. The only other lights were high in the crevice between ceiling and walls.

A separate cloister at the side of the church contained two carved bodies of a man and a woman whose identity we could not discover. Above this on the wall were two busts of Sir Richard Anderson who died 16th August 1699 at the age of 64 and his wife, Lady Anderson who died on Christmas Day 1698 when she was 67 years old.

The graveyard adjoining the church contained a sun dial which showed us we would have to hurry on to our next check-point.

Leaving Dacorum

On the road to Ivinghoe we passed several large farms and noted such interesting items as Ashridge Monument, just visible above the trees; a disused windmill with only one sail and in the distance we perceived a large cement works.

After meeting Mr. Griffiths, our examiner at the Youth Hostel in Ivinghoe we climbed a steep hill past Ivinghoe Beacon and on the way down the valley could see for about 5 miles all round. To the left were scattered small villages, the must prominent landmark being a church set on a hill at Church End. Immediately in front was the white lion formed in chalk om the hillside. It has been there for many years nobody seems to know the origin.

At the Plough Inn we turned right up yet another steep hill. it was approximately 1’ in 8’ and needless to say we walked up. Encircling overhead were six gliders. They appeared to be in a competition of some sort as they all had numbers and were in marvellous condition, in fact they all looked new. One glider was being towed by a small plane with a engine. As there was plenty of wind the only explanation we could think of was that he was flying to some other club in a different area.

Camping at whipsnade

At the top of the hill we reached our goal. Past the zoo with its fine new entrance and down into Whipsnade Village where we found the ground that was to be home for the night. At the back of the local hall we pitched our tent, laid out our beds, cleaned up after a strenuous day and proceeded with our “cowboy supper”.

The last stragglers bound for the camp site had arrived. We had once more satisfied our stomachs. Our tents was tidy and our utensils neatly on their rack. Everyone was now filing into the village hall. We followed, dubious of what was about to happen. Mr. Peterson, a Duke of Edinburgh Award leader who was from London for the weekend gave us a brief talk and then Mrs. Hensby the girls award Liaison Officer for S.W.Herts. presented Carol and I with our bronze certificates and badges. Some of the onlookers gazed enviously and afterwards we were questioned by one or two people present as to what we had done to gain this award.

Mr. Griffiths was once more chasing us; this time for a map reading test. The latter soon over we made for the tent and bed feeling tired after a long but enjoyable day.


Sunday. June 23rd 1963

Why is it that one’s watch always stop when there is not another clock in sight. To wake up not knowing the time and find that the tent occupants one side have had breakfast and on the other side are just returning to bed is a little confusing. On enquiring of some kind neighbour it was found to be 6:15 am. the sun was shining through the back of the tent and after some mild reflection we decided to stir ourselves. I was helped along somewhat on seeing a spider crawling out of my sleeping bag.

A quick rustle round and breakfast ready. Unfortunately the stove used up the paraffin and so after clearing away the eating utensils, striking the tent and loading our poor “mules” again we made our way to a farm; here we were kindly given enough paraffin to last us on the journey home. Returning to the camping ground we walked through the woods and found hundreds of trees and bushes set out in the form of a church. It was a very reverent place with the sun shining through the trees just as it might shed its brilliance through the stained glass windows of a church.

After bidding good-bye to newly-made friends and setting out for Abbots Langley we hadn’t gone far before the 16th century of “St. Mary Magdelene” made its debut before us.

We propped our bikes against the hedge and turned to see the vicar rapidly crossing the grass towards us in his mini-van. He was about to take Sunday School in the church and so we followed him at his request, noting the exterior with its Jacobean windows and the tower, where the original stone has been covered with new brick. The tower is the oldest part of the building, dating from the latter part of the 16th century. It seems likely that there was originally a nave onto which the tower was built; later the nave was demolished and replace by the present building in approximately 1680.

The chancel was built much later in 1860 emphasising the remarkable older brickwork in the nave where hard burnt “headers” were used. The 17th century pulpit with its fine tester has been mutilated and reset upon a very poor base of odd pieces of old pews. The tapestry coat of arms over the door caught our attention. Bearing the inscription “Hon y soit qui mal y pense” “Dieu et mon droit” it was put up in 1650 in accordance with a royal proclamation which affected all parish churches. It has been necessary so we discovered to restore it a great deal.

The wooden supports enveloping the 3 bells decayed and the whole thing collapsed many years ago, leaving the bells useless.

The earliest records of the church were written in the “Bishops Transcripts”, burials dating from 1682 and baptisms from 1603.

A most unusual sight at the back of the church was a framed picture of the “Last Supper” and next to it written on canvas and stretched over stone were the “Ten Commandments”.

Thinking on these we carefully tip-toed out of the church, leaving the vicar with his Sunday School class, taking a last look round the church we once more emerged into the sunshine.

Leaving Whipsnade well behind us the next part of our route took us along narrow country lanes where at one point we noticed a caravan camping rally. It seems that the owners of caravans from different parts of the country had all met together for a grand week-end.


On approaching the very small village of Studham we noticed how deserted it was except for the occasional car tearing through the countryside, disturbing even the birds on this calm Sunday morning. at the cross roads in the centre of the village we noticed a clock tower surrounded by a hedge. I was obviously a memorial of some kind.


It bore the inscription

“Time like an ever rolling stream                                                                                                  Bears all its sons away.                                                                                                         They fly forgotten as a dream                                                                                                       Dies at opening day.                                                                                                    and was in memory of 14 men who died in the 1914-18 war.

A nearby bus shelter, a very useful monument, had been erected by the people of Studham in memory of 3 people who fell in the 1939-1945 war.

Leaving behind this peaceful, law-abiding village, we set off across Studham common but turned off the main road to wend out way down a long descent into the valley. the trees in delightful shades of green, overhung the road like an arch and the sun tried to penetrate through the branches to give us more light.

Back into Dacorum

At the bottom of the hill we joined the main road at “Four ways “ garage where incidentally we surveyed the saleable cars with interest knowing that after our ride home we would be a little sore.

Water End

Out into the open country and a most unexpected building loomed in front. A special type of plant or chicken farm where battery hens are kept. There was nobody about so we could not look inside. Not still asleep surely? No; Just another serene village with tiny quaint cottages, one displaying a shining brass lantern outside the front and back doors to give added light on a dark, still night.





Feeding time again. (Sorry, I thought we were still at the zoo.) We had followed the river Gade for some way and decided to relax at the water’s edge and have lunch. Here was the ideal place. Flat ground and no wind, when we sat down behind a large tree. A few onlookers sniffed our food enviously while we tucked in and cleaned our plates.



The last mouthful vanished. we had plenty of time to do as we pleased now and strolled around enjoying the fresh-air but most of all the change of exercise. An artist was painting on the other side of the river but before we could reach him he had vanished. Thus rejected, we fetched our bikes and pedalled away down the road.

Piccotts End

We hadn’t gone far before there was a sign saying, “Medieval Wall Paintings, 15th Century.” in 2 cottages nearby, although closed, we could see that they contained medieval furniture and fire-places with copper cooking pots and other iron utensils. Some post cards of medieval paintings were strewn across a table. adjoining were 2 more cottages under restoration obviously being prepared for the general public to view.

A strange sight indeed; Doves nesting beneath a cross on the roof at All Saints Church Picotts End where the foundation stone was laid by Annie Alexandra Robinson on May 10th 1907.





Hemel Hempstead

Yet another church. Last but not least, the biggest and finest of them all; but what a smell; The Parish Church of St, Mary Hemel Hempstead  reeked with newly polished floors. How clean and shiny they looked, reflecting the sunlight onto the surrounding walls. This church in cruciform style was built by the normans(see Diagram right) of clunch stone and flint with Roman bricks inserted. It took 40 years to build commencement being made in 1140. The dedication was in 1150 when the chancel and tower were completed.

Besides the church clock which was given in 1783 by Lord Marchmont, the building has some very unusual features; a square font with a round wooden lid covered with metal decoration; a stone slab on the wall inlaid with metal to form the picture of a knight with his lady; a greek inscription is set below. behind the altar stands a reredos, a scene of Christ with some of his disciples. it is believed to have been carved at Oberammergau in Bavaria, the scene of the Passion Plays and was given in memory of Lady Elisabeth Cooper in 1880. Evidence that this was the largest church we had seen on our weekend was that it seats 660 people. The central tower is supported by four shoe arches, 16 feet square, making it secure and stable.

We left the church be a side door and peered up at the magnificent fluted leaden spire of early 14th century. It stands 130 feet high and is almost 200 feet to the gilded weather vane.

In the porch of the north transept door where we had made our exit there is a portion of lead set in the wall and framed. It weighs about 1 ton and was blown from the spire during a gale in October 1938. Along the wall by the same doorway the tombstones from the graveyard were lined up against the wall for what reason we could not discover.


Bearing this in mind we set off through Hemel Hempstead the newly developed town with its fine shops and multi-storey car parks. We re-traced our steps along Belswains Lane, the route we had taken on our outward journey. Passing all the old familiar landmarks such as Dickinson’s paper mills, the church of England primary school, we made our way to home and rest.

Not quite entirely exhausted but certainly pleased with our efforts over the weekend we sank into a chair at home to recuperate.








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