Er­mine Street greenlanes

START FINISH 1.7 MILES

LRO (UK) - - Contents - PHO­TOS: TOM CRITCHELL

Lon­don to Peter­bor­ough away from tar­mac

Er­mine Street was once the main road head­ing north out of Lon­don. Neil Watterson ex­plores it, and the greenlanes around it, to Peter­bor­ough

Tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials pro­mot­ing Peter­bor­ough as the place to live and work in the 1980s saw Roy Kin­n­ear dressed as a Ro­man cen­tu­rion, learn­ing about the so called ‘Peter­bor­ough Ef­fect’, com­plete with Ro­man-style let­ter­ing.

With that in mind, it’s cu­ri­ous that the ex­pan­sive Ro­man set­tle­ment to the west of the city now war­rants noth­ing more than a board in a layby be­side the A1.

But we’re not there at the mo­ment – we’re just out­side Lon­don’s or­bital mo­tor­way, the M25, pick­ing up Er­mine Street, a route that Ro­man cen­tu­ri­ons would have trod­den two mil­len­nia ago.

Strictly, we should have started our trip at Bish­ops­gate, near Liver­pool Street in the City of Lon­don. Bish­ops­gate was one of the seven en­trances to the Ro­man city of Lon­dinium, and the mod­ern-day A10 fol­lows the route of the old Ro­man Road. Why haven’t we started there, in the shadow of the Gherkin and the mon­u­ment to 1666’s Great Fire of Lon­don? Well, there are no greenlanes within the M25 – and I much pre­fer driv­ing greenlanes than sit­ting in traf­fic jams.

So we’re start­ing off in Cheshunt and there’s the prom­ise of a far more plea­sur­able driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence ahead.

I’m driv­ing my 1998 300Tdi De­fender 110 and I’ve been joined by Ian Lin­ford in his much-mod­i­fied 300Tdi De­fender. Ian is prob­a­bly best known for win­ning the Free­lander Chal­lenge a few years ago

and sub­se­quently com­pet­ing in Wales Rally GB – an event he’s plan­ning to re­turn to this year. Both Ian and I were mem­bers of the Lea Val­ley Land Rover Own­ers’ Club in the 1990s and, as if to prove how small a world the Land Rover scene is, we’re joined by Katie An­der­son, who’s with us on work ex­pe­ri­ence. Her dad and gran­dad are cur­rent mem­bers of the LVLROC...

Er­mine Street south of Hert­ford is a Restricted By­way, so is closed to ve­hi­cles, but there are other by­ways we can drive, the first tak­ing us past Pons­borne Park Ho­tel. Ini­tially tar­mac, it turns into a track; I’ve driven it in a mul­ti­tude of ve­hi­cles over the years, as it used to be part of my com­mute! We squeeze along a cou­ple of over­grown wood­land lanes, be­fore pick­ing up green­lane 4 (map above).

Take the right fork

This green road starts off fairly firm, but you reach a ‘pri­vate road’ sign af­ter 100 yards or so. A small By­way sign points to the right – the By­way runs par­al­lel to the new road and is con­sid­er­ably nar­rower. The roof tent on Ian’s 110 takes a bat­ter­ing. We reach a junc­tion on the lane and turn left along an­other by­way – firm, but lit­tle used.

There’s no way of head­ing north with­out driv­ing through the county town of Hert­ford, or the ad­join­ing Ware, both sit­ting in the Lea Val­ley, but we’re soon out of the ur­ban re­stric­tions and on to coun­try lanes.

An­other tree-lined by­way near Bak­ers’ End takes us to­wards the River Rib and a se­ries of fords zig-zag­ging across it.

‘I’ve driven this in a mul­ti­tude of ve­hi­cles over the years – it used to be part of my com­mute!’

The first is on tar­mac and signs warn cy­clists to use the foot­bridge. Driv­ing it, I can see why – the base is as slip­pery as a Te­flon fry­ing pan.

We drive north and on to an Other Route with Pub­lic Ac­cess (ORPA) to Latch­ford, crossing the Rib again – and again at the ham­let it­self. For­tu­nately, it has been very dry for a while and the water lev­els are low, but the le­gacy of higher water lev­els can be found at the ford at Stan­don.

Ian had men­tioned that the western exit was muddy, so it’s best to drive west to east, but when we ar­rive it’s awash with flood de­bris. With nowhere to move the logs to, we turn around and cross the river on the A120. This takes it to­wards Bishop’s Stort­ford, be­fore we turn north again at Lit­tle Had­ham – af­ter wait­ing what seems like an age at the stag­gered traf­fic lights in the vil­lage.

We drive through pretty Pat­more Heath and pick up a dry and dusty part by­way/part ORPA be­tween the ce­real fields back to­wards the River Ash and Furneaux Pel­ham. Those who have been green­lan­ing for a while will im­me­di­ately know where we’re head­ing for – Vi­o­lets Lane, the long­est ford in the UK.

There are times when you wouldn’t want to drive this road be­cause the water is too deep, but be­cause the area has seen very lit­tle rain for months, we should be okay.

Both of our 110s are equipped with prop­erly fit­ted raised air in­takes any­way – some­thing we’d def­i­nitely ad­vise for this lane – and although Ian hasn’t driven the lane for a few years, he knows the road well.

Clear­ing the way

The silty ground is al­most bone-dry as we make our way along what many peo­ple would think is a sunken lane, but we’re soon stum­bling across the de­tri­tus of pre­vi­ous green­lane runs – a torn-off mud­flap here and a Dis­cov­ery side step there. We know ar­eas have prob­lems with fly­tip­ping (see Club Zone, p194) and we shouldn’t be ad­ding to it, or giv­ing coun­cils any rea­son to ex­clude ve­hi­cles from un­sealed roads. I ap­pre­ci­ate that mud­flaps can fall off with lit­tle warn­ing, but surely you’d no­tice that a side step is about to part com­pany with its host ve­hi­cle?

We pick up some of the scrap to dis­pose of it prop­erly, lob­bing it in the back of my 110 – which has spare space in the back. Ian’s De­fender was just a stan­dard County Sta­tion Wagon when he bought it three years ago – now it’s a full-on ex­pe­di­tion ve­hi­cle, used for green­lan­ing around the UK, and has stor­age lock­ers, sec­ond bulk­head, on­board com­puter, Wifi and GPS in­stalled. All very well, but they eat into im­promptu car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity.

‘Don’t let the lack of water here lull you into think­ing there won’t be any,’ Ian calls over the CB. ‘Some of the holes can be very deep and hold on to the water for ages.

‘The lane floor is in­ter­est­ing too,’ he con­tin­ues. ‘The up­per stretch tends to be stony, but the silt gets washed right down.’

We’re both run­ning all-ter­rain tyres – Ian has a set of BF Goodrich AT KO2S he picked up for a bar­gain price, partly in lieu of some work he’d done, while my 110 is on the stan­dard-fit Con­ti­nen­tals lifted from the LRO TDCI 110 –

iron­i­cally I had swapped my set of BFGS with them a cou­ple of months back.

We reach a cor­ner and water stretches out ahead of us. I ease the 110 in and the tyres stir the water up, re­leas­ing a fetid stench. The nose of the De­fender plunges into a hole and the tyres bite into the silt, send­ing the Land Rover lurch­ing from one side to the other be­fore pulling the 110 on to dry land.

The dip is cer­tainly deeper than it looks, and be­cause the banks of the river pre­vent the bow-wave from spread­ing, the water level is higher than it would usu­ally be, so it has flooded into the cab, soak­ing the mats.

The rest of the de­pres­sions are shal­lower – and just as Ian said, it changes from silt to stone, getting rougher as we reach tar­mac.

Fun is a straight line

We’ve veered slightly fur­ther off the line of the Ro­man road than I would do nor­mally, but it’s worth it to drive Vi­o­lets Lane. The next by­way from Bark­way gets us back on track and takes us past a struc­ture that Ian as­sures me is the Black­pool Tower. I’m not con­vinced.

We re­join Er­mine Street, which ap­par­ently was orig­i­nally Earninga Straete in old English, named af­ter the Earningas tribe who in­hab­ited the area be­tween Roys­ton and Hunt­ing­don, the area we’re about to en­ter.

We say farewell to Ian, who has to head off and do some ‘real’ work, and con­tinue our jour­ney with a short sec­tion of the Har­cam­low Way. Much of this long-dis­tance path is by­way, but some of it has ve­hic­u­lar use restricted by Traf­fic Reg­u­la­tion Or­der (TRO). The sec­tion be­tween the A10 and the A1198 – which is what Er­mine Street has now be­come – should be open. We drive it from the western end, but find the gate closed by the A10. There’s a pad­lock in the catch but it’s not locked, so we let our­selves out. It’s un­clear why it is gated.

Scoot­ing back round to the A1198 Er­mine Street, we con­tinue north. Wim­pole Hall sits to the east of the road, with a near-two-mile-long av­enue of trees lead­ing up to the build­ing. It’s one of those things you can’t see from the ground, but looks im­pres­sive from over­head – and there are foot­paths that cross it.

The ben­e­fit of TROS

A lit­tle fur­ther on, a pair of by­ways spur off the road, forc­ing us to do a lit­tle loop to in­clude them. We’re firmly in sea­sonal TRO ter­ri­tory now – th­ese two are closed over win­ter, and when ground con­di­tions dic­tate they shouldn’t be driven.

We turn west off the road and it’s ev­i­dent that the TRO works – it’s a wide green­lane flanked with hedges and pop­u­lated by long grass. It’s clearly used – the grass is flat­tened where ve­hi­cles have driven it – but the sur­face isn’t dam­aged. It’s a far cry from how it used to be, prior to be­ing man­aged with the TRO, and shows how a lit­tle man­age­ment can make green roads bet­ter for ev­ery­one.

A quick stretch of tar­mac takes us back round to where we’d just been and we take the by­way east this time – a long wood­land ram­ble, again closed over win­ter.

Most of us love driv­ing through fords, and there are a few in this area, but they are bone dry – typ­i­cal! – so we don’t even get the wheels wet at Bourn or Cax­ton.

New roads for old

There is plenty of road build­ing work go­ing on in this area, up­grad­ing the cross-coun­try route of the A14 to re­duce con­ges­tion.

This work cuts across Er­mine Street south of God­manch­ester (the Ro­man town of

Durovigutum) and the Wood Green an­i­mal shel­ter and will be com­pleted in 2021.

God­manch­ester has some lovely tim­ber­framed Tu­dor houses along the main streets and is where Er­mine Street crossed the River Ouse, the gravel river bed in the area mak­ing the crossing rel­a­tively easy. Now the river is crossed by the old bridge and the A14 high above, on a viaduct.

We use the old bridge and ne­go­ti­ate Hunt­ing­don’s ring road be­fore es­cap­ing into the Stuke­leys and getting back to the A14.

But we’re not join­ing it – we’re driv­ing along­side it on a by­way for a short while be­fore veer­ing off and be­tween fields. This by­way doesn’t ap­pear to be driven much and we re­sort to the gar­den­ing kit to cut some of the branches down to al­low pas­sage. The lane fin­ishes un­der the A1 at Al­con­bury – and the A1 now fol­lows Er­mine Street north.

Al­con­bury We­ston (just to the west of Al­con­bury, as you’d prob­a­bly have guessed) has a cou­ple of small fords – both dry – so we con­tinue along to the Bul­lock Road.

This is an­other green­lane with a sea­sonal TRO and is in three sec­tions as far as green­lan­ers are con­cerned – but the most southerly third is only by­way for three­quar­ters of its length – the rest is bri­dle­way. So we pick it up at Hill Top Farm.

The har­vest is in full swing, with com­bines and trac­tors bustling about as we trun­dle along the field-edge track over­look­ing the A1. This was a live­stock route cen­turies ago and the fi­nal third is a wide, hedge-lined green road. Again, the win­ter TRO has helped main­tain the sur­face.

Our fi­nal lane of the trip at High Hol­born doesn’t have a TRO at the mo­ment, but it prob­a­bly will do soon, if in­ap­pro­pri­ate use con­tin­ues. Run­ning along the bor­der of Cam­bridgeshire and Northamp­ton­shire, it’s nor­mally muddy, but is dry as a bone now.

We’re not far from Peter­bor­ough – the Ro­man town of Dvro­bri­vae, and home to the LRO Show in Septem­ber. A short tar­mac drive gets us there. This is a def­i­nite sum­mer route – en­joy it while the sun shines!

‘The Traf­fic Reg­u­la­tion Or­der shows how a lit­tle man­age­ment can make green roads bet­ter for all’

Kick­ing up the dust north of Pat­more Heath

Grid ref TL 323086

Roof tents and low branches. It’s only go­ing to end one way...

Ian’s De­fender emerges into the glory of har­vest time Grid ref TL 396174

LANE 14 OS Lan­dranger 153 & 154

Neil and Ian hit a log jam at Stan­don

Vi­o­lets Lane is nei­ther vi­o­let nor lane for much of its length Okay for Land Rovers, though... Watty proves he’s a bit of a prune

Be­side the A14. What’s the rush? Seen and herd: wide, grassy Bul­lock Road

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