With the very warm spell continuing, planning shady walks is the best plan and this is where Jon is at his best. After a few minutes at the laptop he came up with a route that we hadn’t taken before of about 7 miles which the majority of which would be in woodland. What’s not to like? So with a few bottles of drink and a snack we headed off.
We started on familiar territory. A 10 minute hot walk led us to the beautifully shady Sherrardspark Wood. No matter how many times we go to the woods we always end up finding a new path or maybe we just have a hopeless sense of direction.
We did our best to head east towards the A1(M) which we knew we had to cross to get to our goal, Brocket Hall. I need to expand on “cross“, this didn’t involve us trying to cross a motorway. The aim was to find the road bridge leading to Ayot Green.
With this first mission accomplished, we quickly came across a pub. We felt sure that this would have been situated next to the old coaching road north. Today the constant noise of the A1(M) traffic behind the pub made the attractive little pub garden a little less appealing. Shame. (A little research on our return confirmed that this was the case. A 400 year old coaching inn but possible had it’s origins as workers cottages for the Brocket Hall Estate.)
Shortly after passing the pub we took a footpath and realised that our walk was taking us onto part of the Welwyn Garden City Centenary Walk. I won’t say too much about this because we hope to fit walking this 12 mile route sometime before we leave in a week and will talk more about it then.
After a short walk through some trees we came to one of the fairways. Jon and I are not golfers but I was staggered by the length of this fairway. It was impossible to see the green from the tee and maybe it is a regular occurrence but as we arrived and did a check of who was on the fairway we saw a guy approach a tree and ring a bell. Obviously the method by which those who are teeing off know that they can at least take their first shot.
Apologies to all golfers for the poor golf terminology but I am explaining this as best I can. The course seemed very well laid out and we meandered through a few more tree areas and crossed a few more fairways, one of which seemed to have an unaccompanied electric golf trolley going full steam down the fairway on it’s own. Probably best not to interfere.
Following the footpath signs carefully so that we didn’t upset any members, we arrived at the gates to Brocket Hall. It was disappointing not to see the house but we only needed to be patient just a little longer.
Time for a little bit of history so if it’s not your bag skip this paragraph but I will try not to go on and on and on. There has been a house on this site since 1239 when a home called Watership and linked to the Bishop of Ely.
The current owner is the who inherited it from his grandfather. The family history is very diverse and most of it sounds as it if could come from a novel. His grandfather was the 2nd Baron Brocket, Arthur Ronald Nall-Cain and during WWII he became known as a Nazi sympathiser and even attended Hitler’s 50th birthday celebration in 1939.
During the war years Brocket Hall was used as a maternity hospital. The current Baron, Charles Nall-Cain, is a former army lieutenant and had a bit of a playboy lifestyle during the 80s and 90s. At one time he owned 42 Ferraris. He also served two and a half years of a five year prison sentence for insurance fraud. Whilst he was in prison he arranged for the whole Brocket Hall estate to be let to a Hong Kong based consortium for 60 years who converted the house into a hotel and conference centre and built a second golf course.
Just to round this bizarre story off, in 1996 and then ended up as a contestant on I’m a Celebrity……Get Me Out of Here!
So Brocket Hall has hosted royalty, Nazi sympathisers, new mums, been home to two prime ministers and more recently been the film location for Eastenders, Pride and Prejudice, Holby City and Johnny English. Told you that you couldn’t make it up.
A Golfer’s Dream
The two golf courses on the estate are named after prime ministers who lived there, Lord Palmerston and Lord Melbourne. From our amateur perspective they looked challenging courses. The newer Melbourne Course is a par 72 (whatever that means) and has the added obstacle of the river to contend with. Palmerston Course is a par 73 and the fairways seem to go on forever between ancient woodland and sneakily placed bunkers. Both courses host professional and members’ tournaments as well as Pro-Ams.
Ferry across the lake. The Melbourne provides an enjoyable challenge in stunning surroundings before a memorable finish in front of the Hall after a short ferry ride to the 18th green.
A fairly unique feature for me was the memorable finish of the Melbourne Course which finishes in front of the Hall after a short ferry ridge to the 18th green.
We got a fabulous view of the river/lake and ferry from the bridge which spans the River Lea. The whole estate as a feeling of grandeur.
Not being overly competitive, neither of us really have an appreciation of golf but I suppose being generous it is a lovely expensive walk where you need to carry a bag full of various sticks to hit a little ball. Although for this size course, a buggy or electric trolley is a must I think. Granted you do have the added bonus of a ferry ride and drinks by the river in a chair at the end, rather than snacks and a bottle of water on the grass by the footpath.
Suitably refreshed, we retraced our shade hugging steps over the fairways and took a different route back through Sherrardspark Wood. Not only was it a lovely walk for a super hot day, we got to scratch the surface of the fascinating history of Brocket Hall.