Hitchin Hoop – walk 12 miles around the town
The Hitchin Hoop waymarked walk was conceived by volunteers from the North Herts Ramblers Group and opened in August 2010. You can pick up a leaflet from the Hitchin tourist information opposite the church in the image below (the start of the route) or alternatively download a PDF copy of the route from the NHRG website.
The PDF map loops the hoop in a clockwise direction so that’s the route I decided to take too! If nothing else it makes following the instructions a lot easier. So start out with a latte at Starbucks or better still grab an coffee from one of the many independents surrounding the Market Place.
This is the Hitchin Hoop route taken from Strava. It’s 12 miles long (19.3km) and involves 180 metres of climbing. The biggest hill is from 10km (the reverberant bridge) up to 12km (the Wilbury bench looking back down towards Ickleford). When I last walked it I was moving for 3h 41m. My Strava route came out at 14.3 miles but maybe I was wiggling around a lot 🙂
Hitchin Hoop section 1 – Hitchin Town Centre (Market Place) to Ickleford – 4.3 miles
What you can see?
- The “picture postcard” shot from Starbucks to the church.
- The view at the top of Gray’s Lane.
- The Garden Gate Tea room.
- Oughtonhead nature reserve (the source of the chalk stream River Oughton) with its Longhorn Cattle.
- The “tree seat”.
This is definitely the most scenic stretch of the route so you’re seeing the “good stuff” straight off the bat while you’re still fresh and caffeinated. Starting out at the cobbled Market Place enjoy all the beautiful buildings facing into the square. Especially Gatwards, Britain’s oldest family jewellers and Halsey’s Deli which forms part of that “picture postcard” view looking back to the church.
The River Oughton, its source, and the neighbouring Oughton Head Nature Reserve are a trip all in their own right. Follow the chalk stream (one of only 210 in the world), through the root-invested wood until you emerge at the ivy-covered house along Westmill Lane, on your way to Ickleford.
Hitchin Hoop section 2 – Ickleford to Cambridge Road – 2.9 miles
What you can see?
- The Plume of Feathers and Old George pub
- Telephone box mini library
- Historic water pump
- Emergency rations in the village shop
- A reverberant bridge with views of the Lavender Fields
- The bench view at the top of The Icknield Way
- The Letchworth Greenway
Ickleford is a scenic little village and you’ll know you’ve arrived when you pass the cricket pitch to your left and then the Plume of Feathers pub to your right. Stop in the latter if you time it right or The Old George pub nestled past the Church of St Katherine to the right. In-between those two pubs you’ll find a lovingly restored red telephone box that now serves as a mini library, an old water pump …. and the village store to stock up on some reserves.
Further along the route ascend the steps to a reverberant bridge. Get your head level with 1 metre above the top step and then shout or clap and see what happens! Further along still, up one of the biggest hills of the “hoop” you wiggle through a little forested area until you see a bench on your left. Its views back down to Ickleford give you the perfect opportunity to feast on some of your supplies.
The Hitchin Hoop actually shares 20-25% of its route with the Greenway, a similarly splendid 13 mile route, which instead circumnavigates the neighbouring garden city of Letchworth. I find the Greenway to be better for a nice bike ride as there’s less to “see”, but a nice route out in thh countryside all the same.
Hitchin Hoop section 3 – Cambridge Road to Wymondley Road – 1.9 miles
What you can see?
- Purwell Nature reserve
The back end of the route has slightly less to see but is still a delightful little stroll. Visit the lesser-visited Purwell Nature Reserve which you’ll most likely have all to yourself.
Hitchin Hoop section 4 – Wymondley Road to Hitchin Town Centre (Market Place) – 2.9 miles
What you can see?
- The nice houses along Newlands Lane
- Charlton piggery
- Historic Tilehouse Street
You’re on the final stretch now. Walk alongside the little brook that backs onto the houses of Ninesprings Way, before crossing first Stevenage Road and then London Road. This takes you to the lovely houses along Newlands Lane. From there a narrow footpath takes you to the Charlton piggery, with the opportunity to feed them with the provided food.
Just down from the piggery is a little footpath ford that takes you to the old Windmill pub. Sadly closed down 5-6 years ago but always in the local news as it might potentially be revived in the near future. If it does it’ll be the perfect pitstop next to the River Hiz stream that rises 1/2 mile up the road.
When you’ve checked out the old houses along Tilehouse Street turn right into Bucklesbury and then back into the Market Place. Take the first left past the yellow Dog’s Trust charity shop and you’ll see the Carling Building and Wakelin’s coffee shop. The ideal way to finish off the Hitchin Hoop with a banana cake and an expertly made latte.
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