In the 1960s, over 5,000 miles of railway lines were axed – a shame for train spotters, but fantastic for cyclists since many disused tracks have been converted into traffic free cycling walks and trails. We’re exploring some of the best, and this week we’re detailing a commuter friendly ride through Hertfordshire.
Words: Maria David
The Ride: Alban Way, Hertfordshire
Where: St Albans to Hatfield
How far: 6.5 miles
From 1865 the Hatfield and St Albans Railway transported passengers between these two towns. Unfortunately, the line couldn’t compete with the more popular Midland Railway between St Albans and London, so it closed in 1968. People traffic between Hatfield and St Albans now takes the form of lots of cyclists along the Alban Way.
The fully tarmacked, smooth path has lots of turnings and makes for a convenient traffic-free commuter cycle path to reach different parts of the two towns.
Nine-time national cyclo cross champion and ambassador for women’s cycling, Helen Wyman has great memories of the Alban way from her younger days - she told us: “I was born in St. Albans and my house was actually at the end of the path. When I was back at uni in Hatfield I used it all the time to get between there and Welwyn or St. Albans, where me and my friends used to go shopping. In fact I even made my uni friends ride with me a couple of times. You couldn't imagine how tough it is to fit my 5ft friend onto one of my bikes!
"It's great for groups who just want to chat and exercise and I used to find it so easy to use to get to places - so much nicer than using the busy main road."
Getting to the start
I started from St Albans City train station, and within a mile I reached the junction with Cottonmill Lane and Leyland Avenue, the start of the path. Alban Way is also very close to the other station, St Albans Abbey. The nearby cycle shop, Addiktion Cycles, is handy for any last minute provisions or tools for your outing.
At the trailhead there is a choice of routes. Alban Way forms part of National Cycle Network route 61, though route 6 also intersects here and you may get tempted to ride the six miles to Watford instead!
As it starts in the heart of St Albans and finishes right in Hatfield, with various major roads in the vicinity most of the Alban Way runs through suburban areas, with only about a third of the trail being in countryside. This path is more like a “ring road" for cyclists and walkers with various turnings and signposts for different companies, shops, schools and other landmarks. It is a really convenient traffic-free route for children and adults getting from A to B.
Although this ride is never far from the town, it still has plenty of pleasant woodland, separating it from the houses and offices that back onto it. Also, some parts of the path are set along a deep cutting, and these provide oases of tranquillity from the hustle of the suburban commuters or the shoppers at Galleria retail park.
Just outside Hatfield is my favourite part of the path, where there are relics from the former station at Nast Hyde Halt, near Smallford. Not only is the station signboard still there but there are also signals and a working station clock attached to a tree!
Alban Way ends at Wrestlers Bridge in Hatfield, from where you can carry on to Welwyn Garden City and pick up other trails such as the Ayot Green trail to Wheathampstead or the Nicky Line to Hemel Hempstead.
Liked this one? Check out the first in the series: Lost Railways: Forest Way Family Friendly Traffic Free Ride in Sussex
If you're looking for ride inspiration for the Easter break, check out this event round up.