Herts Embraced 7.3: Loop around to Barnet

5:30 pm, High Barnet Station.

The border path through Mimmshall Woods is a delight, ended too soon.  At this point I had almost to double-back on myself to follow the border as it describes a deep hook into the body of neighbouring Middlesex.

South-west, across the M25, then south to the little village of Ridge.  Out of Ridge, I could see the church in High Barnet across the valley, but it was still two hours’ trudging.  There is a danger after a while of concentrating on the path and not appreciating the wild beauty about it.  How much I must have missed.

Two seriously invisible, ploughed-up paths here:  a compass bearing was needed each time.  Soon, it crossed back across the A1. Oh.  (Memo to the Department of Transport – when you provided a helpful footbridge to carry a path over a trunk road, put it where the path is, not quarter of a mile up the road.)

Suddenly the farms turned to stables, and at once to the outermost suburb, Arkley.  Thereafter roads led into Chipping Barnet, or High Barnet (which are alternative names for the same place, if marked separately on the OS map).  The station is High Barnet:  the outermost of the Tube network.

See: Hertfordshire Border Walk

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Herts Embraced 7.2: shadows of the great estates

1:30 pm: Border at North Mymms, having lunch.

Just before 9 o’clock starting – too late at the end of September. I knew I had to just go quickly and try to avoid diversions. South through the Lee Valley park for a mile, waved at Essex; waved at Middlesex across the M25, cut west straight through the bottom of Cheshunt and out into what had been the Theobalds Estate.

The great house is gone, alas, the King’s favourite house was demolished by the rebel parliament after the regicide.  Its remains are in what is now a public park, but much of the wider estate is still there, its name appearing in every farm and cottage for miles. Here the route is mainly on old estate roads and bridleways.

Much of this part of Hertfordshire was in, or still is in, the great landed estates, and I will look them up when I get home.

An advantage of heading west after so long is that I can take photographs without the sun glaring in  the lens, at least until the later afternoon.  I find I am following too a part of the Hertfordshire Way for some of this route, and earlier I was on a “Chain Walk”; these are a series of linked circular walks forming a chain across the east of Hertfordshire from south to north.  I met one near Royston too, I think.

Out to Cuffley, Northaw and through little paths, and fetching a compass around the north of Potters Bar – that town must not be entered: it is Middlesex.  I succeeded, and have been rewarded by a delightful path along the actual county border:  just over the A1(M), that is the path across which I am sprawling now, feet in Middlesex, head and heart in Hertfordshire.

See: Hertfordshire Border Walk

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Herts Embraced 7.1: From Cheshunt, heading westwards

Today, after a missed weekend, I start where I left off two weeks ago, in Cheshunt.  The plan is to complete the last mile of the Essex border and then turn east at long last, along the border with Middlesex, towards Barnet.

The first mile is a farewell to a puzzling place – the Lea Valley.  What industrial torture that pure river, the Lee, suffered in days past I can only guess at to leave its valley scarred and its streams sliced up and diverted.  There must have been massive gravel extraction, hence the lakes, and the canalisation of the River Lea has left just overflow streams, one marked as the Old River. It is in some penance for those days that the land here has been designated the ‘Lee Valley Regional Park’.

I will turn east just a mile from the three shire point – Hertfordshire, Essex and Middlesex – and where I finished the Middlesex Greenway last year).  Then east, meeting I hope some woods which should be familiar.  It is not the straight route though:  I must loop north of and around Potter’s Bar, as that town is in Middlesex.  Chipping Barnet to its south though is in Hertfordshire, and is my destination, if the light holds and I can keep going.

It is to be a late start though – the trains are fewer and slower on the Lord’s Day.  I will be prayerful, as I tend to be when amongst the wonders of creation.

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The New Forest in sun and storm

It can be beautiful in the New Forest –  a landscape preserved over centuries for hunting then wild grazing of ponies and swine by the commoners looking after their own and verderers with ever an eye to the generations to come.  Here amongst the woods and heaths time stops.  The sun rises on a place of wonder, of gentle hills and chalk streams and pinewoods reaching for heaven.

It can also be cruel.  The rain off the Channel sweeps inland and refills the streams and those caught with no cover are drenched in a moment.  The tiny threads of ancient rivulets coursing unseen beneath the ground fill, swell and rise and turn a dry plain into claggy mud, with flints tumbling across it.

That gives me all the more reason to applaud the teams who were walking their DoE training in the New Forest at the weekend, in sun and storm.  Smile and know you have shown you are of better stuff.

Paths still blocked on the Middlesex Greenway

Breaking news: nothing has changed on the Middlesex Greenway blocked paths.  This despite promises by the highway authorities.

I felt I was skiving, not continuing around Hertfordshire, but I was working on Saturday – lifting and carrying – and on stand-by on Sunday in case needed for a rescue.  So I went to investigate two stretches of the Middlesex Greenway which I found blocked last year.

First – Bedfont Court north of Stanwell Moor village. The route of the Middlesex Greenway runs north-east along Sprout Lane North and then is meant to turn north along a lane called Bedfont Court.  This is marked as a public footpath on the Ordnance Survey map but when I arrived, I found it blocked by concrete barriers and a high fence.  It looks as if the lane was once a row of cottages (there is a sign, buried in the foliage, for the Bedfont Court Estate) but there is no sign of that now: it might have been bought out and the public right of way conveniently forgotten.  There is no sign either of where the path is meant to emerge at the other end.  This is being looked into.

Then, I drove to Edgwarebury Farm, where the path across a scrubby field has vanished under what looks like a stalled and abandoned development.  The start of the path is still obscured in the churned up ground, now left and overgrown.  The end of the path, its north-eastern end by the farm, is invisible, though not physically blocked.  The Middlesex Greenway is walkable here by a diversion but that diversion is not a public right of way. Again this needs looking at, in advance of plans to lay it out as a golf course (which is a far better development than filling it with cardboardbox houses).

It is a work of constant vigilance to undo the blocking of paths, by man or by nature, and it seems that it is not a priority for the bureaucracies which are entrusted with keeping them open. That leaves it to those who walk the wild places to do something.

Herts Embraced 6.3: The New River and an old one, to Cheshunt

Cheshunt, 5:30 pm.

My first destination of the afternoon after crossing the meadow was the Rye Meads Sewage Works, which announced their presence from afar off and did not fill me with hope. The works fill the corner between the River Stort and the River Lea (or Lee, there is no fixed spelling) which is why I headed further in, to the New River.  Incongruously though, after what felt like a mile of sewage-estate, I came across the remains of a gorgeous late-mediæval house – Rye House – famous for the Rye House Plot of 1683, and now just a gatehouse, in stark contrast to the modernity about it.

Rye House

The New River is a remarkable achievement, running from the springs at Amwell it is a real river, in that it flows, but wholly man-made, created to take water to London, and now a good, green route south for me.  I was not looking forward to the afternoon’s walk as the map shows a belt of continuous urban development all the way south to join that of Middlesex, but in the event the New River Path leads straight through to provide a good path and a pleasant one. My goodness, some of the houses leading down to the riverbank!

I eventually turned off the path at Wormely and cut through to the River Lee (or Lea) and a path running south down its valley. Oh Lea (or Lee), what have they done to you? Where once there was a river, centuries of excavation and industry have left lakes and a canal and odd channels, and somewhere in among it must be the old course of the old River Lee (or Lea).  I followed it down and after a few false turns eventually found Cheshunt station, but took the opportunity to dash into the woods on occasion to see the lakes and channels.

I looked down the canalised River Lea (etc) and remembered that just a little to the south is the spot at the corner of Middlesex where I finished the Middlesex Greenway last year.  Well, it was time to go to the station to come home (by way of The Maltsters), but next time I will step another mile south and then say farewell to the border with Essex and turn west at long last.

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Herts Embraced 6.2: a morning by the river

What a contrast from other days.  I started in Bishop’s Stortford just before 8:30 am and set off at once down the River Stort, a canalised version of it at least.  It seemed a bit of a roundabout way that I got to Sawbridgeworth at last, by riverside, meadow, road an river again, and a ploughed path was annoying. Pretty place.

Then south of Sawbridgeworth I followed the Harcamlow Way – as weird a waymarked route as you can imagine, if not as weird as mine, but here perfectly practical and logical; down to the river and along the towpath, which I followed (on the Hertfordshire side almost all the way) for several miles, variously a silent river and a busy one, never an ugly one, until Roydon. I have just had my lunch in a field north of that village and am about to set forth for the afternoon’s endeavours.

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Herts Embraced 6.1: The Stort to start

Today I continue south, aiming to complete Hertfordshire’s border with Essex. If I cross the line I must hope the natives are not waiting to drive me off with pitchforks this time.  As long as I don’t announce my intention by publishing it on the internet or anything….

Today’s start, after two weeks’ indolence, is where I left off, in Bishop’s Stortford.  The border is a wet one; marked first by the River Stort, then the River Lea, so I will try to follow the riverside walks and towpaths (both rivers have been canalised) as far as I can, but on the Hertfordshire side of the border.

I must say that as the rivers have been straightened, by the hand of man the border does not follow the centre of the stream all the way, and in places there is no way through but by a small trespass onto the Essex side.

The way looks gentler, in the green river valleys, until I reach the urban, industrial corner of Hertfordshire, which I do not know at all.  It may turn out to be a pleasant surprise, as have all the previous stretches.  I will see.

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Herts Embraced 5.3: To Bishop’s Stortford

7:30; Bishop’s Stortford

I had the satisfaction of knowing that Brent Pelham was the last village on the route before Bishop’s Stortford.  That does not avoid the fact that it is a cussed long way.  It was also the last place marked with a pub on the route.

Past the church in the village (I am photographing the churches as I go, by the way I headed east to find a path running along the county border itself.  I am not sure that all the paths I used are legitimate:  they are shown as public paths on some maps but not others, and the broken Herts CC signpost was, well, broken.  Emerging then at the border, I found the path, and for the next ill-signposted mile and a half, I walked along the border.  Eventually, it emerges at a concrete drive leading to a massive electric sub-station, and on the gate of that most artificial, monument to the triumph of utilitarian modernity there was a white post and signs: ‘Essex’ to the left and ‘Hertfordshire’ to the right.

Unable to walk through the middle of a massive pile of electricity, humming continually, I followed the paths around it.

There were more diverted paths, but nothing calamitous, until at Patmore Heath I met the Hertfordshire Way again.  It did not quite ask me where I had been all day, but I joined it for the rest of the journey.  It was most well signposted and almost all the paths were clear.

I think it was about 7 pm that my vision started to go blurry.  By that time I was in Bishop’s Stortford, if still on beaten-earth tracks overhung with trees.  Soon there….

(I can recommend Zizzis on a Sunday night, as the only place still serving food.)

At Bishop’s Stortford
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Herts Embraced 5.2: To Brent Pelham, the edgy way

1:30 pm; Brent Pelham

I chose to take my edgy way – closer to the utter bounds of the county than the Hertfordshire Way, which took me from Royston out along the Icknield Way (a path is provided off the main road) until finally at an isolated far within shouting distance of the Essex frontier I finally turned south away from the Icknield Way for the last time and away from the Cambridgeshire border, to run instead beside that of Essex, which I have followed for the rest of the day.

It was a climb into the hills, but a gentle one – I hardly noticed the climb, though to my east was Langley, where I once sought out the highest point in Essex.  Then to Barley and on to Nuthamstead, where I joined the Hertfordshire Way for a mile or two.  (Complex paths on the very fold in the map, but a pause and a good compass found the way.

Few people along the way – a solitary dog-walker, three retired folk walking the Way, and the Cambridge Hash House Harriers out for a run.

The Black Horse, Brent Pelham

Eventually, through fields and silent woods to Brent Pelham.  It was a weird, unearthly but back-of-the-memory sound that greeted me, first a series of yelps, then many, and then a baying repeated and repeated – the foxhounds were giving tongue.

To the Black Horse (where there was no mobile reception so I did not ask about Wifi for posting this), and lunch.

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