Herts Embraced 4.3: A tongue, a trespass, a ruined Roman road and a rock

Royston, 6:45 pm.

In Royston – hurrah!  That’s half-way round.

Cutting my posts on the walk itself down to two a day makes it impossible to describe everything. The occasional picture added to the post barely says anything of all there is.  What could I have said?  The apple trees!  The partridges!  The grand houses!  The lake! The black squirrel!  All these and much more.  You will have to wait for the book if ever I could write one.

Hinxworth was not actually on my original route, or only the edge of it, but I will add it now.  After a goodly lunch there I took an indirect route to Ashwell, on a path that runs north to meet a bridleway that runs along the last of the Bedfordshire border; my point furthest north on the Hertfordshire Border Walk.  Here I leave the Bedfordshire border at last and head east.

There is a lane leading away north which is not part of the route but after a mile and a half comes to the northernmost point of the county, where Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire meet.  Very tempting.

However I was aware that at this point in a walk I begin to slow down and I did not want to imperil my objective by adding another three miles to it. South then to Ashwell.

I hope that Ashwell is not forgotten, alone in this northern tongue of the shire.  It is a beautiful village, with friendly folk, wobbly cottages, bold pargeting, a turning mill wheel and an enormous church, telling of mediæval prosperity, indeed two churches and at least three pubs. The again, perhaps it is better off forgotten and left alone to be itself.  I paused here before setting off east on the Icknield Way Trail.

The Shire Balk

The Trail leads east from it to meet the Cambridgeshire border, and then a path runs down along the border for a couple of miles:  it is called “the Shire Balk”. At the end of the balk It is necessary to cut through a few hundred yards of Cambridgeshire territory by a sumptuous farm at Odsey, to reach the A505.

On these paths I caught myself smiling.  It has been a lovely day in fine places.  The last miles though took a toll.  I did not feel tired but the signs of physical exhaustion were appearing.

The A505 lies on top of a major Roman road, which marks the county border north-eastwards.  This is also the ancient track of the Icknield Way, along the bottom of the slopes: Hertfordshire owns the hills and Cambridgeshire the flat ground.  It is historically interesting but not interesting in itself, and I will not recommend walking along the A505 (which I reached ten minutes early, at 4:55) – there is no pavement nor path and though the verge is wide enough to walk on, the first mile is ropey and with frequent thorn bushes and apple trees leaning out that have to be moved aside or stepped round; and the road is treated a bit like a motorway by its drivers. After two interminable miles I diverted over Therfield Heath.  An alternative route, parallel and to the north, is a footpath following the railway, though this is within Cambridgeshire.  Other paths runs higher up the hills.  These need investigation.

Therfield Heath

I like Therfield Heath; a long, lazy, grassy slope on the chalk hills, with a broad path over it.  This is more familiar territory – I used to live outside Cambridge and often drove the A505 and sometimes came to Royston.  Much beyond the town is still a closed book though.  Had I been fresher, it would have been a highlight of the walk. The smile had gone though and my left leg was aching.  Nevertheless, the path took me exactly where I wanted to go:  Royston.

The main road through the middle of Royston is the county border.  Beneath it in the centre of town there are caves for some reason (no time to explore this time) and beside the road, on the Hertfordshire, side is a stone on a plinth, the mediæval Royse Stone, from which the town is named. (It would be really embarrassing if a daft local bureaucrat were to remove it absent-mindedly in some scheme:  they’d have to find a new name for the town.)

To rest at last, before I turn south tomorrow.

(I finally did the distance calculation on Monday evening, which puts this day’s section of the walk at 19½ miles, though that does not take account of the two miles through Hitchin to the start nor diversions for the missing path at Hinxworth etc.)

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