A New Year’s walk is best when it opens new horizons, and the horizons are very broad around Ashwell. It is a village I have visited before, towards the end of a weary day trekking over the fields from Hitchin walking the Hertfordshire Border Walk, but this was a gentle family walk, a welly walk around the fields and farms surrounding the village.
The village is a very pretty one and stands at the very northernmost reach of Hertfordshire, close by its meeting with Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire – and Ashwell has a lot of the character of the villages of southern Cambridgeshire, even with cottages decorated in the distinctive East Anglian decorative plasterwork, known as pargetting. It is on the plains below the chalk ridge, so the skies are huge and the horizons flat and broad. The claggy fields are strung with streams and ditches – the tiny brook through the village itself is the Rhee, which broadens into a river soon enough and claims to be the true River Cam which beautifies Cambridge.
The day started bright and clear, which was an encouraging introduction to the new year. In the afternoon the rain came on, but nothing too off-putting. If this could be a portent of the character of 2022 as a whole (which is vanity, but a pleasing one) then it will be a better year that the one we have just got rid off, and on which I will not look fondly.
We walked just six miles in a ring to the north and the south of the village. First we took a silent benediction from the towering church we passed, then out into the fields, looping north of the village, passing Bluegates Farm, and glimpses of Bluegates Dairy and Love’s farm – charming names, and all apart from each other – this is all a contrast from the crowded south of the county.
Looping south of the village, our route climbed to the hills, such as they are, (There is an ancient earthwork up there, though I will admit that apart from the protective fence all round it, I could not see anything of note.) Then over the top and down to the village again, and a pleasant, very muddy, walk it was to greet the new year.
There is a lot of road walking on this one, but many were just farm lanes and the actual roads were almost empty (and we were only a mile from the tearing rush of the A505).