FRIENDSHIPS AND MEMORIES
And so it began (with coffee!)
Quite aptly the first leg of our journey along the 170 mile Hertfordshire Way began on a day in early Spring. The eleven mile walk from St Albans to Markyate was a time to renew old friendships, reminisce on times past and create new memories.
On this first leg of our pilgrimage to mark our forthcoming sixtieth birthdays in 2019, my friend, A and I were joined by our old schoolfriend, H. I find it quite difficult to comprehend sometimes how fast time flies and we calculated that it was about fifteen years since we had last all met up. A and I have been friends since we were eleven and my friendship with H goes back even further to the days of infant school blackboards, sandpits and jam jar frogspawn.
We began our journey at St Albans Abbey. Unfortunately we could not take a photo of ourselves in front of the Cathedral because it was cordoned off due to the filming of an episode of “The Crown”, but perhaps more symbolically we posed in front of the Abbey Gateway. We turned and passed through the Gateway to take our first steps. The Herfordshire Way Guidebook takes one on a short loop around some of the historic sites in St Albans at the start of the walk but as all three of us had been born and brought up in the City we gave this a miss and proceeded on our way. I think having spent so many years in the City sometimes I take for granted its ancient buildings and environment and today I tried to remain conscious of the wide open parkland around “the Lake” (as locals call it), the historical significance of the sections of Roman Wall and the Anglo Saxon Church of St Michaels.
All three of us are ex-alumni of Francis Bacon School in the City and somewhere in my memory I had retained a thought that Francis Bacon had been buried in St Michaels. We spent a while fruitlessly looking amongst the snowdrop drifts for a grave and it was only on returning home that I researched what I should probably have known about the snow and a chicken! A monument remains in the Church.
Crossing the A4147 we passed the remains of the Roman Ampitheatre on our left and followed the permissive path through Gorhambury. This eventually turns towards the banks of the River Ver making its apparently timeless journey from Kensworth Lynch to join the River Colne at Bricket Wood. However, this chalk stream has been threatened at times by pumping upstream and drought and the Ver Valley Society campaigns and works towards its continuity.
H had bought Sarah, the terrier cross breed which her son had rescued all the way from Hong Kong with her and she co-operatively let herself be put back on the leash before we crossed the main A5183 over to Bow Bridge.
The walk continued along the banks of the river and passed Shafford Farm and a picturesque old mill with interesting wording prominently pasted on its side.
Eventually we reached Redbournbury Mill. Our senses were awakening to Spring – the warmth of the sun soothed our backs and our ears were greeted to the song of the yellowhammer asking for his bit of bread. Then a nutmeg and cinnamon scent reached our nostrils. Ash Wednesday had been the day before. The Mill must be baking hot cross buns. How appetising they smelt.
After re-crossing the main road we soon reached the outskirts of Redbourn and passed through the churchyard of the twelfth century church of St Marys. Leaving the churchyard and aiming towards the motorway we took leave of our friend H. We had caught up with what I imagine is just a little of what had been happening in our lives for the past fifteen years. I felt so blessed that after so much time we could still chat, laugh and connect authentically. Let us not leave it so long again.
A and I crossed over the never-ceasing traffic of the M1 and were soon at peace in the fields again. Suddenly we stopped. Up above was the bubbly song of a skylark. We watched him return down to the field then fly straight up again like a helicopter, singing his heart out as he went up and up. A magical moment.
After crossing further fields and farmtracks we reached the village of Flamstead. Here the guidebook told us to look out for the “Hertfordshire Spike” on the Church. I wonder how many more of them we will see over the next two years? We felt the need for a refreshment stop just as we reached the “Spotted Dog” pub, which many years ago (actually when Britain had been at war over the Falkland Islands!) had been run by my parents.
It was interesting to see how it had changed over the years and we were delighted to be welcomed by a wonderful landlady offering tea, hot chocolate and coffee alongside the usual alcoholic beverages. The pub had satisfyingly good custom for a mid afternoon visit. We got talking to a couple of ladies who travelled over specially from Luton so that they could enjoy some refreshment and a chat in a village setting in such comfortable surroundings. It is certainly somewhere I would visit again , a warm welcome, cosy atmosphere – and the menu looked good too!!
When we arrived in Flamstead we saw the village sign had a crochet cover! Apparently the crafter is anonymous! Maybe we should start off a hunt for her (or him!) The Spotted Dog had followed suit with decorations on its bench. I am always gratified when I find such timeless, quiet villages going on with life in their own way, even though close to major transport links. In many ways Flamstead reminded me of some of the Kent villages I had visited whilst doing the Gratitude Pilgrimage l made last September in respect of my recovery.
We eventually pulled ourselves away from the pub and narrowly avoided following the Chiltern Way by mistake then trudged onward over fields the last couple of miles to Markyate. Just before reaching the village we noted that Storm Doris had done her work and a huge old tree blocked our way. Adjacent to a local playground what fun it would have been for children to climb. As always I took my obligatory photo of a horse.
We reached the village bus stop just five minutes before a bus was due which returned us to our starting place in St Albans. An easy ending to a day in which all had gone well. Signposting and directions had been good. Our bodies had been re-awakened by exercise after the grey winter days. Our spirits had been raised by snowdrops, a skylark and early Spring sunshine. Our hearts gladdened by the resumption of old friendships.
(Photograph of St Albans Abbey courtesy of Alison Hipwell)
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