We were blessed with a glorious late summer’s day for this varied section of the Hertfordshire Way between Shenley and Cuffley.
It needs to be recorded here that during our chattering this day we made plans for our 100th birthday challenge. We are to meet on Weymouth Beach (where else!) in the year 2059, long skirts tucked into suitable knickers, having a paddle in the sea before returning to our deckchairs and fish and chips supper. (H and F, please make plans to join us!) Youngest grandchild to be responsible for driving us there.
Using a recently purchased copy of OS Explorer 182 (revised 2010) and The Hertfordshire Way Walker’s guide (revised 2009) we struggled with finding our way for the first three or four miles of the route. We left the super Shenley Park Tea Rooms and initially took the Hertfordshire Way signs but the “red Shenley Circular Walk 1 waymark signs” the guidebook states that we were then meant to follow were in fact blue. We did not seem to skirt the estate as the map shows or indeed the book mentions. It felt we circled the Shenley area for several miles and did not make any progress eastward. The weather was, however, fine and the woods around Shenley in their full summer leaf.
On returning home I wonder whether the book is out of date for this section (we know that it is for Leg 7) , whether the updated Herts Way route has not yet been reflected on the OS map, or whether the signposting was incorrect. It could in fact just be that we were not paying enough attention and got lost!
Eventually, we came across an abandoned building, as referred to in the book and presumed that we were on the right track. We were aiming towards Shenley Stud Farm and there seemed to be plenty of evidence that we were in the right area. “Mr Purple” greeted us by a fence for a nuzzle and a pet.
The guidebook referred to a stile, which we crossed (not being really sure where we were on the map) and did that wonderful old trick of fooling ourselves for a couple of miles that the terrain and environment described in the book reflected the route we were taking. How many times have I done that in the past! We concentrated on the wonderful panorama with St Albans Abbey in the distance (where we had begun our walk of the Herts Way several months ago). We paid little heed to where we were really going as we passed a caravan in the middle of nowhere and fantasised about how we would like a retreat in such a place.
Generally descending to what appeared to be an abandoned airfield eventually we came to a junction of footpaths with no Herts Way signpost and which did not match up with the guidebook at all. Ahead of us was a well-kept sports ground and we guessed that it was Watford F C’s training ground. A’s mobile phone GPS came in very handy and we realised we were a mile or so off track. A long trek back up the hill awaited us as we returned to Mr Purple. It was almost midday, the sun was beating down and we started to get fatigued at a really early stage of the walk. (According to the guidebook we had only walked three miles ; it had taken us two hours).
Eventually we did reach the Stud Farm and the outskirts of the pretty and aptly named village of Ridge, held to be 400 foot above sea level.
It is amazing how peaceful and unspoilt this area which lies so close to the M25 seemed. The heat increased; the crickets sang and the cattle hugged the shade.
From hereon the signposting became much clearer and we passed through a kissing gate with a plaque thoughtfully provided by the Friends of the Hertfordshire Way.
Between Rabley Farm and Ridge is a stone pillar a few feet high, by tradition marking the spot where Warwick died after the battle of Barnet. However, the wording on the stone beneath appears to contradict this myth.
Very shortly after leaving this quiet, rural area we passed below the M25. The fumes from the Bank Holiday traffic tickled our chests and made our eyes run.
Having worked our way through a fair bit of our water supply we began to fantasise about cold glasses, ice cubes and sharp lemonade as we spied the Church of St Giles in South Mimms. And with a village church must come a pub……….. surely. Yes, The Black Horse appeared just when we needed it to. Suitably refreshed we followed the banks of the Catharine Bourne (a small dry stream) until we passed through another subway under the A1M. Rather like when I walked the Pilgrims’ Way last year, in particular the area around Godstone and Otford although near to major transport routes we still felt the peace and tranquility of the countryside. After passing under a railway line we reached Potters Bar Golf club.
We briefly stopped to take a picture of the Greens for the Red Hyundai driver and a picture of a WW2 pillbox just because.
The guidebook told us to count twelve bridges on the course before passing up a tree-lined slope. We counted eight but then our ice cube fantasies had started again and perhaps we were not concentrating.
After crossing a busy junction and walking along a main road for a while we continued “straight ahead along Judges Hill to Northaw village, Green, War Memorial, Church and two pubs”. By this time our minds just focussed on the last two words. I personally was the most fatigued I have been during a walk in a long while – I imagine due to the heat. The first pub, “The Sun” was boarded up……….. ………… ………. “The Two Brewers” , a haven. Northaw was a very pretty village surrounded by expensive looking properties; the delightful village green (with old church bells placed as bollards) and an old pump.
By now we had given up all pretence of finishing our walk by four thirty and took our time walking the last three and a half miles to Cuffley. We took in the beauty of newly harvested fields and neatly rolled haystacks. The fresh, clean lines of ploughed land and the shade and sanctuary of the wooded areas.
We reached Cuffley sometime after Six. The petrol station referred to in the guidebook is now a block of flats and the “Harvester” close to the station appears to have disappeared. The Red Hyundai driver texted however to say he had found another local pub, “The Plough“. Sticky, sweaty, exhausted, the two of us both took in the twinkle in the eye and cynical grin on the face of the young man emerging from the Co- op, when he directed us to the Plough. He obviously knew something which we didn’t. We became mildly hysterical during the final half mile climb up Plough Hill.
(The photograph does not do it justice).
Surprisingly varied and beautiful walk considering the closeness of major transport links. Book says 11.5 miles ; we walked about 14. Maps Exp 182, 174. There is a train station in Cuffley. Signposting on the early part of the walk not good – hopefully the updated guidebook will be available soon.
(Just snuck another two in)