There was something rather magical about this twelve mile section of The Hertfordshire Way from Cuffley to Broxbourne.
The crops had been harvested and the fields had that freshly ploughed orderliness that I so love; the leaves were beginning to turn their rich regal shades of crimson and gold; sloes were dripping from the hedgerows begging to be plucked in readiness for their Christmas tipple.
After leaving Cuffley station and having sight of Soper’s Viaduct we soon found ourselves walking along rural tracks and lanes, through farmland and alongside hedgerows until we reached Goff’s Oak.
We were following instructions in the new printing of “The Hertfordshire Way” Guidebook and they were proving to be very helpful. The guidebook told us that this was the last place to pick up refreshments for a while, which proved to be true. The oak tree (which we noted was slightly older than ourselves) was planted in 1950 after an ancient oak (from which the settlement gets its name) was blown down.
The next settlement we reached was Hammond Street, probably forever remembered in our memories for the courteous driver of a dark blue Mercedes who stopped to let us cross the road. The place also featured the interestingly named “Bread and Cheese Lane”.
The “Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English” tells me that this means “plain fare or living lane” . I also know that the young leaves of hawthorn used to be known as “bread and cheese” . Whatever the origin we thought it was a pretty name.
The walking was easy and the weather pleasantly warm as we entered the next stage of our walk. Broxbourne Woods NNR is a wonderful, breathtaking area of ancient woodlands. We were to walk a four mile stretch through three of the four hornbeam and sessile oak woods.
First came Wormley Wood, a woodland site since the end of the last Ice Age. Although early fallen leaves crunched underfoot the canopy was still full of those hanging onto the remnants of summer. My friend, A, described the feeling of peace and seclusion under the trees as like being in a bubble protected from the rest of the world.
We reached a coalpost. These were situated at various points around London during the 1860s where taxes on coal were due to London. It was interesting to find one in such a secluded location – here at a point where small footpaths cross deep in woodland and far from the beaten track. Some industrial archaeologists say the reason why a few coal posts are found in unusual locations such as by streams, footpaths and cart tracks is because there was no clear ruling in the London Coal and Wine Duties Continuance Act as to where they should be placed. The small footpaths in Wormley could have provided a route for a trader, aiming to avoid paying tax and it is thought that maybe that is why the post is located here.
After the post we struggled with the route finding for a while. There were no Hertfordshire Way signs and the Guidebook says “descend to a stream” – we did not know how far it was to the stream and backtracked and checked our steps, probably adding in another half mile to the walk. Eventually we reached Wormleybury Brook and crossed in this picturesque spot by a small footbridge. The next wood was Bencroft Wood.
Again, the ancient majesty of the trees was spell-binding. We could follow a ditch and bank and see where some of the hornbeams had been coppiced. Silently we wandered through gullies and nooks, crossing little plank bridges and climbing wooden steps soaking up the glory of Nature.
Unfortunately we got lost again after crossing two minor roads near Pembridge Farm. Upon retracing our steps we could see the Herts Way waymark and the guidebook had been clear. The mistake had been ours. It did, however, allow us another half hour or so of wandering deep retreat. We eventually emerged out into the open and fields again, before crossing Broxbourne Common and reaching Danemead Nature Reserve.
Here again we wandered along undulating pathways, following a stream until we reached a bridleway which is part of the old London to York Road of Ermine Street. This way was apparently used as a drove road until the 19th century.
The next wood was Hoddesdon Park Wood. We passed an old moated site (probably the old park keepers cottage) and wondered at the isolation of the site.
Reluctantly we left behind the sacred, lofty isolation of the woods and emerged to cross the busy A10. We passed through a small area of houses and across the Top Field and Cozens Grove Nature Reserve before reaching Broxbourne.
The walk concludes with a section along The New River (constructed to take drinking water to London) before reaching Broxbourne Church and the old Mill.
A wonderful end to a truly spectacular walk. We were blessed to be walking this section in the glory of the Autumn sunshine. The red Hyundai driver awaited us.
12 miles (we did 13). Fairly flat. Good Public Transport Links. No refreshment stops after Goffs Oak.