The Hertfordshire Way – Bishop’s Stortford to Hare Street: The one where we got lost – and again and again and again!
Leaving Tesco’s Car Park on the outskirts of Bishop’s Stortford we soon found ourselves in the open countryside and came across a sign showing us where the Herts Way had been diverted. We were aware of this from our Guidebook and had come prepared with accompanying Ordnance Survey Map. Unfortunately although the map had only been purchased a few months previously it did not show the new route. We could, however, pick out which footpaths the new route followed and went confidently on our way. Quite quickly it became apparent that we could not reconcile the Guidebook’s directions with what we thought we saw on the map and also with the environment we found ourselves in. Was this down to the fact that during the “orienteering option” in Sixth Form we had paid rather more attention to the lads from The Boy’s Grammar than map work, we wondered? Some doubling back and re-tracing our steps together with working out what the symbol for pylons was eventually led us along the way up the side of an unsignposted newly ploughed field which looked nothing like a footpath. The sun was, however, shining and we soon regained our good spirits.
The weather was truly spectacular on this mid- October day. Coats and jumpers discarded we still found ourselves too hot as we marvelled at the glory of the Autumn countryside. Most of the way was along footpaths and across fields and to my recollection we only passed one man and one couple once we had left the outskirts of Bishop’s Stortford.
We eventually found the pretty hamlet of Cradle End, skirted Green Street and passed Millfield Cottage (Mill Cottage in the Guidebook). After passing some chickens we were again in open countryside. Struggling with the route again we made good use of our maps and eventually reached the imposing Stone House Farm. This section of the walk was spectacularly pretty.
The footpaths became tunnels with light dappling through the leaves. A hidden pond in the corner of a wood.
We crossed over the busy Old Roman Road of the A120 before reaching Church End on the outskirts of Little Hadham.
The Medieval Parish Church of St Cecilia was in harvest festival mode.
The ancient manor house of Hadham Hall, once host to Elizabeth 1st, was the home of Capel family. Arthur Capel (a royalist) was beheaded in the Civil War and he asked for his heart to be buried with King Charles 1st. It was preserved in a silver box and handed to the Bishop of Winchester, who apparently presented it to the King. Many years later it was taken to the estate of Cassiobury (which the family also owned). The whereabouts of the heart became unknown but there is a memorial stone to Lord Capel in the Church.
We passed a piece of Hertfordshire Pudding Stone in the gateway before the hall, reminding us of the “growing stone” outside Kingsbury Watermill in St Albans where we had begun this birthday pilgrimage so many months before.
The estate was very well maintained and manicured but after passing between two ponds we were soon again out in the fields.
The bridleway we then followed gave us beautiful views over the Ash Valley and Albury Church was on the horizon for a fair while.
We were now again on the original route of the Hertfordshire Way and hoped that our map would match up with the Guidebook instructions and footpath signage.
Conkers and acorns littered the grounds and pheasants darted across our path (occasionally mistaken for rabbits!)
I managed to take my now obligatory equine photograph just before we passed a “little cottage hidden in the woods”
By this stage we were beginning to get hungry and reached the tranquil Patmore Heath at an appropriate time to rest on a bench. However, time was passing on and it was surprising how little mileage had been covered and we did not linger in this peaceful spot for long.
Sheep were grazing a small fenced off part of the acid heathland to keep the scrub down. Unfortunately we couldn’t find the other piece of Hertfordshire Pudding Stone which the Guidebook mentioned was here.
After passing the Catherine Wheel pub we were soon back again in the countryside. Our map again came in useful as we passed a large house called “Kitchers” and then entered a very rural area after Patient End Farm. This was where our troubles really began. On the map the track between the Farm and a dwelling at Rotten Row looks fairly straight forward but with map, guidebook and phones in hand we had to retrace our steps several times to find the route. Whilst sitting down on the ground in desperation wondering what to do a text was received from the Red Hyundai driver saying he had reached the pub at our destination and awaited our arrival. This was probably the stage that the first bout of hysterical laughter ensued. At one stage we walked round in a triangle of several hundred yards only to find ourselves where we had begun. The Guidebook referred to a bridge, but we never found one (in retrospect that search is what probably put us off our path). It also referred to the track “swinging” right. We misinterpreted this as a slight bend, whereas in fact it was a right-angle turn. However, as always, eventually we came good and just when we knew we were on the right path a signpost appeared.
Rotten End proved to be a very pretty and peaceful farm with a duck pond. By now the sun was just starting to lower in the sky and the late afternoon was taking on that beautiful still quality which is so calming.
The “largest field in the world” was newly ploughed but the Guidebook warned us it may be so. We had by now received a text from the Red Hyundai Driver saying he had left the pub – to go where we wondered? We set foot across the field in faith, convinced that we could see an aquaduct in front of us – it turned out to be a mirage – indeed met the anticipated farm track at the other side.
Unfortunately again we got lost when passing Mutfords (?) Farm. Here a resident took pity on us, having seen us wandering around in a daze for a while. She offered us tea and a lift to our destination but having made it so far, and tempting as the offer was we declined. She put us back on the right path (we had been confused by the description “Go right in front of the gardens” – as to the meaning the term “right”). Maybe we were becoming a little tired. We were certainly laughing a lot.
We still hoped to reach our destination before dusk. (To think that we originally thought we would be finished by three!) This had been a spectacular walk, however, and we were finally rewarded with the simple, rural and very moving sight of Little Hormead Church.
We stayed a while and then took the short stroll into Hare Street. I took, I think, my best photograph of the whole of the Hertfordshire Way so far.
With gratitude to the Red Hyundai driver. A spectacular walk (Guidebook says 10.5 miles; we walked 16 miles – figure that one out?). I now wonder whether the distances in the Guidebook have been updated? Highly recommended section of the Hertfordshire Way but definitely take a map.