In March 2016, my friend and I set out to walk the Hertfordshire Way in sections hoping to complete the entire route by the time of our 60th birthdays. Today on our antepenultimate (thank you, Mr Lucas!) leg we celebrated my Sixtieth, discussing the passing of time referencing dandelion clocks, the privilege of being Nanas and the longevity of our friendship. We will only have missed our target by a couple of months. Each leg of the Hertfordshire Way has been special in its own way but this day is one I vow never to forget.
May is always my favourite month and the hawthorn was still holding its blossom as we set off from Wallington on a morning full of the promise of paths yet to be walked. We passed by a cottage which had once been inhabited by George Orwell .
Soon we were out in the familiar open fields of Hertfordshire. On each section of the walk we have remarked how rural and unspoilt so much of the County still is and today was no exception. After getting slightly lost following some rather mathematical directions in the guidebook we found ourselves trampling down nettles and straddling a ditch to clamber on to a track leading past the pretty church in Clothall.
Again we were soon out in open farmland with a view of Baldock Church far off in the distance. We struggled slightly with direction finding across a field and were glad we had the OS Map with us for this section. The Hertfordshire landscape at this stage reminding me of the rolling downlands of Thomas Hardy’s Dorset.Coincidentally during this walk I received a text from another much-loved old school friend saying she was watching footage of the Chelsea Flower Show and had just seen a new rose named “Gabriel Oak”. We had all studied “Far from the Madding Crowd” at ‘O’ level and the sheep and young lambs put in mind those which had been driven from the cliffs at the start of the novel and so influenced the shepherd’s destiny.
At 2.4 miles (?) according to the guidebook (but we had walked at least five/six by this time) we reached Weston Church and the famous grave of the giant Jack-O-Legs. Legend has it that he was a robber of travellers and when eventually caught he requested that once slain he be buried where an arrow he shot fell. The arrow apparently soared three miles to this Church yard. We sat opposite his grave and ate our sandwiches.
At this stage A disappeared for a short while and just when I had begun wondering why she was taking so long to come back I heard the sound of my friend singing “Happy Birthday”. She had carried a chocolate cake in her rucksack for all the early miles of this walk and presented it to me with candle burning. It was such a lovely, thoughtful gesture. We forgot our talk of diets and proceeded to eat most of it up. (The final small portion left was devoured by The Red Hyundai driver that evening!)
After that we made another navigation mistake and left the churchyard by the wrong exit. However, again the OS map came in useful and we found our direction back to the Hertfordshire Way by a different route, eventually emerging close to the ruined church of St Etheldreda in Chesfield. We read of the fight between the parsons of Graveley and Chesfield other tithes and how the parishes were eventually amalgamated and Chesfield became one of Hertfordshire’s deserted villages. However, talk of fighting, politics, money and Brexit was kept to a minimum today and we concentrated on gratitude for what we have.
Soon we found ourselves entering “Forster country” and apparently “Howard’s End ” had been based around this area of countryside where Forster once lived – this time an ‘A’ level text for one of us. It bought back memories of a desperately unhappy time in my life aged 17 so again we turned the conversation back to how lucky we were to have our wonderful children and grandchildren in our lives. I understand that housing is planned for this area and we could see Stevenage in the distance.
Yet again the route did not disappoint in respect of “horsey” shots! I also tried to be artistic when photographing Graveley Church on the outskirts of Stevenage. The sun continued to shine, the birds sung joyfully and the May still blossomed.
After crossing under the A1 (M) we soon found that we left the traffic noise behind and we wandered over grassy meadows towards Great Wymondley. A couple of miles or so on and we reached a very handsome man digesting the Saturday paper sitting outside the Plume of Feathers pub in Little Wymondley who offered to give us a lift home. I don’t really have the words to express what a wonderful May this has been and how thoroughly I have been spoilt by the ever patient Red Hyundai driver, my kind son and his lovely wife and my friend. I am blessed.
And another walk and birthday await next month!
OS Explorer 193; 12.2 miles (but as always we walked a lot more); several pubs on route.