It's 8am as we pull into the car park at Startop's End, squeezed between the reservoir and the canal. We are squeezing things in this weekend, ourselves. David is due back at lunchtime to watch the Spurs game and this is our only chance for a walk. It has to be short and local. In no time we reach the Aylesbury Arm of the Grand Union. A narrow and also straight canal, the original intention was to connect up with the Thames but money ran out and railways arrived...
You've probably not heard of the Battle of Berkhamsted Common...it doesn't rank high on the National Curriculum. However, without it we'd not be walking on Berkhamsted Common today. During the 1860's wealthy landowners raced to enclose the common land on their estates. In February 1866 Lord Brownlow enclosed Berkhamsted Common, erecting a 5ft iron fence to keep out the great unwashed and infuriating the locals. Augustus Smith and George Shaw-Lefevre, local Liberal MPs, responded by chartering a train from Euston at midnight on 6th March. It left crammed with 120 'beered-up' Irish Navvies, rounded up from the East End. The train arrived at Tring Station at 1-30 in the morning and under cover of darkness the Navvies dismantled the fence, leaving it stacked in neat piles on the Common. The ensuing rumpus resulted in a legal battle that was finally resolved in favour of the commoners in a court judgment of 1870. Do you need a better reason to vote LibDem?
I forget where I got this walk from. I think it might have been a Ramblers walk. It's obviously been put together by someone who knows what they're doing and it's the best walk we've done in a while. If you're planning to do an autumn walk on the Chilterns, make it this one! Added to which, we hit the perfect weekend as autumn colours reached their peak and greens have finally turned to yellows, reds and browns.
Starting in the station car park at Brookman's Park, we skirt the Royal Veterinary College before crossing the A1(M) and entering Hawkshead Wood. The drone of motorway traffic is pretty much a constant background to our walk and there are plenty of others out enjoying the late autumn sun. We meet an agitated dad and distraught daughter who've lost the dog whilst having a sandwich. He's anxiously phoning whoever he can for advice and calling 'Stamford!'. There's another thing that makes me smile...Stamford?! The poor girl looks devastated and you get the feeling dad's life won't be worth living if he returns without the mutt. They disappear ahead, half running, calling at intervals. Anyway, 10 mins later a tiny, hairless terrier puppy crashes passed us, on a mission. From the sounds of rejoicing ahead it appears all are re-united and dad can return home, pride intact!
Hannah's back for the weekend! That deserves to be celebrated...and in better style than an afternoon of turgid football at The Vic. So, Sunday mid-morning (after church), we're off to Wheathampstead. Compared to our walks earlier in the week, this is flat but far from boring. The company helps, of course it does...but then so does the weather! It's warmer, drier and sunnier than at any time in Devon.
The River is full and the footpaths muddy. No surprise given the amount of rain over the last few days. At one point we take take a bridge across the river to avoid the ubiquitous dog walkers, missing the route back further on. Now were on the 'wrong side' of the river. It seems to bother me more than Sue...it's not the walk I'd planned! Still, we push on and end up in Sticklepath and South Zeal. From here the route steadily climbs to Ramsley Hill and some stunning views back towards Okehampton and, in the opposite direction, to the Moor.
With a 14mile walk from Parracombe planned it was always going to be a long day but starting at 11am was an additional handicap. We parked in the lay-by on the A39. On reflection not something I'd recommend. For the first 10mins of our walk we followed the road. This meant leaping into the hedge whenever a car or van (or coach-load of pensioners) appeared around the corner. It's not cool!
We're staying here and the Trail is a short walk from the cottage and within 10mins we're in Okehampton. From here we follow the Okement River as far as Charlotte's Bridge (a tragic story) before turning north east for Stockley Hamlet, leaving the Trail behind. We zig-zag through the lanes as far as Brightly where we stumble upon Priory Cottage and both agree that we wouldn't mind living there.
A 11.6 mile walk in which I channel my inner Bear Grylls. It wasn't the intention but, once you're 8 miles in and the path disappears in the bog, then you're kind of committed. It's still early as we climb away from the car park by the Meldon Reservoir. It's mostly deserted apart from a few eager dog walkers and a couple equipped with full waterproofs and walking poles...perhaps, with hindsight, we should have taken the hint! The recent rain has left the ground muddy and we're not long into the walk before the rain returns. Still, as we splash along the disused railway lines over Coombe and Southerly Down, there's plenty to talk about and it doesn't dampen our spirits.
After last week's detour via East London we're back in the Chilterns. As last week, the weather is dull as dishwater and it's left to the autumn colours to lift our spirits. As per normal we meet few people, which by and large, is the way we like it! The odd dog walker with an over-excitable puppy, a young couple with rucksacks who look like they mean serious business and 'Tory Boy' landowner!