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.
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!
We park in Beech Road and head across the fields to Cuddesden. Rain's in the forecast but for now the sun's out and we can see the full length of the Chilterns stretched out from Ivinghoe to Woodcote. I get the feeling a clear evening's view, with the sun in the west, would be spectacular. From Cuddesden we skirt Garsington and Horspath before the steep climb into Shotover Country Park.