My longest walk – Waltham Cross to Welwyn Garden City

Looking back now to this monumental yomp at the end of May I wonder what on earth I was thinking walking 30 mazy miles across Hertfordshire from Waltham Cross to Welwyn Garden City (29.2 miles to Welwyn Garden City the other 0.8 miles was finding the pub back in Kings Cross Station). So I dig my walking journal out of my backpack to unpick the day.

Waltham Cross

Waltham Cross

30th May 2017

On the train – That buzz of excitement when heading out on an expedition really hit me as I walked up Platform 11 at Stratford for the train to Waltham Cross. Only decided to head off over breakfast, chose the route quickly, violent bad dreams I saw as a warning to stay out of Essex and abandon the half-planned walk through Ongar to Chelmsford. I almost forced myself that way but as soon as I saw a route from Waltham Cross to Welwyn Garden City I was seduced – it was calling me. A quick dash to WH Smith in Westfield to get an OS Map and pick up the Chelmsford map too for another day not plagued by nightmares.

City of London Coal Tax Post, Wormley Wood

City of London Coal Tax Post, Wormley Wood

3.20pm – resting on a fallen tree in Wormley/ Derry’s Wood 12 miles in – much further to this point than imagined and still no idea of where I’ll end up (entertaining various possibilites including Hertford and Hatfield). I passed through the far side of this wood in the snow in February walking along Ermine Street to Hertford. I’m slowly filling in the OS 174 map. Super humid today and feeling it a bit, waiting for my second wind. Good just to stop and savour a moment in the woods beneath the canopy, under ancient boughs, the spirit of Pan – is this where we’re meant to reside?

Quarry footpath Hertfordshire

Quarry footpath, Hertfordshire

10.30pm – in the Packing Yard Pub in Kings Cross Station. 29.2 miles in the end, too bloody far, feel dizzy. The classical music in the Howard Centre at Welwyn Garden City was a suitable end. Where this differed from my epic Hertford hike just before Christmas is that I didn’t really stop – just a couple of 5 minute rests. If I’d stopped,  I’d never have made it. Clambering along the overgrown stream bed was a real moment, my arm still hums from the nettle stings. The irony being that I only intended to do 14-miles, how did it end up being so long and taking 10.5 hours?

 

Watch the video at the top of this post for the full story of my epic hike from Waltham Cross to Welwyn Garden City

Walking Roman Roads Near London

Three months ago today I set out under a murky sky with the temperature hovering around zero, bound for a section of the old Roman Ermine Street that passes through the woods between Broxbourne and Hertford. There was light snow as I departed from Cheshunt Station over the level crossing at 10am and make my way to the Lea Navigation towpath.

Slipe Lane Level Crossing Wormley
Turning inland at the Turnford/Wormley border there is a curious collection of rare features side-by-side. At the Slipe Lane Level Crossing stands a 19th Century Coal Tax Post (a large stone obelisk) next to a Second World War Pillbox. The two structures are indicators of being on the outer limits of ‘London’ despite being clearly in Hertfordshire. The Coal Tax Post a notification of entry into the tax jurisdiction of the Corporation of London, and the Pillbox forming part of the Outer London Defence Ring.

St Laurence Wormley
11.30am I shelter from the snow in the lychgate of St. Laurence Wormley while trying to find the Twix that’s hiding somewhere in the bottom of my bag. It would’ve been nice to have a look at the early 12th Century nave in the church but of course it’s locked so I have to satisfy myself with trying to identify the window in the south wall that dates from the same period.

Roman Ermine Street Hertfordshire

Onwards through Wormleybury, across a field and up a lane and there I pick up the marked section of Ermine Street on the edge of Paradise Wildlife Park. Into afternoon now and the February snow continues to drift down as I tread the ancient track perhaps taken by the Syrian divisions of the Roman Army that spent time garrisoned in the Upper Lea Valley before moving North.

The ‘road’ continues its straight course through Danemead Wood and over the Spital Brook – this muddy woodland path leading you through the phases of English history. Ermine Street becomes Elbow Lane and takes you past Hobbyhorse Wood.

Ermine Street Elbow Lane

At Hertford Heath I turn away from the Roman Road and schlepp through Balls Wood Nature Reserve where the Vegan Vandals have been at work. From here I pass over the last winter fields guided into Hertford by the sound of playing fields on the edge of town.

Following the screening of London Overground at the Genesis Cinema last October I was approached by a couple who told me about a section of Roman Road running through Hobbs Cross near Theydon Bois. So one Sunday I set off on the Central Line then over fields in search of this preserved section of the Roman Road that once ran through Leytonstone after crossing the Lea at Leyton  running out to Great Dunmow joining a junction that linked in roads to Braughing, Braintree and Chelmsford.

Epic Lea Valley Hike from Leytonstone to Hertford

7.30am and the dog has pissed in my boot. I discover this as I slide my foot into my great new walking boots to head out on a slightly crazed quest to walk from Leytonstone to Hertford or at least as far up the Lea Valley as my legs will carry me in a day.

Hoe Street Bakers Arms Walthamstow
It’s a cold and misty pre-Christmas dawn as I slope past Leyton Midland Road Station – the Barking to Gospel Oak line on hiatus while its platforms are lengthened and the line electrified.

An hour later at the end of Chingford Road, Walthamstow my legs are getting sore which doesn’t bode well for the long walk ahead. I need to pace myself, let the natural rhythm of the plod take over. Clear my mind.

Walthamstow Stadium
The road into Sewardstone is cloaked in thick mist. I pass an abandoned row of breeze block sheds apparently used for selling fireworks. I cross the border out of London into Essex – an uncanny quarter of the Borough of Waltham Forest, London in the country.

Sewardstone
Turning off Sewardstone Road down misty Mill Lane I get my second wind. I figure I’ll need to have a third and fourth wind to reach Ware or Hertford. Crossing the rough ground beside the reservoirs I am stalked by horses – three friendly creatures who follow me for around 200 yards before returning to their grazing spot in the bushes.

Reaching Waltham Abbey at midday I can’t face the extra mile round trip into town for lunch so pop into MaccyD’s for a Big Mac Meal and recuperation although I keep my stop to a strict 30 minutes before returning to the Lea footpath.

Sewardstone

Beyond Waltham Abbey and the Outer London Defence Ring the path is clear of people. The mist rises off the Lea reminding me of the dense fog of the Po Valley.

2.15pm and stop for tea and Kit Kat by the river at Broxbourne. 2.30pm back on the move.

St. Margaret's Wood

St. Margaret’s Wood

Onto the New River Path at Broxbourne up to Great Amwell past pumping stations and through St. Margaret’s wood and into the dark of winter evening. The plan the night before had been to walk the entire 28-miles of the New River Path from Islington to Hertford. But answering the alarm call at 6.30am on 5 hours sleep the thought of an hours travel to start a walk I probably wouldn’t finish wasn’t enough to shift me from under the duvet. However starting the walk from home was far more appealing.

Great Eastern Tavern Hertford

Finish at 5.30pm at the Great Eastern Tavern near Hertford East Station – a lovely cosy old pub with friendly staff and a good pint of McMullen’s ale. The feet are humming but that’s to be expected of a walk of around 23-miles. Christmas Carols are playing on the jukebox ‘Simply having a wonderful Christmas time’. A second pint to make sure the ale reaches all ten toes before hopping the train into Stratford.

Iron Age burial mound on the Pinehurst Estate

‘Where are we going?’, I asked as we headed north on the A10/Ermine Street
‘Ware’, replied Dave Binns
‘Yes, WHERE are we going?’
‘WARE’, he said again.
This went on for a while.
Turns out the Iron Age burial mound I was taken to look at was more in Hertford than Ware but that wouldn’t have been as much fun.

Gary from the Bermondsey Joyriders was at the wheel and had set up this excursion. I thought we were heading back into Epping Forest for some reason so it came as a surprise to find myself at the upper reaches of the River Lea. It’s a trip that has stayed with me since that July day and has somehow worked itself into the book that I’m currently working on.