A10 Live Walk from Ware to Puckeridge

This was a return to Ermine Street for me. Aside from the more obvious strolls from Bishopsgate through Hoxton and Stoke Newington, I’d previously walked the section of Ermine Street through the woods from Wormley to Hertford. It was also a return to a part of the territory north of Ware that had a particularly poignant personal association, as the place I’d walked the day my mother died, and I’d decided to go ahead with my planned walk to the Youngsbury Burial Mounds. These Romano-British tumuli would once have loomed over Ermine Street between Ware and Puckeridge, the section of the road I was walking with Simon. I did wonder how much this would play on my mind during the walk – particularly when we’d cross the River Rib, where I’d made a small offering in memory of my Mum further upstream that day in 2018. But no nothing really came back. Not even at the junction where a street named Ermine Street leaves the A10 and heads towards Thundridgebury – the route I’d taken to the abandoned church now adopted by ghost hunters and occultists.

Simon, co-creator of A10 Live, made the day an enjoyable stroll – helped to maintain the discipline of sticking to the task of following the A10, resisting any urge to deviate along seductive lanes that headed into the hills. The action of walking these old roads makes looking into the past unavoidable. What we’ve come to call England revealed as a colonial outpost – the western edge of a vast multicultural empire. The back of the ancient beyond. I always wonder what the Syrian divisions of the Roman army garrisoned in the Upper Lea Valley must have thought as they progressed north along Ermine Street – what was this strange land, this clay-laden wet earth landscape with its own gods worshipped in the woods and by the rivers. I try to listen to the sound of the voices of that time – the intermingling of languages along that road. We stopped at a new development dubbed after one of the local tribes, Iceni Way. What knowledge did they have of the folk further up the road at Kings Lynn?  What knowledge do I even really have of the lives of the people in these Hertfordshire villages in reality.

A10 Ermine Street - High Cross

The tidy redbrick village hall where I rested on a bench was the perfect picture of an idea of England with its red, white and blue bunting, Shippam’s Paste white bread sandwiches laid out on heavy trestle tables inside, stewed tea poured from an urn into an enamel pot and then into cups laid out on saucers (in my imagination). We spoke to a lady chucking water over her car (not washing it – chucking water over it) by the roadside – her house dated from the 17th Century. Others over the road were older still. An abandoned red telephone box was decaying next door, sealed up still smelling of the urine dispensed by lorry drivers who’d adopted it as an unofficial latrine.

A10 Ermine Street

The end of the A10 at Puckeridge was brutal to the point of near fatal. The path became a grass verge that led to a roundabout. Walkers unwelcome – as if we should dissolve into the car fumes at this point. The only option was to sprint across the lanes of traffic and pray. A police car pinged off the roundabout as I was about to cross the final stretch of tarmac, stopping me in my tracks. The reward for this near-death experience was to find a bridleway ascending a grass bank to a green tunnel of trees that led to a time-slip petrol station from the 1970s that had an antiques shop where you’d expect to pick up a Ginsters Slice and pay for your petrol. It was waiting to be cast in a low-budget folk horror flick where our befuddled travellers seek assistance on a stormy night and stumble upon a cult making sacrifices to the Roman road gods of Ermine Street. Thankfully (or maybe disappointedly) the White Hart in Puckeridge, where we ended our walk, was a friendly village pub serving decent local ale.