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.

An expedition to Devil’s Dyke & the Lea Valley Walk

This was a walk inspired by a comment on this blog by Philip Avery that I discovered 7 months after it had been posted.  It was on my video about the walk to Boudicca’s obelisk in the Epping Uplands and Philip’s research had suggested that the British king Cassivellaunus had been defeated by Julis Caesar in 54BC at Ambresbury Banks during his second invasion of Britain rather than Wheathampstead. I instantly googled ‘Wheathampstead Cassivellaunus’ which led me to the image below I captured on the my own expedition to Devil’s Dyke  how could I not visit this site.

Cassivellaunus Devil's Dyke Wheathampstead

The walk starts at Harpenden in Hertfordshire and follows the upper reaches of the River Lea, picking up the Lea Valley Walk as far as Wheathampstead. We then go along the majestic earthwork of Devil’s Dyke, one of the outer entrenchments of Cassivellaunus’s ‘city’ and stronghold of the Catuvellauni tribe (there is another earthwork on the outskirts of St. Albans also associated with Cassivellaunus). From here we follow the Hertfordshire Way to the edge of St. Albans and then pass through part of the Roman city to St. Albans Cathedral drenched in midsummer magic.




Take a look at my latest video: a walk along the Suffolk Coast from Soutwold to Dunwich in the footsteps of W.G. Sebald from the classic book The Rings of Saturn

Along the Harcamlow Way from Roydon to Ware

The joy of absconding – escaping from the obligations of everyday life and just wandering the countryside or the city streets. That was how I felt on the train out of Stratford to Roydon on the Essex – Hertfordshire border. What I was absconding from in reality were my own plans to survey the Royal Docks in a wide looping walk (that I eventually did this past weekend). In the end this glorious walk took me far away from the hurly burly of urban living, away from humanity, and into another space and time trapped in the beguiling landscape along this section of the Harcamlow Way.

Roydon Ware Harcamlow Way

After running the gauntlet of a path colonised by truly giantic Giant Hogweed, and passing across fields and fields of beans, light aircraft buzzing overhead, I approached possibly the most magical location on the route. Moat Wood of course has a moat, but some moats appear as muddy ditches, some as a hard to make out dip in the ground, but this moat was full to brim shimmering in the defracted sunlight breaking through the leaves. The scant information about the moat added to its mystery – it most likely protected a medieval farmhouse or minor manor house. I stayed for a while gazing into the waters, before pushing on along the field edge to the call of pheasants unseen amongst the woodland.

Moat Wood Hertfordshire

The views now changed from earlier vistas stretching across the Stort Valley to Harlow, now looking across the Lea Valley, and imaginging a future walk following the River Ash. Crossing the disused railway line that once connected to the mainline at St. Margarets, I’m reminded of a walk that passed over a section of the line further down near Easneye that I took three of four years ago the week before Christmas. It’s a walk that has never left me. I smiled to think back to my sodden trench feet from that day as I kicked up dust in the evening sun on the path that took me over the River Ash and in a wide arc to the sunset backstreets of Ware.

Roydon Ware Harcamlow Way

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 hunt sometimes after I got to buy 5.56 ammo online 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