The London Countryway – Day 12

September 20, 1986: Brookmans Park to Broxbourne

Newgate Street

Newgate Street

On this beautiful, cloudless September Saturday Dorothy and I were accompanied by Janet Lockwood, making her second appearance on the route, by Toby, making his fourth, by Tosh, making her eighth, and by her visiting cousin, Kate Garst, making her first. My own party was, surprisingly, all ready for an 8:30 departure: we cut through the park, boarded a Bakerloo Line train, changed at Baker Street, and arrived at Moorgate five minutes early – or twenty five minutes late if your memory is as sieve-like as that of Tosh, who hadn’t remembered to bring home her directions and timings for this morning. She had stationed her cousin on the platform below and now rushed down to rejoin her while we bought our tickets – with the Indian clerk uncertain whether or not we needed to buy a ticket for the dog. The escalator was not working, so we had to use a spiral staircase to get down to the platform. Here we met the Kate, a smiling plump American lady in her late twenties.

I’m afraid British Rail was not out to impress this visitor with its efficiency – and the escalator was only the beginning. After we had stood on the platform for a while the phone rang and a guard raced the length of the platform to answer it. She then emerged to ask us if we knew the way to Finsbury Park by underground. A signal failure had ended service to Moorgate for the nonce and we were required to descend a level, take a Northern Line train to King’s Cross and the Victoria Line to Finsbury Park. This we did, ascending another spiral staircase at the end. Our train, now coming at us from King’s Cross, followed dully along, but first there was time for all the women to use the loo and to complain about being hungry already. When we reached Brookmans Park they all insisted on detouring into the village for snacks –candy, baked goods, and fruit were the chief items on the shopping list; much was consumed on the spot and washed down with some rather horrible Quosh Mixed Fruit concoction in straw topped cartons. We were 42 minutes behind schedule, and I was somewhat cross when, at 10:45, we began to walk along the road to Welham Green, retracing our footsteps of August 2.

There was a curious beginning to the walk – a public footpath sign to Bell Bar directed us between two houses and behind another. We ended up crossing the access road to a parking lot – having just walked by the mouth of this road a minute or so earlier. We crossed a small stream and continued on a still dewy path up the railway embankment. This is a dangerous crossing, with high speed trains arriving with little warning. I made certain that Toby was leashed when we made our dash across. On the other side a steep scramble lead down to a kissing gate – it had the mission of preventing a field full of cows from becoming instant mince on the train line.

These animals now rushed forward to have a look at us, particularly at Toby, who barked menacingly when they got too close. I kept him on lead as we continued forward across the field, but this did not prevent him from disgracing us by purposefully rolling in a fresh cowpat, soiling a shoulder and encrusting his collar with shit. I tried to remove one layer by dragging the animal through the wet grass but things improved only slowly as the sun dried him out and the worst of the excrescence dropped off.

Route finding today proved to be far easier than last time – we always seemed to know how to proceed. I say this even though we now kept too far to the left when our field ended – trying to avoid a muddy patch that had, in fact, concealed a tumbledown bridge. By missing this we ended up on the wrong side of a little stream. Tosh leaped over it, but the rest of us retreated to the bridge and used it to get to the stile at the field end. We continued to follow the edge of a woods on our right – with quite lumpy footing. When we ran out of field altogether we wrestled with a rusty iron gate, with everyone eventually climbing the fence, except me. By this time a young girl, having put a bridle on a white horse, showed us how to manage the gate and I closed it for her after she had used it.

We emerged onto a lane and, at the A1000, turned right. There was no footpath signed to Grubs Lane, as expected, but I could see a likely looking turnoff and used the positioning of the radio masts and, eventually, a water tower, to confirm that this was where we belonged. Progress on this somewhat overgrown path was further delayed by the presence everywhere of ripe blackberries. We passed the water tower and entered a field of stubble, the harvested bales already rolled into scrolls on the ground. Here I advised the group that if they wanted to reach our noontime pub they would have to pick up the pace – which meant not that they would have to walk faster but that they must quit their berrying. There was reluctant agreement to this and, indeed, we did soon begin to move more quickly over the open countryside, with pretty good footing.

We reached a road and turned east and continued in the same direction, after a crossroads, toward Barbers Lodge Farm. Kate and Janet, taking turns at the end of Toby’s lead, were ahead of me, Tosh and Dorothy, slowed by gossip, quite a bit behind. They now missed Janet stumbling a bit and straining her ankle, an injury she walked off soon thereafter. Janet did quite well, I thought, in spite of a running colloquy on illnesses past and present. Kate too had no trouble keeping up.

When we got to Barbers Lodge Farm we were directed around the barn by arrows, just so we would not continue directly through the farmyard. We emerged after this circuit at the end of the lane we had already been marching on. There now began a long trod eastwards across fields, with the track well defined by hooves and tractor treads. The sun was quite warm but when I tried to take credit for it (since Dorothy always chides me for planning routes away from the sun) the lady still objected, “Yes, but only my right side is getting any benefit.”

We crossed the access road to Coldharbour Farm. Toby flushed some pheasants and chased others from the bare fields on our right. A horsewoman emerged from the track to Newgate Street and we attached the dog to his lead. Later, as we approached this village an unleashed Schnauzer crept beneath a fence to visit some curious cows. This attempt was discouraged by his owners and, to his credit, the dog returned obediently. It was time to re-hook him anyway because our dirt track was becoming a tarmaced lane leading into charming Newgate Street.

When we had cleared the Gables Restaurant we crossed the street to enter the gardens of the Crown. It was 12:50. Here we remained happily for an hour. Janet had tea, Dorothy Perrier, and the rest of us lagers (I drank a pint and a half in the hot sun). We ordered ploughmans (scampi and chips for me – delicious) and were served at our tables beneath the fruit laden apple trees. Toby had some dog meal and a few chips – it was a perfect break and when we started out again, near 2:00, it was cooler now that we were no longer sitting directly in the sun – though there was very little breeze and I wore only a t-shirt from first to last.

When it was time for us to leave we crossed in front of the church, past the Coach and Horses and – after negotiating around a huge parked lorry at the intersection, turned north on the road to Ponsbourne Park Hotel. A sign advertising Jack Russell puppies was propped in front of a drive, itself guarded by plaster Basset Hounds. The countryside developed a few contours and viewpoints afforded us some fine vistas. We gradually approached, then passed, the Hotel and its golf course. Cars ceased their pursuits at this point, though there were many horses about today. The tracks north of the hotel were deeply rutted and waterlogged and we had hard going along the margins. Boy Scouts heading for the hotel stopped to ask us for directions. We reached a tarmaced road and headed east again. Many of the inmates of a boarding kennel (and cattery) rushed up to their perimeter fence to bay us on our way to Wormley Wood – where we left the road and began a complicated passage in damp woodland.

Chesterton had provided detailed instructions and his own map and these were very useful. Toby loved the freedom of this woods and gamboled about happily. We found the tree marks mentioned in the guidebook and followed them south over three streams, turning sharply northeast to descend to the last of them again. Then it was north uphill, with a slight rightward loop and a section just to the south of a large open field. Near its end we headed east on a descent, with a track from the west joining us for the crossing of another stream and a steep climb uphill on the east side. A fence and a gate had been added at the top and I spent some time figuring out what to do before continuing through and heading southeast again. An open field on our right was followed by a slight northern loop before a second field brought us to the end of this woodland section. I suggested a last loo stop while there was still plenty of cover and everyone scattered to get this accomplished before we climbed the stile into the field and headed south along a hedge and out to a lane at West End. We followed this though the village, past the Woodman pub and some stables, and turned off it to the north – just after the lane had been joined by a second road from the southwest.

We sat down on our path and had a nice snack. Tosh had brought some coffee and we finished up some cheese and biscuits. Then we headed north, with the path becoming a track and then, near a farm, a paved lane. There seemed to be animals everywhere – dogs, cats, geese, chickens, even a tethered goat who got up to be petted. (Toby was going crazy.) At our turnoff into a field two penned horses rushed forward to make the opening of their gate quite hazardous. In fact I decided not to attempt this and we undertook a circuit of their field on nearby tarmaced roads – continuing our original lane to the north, then heading east, and finally turning south – with views of the Lea Valley at last. There were some lovely gardens on this horsey stretch and Dorothy was gobbling berries and falling behind.

We turned off on Spring Walk and entered a field in which an Alsatian was being trained by his owners. Our route was downhill to a stream, where we turned north, then northeast through a field of curious bovines (“Red River” again.) Janet, leading us up the hill, again wanted assurance that the beast galloping toward us was not a bull. “Of course it’s not,” I assured her – making it a point to answer in the negative every time the question is asked, since this saves panic. We cleared the cow field and headed east uphill, emerging on a lane above the A5 motorway. There was a small park here but some of the picnickers had disdained the tables provided – preferring to remain penned in their cars. I strained my left knee slightly trying to squeeze under a crossbar at the exit onto a road over the motorway.

On the other side we headed south, keeping to a track directly opposite the motorway, though we could have crossed a far more pleasant grassy field top over a bank on our left. At a cutting we began a descent on a path between hedgerows, but this was overgrown and we escaped to continue on an improving path down to the tennis courts. We were now in Broxbourne and, after crossing the New River, we reached the A10. After a perilous crossing of this highway Tosh tried unsuccessfully to gain entrance to the petrol station loo. I assured her that she would find one ahead. We turned north and followed the New River northeastward. Two cricket games were in progress in fields opposite. Mallards were riding rafts of grass down the river and behind us gardeners were emerging from their allotments with carrots covered in earth. It was an altogether heavenly English scene. At the church we turned right and descended the Lea Valley Regional Park (loos.) While the others used the latter Toby and I explored the nearby waterfalls, though Toby missed a squeaking ratlike creature spotted by Janet.

Too many berries in her belly, Dorothy asked to borrow some Tums. We poked around a bit trying to find the Broxbourne Station (go up steps and head due north  – before any tunnel is attempted). We were just in time for the 6:25, a fast train to Liverpool Street. Here we said goodbye to Tosh and Kate. We left the station and crossed over to the Central Line. Toby had knocked off a lot of this morning’s muck during the day, and, fortunately, he didn’t smell too ripe. When we got to Maida Vale we stopped to get Turkish takeout (the Tums having worked) and were home by 7:30. Toby was again sentenced to the bathtub, but he did not protest too much.

To continue with the next stage of our walk you need:

Day 13: Broxbourne to Theydon Bois