Tuesday, 12 December 2017

The Magic Of Mimram (Part Two)

Travelling by train up to London, as I used to do regularly many years ago, you pass between wide fields, past factories and warehouses, through cuttings and alongside rows of back gardens. Then suddenly, just north of Welwyn Garden City, you seem to be flying. Looking down there's a dainty winding river threading its way through emerald green pastures. I looked it up when I got home: it's the River Mimram.

In part one of this post we wandered in a big loop around Panshanger Park, but now it's time to continue on our way, roughly following the course of the River Mimram. The path is clear enough, though things will get interesting later.

The track led through mixed woodland with occasional exotic trees which presumably date from the landscaping during the heyday of the Park.

Although it was nearly mid-day and the sun was shining there was still ice on the many puddles. I started to get the feeling that the path was deviating from the route on the map, but as there were no junctions there was nothing to be done but follow the clear path beneath my feet. A small sign on a post confirmed my suspicions - the path had been diverted because of quarrying operations.

The same sign recommended a footpath through a wood - not really where I'd wanted to go but interesting enough, especially if you like WW2 bomb shelters.

Eventually I ended up where I wanted to be - in the valley of the Mimram, if not on exactly the path I'd originally planned.

To enjoy the view above you need to be a little bit brave; the path goes through a little white gate which looks as though it leads into someone's garden. A wider gate alongside says "Private", but this is indeed where the path goes.

Field paths lead to the church at Tewin which has a neat little Tudor-style porch.

Inside the porch is an enormous marble memorial, so large that it appears to be holding the roof up. It's impossible to properly view the thing in such a confined space, let alone take a picture of it. It occurred to me that maybe it's here in the porch because it proved to be too big to get inside the church! 

But it's something outside in the churchyard that most people come to see....

This is the grave of Lady Anne Grimston who died in 1713. She was said by some to not to have believed in the existence of heaven. “If indeed there is life hereafter trees will render asunder my tomb”, she is supposed to have said on her deathbed. And, as you can see, they have done just that. 

Other sources say that she was in fact a very devout lady; thereby simultaneously saving her reputation and ruining a good story.

There are few places where you can actually walk beside the river, but here there is a short stretch which is a mini nature reserve.

Our path then goes between the buildings of Bury Farm which is a fairly common circumstance on English footpaths. But this farm isn't a farm at all; it's been converted to serve as a hotel and wedding venue and I was in danger of becoming mixed up in someone's wedding reception! 

Having safely negotiated the wedding party I wandered on through agricultural land beneath increasingly interesting skies, eventually coming to the village of Digswell.

And here we are. The reason why the train seemed to fly high above the little river all those years ago. The Digswell Viaduct carrying the Great Northern Line over the valley of the River Mimram on forty brick arches constructed in 1850. And still doing their job today.

Walker's Log:

    Start: Hertford North Railway Station 10.15
    End: Welwyn North Railway Station 14.30
    Distance walked: 9 miles (14.5 Km) 
    Notable birds: Buzzard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Pochard, Little Egret, Heron, Mute Swan, Coot, Jay, Great Spotted Woodpecker,
    Mammals: Grey Squirrel. 
    Churches: Tewin.
    People with dogs: Many in Panshanger Park, a few elsewhere
    Dogs with people: Many in Panshanger Park, a few elsewhere. 
    People just enjoying a walk: 2
    Cyclists: 0
    Horse riders: 0
    People getting married: 2

Take care.

Monday, 11 December 2017


We interrupt normal service to bring you news of snow. It's been so long since we had any sensible amount that dads were having to show their little ones how to built snowmen and throw snowballs. It was ideal for the purpose too as it was wet, sticky stuff. Big kids went out with their cameras.

This poor fellow was waiting while his person popped into the village shop. Not everyone enjoyed the snow.

(We will get back to our walk in the Mimram Valley in the next post. Promise.)

Take care.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

The Magic Of Mimram (Part One)

Travelling by train up to London, as I used to do regularly many years ago, you pass between wide fields, past factories and warehouses, through cuttings and alongside rows of back gardens. Then suddenly, just north of Welwyn Garden City, you seem to be flying. Looking down there's a dainty winding river threading its way through emerald green pastures. I looked it up when I got home: it's the River Mimram.

Yesterday I began walking at Hertford where the Mimram flows into the River Lea which then flows down to join the Thames just opposite the O2 Arena.

After a few minutes walking I entered Panshanger Park. Once the extensive grounds of Panshanger House, home of Earl Cowper, the area has had a chequered history. It must have once been a very grand place with landscaping by Capability Brown and Humphrey Repton but when what remained of the estate was put up for auction in 1952 there was no one interested in buying the house which was subsequently demolished. But much of the grounds was of interest - to gravel extraction companies.

Over the years more than 400 million tonnes of sand and gravel have been removed. If you live in Hertfordshire there's a good chance that your house contains a little bit of Panshanger Park! Quarrying continues but as each phase concludes the land is being returned to a more natural state as a country park. 

The restoration includes wetlands and woodlands, which will benefit the wildlife, as well as footpaths, a cycle-way (coming soon) and wide grassy areas which are popular with families and dog-walkers.

Although the house is gone the remains of the Orangery, built in Victorian times, can still be seen and gives some idea of the grandeur which has been lost.

At present the Orangery is behind high wire fences as the structure is unsound and might be dangerous if the public were allowed to wander beneath the disintegrating brickwork. I was able to poke my camera lens between the wire to get these pictures.

Some of the big trees that grew near the house have also survived, including The Great Oak which has been measured at 7.6 metres in circumference and is said to have been planted by Queen Elizabeth I.

Elsewhere there are also relics of other times, like this cast iron waterwheel. 

And several lakes, some of which date from the landscaping done during the eighteenth century and some which may have resulted from the later quarrying. But what turned the waterwheel and filled the lakes.......?

The River Mimram. 

Interesting and scenic as Panshanger Park is, it hasn't got us much nearer to the end of today's walk as all we've done so far is describe a big loop, bringing us almost back to where we started. I'm sure I'll visit the park again and explore the area more, but it's time to press on.

We'll complete the walk and catch up with the River Mimram further upstream. But it will have to wait till the next post.

Take care.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Beasts Of The Field

A few more friends met on my travels.....

Large Black - that's not just a description, that's the name of the breed. They are certainly large and can become very large indeed. And they are the only breed to be completely black. The fine beast above is to be found at the Museum of East Anglian Life, at Stowmarket. It may sound strange to find a pig in a museum, but it's quite appropriate as they are an old breed which was at one time very much part of East Anglian life. Nowadays numbers have dwindled and they are considered a rare breed.

Red Poll - These neat little cattle can often be seen on nature reserves around Cambridgeshire. They happily graze rough ground and because of their smallish size don't make such a mess of the ground as more commercial breeds do. All walkers love them as they are placid little darlings and don't make a nuisance of themselves by hanging around gates and stiles.  

Hebridean - These dainty little sheep are a lot tougher than they appear, being adapted to life on the wind-swept, rain-lashed islands off the north-west coast of Scotland. They are said to be descended from Viking sheep which were brought to Britain in the ninth century.

Rabbits (!) - Oh, yes, rabbits were once farm animals too. When I was at school we were told they were brought to England by the Normans. More recently archaeologists have discovered that they were more probably imported by the Romans. Not only that but they've even discovered bunny bones dating from before the last Ice Age, so the Romans were actually re-importing them to a land where they'd died out understandably enough, when everything was covered in ice and snow. It's amazing what archaeologists worry their heads about! There was a boom in rabbit farming during Victorian times when their fur was used for making top hats.

Shire - Shire horses have a long history dating back at least to the English Great Horse which was the breed used by knights in armour, even though Hollywood insists on rather more regal animals! They weren't much used for ploughing though till the nineteenth century, before that oxen were the traditional draught animals used on farms. There are less than 1,500 of them in the country today so they are considered "at risk".

Oxford Down - There always seems to be something of the teddy-bear about Downland sheep. They are big, heavy animals compared to some sheep and have a lot of wool on top of their heads and even on their faces giving them a rather cuddly look. That's not what makes them attractive to sheep-farmers, of course - they like the fact that they can be crossed with commercial ewes to produce big lambs for meat. 

Highland Cattle - What other animal could survive winter on land like that without shelter? Not only survive but thrive. They were bred to live on the treeless, wet and windy highlands of Scotland, so the treeless, wet and windy fenlands of Cambridgeshire present no problem for them. They seem to be a docile, peaceful breed despite their wild appearance - perhaps because they can't see much through their long, thick fringes!

Take care.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

More Deeply Into Winter

More deeply into the Mill Road Winter Fair, that is. My last post was rather thrown together when I got home on Saturday night, but going through the pictures today I find I've got a lot of portraits and a few activities which I didn't mention. And as it's been rather grotty weather I amused myself by constructing a little collage of details of the colourful event.

But first I should probably introduce you to Mill Road itself. It's where it all started for me, I suppose, because it used to be the site of the old maternity hospital! 

Historically the area is quite distinct from the rest of the city and it shows. It developed after the railway arrived and was built as cheap housing for the working people employed on the railway and the industries that grew up around it.

Nowadays it's most easily described as diverse and very proud of it. I would think you would find most of the nationalities and religions of the world within half a mile of Mill Road.

Dancing In The Street : The Cambridge Swing dancers were there, lindy-hopping their way through the afternoon and encouraging anyone who wanted to to join in. I resisted the temptation.

There were buskers a-plenty and many charities had stalls handing out freebies and collecting money for their causes.

ReSound are a Cambridge-based choir, here singing along with the Lifecraft Singers.

Everyone seemed to be having a good time.

Arco Iris is a community Samba band. Apparently arco iris is Spanish for rainbow, which seems very appropriate. The sound they make though is thunderous, with forty or so enthusiastic drummers!

Allotment are a band who specialise in what they claim to be "traditional independent alternative retrospective acoustic standing-still dance music" and who include a hurdy-gurdy player in their number! 

Left wing politics was also on the street on Saturday.

Grupo Nega├ža Capoeira demonstrate capoeira, which is a form of improvised, non-contact martial art / street dance. Difficult to describe but it looked like fun.

Louise Eatock who performs under the name of Flaming June.

And Becky Langan who's a very original percussive finger-style guitarist.

Would you care for another dance? Salsa comes to Mill Road.

There were all kinds of other things going on which I didn't get around to: artists opened their studios; a bouncy castle for children; Santa Claus; dozens of food stalls from around the world; market and craft stalls; the local mosque opened its doors; tea and cakes; talks and guided walks; storytelling; face-painting and so on and so on....

It was definitely a bit cold for playing a keyboard though.

Take care.