Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Secrets And By-Ways

Comments on my last post suggested that Hertfordshire looked like the Mid-West of the USA, or maybe parts of Australia. I can see what you mean; at this time of year with crops ripening or harvested there is a similarity - in the shots I've shown you so far at least. So for all of you and especially for Dimple, who liked the old road through the trees, here's another selection of pictures from my walk.

My last post lamented that Hertfordshire had neither mountains, moorlands or coast for the walker to traverse. It does have one little secret though.

This wonder is scattered in discrete fragments over the whole county. There are no visitor centres, guidebooks or TV series singing its praises. You'll have to spend hours gazing at detailed maps to find just traces of it. Even then you might be wrong. But out on foot, every so often, you'll encounter little bits of magic that will raise the spirits and send the imagination cartwheeling. Every so often you'll find roads and tracks, long-forgotten and neglected, that sing of both history and mystery.

To tell the truth they probably cause the local authorities all kinds of headaches for many of them are designated as roads. But you'll see from the photos that they're not suitable for modern traffic! For years they lay unused and unconsidered. The problems started when off-road driving became a possibility. Legally you could take your four-wheel drive vehicle down these tracks, in the process causing untold damage. Expensive changes had to be made to their legal status so that, like the one above, they became "Public restricted by-ways, unsuitable for vehicles".

The great age of these tracks, some are Roman and some may be even older, can be seen by the way that they have become worn deep into the landscape by centuries of travel.

Nowadays they are used by horse-riders, walkers and the occasional cyclist. Also in a few cases agricultural vehicles will use them to access the fields. In places they run alongside fields elsewhere they travel through a green tunnel.

Oak boughs tangle overhead and spread cool shade over the path...

Sometimes the reason for the old road can still be clearly seen; an old quarry perhaps where stone for building was sourced. Or else an ancient wood where the trees have been coppiced; that is cut off close to the ground so that a crop of straight poles is obtained.

A patch of nettles might indicate a former habitation. For some reason nettles like to grow around houses and a bit of poking about sometimes reveals an old post-hole or hearth.

Even nettles can be both interesting and beautiful to some folks!

And here's a Comma butterfly sunning itself. What an exotic shape they are when you take the time to look!

For some people faeries and hobgoblins abound in places like this! I know full well that it's just rabbits and sometimes badgers that make the holes in the earthen banks but that doesn't mean that I don't find magic in these old ways, shady and silent, that run through our land.

Take care.


  1. I loved the walk through beautiful earthen pathways and besides the fields, lots of 'greens'; thanks John.

  2. The various forms of green leaves made an incredible series of "Alice in the wonderland" fantasy snaps. The look is surely unique and original to the area you live in

  3. Makes me think of The Wind in the Willows.

  4. Beautiful paths, John. We have many of the same; old logging roads, oil-well access roads, or simply the former routes of roads that have since been rerouted. Here in Appalachia, they often go in and out of creek beds.

  5. Marvelous... I LOVE that shot of the path in the woods, I would SO like to walk there!

  6. Though I prefer the coast and the sea, I like green and I fell for that natural tunnel through the woods.

  7. John: I know whereof you speak about these "roads" causing expensive headaches for the authorities. In the the state of Utah in the western United States, the far-right state government has been trying for years to claim that rutted, eroded and otherwise unnavigable old cartways across federally-owned land in areas that might otherwise be suitable for designation as wilderness should (1) be officially designated as "roads" and made accessible to vehicles, especially four-wheel-drive off-road vehicles, and (2) the designation as such "roads" would, therefore, make the areas ineligible for designation as wilderness areas, a designation that the state abhors because it exerts federal control over otherwise developable land in the state.

  8. Marvelous - the photos and the very existence of these ancient pathways. I love the shady green and mysterious tunnel walkways. Thank you, John.
    Your posts dig deep and bring all my English ancestry to the surface and I feel this great nostalgia.....

  9. I think of Robin Hood and his merry men traversing these trails. Very nice John.

  10. Another rich visit with you through the natural world of England. A poet, a photographer, a story teller, a historian, a hiker.

  11. Fantastic tour of this ancient track. I think places like this are throughly enchanting and worth preserving, particularly for folk who enjoy a walk in the countryside, to see or listen to a bird or two :^)

  12. These photos are just fabulous - I feel quite certain that there are fairies and elves living in that mossy bank under the trees:)

  13. It never really crossed my minds that the paths by fields and through woods could be hundreds of years old and still have official status. I wonder if it's legally the same up here in the frozen north.

    I occasionally look at these paths and see them as the location for a Thomas Hardy encounter but Anglo Saxon, Roman or more requires a little application.


Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'll try to answer any questions via a comment or e-mail within the next day or two (no hard questions, please!).