It's been wet for the last few weeks but on Friday I felt I needed to get out for a good long walk. It's going to be muddy; paths may be flooded; it might not be very pretty. Are you coming or what?
Let's start from Barley. It's an attractive village with some interesting old buildings but we're looking for a little path near the church which will take us southwards towards Shaftenhoe End. As I expected there's plenty of mud around and I slithered and squelched my way across a meadow; two steps forward, a slide to the side and half a step back!
I idly found myself wondering if anyone's ever thought they were going on honeymoon to Bali, only to find themselves, too late, in Barley! No, that would be too cruel. Mind you, the Fox and Hounds does a very tasty Sausage and Mash.
The path I was following delivered me safely into the churchyard at Little Chishill. The church was firmly locked, as it usually seems to be, so I contented myself with a look around the outside. Villages are a bit confusing around here; not only is there a Great and Little Chishill, but there's also a Chrishall, as well as a big house called Chiswick Hall, in the area.
From the church I had to take to the roads for a while, though there was hardly any traffic and it was so quiet that I could easily hear any approaching cars. Is it just me or is that a particularly beautifully-shaped tree?
And that is certainly a lovely little pond. So far the weather has been chilly but otherwise fine for walking.
Gypsy Lane Farm turned out to be rather less attractive than its name suggests. But then I was off the road and sloshing across muddy fields. I was reminded of Old Bert's comment many years ago when we were working together on the farm: during a spell of very wet weather, we heard on the radio that on the mountains of Scotland it was likely to fall as snow, "Arrr", said Bert, "round 'ere it just falls as mud!"
In the distance I spotted a herd of deer. These would be wild (more accurately "introduced, escaped from captivity and now feral") Fallow Deer, their coats darker than their parkland cousins. They seem to thrive in this open country.
Deciding to wear my waterproof "farmyard boots" this morning was one of my better decisions. In places the paths have become temporary watercourses and when a few horses and motorbikes have passed that way...
It's no good you sitting there smugly, reading this with your coffee and biscuits; we're in this together, you know!
Again at Langley, just like at Little Chishill, the path ran directly to a gate at the back of the churchyard. This is not mere coincidence; many of our English footpaths came into being through people from outlying farms making their way to the nearest church every Sunday. The church at Langley is like a child's drawing; just the basic components very simply arranged with no decoration or elaboration. It would be nice to see inside one day, but it's another one that always seems to be locked tight.
Right next to the church, exactly where it's supposed to be is an old farmhouse with half-timbered walls and a sturdy chimney-stack.
A little further along stands the Baptist Chapel. Not the most wonderful architecture you'll ever see but so typical of the non-conformist chapels that sprang up in nearly every village around here in the nineteenth century. There must have been an awful lot of Methodists and Baptists in those days.
From Langley to Arkesden the path follows field edges, farm tracks and even a short section of old Roman Road - believe it or not that's it above, crossing a stream by means of a ford.
I hope you've got your waterproof boots on too, because we're going through!
The rain came just as I reached the village of Arkesden, a beautiful place despite having a name more suited to a northern industrial town. I took shelter in the parish church (unlocked, fortunately) until the shower passed. I'll show you what's inside in the next post.
Then it was up on to the "highlands" once more for the final leg of the journey to Wendens Ambo and the train for home.
Once upon a time there was Great Wenden and Little Wenden, which in time became one village - Wendens Ambo, "ambo" being the Latin word for "both", so that the exotic-sounding name, Wendens Ambo, just means "both Wendens". It, or perhaps more correctly they, has (or have) some picturesque corners.
When they were building a railway station to serve Saffron Walden they couldn't get nearer to the town than Wendens Ambo, so ended up building a station in this tiny place. But then they decided to call the station "Audley End", which is at least half a mile nearer to Saffron Walden. Whatever they call it it's still in Wendens Ambo!
Start: Barley, Hertfordshire 09.35
End: Wendens Ambo, Essex 14.40
Distance walked: 10 miles (16 Km).
Notable birds: Buzzard, Skylark, a few Fieldfares, flock of Yellowhammers. Mistle Thrush singing and Woodpecker hammering.
Mammals: herd of 45 Fallow Deer.
Churches: Barley, Little Chishill, Langley, Arkesden, Wendens Ambo.
People with dogs: 0
Dogs with people: 0
Dog taking itself for a walk: 1
People just enjoying a walk: 0
Horse riders: 0