I didn't expect to find myself on the wide open hills above Royston early on Monday morning. It happened like this...
I just popped outside to photograph the crimson skies of the pre-dawn, but as it was frosty I'd put on my coat, boots, hat and gloves and grabbed the rucksack that had the camera in it. Having taken a few pictures I noticed several people making their way to the village railway station. I had a sudden idea.
As I had no maps with me I'd take just a four-minute journey up the line to Royston and do a walk I know well. It looked like it'd be a fine, though chilly morning.
By the time I was tramping up the path beside the Heath the sun was just peeping above the horizon. A proper landscape photographer would have sussed out the best viewpoint and would wait patiently for the sun to flood its light across the scene: I decided to press on - while waiting here I might miss something elsewhere and I'd get cold too!
I love the look of frosted leaves as well as the crunch of them beneath my boots. The path led between the rolling arable fields. It's a rather austere and uncompromising landscape, though not without a strange scenic charm which is difficult to describe and harder still to photograph.
Just before Therfield I said hello to a fine old gentleman walking his dog. He introduced me to his canine friend and asked about my route. After a couple of minutes we were somehow talking about the hills of Northern Scotland. "I can't walk and climb like that any more", he sighed. "I've still got the books though! With a glass of whisky I can imagine my way back into the Highlands!" His dog may have heard all this before and showed she was keen to continue the walk, so we went our separate ways, a little cheerier for our brief chat.
Apart from a few motorists I didn't see anyone as I walked along Pedlar's Lane, skirting the village of Therfield. I found the little gate to the sunken lane which leads out to the bare hills once more.
We have plenty of big arable fields in Cambridgeshire, but nothing quite like this. I think though that this area has been as treeless and hedgeless as this for centuries. Before big tractors trundled across the chalky soils this was sheep country with huge flocks grazing up here, especially during the summer months.
Where last summer's wheat stubble is still unploughed you can almost imagine sheep dotting the scene. I find the gentle heave of this solid ocean oddly exhilarating and with the ground still frozen hard, the air crisp and clean, and the track leading downhill, it's almost like having a huge encouraging hand kindly guiding you on your way.
The path leads through Thrift Farm then along a grassy stretch known as Kings' Ride. Indeed the sport of kings is still here in the form of a racehorse stable and a couple of thoroughbreds were being exercised on the gallops.
There are several small woodlands and plantations along the steep northern slope of the hills and the low sun was only just raking through the trees in late morning.
There are long, grassy corridors following dry valleys leading down off the chalk lands. Could these be the ancient droves or driftways down which the flocks were driven on their way to market?
We're making our way towards the edge of the golf course and I noticed that the Par 3 Fifth is called "Shepherd's Rest". There's a short, steep-sided dry valley which would be an ideal sheltered nook where a shepherd might enjoy forty winks on a warm day. The golfers however cannot relax here; the tee is on one side of the valley and the idea is to float the ball across the deep intervening depression to the small green on the opposite side. Many little tracks leading down through the rough grass suggest that not all are successful.
It's getting towards mid-day and the sun is still just reaching some frosty pockets.
Just a few autumn leaves are hanging on in sheltered places along the way. Then a path will lead down across the golf course, alongside the rugby pitch and into the streets of Royston where I can call into the shop before getting the train home. I hope you've enjoyed this unplanned jaunt as much as I have.