We'll start today's walk deep in a ditch. Not just any old ditch. But a very old ditch. There's a stone at the entrance from the road to tell you all about it:
We're at the edge of Wheathampstead village, which itself has a long history and which we may well explore some other day. But right now we're heading out into the Hertfordshire countryside, to enjoy a taste of Britain's beauty and history on this Jubilee holiday.
We took a track alongside Beech Hyde Farm, in bright sunshine, with wild roses blooming in the hedgerow.
We reached Coleman's Green with its pub, The John Bunyan. There can't be many pubs in the land that are named after pious Puritan preachers, and Bunyan has only the most tenuous link to this one. To discover that connection you have to cross the road and find a minor by-way amongst the brambles and nettles.
Just behind the bushes you'll find "John Bunyan's Chimney". It's all that remains of a cottage where Bunyan preached from time to time. Bunyan lived through those turbulent years when many died because of their religion. At times there was an attitude of tolerance and he could preach openly, at others everything had to be conducted in utmost secrecy in remote locations, and for many years he was imprisoned for his beliefs.
The by-way soon became a long, sunken lane, lined with trees and leading between fields. These sunken lanes can be found in many parts of lowland Britain and are very ancient tracks indeed. Many, like this one, also form boundaries between parishes. The reason they became sunken beneath the general level of the land is that in times of heavy rainfall the water ran down these tracks and, over many centuries, washed away the soil.
Following the winding track downhill, between high earthen banks with overhanging trees, felt very much like navigating a secret river; till we met the Marford Road and landed abruptly back in the present day, with its traffic and untidiness.
Here we encountered a curious "folly" standing on a bridge between the Ayot and Brockett estates. Such structures were all the rage at one time and indicate that this area, now thick with nettles and brambles, was once landscaped as part of the grounds of grand houses.
But then we were heading through more open ground, still in the Lea's valley but with the river hiding from sight.
At length we found a lane with a small bridge over the river. This seemingly insignificant driveway was once the route of a Roman road.
Just a little way up the road stands Waterend House, a mid-17th century mansion that was at one time the home of Sarah Jennings, who, upon her marriage, became the Duchess of Marlborough. She was a close friend of Queen Anne and as such was an influential and powerful figure.
Further along was another bridge over the Lea, and a track leading us back to the start of the walk. My brother Les surveyed the scene.
An old galvanised trough, repurposed as a planter for flowers, stood outside a farm gateway near the end of our walk.
On the drive home we stopped for another look at the field of peonies that we saw a few posts ago.