Wednesday 27 September 2023

Country Byways

Hertfordshire continues to delight. Away from the modern shopping malls and the madness of the motorway there are areas where places are hardly big enough to count as places and roads barely wide enough to be called roads. Of course, these secluded enclaves are bounded by busy highways and surrounded by bustling towns, but the wandering pedestrian can still escape for an hour or two in landscapes that seem remote in both time and place

We're starting today in the well-heeled village of Preston, though it wasn't always so opulent. It didn't have it's own church till 1900 and the Red Lion is only here because in 1982 the villagers got together to run it as the country's first community pub. But today's Monday so it won't be open at lunchtime.

Soon we're out of the village and strolling down one of the narrow roads where passing places are few and parking spaces non-existent. Luckily traffic is infrequent and we can stand around searching the hedgerows for bird life.

Autumn berries are thick on the branches this year, which is said to foretell a severe winter, though it's more likely just the result of a warm but showery summer, such as the one just drawing to a close.

There you are: this bizarre countryside in a single photo. A farm lurks behind luxuriant pathside vegetation while a jet makes its way in to nearby Luton Airport, all watched by an unconcerned Buzzard perched in a tree.

This is farming country, but with a fair scattering hedges and trees. We were just congratulating ourselves on the wide grassy path when we were suddenly directed across a recently ploughed field with no sign of a track.

We came out, just as we should have done, near Whitehall Farm. There were some interesting old farm buildings but a man was leaning on the gate, enjoying a cigarette, and I didn't feel I could ask him to move just so I could get a photo.

We now entered Kingswalden Deer Park, though the hedges no longer look high enough to contain deer. We wandered in a large loop around the parkland and though we didn't see any deer, or even cattle, we saw plenty of ancient oak trees.

This cluster of trees are well past their best but still look as though they're prepared to fight off anyone who means them harm!

But they can't fight off the natural forces that are slowly breaking them down. One of the chief beauties of this old park is that everything appears to be left to its own devices with only minimal interference from meddlesome mankind. Apart from the occasional walker it seems to be little visited - probably because there's hardly anywhere you can park nearby.

Old trees often take on this "stag-headed" appearance, but this one is taking the look to extremes. Those wooden posts mark the position of drains; I think this grassy path must once have been the main approach to Kings Walden House, where horse-drawn coaches would have brought visitors and given them an impressive first view of the estate

I loved the way the high cirrus clouds gave this tree a twirly top-knot! We came out in the wonderfully-named Miserable Lane and made a brief stop for a drink of squash and the buttered scones that Les had been carrying for us.

I said we were walking in a circle around the park and here we are back at the farm. The smoker has withdrawn and I can get my photo of what I first thought to be a dovecot, but I'm now sure is a traditional granary, raised up off the ground to prevent access to mice and rats.

Then we began to weave our way back through the fields towards Preston.

Much of our route was along shady paths that were once minor roads - Whitehall Lane, across Back Lane and finally a section of Deadwoman's Lane. There must be a story to that last name, but I doubt it's a happy one.

Then we had just a few meadows to cross to complete the walk.

It was quite a short section but not without its charms and still felt quiet and remote from modern life. We reflected that all morning we'd only seen a couple of dog walkers, a man on a bike and a smoker leaning on a gate. There are another 1.2 million people hiding somewhere in this small county!

Like the whole of today's excursion there was no shortage of photogenic trees and we lingered a while to drink in the last drops of a lovely ramble.

As I mentioned at the beginning, the pub is closed today and even the old well is no longer functional. Luckily we know of another pub just 10 minutes' drive down the road.

Take care.


  1. The trees in the series look so interesting. I love the dry old trees the best. The framing in your photography is superb.

  2. In a purely unscientific way, and without any survey to back it up, it seems that Red Lion is the most common name for a pub in England, at least based on my sometimes faulty memory. I am really curious as to what kind of drink is made with squash. It sounds quite awful!

    1. Two countries divided by a common language once again - squash is any fruit juice drink which has to be diluted with water. The Red Lion is indeed the most common pub name, followed by The Crown, The Royal Oak and the White Hart.

  3. I remember when the villages decided to purchase The Red Lion in Preston as we lived locally at that time. There were a large number of difficult hurdles that the villages had to jumped before it became possible for them purchase it. I am sure that you must know that it was Britain's first community-owned pub. My eldest son and his family took us both there for lunch there last year before we travelled back home to the Cotswolds.
    They do very good lunches.

  4. Deadman and Misery Lanes. I am sure that there is a story, but I am not sure I want to hear it.
    Love the trees. And the cirrus clouds.

  5. The airplane looks very out of place.

  6. Amazing photos of the country roads. So inviting! The photo of the bird and the jet is priceless too. Great post!

  7. What a journey you all took...thanks for explaining squash drink! I envisioned somehow a zucchini had been pulverized, and felt sorry for your tastebuds! Now scones with butter is another thing entirely, and I want one! Our coffee shops rarely have them.

  8. You know I always love every photograph you take John - there is a story in every one. Today's favourite has to be the Buzzard contemplating the aeroplane - brilliant. Such pretty placs you go to - I do wish we could see your walking companion front rather than rear view. He features often. Why not you take a shot of him and he take a shot of you. Then, when I finally persuade you to put all your wanderings in a book you can have the photo on the book jacket.

  9. I love the photo with the swirling clouds! Another lovely walk!

  10. You did find a lot of photogenic trees during the walk, John.

  11. Great walk today. If you set a goal it helps to find more photo options.

  12. You and Les take the most beautiful walks there. I love seeing what you see....that cloud above the trees, the buzzard, airplane and farm, the long winding paths of beauty... Thank you for taking us along.

  13. Just back from a much shorter walk myself but took no camera or phone so no pictures. I think your walk looked more inviting than mine. Many more things of interest to grab your attention. Thank you as always thoroughly enjoyed.

  14. What a quaint, beautiful place! If I ever visit your country, this is what I'd like to see - quiet countryside instead of the bustling cities.

  15. What a wonderful walk through a peaceful landscape. Love the trees you photographed, they're beautiful.

  16. That mushroom sure looks like our Chicken of the Woods! Delicious, if it's the same. Nice old trees on your ramble.

  17. Un lugar muy tranquilo, para poder disfrutarlo con toda comodidad. Por las fotografías que he visto, merece la pena caminar por sus buenos senderos.
    Un abrazo

  18. It's not a county I really associate with country walks but this looks delightful.

  19. Oh, I so wish I could add this lovely walk to my summer possibilities.

  20. Sleepy hollows mostly occupied by the affluent John.

  21. You go on the most interesting walks. I would have taken the photo with the man leaning on the gate. (If he didn't mind or know it was happening). People can make photos come alive. Yo don't always have to wait for them to move.


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