Chiltern Way Day 13 - Sharpenhoe to Great Offley
It's been almost a month since the last walk, and I could really feel it today. It's been a very busy time with both work and family things, and I've not had the time to do many really long walks in the interim. I keep myself going with my normal four or five mile daily dog walk, but anything more than that has been few and far between. And fitness evaporates much more quickly than the time it takes to develop.
David drove me away from home in the rain, but as we approached Sharpenhoe Clappers car park we passed the edge of the weather front, and I could set off in the dry. According to the Chiltern Society guidebook, this hill is capped with an Iron Age hill fort, but the name Clappers comes from the Norman French meaning 'rabbit warren'. The Normans bred rabbits here for food.
At the top of the climb from the car park there is an obelisk erected by WA Robertson, commemorating his two brothers who died in the First World War. He subsequently donated the Clappers to the National Trust. The woodland floor surrounding the memorial was rich with fallen beech leaves. Autumn has been a colourful companion today.
Because today was the first of four days' walking, I was carrying my proper rucksack. Although not transporting that much, the colder weather meant that there are more clothes on board, and the weeks since carrying it meant that the 10 or 11kg felt quite an unstable burden, especially when coming down the steep steps from the hill towards Sharpenhoe. Caution and much use of poles got me down safely.
Continuing through a large farmyard I was impressed by the marked pathway for pedestrians. Often farms can be forbidding for walkers, with the farmers understandably being less than enthusiastic about random people wandering past their livestock and equipment. This marking made it very clear where I could be, which was helpful and reassuring.
I'm familiar with the sound of clay pigeon shooting, as there is an area near our village where this takes place. But the shooting I could hear as I walked across the fields sounded different. It turned out to be a pheasant drive. There was lots of tweed and eager dogs, and men (entirely men) with guns. And agitated pheasant, together with many that were much more still. I spoke to a friendly tweedy lady who told me that my walk sounded splendid, and then advised me to crack on with crossing the next field, as that's where the drive was going next. I ventured the hope that I might not get shot. She briskly told me that she was pretty sure they knew the difference between me and a pheasant.
It was a good job that I was ahead of them, as I'd not have been able to make a quick getaway. The heavy rain had made the Chiltern clay attach itself to my boots, so that by the time I crossed the next field they were twice as heavy.
Just before crossing the busy A6 there is an eighteenth century water mill that has been developed into a busy retail park, but I continued into the village of Barton le Clay in search of coffee. I struck lucky with The Pudding Shop, serving good coffee and excellent cakes.
The route over the next couple of days is absurdly meandering and circuitous, but it has today taken in some of the best views of the Way. The hills have been worth the climb. But the pull out of the village up Barton Hills definitely taxed my legs and my CV system. I was gasping at the top, but could see why John Bunyan described these as 'delectable mountains' in his 'Pilgrim's Progress'. This is the most northern ridge of the Chilterns. I admired it alongside the red kite and the apparently feral pony with berries in her matted mane.
One of the good bits of today has been meeting people I might not have bumped into otherwise. As I was approaching Barton Hill Lane I could see a large vehicle progressing slowly and apparently filling the road. I had to cross the road to get to the continuation of the path, and I'm doing so met Stuart. He was standing near his 'hybrid welfare van'. I asked him what that was, and he kindly explained that it was used to give the workers a chance to have a sit down and a hot drink, and that it had solar panels, hence the 'hybrid' title. He and his colleague were working on resurfacing the road by power washing the tarmac to allow it to return to its original grippy self. His job was to check the quality of the surface whilst his mate drove the spraying vehicle. It was interesting to find out what he did, and then also to discover how much he was interested in long distance walking. I left feeling very pleased to have met him.
Soon after, the Chiltern /John Bunyan Way rejoined the Icknield Way. My guidebook tells me that this ancient path is either named after Boadicca's people, the Iceni, or its name is a corruption of 'Ychen' which is a Celtic word for the cattle which were probably driven on it. This section had ancient paving stones underfoot which made a pleasant change from all the mud.
On the way to Telegraph Hill I took advantage of a bench height fallen log to have my lunch. An excellently surprising Co-op onion bhaji and mango chutney sandwich with beetroot slaw. A big step up from the usual cheese.
This is old land. Pegsdon Hills has more Neolithic barrows, terraces cut into the hillside to allow cultivation, and what looks like a moat. It is glorious landscape, and the piquant notes of the autumn colours made it sing still further.
The last section had quite a bit of steady climbing, but I also said hello to a Muntjac, walked through a farm with impressive horse transporters, and past what appeared to be a mysterious honesty box consisting of a chair holding a plasterer's skimmer and some AirPods.
I was heading to Great Offley for my AirBnB, and the Chiltern Way took a long detour around tte village. I could have done that, and then walked north up the high street. But my right foot had been sore for much of the walk (as it has been for a few weeks) so I decided to go with discretion as opposed to valour and take the direct route. The pain isn't stopping me from walking, but the last couple of miles really reminded me of the grit I needed to persevere last summer when my leg was injured. I need to get my foot looked at when I get home.
Debby was a welcoming host, telling me fascinating stories of her childhood on a houseboat in Chelsea, just opposite where David and I used to live in Battersea, and then of her life in fashion. To my delight she could also offer me a bath, and even gave me Epsom salts.
It's been brilliant to be out walking again, and to have the feeling of satisfaction at the end of a long tiring day where I've met interesting people and been out in wonderful landscapes. I'm looking forward to continuing the adventure tomorrow.
Distance travelled - 14 miles
Total ascent - 1350 feet
Calories burned - 2002
Video of the walk - https://www.relive.cc/view/vWqBPGgoyQO