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  • Writer's pictureJane Smith

Chiltern Way Day 14 - Great Offley to Breachwood Green

Lots of stretching and massaging my dodgy foot yesterday seemed to have helped this morning. I tested it cautiously and was pleased to find that the pain had receded a bit, which bode well for an easier day. My host Debby and I had a chat over a cup of tea about the efficacy of walking poles (I desperately fan any flicker of interest from others in walking tech, I'm a liability) and I left after a restful stay. She had kindly offered me toast for breakfast, but I'd seen reviews of a cafe in the village so I headed that way. The day was beautiful, sunny and blue, but with a chilly snap.

Great Offley is named after King Offa II of Mercia. He had a palace here, and was also responsible for the eponymous Dyke. That’s for maybe next summer. It was rather satisfying to know that as I near the end of this walk that I'm getting references to the next one.

The Dream Bean cafe involved a mile or so of extra walking, but it was worth it. It occupied part of the old farm on the site along with other small businesses. Only open since March, the team were friendly and my breakfast was great, with comfy chairs and excellent sourdough. Declan, Kay, Mark and Molly deserve for it to be a big success.

I had considered rerouting off the Way to save some of the extra walk, but I just couldn't do it this morning. Everything was beautiful, the sunshine making even the puddles and tired maize cobs something to marvel at. I didn't want to miss any bit of it.

The first part of the route went past plantations, but not the type I saw a lot of in Scotland. Instead of the industrial level pine manufacturers, these were small broad leafed copses which suddenly and surprisingly opened out to big views over the plain. The big fields were planted with young brassicas, and their smell was noticeable before I saw them.

Today was the furthest east I would go, and if the point of walking is just to get from one place to another then today's walk was pointless. I walked 14 miles to get myself to a destination that was only 3.5 miles away by Google Maps. But that's not the point of walking.

The path followed Hoar's Lane for a while, directly into the sun, with the spiders' filaments that were woven across the track catching the light. Yesterday the cold and the breeze made my eyes water so much that I was often blinded. Today it was the sun that did that job.

As I climbed one of the many hills today, the sun went behind a cloud temporarily and I realised that I had been walking alongside a much more Scottish plantation with tall pines in West Wood. It felt undisturbed though, with no sign of the brutalist forestry management I saw so much of in the summer.

The larks and swallows were busy above me, as were the many planes from Luton airport. It felt like late summer. There were many people out walking today, and there was a common thread of incredulity between us that it was so glorious, and that we were so lucky to be here.

A short walk down the unnervingly named Dead Women's Lane on my way into Preston. Local information tells me it's named after the large number of Black Death victims buried here.

Preston is a lovely little village, almost the highest point in Hertfordshire, with a green and a well, a perfect spot for an early lunch. Tuna and tomato from this morning's cafe. I remembered the Cotswold village of Barnsley having a lot of trouble in the first days of sat navs with lorries arriving down the narrow roads looking for the Yorkshire town. I wondered if this Preston had the same problem.

For a very small village, Preston has had a lot going on. There were lots of historical references. The Knights Templar had a base at Temple Dinsley which eventually was redeveloped by Lutyens and the designer Gertrude Hekyll. It was later taken over by Princess Helena College, originally set up for the education of the daughters of Anglican clergy and officers who had served in the Napoleonic wars. I presume they widened the catchment eventually, but nevertheless it closed due to financial difficulties in 2021.  I tried to see the building through the trees but only got glimpses. There were other buildings that I liked to think were part of Temple Dinsley, but they were probably just sheds.

The path went past Poynders End, with some very fancy new houses, one complete with its own full size Astro turf multi sports pitch. Next to it was the old farmhouse with a lovely wobble on its roof line. And ahead of me again was the view, wide and uninterrupted looking towards what my map told me was Wymondley Transforming Station. This gave me some Dr Who or Harry Potter vibes, but research tells me it's just a power station.

At the bottom of the hill was the Rusty Gun pub and farm shop. I stopped for a quick loo break, and to note that this is where I started to go west again. It also coincided with the Hertfordshire Way. Another route to look up sometime perhaps. I had a meaningful chat with a noisy pig who was chatting to me about his sore foot, carrying an injury on his right foot just like me. We agreed to just carry on, him rootling about under the trees, me walking up another hill.

Towards the top was Minsden Chapel, a 14th century building that served the now disappeared hamlet of Minlesden. It is ruined now, but had work done last year to secure the remaining masonry. Although I appreciate it's probably better not to just let it fall down, the mortar capping on the ancient stone made it have a tidied up look that seemed a shame.

Up yet more hill, and I reckoned I needed the rest of my lunch. I stopped by an unexplained cairn at the top of a field, which seemed on first sight to be idyllic. It was in fact directly under the Luton flight path. It is a busy bit of footpath too, a number of groups  passed me, including a man who urgently asked me if I'd seen the dog pictured on the front of his phone. I had indeed seen it, accompanied by an earlier walker. I was just thinking that maybe there'd been a dog napping incident when he explained that he was in fact searching for the owner of the phone. He ran off full pelt. Much later he returned dejected, having failed to find the owner, but later still I bumped into him again, and he told me delightedly that he'd handed it in in a pub, and it had been reunited. I love walkers.

Continuing up the hill, I passed a large number of teenage hikers. They were doing the first walk of their Duke of Edinburgh experience, clutching maps. They appeared to be having a great time, but their teachers were mainly giving the impression of it being a long day.

Despite the sun, it was still chilly. I was in gloves and sunglasses, fleece and suncream. I passed an amazing colonnade of trees leading to The Bury, a stately home that has had quite the life, but is now owned by Dacorum Borough Council. They hope it might be a museum or an art gallery eventually. It deserves to have something lovely in it.

Into Whitwell, locally pronounced 'Whi'ill' which looks harder to say, I crossed the river Mimram, which I'd never heard of. Crossing its clear waters, I thought it looked very like the chalk stream of the Misbourne valley, near us. So I was very pleased with myself to later read that the Mimram is indeed a chalk stream. They are magic, with their clarity and fragility.

At the top of the last hill I took a mile or two's trip off the Chiltern Way to get to my accommodation. I was now at 12.5 miles, and this is when I generally feel I've had enough. So I took a final break sitting on the grass at the junction of a couple of footpaths, with my tea, happily chatting on the phone in the sunshine.

A cheerful woman with a child approached. She talked to me whilst the little boy inspected an impressive puddle. A few minutes later we were both surprised to see a police vehicle cautiously picking its way down the muddy lane. She commented that they don't normally see police round here. I responded 'oh no, they've found me'. Possibly an unwise risposte to a stranger. She appeared to take it in good part.

For the last mile the sun suddenly lost its power as it dipped lower in the sky. I concentrated on my excellent Rose Tremain audiobook, tried to ignore the chill and my achy foot and back, and marched onward. I was really glad to see my pub in the village of Breachwood Green ahead of me.

What a spectacular day. Satisfying, interesting, beautiful, unexpected. Everything I walk for.


Distance travelled - 14 miles

Total ascent - 944 feet

Calories burned - 1804

Video of the day

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