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  • Writer's pictureJane Smith

Chiltern Way Day 15 - Breachwood Green to Redbourn

Updated: Nov 13

The pub I stayed in last night is marketed as being for walkers (tick) and also for those flying from Luton airport. There was no missing the proximity of the airport. The planes passed low overhead until quite late, and started again early this morning. There were a number of posters up around the village protesting against the expansion of the airport, and I could absolutely understand why. The noise and vibration was intense, and it must be very trying to live with it permanently as opposed to just for a night.

Although a comfortable room, breakfast of a retro box of sugary cereal and a stale croissant left much to be desired in terms of long distance walking nutrition. I laugh if others call me an athlete - I'm really not, but I do try to think about how I'm nourishing myself when doing these walks. I really noticed the difference this morning having had sub-optimum food, feeling shaky after a couple of hours with the pack.

The weather was also sub-optimum compared to yesterday. Grey and mizzly, and later proper raining, it was not a day that would conventionally lift the spirits. But I was walking, and I was exploring, and I didn't know what the day would hold. And that always does the trick, rain or not.

Today was Remembrance Sunday, as the display outside my pub reminded me, and I set off wondering whether I'd get to Harpenden in time for the parade through the town. I took part of the original Chiltern Way route, as opposed to the Northern extension that I had walked on yesterday, to cut back to the south west of Breachwood Green. After passing some soggy smelly sheep that were steaming in the mist, I quickly decided to walk on the road that ran parallel to the footpath, as the going was so heavy in the wet, and the mud was accumulating rapidly on my boots.

The landscape looked so different today in the murk, with the lights of the airport visible even though it was morning. Autumn was less vibrant today.

The road led to the Upper Lea Valkey Way, an old railway line that ran from St Pancras to Bedford, satisfyingly nicknamed the Bed-Pan line. The river Lea was periodically visible, but I was mostly immersed in my waterproofs and my book.

I arrived in Harpenden sadly too late for the parade, but was glad to spend a few moments at the war memorial.

The Chiltern Way, as always, skirts the interesting bits of the town as if a true walker wouldn’t want to look at human life or indeed have something to eat. Maybe I'm not a true walker then, for I do like towns, and I definitely like eating. So I took an extra diversion into the centre of the town. I had a fantastic bubble and squeak brunch in Cafe Okka alongside many uniformed youngsters and their proud parents, taking them out for a post Remembrance service treat.

The road out of Harpenden was not on my planned route, and it took me past Lyddeker Park. This award winning green space is set off the busy main road, and in going through the gate the traffic noise disappeared and was replaced with peace, running water and birdsong. It reminded me of Frances Hodgson Burnett's 'The Secret Garden'.

It's tempting to get over excited about these happy discoveries that occur when I take a different turn to that which I'd originally planned. As if there isn't a randomness about this. Possibly if I'd stuck to the planned route and not done a detour then I'd have stumbled on something even more lovely.

Much of the rest of today was spent walking on the Nickey Line. This is another abandoned railway line, adopted for recreational use. I've walked on so many of these, and they always please me, most especially with how well they are used. The Nickey Line's name is officially unexplained. One suggestion is that it was named after the fact that the incline was uncommonly steep for a railway, more like a funicular. Another is that the knickerbockers worn by the navvies made an impact on the easily impressed locals.

When operating, the track ran from Hemel Hempstead to Harpenden, for about 8 miles, and was used for passengers as well as goods transportation. I was pleased to see that the straw plait for the London hat trade was one of the commodities transported, having encountered this industry early on the Chiltern Way. I met another pig, this one appearing to have no feet issues. She was concentrating very hard on eating, and wisely didn't come out to engage me in conversation, given how muddy her pen was.

Heading into Redbourn I took a little diversion onto the River Ver (so good they half named it twice) trail, before arriving at the high street. I wasn't expecting the village to be so lovely, with an attractive main road which follows the line of the Roman Watling Street and some imposing and impressive houses.

I called in at The Hub cafe, set up to fuel the cyclists that come through the village, though they were happy to let me enter too. There I met Alistair. Over a cup of tea and an excellent piece of apple cake, I chatted to him about walking, photography, exploring and writing about our adventures. These chance encounters are such a joy.

My final short leg was to go up to the Redbourn common, past a building that was clearly an old farm house, now surrounded by a housing estate, and spend a little time in the community museum. This was fascinating. The village has seen so many changes, originally having a priory, then being a centre for straw hat making, then having a silk mill, and in the 1960s having a huge tea packing and coffee roasting factory in the centre. Almost all of this has gone, replaced by the housing I'd noticed earlier, with the museum in the original silk mill building being the only part remaining.

Then out to get a taxi. I couldn't find any accommodation in Redbourn, so instead tonight I am staying in St Albans, just ten minutes away. My hotel is named after Samuel Ryder, of golfing fame, not Eurovision. He had a seed business, and this building was his offices. He took up golf due to ill health, and the first Ryder Cup was held in 1927 between Great Britain and America, with the trophy donated by him. The hotel is just down the road from the cathedral. So I reminded myself of how lovely that is, having been a couple of times before. The first was for my graduation for my MA, which seems a lifetime ago. It's a lot more swish now, with a fancy visitor centre and gift shop, but the beautiful interior is rightly unchanged.

Tomorrow is the last day of the Chiltern Way. I have been thinking about how I felt on my last night before John O'Groats, and how distressed I was at the idea of it coming to an end. It took me so long to get myself back to feeling ok about being home. There isn't that distress tonight, but then it's been a much smaller scale walk in so many ways. I suppose it's also shown me that I can make the time to walk even amidst my busy work and social life - I just have to commit to make it happen.


Distance travelled - 10.3 miles

Total ascent - 528 feet

Calories burned - 1298

Video of the day

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